Sunday, April 11, 2010

Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from March 29 - April 2;

110 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 6 volunteers and 110 Hours of preparation time.

50 Hours of childcare by 2 volunteer

20 Hours of health care provided to the poor at the hospital by 2 volunteers

2 Schools, 2 Children's Home, an hospital and over 400 students impacted

Monday – 29, March 2010.

So goes my second crack at journal writing.

Our time in Chennai is drawing to a close with the coming end of this week. Our dear friends Nikki, Nita and Laura left us on Friday and Saturday and have all reached home safely. Jana, Sue Ellen, Katie and Stephen jetted off to Mysore for a weekend trip while Claudia, Joelle and myself stayed behind to hold down the fort. Monday was an easy day at Assisi for Joelle and myself and Claudia at Grace school following the lazy sunday. We chose to give Rani the afternoon off and decided to go out for dinner following showing a movie at seams in the evening.

More importantly, when deciding how long I was going to stay in this program, it was widely regarded as the three week experience being the most gratifying as the best part of the relationships develop in that third week; I think im beginning to see the light. Being the youngest one in my family, I never really needed to socialize with anyone younger than me. I guess what im trying to say i've always been really bad with kids, and my first week here showed it. However, im beginning to be able to relate to the kids at Assisi and seams more and more with every day, and am growing more comfortable with them and playing with them everyday. I look forward to spending more time with the kids this week and helping them to develop their own skills while im doing the same for myself.

Reflecting back on my time in Chennai, I can solidly say I'm a different person after my time here. The lessons learned through the simple sight of a childs appreciation for your presence when it seems like they have nothing else in their life. Learning how the lack of basic health care and nutrition knowledge have plagued an entire portion of the population and the simple steps that can be taken to begin to solve these problems. Learning the dedication and enthusiasm that nursing students must show to their education in order to pass their studies, and the dedication that regular students must show to their studies in order to pass their examinations. I've not only seen the resolve that people show in order to better their lives, but also the resolve that some put into bettering the lives of others. The efforts of Dr. Sr. Rexline through the St. Thomas Hospital and its associated projects (community clinics, Assisi Illam, Old Age homes) have demonstrated just how much one person can do when their efforts are true to their desires. This woman is a model for not just women over the world, but humanity itself as just how much one person can do.

Being the youngest member of this team (and the only male for that fact), I expected to receive my fair share of teasing during the course of the program, and so I have. However, the relationships ive formed and the knowledge I've gained through this experience make it one of the defining moments of my life to this date. Experiences are what you make of them, and the incredible environment of India was only amplified by the wonderful company that we all have kept during this experience. We bonded together to achieve our stated goals and have accomplished them with the authority and enthusiasm that only a well organized and eager team can. Through trips taken for leisure and those taken as a part of work done here, we have acted incredibly as a unit in accomplishing our goals. As a closing, cheers to Global Volunteers and Stephen for enabling us to partake in this incredible journey with their assistance.

I've found a favorite song of mine that appropriately sums up my thoughts of this trip for more than a few reasons:

"Every mile a memory"

Cheers Chennai, thanks for helping make me into who I want to be.

- Aneesh

March 30, 2010

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

As the climate of South India heats up for the peak of summer (April, May, June), the temperatures rise about one degree daily. It feels much like my greenhouse in Alaska when the door has been closed on an unusually hot day. With schools closing soon, uniformed children hurry home to study for fimal exams. Just as in the U.S., they are excited and restless.

Our team is dwindling. Four have departed, six remain. The weekend was quiet at the guest house, as three travelled to Mysore to visit a Palace, see the forest, wild animals, and sleep in a large treehouse. The 12 hour train ride was well worth it. As volunteers alternately depart, the farewells have brought a celebratory air of treats, another dance party, and even a movie night at the poorest of the orphanages, SEAM's, (Southeast Asian Ministries). The kids were as excited to receive two oranges (!) as they were to see the animated “Shark Tale”. They sat on the floor to watch the computer screen on the table. It was a more intimate evening, the kids more calm, laughing together at times, yawning at others. It felt like a long hug. For me, the teaching at Grace school has taken on more of a rhythm. It helps to know the names of each student and their levels of learning. I am more organized.

The kids like the familiarity of our routine. For example, in 5th grade, we go over
the spelling/vocabulary words from the previous day. Then we do worksheets:
questions about a story, or an exercise to learn about articles, plurals, or
collective nouns. All grades write a sentence in their journals about what they
learned, and are rewarded by a sticker for their journals, and a word puzzle as
they leave the classroom.When the driver picks us up after meeting with the
teachers, Esther has been known to wave him away and say “three more minutes”. I have to admit we used that for arm wrestling Monday.

The children at SEAM's are easier for me to manage as they come to know me better. By changing my expectations I have become more effective. The 'hood around the guesthouse has become familiar, even bordering on charming. Today I took pictures of my haunts: the post office, the copy shop with Mahalalakshmi standing in the door, Fancy Star store, and the supermarket. What originally felt like a death march to the orphanage now is a familiar stroll. Right, left, right, left, straight to the gate by the wagon of coconuts. I wrack my brain to think of useful gifts I could send from my home in Alaska. But the children don't need and have no use for small gifts. The greatest need is for money to Global Volunteers, which is then directed to the sites that Stephen, our leader, chooses. Believe me, you can trust that he will carefully prioritize to meet the needs of the neediest. The children at SEAM's once slept in one large room on a concrete floor. Now they are on bunks, four to a room. There are only bunks in these rooms. Soon the older boys will have a new dormitory, thanks to Global Volunteers. The latest project that I know of will be a garden on that rooftop.

This is a dream realized for me. It can be that for you, too.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"The soul is healed by being with children" – Fyodor Dostoevsky

A Love Story Chapter Three

Every true love story has a good beginning, a good middle and a good end. A good love story has it cast of characters. And although the end has yet to be written I can tell you of the beginning and early chapters of a big love, a grand love – unexpected and the kind to heal my soul.

First let me start by thanking a good team – every story needs good supporting characters. There were the "youngn's" of the team: Laura who provided amusement to all "only to Laura could this happen!" We weren't laughing at you – we were laughing near you!

Aneesh: the consumate woman's man! Willing to be a shirpa for the gals, holding purses and packages....maybe the only male – but a good one at that!

And then there is Katie – able to share this experience with someone I love was for me the golden nugget of the trip!....You brought much laughter and energy to the team. I love that "my kids" are now "our kids!".

And then there are the nurses: Jana, and SueEllen, I was glad for your watchful eye, suggestions that the SEAMS children received "health inventories" and that you had an opportunity to be in the presence of Dr. Sr. guess is some of her golden magic dust has drifted and now fallen on you too. SueEllen, thanks for your push to continue the important building project at SEAMS. Since I was not one to sift sand, lift windows or carry bricks – my graditude extends to all those who did. Jana – Remember how the Tin Man from Oz asked for a heart? My dear – Sometimes we don't always see what we have – and I assure you – you do have heart. You are lovely people and of good cheer.

To Joan and Claudia, for your excellent planning and teaching at Grace school – Claudia, one of my favorite memories of this trip was the morning I spent at the flower market with you – talking about parents and politics and our lives back home. I am convinced had we lived in the same city we surely would have found each other by now.

To Niki, I have got to hand it to you – India is not an easy place to try out your travel wings and passport – therefore I stand before you in utter amazement. Then, to endure as you did – sickness when giving a million dollars to feel better being impossible, you endured with grace and fortitude that I so rarely see in others these days. I hope you take a lesson in this, because I do believe we learn the most about ourself when the situation seems the worse. Your kindness and gentle spirit is what I will remember most....and I do so hope that your wings are not clipped and that one day, and not in the distant future you will use that passport again.

And to Nita, my partner at Assisi.....I was so glad to have shared the "taming of the little beasts" with you. That you enjoyed the rhythm of the day as much as I only made it more special for me.

Watch out, George is coming your way with those half-crooked, half-puckered lips! Another favorite memory is "girl talk" with Sr. Rose, Sheeba, you and I. One of those truly unguarded moments with Sr. Rose. Many thanks partner....

And finally, I, "Camp Mom" round out the team, as the old-timer, hopefully helping others to learn the ropes with her "bag of tricks!" Just remember the most important ingredient to pack in your bag is your heart!

And now, the main characters of this story:

There of course is the Handsome king – Raja......Better known as Stephen.....and unlike the king in so many other stories – power-driven, one to beat down the weary and demand more and more – our good king Raja is benevolent, kind and patient "Oh yeah!" and a good servant – "We'll check it out!" He is a protector of his people and a shepherd to the poor....he is the best kind of king -

Of course the good king needs a beautiful wife and Sheeba fits the role perfectly. She is so sweet and generous, thoughtful and light-spirited, and yet her best quality is being known to everyone as friend.

Then, there is the "spoiled" prince – Roshan......but he is as cute as can be, so his faults are easily overlooked. It takes a smart and clever boy to overthrow the throne. I'm sure the King and

Queen will have control restored in short order.

There are the villagers of SEAMS – with their governor – the wise and good Pastor Arul....who has served many in his care for years and years. The villagers who truly have so little, still are willing to share what seems to never run short – their smiles, their laughter, and plentiful hugs and kisses.

And then there is the Town of Assisi Illam, blessed and protected by St. Frances, Sr. Rose and Sr. Virgin. The 20 villagers are placed in their loving care as they've turned paupers into princes and princesses. The day care short citizens add to their number (50) during the morning and early afternoon and receive excellent instruction from the fair and powerful, stick weilding Jesse.....whose stick is just enough of a threat to keep all children safe and engaged.

Now that you are on the edge of your seat waiting to hear the depth and breadth of this love story, I will tell you the truth – no one but the two who live it can ever really know the extent of their love – but here are the facts that can be shared: A palm-reader foretold Aunty's trip to India. She then landed in the far-off place called Chennai. On the first day of her first year at the castle Assisi she met a glum and isolated soul whose name she learned to be Augustine. As the three weeks flew by, the two became inseparable as Augustine crawled all over Aunty's heart. The memory of leaving that first year – both with tear-stained faces haunted her for a whole year until she knew that she could only live if only to fulfill the promise of holding her "Little Heart" just one more time.

As plans were made for Joelle Aunty's second visit to Chennai, she learned the news....Augustine was no longer at the castle.....he had returned to his homeland – far, far away. As the message was sent throughout the Kingdom.....of Aunty's impending return......a major search for one little boy in a billion haystack pursued. Found him they did! A drive to Pondicherry and a meeting with the Mother and uncle took place. The good mother allowed me a private audience with her son and it was indeed a most happy event, and one to remembered until memory is no longer useful. But what to do? The desire was so great to see Augustine succeed in life – she turned to the King and begged mercy for this child to put him in a good school near the castle.....and so it came to be.

On this my third trip to Chennai – I have found the healing of my soul – the healing of a year of loss because of one, small mischiveous "Monkey Boy".....who again became mine and I his. He is even smarter and funnier than I remembered, but I am mostly struck by how happy he is – darkness and sadness vanished , replaced by brightness and light. Holding him is my great joy. Even so – I think how can anyone love him more than I? But the story of the "true mother" and King Solomon reminds me that this woman was willing to give her child to another rather than seeing the child cut in two. If I were Augustine's true mother could I give over the care of this sweet boy to another? I doubt that I could, even if I knew it would be better for his life. Therefore, the real love story here is of a mother's love of sacrafice so as to provide her child with opportunities to live and grow and learn. This is big love!

This love story shall continue because there are still other stories in lives yet to be written. I know there will always be a tug between the hearts of the fab five (Sylvia, Sophia, Jasmine, George and John) (plus one....Augustine - my little heart) and my own.

The end of my story has yet to be written....I do think true love stories last beyond this world and into the next. Yet here I sit with my heart pierced not knowing when the next chapters will be written. The words of Garnet Rogers ring so true for me:

The days go slow, the years they flee -
The future's not for us to see,
So for today, I'll let you be...
What I'd give to have you here with me,
What I'd give to have you here with me...

I will dream of you being with me – India, a land and people and especially one little boy who heals my soul.


Thursday, 1 April 2010.
All great achievements require time.

Maya Angelou

Today marked the last day for team members Joelle and Katie. The day started by Aneesh, Katie, and I attending our last morning yoga session. At the end of the session, Katie asked our yoga teacher if he would perform his favorite yoga pose for a picture. We were amazed as he stood on his head, then crossed his legs. Perhaps one day we can achieve this, also – or not as the case may be.

After our morning cold shower and breakfast of ramen noodles and hard boiled eggs, team members migrated to their work assignments. Joelle, Aneesh, and Jana went to Assissi Illam, Katie and Claudia went to Grace Nursery and Primary School, and I stayed behind to work on the growth charts for the kids at SEAM. Work assignments are haphazard this week as this is the week before Easter and schools are going on holiday.

Claudia had ordered a cake (from our local copy shop of all places) for a lunch
time treat for the students at Grace School. Aneesh and Jana left Assisi early,
picked up the cake, and took it to the school, where the teachers were anxious to meet Aneesh as they thought he looked like Obama in the brief glances they had of him. However, once Aneesh arrived, the teachers became shy and needed encouragement to talk with him. Katie arrived back at the guest house after the party with the palm of her hand decorated with henna by one of the teachers. Henna is carefully painted on the palms of the hands; after an hour or two, the henna paste is washed off and the resulting skin under the paste remains dyed and lasts for a week or two. Unmarried women can only have the palm of their hands decorated. Married women can also have the tops of their hands painted.

This afternoon, Katie and Joelle went to Assisi to say their last farewells to the
children. Katie was especially honored to be chosen to be the godmother of little
Jasmine and we all felt fortunate to be able to attend Jasmine's baptism yesterday. I'm sure Katie savored her last visit with Jasmine today before traveling back to Minnesota this evening. While Katie and Joelle went to Assisi, Aneesh, Jana and I went to SEAM. (Claudia stayed behind to rest after the party at Grace School as she is still recovering from an upper respiratory infection.) At SEAM, while Aneesh and Jana attended to the students' myriad cuts and scrapes, I had an impromptu conversational English class with four of the students. Using postcards, I told them about Alaska. I could tell they couldn't totally comprehend a land of ice and snow (northern lights were beyond any comprehension) but they were fascinated with the pictures anyway. When we finished discussing Alaska, they brought out a picture book about India and we discussed pictures with which they were familiar. The last part of our visit was playing “Indian games”, which I always lost because they conveniently didn't tell me all the rules. It was hilarious.

Back at the guest house, we quickly showered and went out to the restaurant we
visited our first week in India. This was the final farewell dinner. We had an excellent Indian dinner which included tandoori chicken, garlic naan bread, spicy
fried cauliflower, vegetable curry, and rice. Indian cuisine consists of so many dishes, I could not learn them all this trip. Hopefully, I'll be inspired to cook up a spicy Indian dish every once in a while in my northern abode and think of the warm hospitality I experienced while in Chennai.

Upon our arrival back at the guest house, Katie and Claudia found two students from Grace waiting for them to give them a thank-you letter. Obviously, Katie and Claudia's presence at Grace School touched these students enough to make them to want to make the extra effort to write a letter and wait at the guest house for them to return from dinner in order to deliver it.

Too soon, it was time for Katie and Joelle to leave for the airport. At the

beginning of this trip, there were 10 volunteers, now we are down to four. As my time draw near to leave, I wonder what it was that I contributed. Would the sand have been sifted at the construction site without me? Probably, eventually. Would the students at Grace have learned English without me? Yes. The hospital would have survived just fine without my days of observation. And the children at SEAM would have spread themselves out between nine volunteers instead of ten. So what can I tell others who are contemplating a trip with Global Volunteers what is the purpose of volunteering?

First, no one person is indispensable, nor should be as a program cannot survive if it is dependent on only one person. However, a steady stream of dedicated groups of people can truly make a difference in community selected projects. Secondly, while a program may not be dependent on one person, that one person can truly make a good or bad impressiion on the community. If by smiling politely at the grocery, or patiently waiting in line at the copy shop I can make a favorable impression and my country is viewed in a better light by even one person, I think that is worth the trip. Finally, I believe that the first step in making the world a better place is by first making a change within our own selves. Volunteering provides a great opportunity of personal growth, and by making ourselves better people we are better able to effect change in those around us.


Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from March 22 - March 26;

155 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 10 volunteers and 155 Hours of preparation time.

50 Hours of childcare by 2 volunteer

50 Hours of construction at Seams to build the Stage 2 of the Dormitories by 2 volunteers and we were plastering cement on the ceilings and walls

50 Hours of health care provided to the poor at the hospital by 4 volunteers.
2 Schools, 2 Children's Home, an hospital and over 400 students impacted

Monday - March 22, 2010

Amelia Earhart:

Adventure is worthwhile.

After a wonderful whirlwind weekend trip (minus Joan who left us to continue her travels in northern India and Nita who went to Mumbai for the weekend to visit relatives), the team started out Monday morning refreshed and excited to see what the coming week had in store. Even though no one wants to do it, the team has banded together to cover the SEAMs dormitory building project every day this week so it can continue, following the matched labor policy at Global Volunteers. We all realized that not wanting to perform manual labor wasn't a very good reason for halting the project, especially after seeing how much joy having a space and a bed to call their own brings to the SEAMs children. At this time we need to stop and recognize Suellen for stepping up and continuing the manual labor job today even though she did it all day, every day last week. Other team members will be diving up time at the job site throughout the remainder of the week, and the project will go on! Other morning job assignment changes include Aneesh going to the clinic sites this week and Suellen teaching at Grace School starting tomorrow.

For me, the day started out with the running, rooftop yoga, and breakfast with milk coffee routine. I imagine the locals are getting used to seeing our little running club out on the streets of Porur in the morning sunlight. Then, Katie and I headed to St. Joseph's School for our second week of teaching English. We have upper kindergarten and lower kindergarten every day in the morning and another class (first through fifth grade) Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons. Each class averages 45 to 50 students, and we worry the quiet ones may get overlooked at times. Although St. Joseph's is a private school, it serves a socioeconomically poor neighborhood in Porur, and tuition is relatively low (about Rs. 4000 or 93 USD per year). The classes are mostly taught in English but we've discovered the fluency of the teachers varies.

We are finally getting used to being mobbed by the children who want to say "Hi, how are you?" and shake our hands. The kindergartners are a lot of fun. The usual routine is to start with a themed lesson (today it was "Who's in your family?"), followed by a picture book, and then close the class with some songs (Five Little Monkeys is the heavy favorite). After morning classes, Katie and I returned to the guest house for a quick lunch and then went to SEAMs for what Stephen described as "Just carrying some window and door frames up the stairs and then tutoring the older children" (who have time off from school while exams are going on). What he failed to mention was the frames are made of solid wood and the window frames also contain several iron bars. This was a bit more than we bargained for (in our skirts and sandals). Luckily the older boys were there to help. Funny moment number one was watching in horror as Rajeesh held one of the door frames precariously balanced on the stair railing (I thought it was going over for sure) and assuring me that there was "No problem! No problem!" Funny moment number two was watching Katie moonwalk across the yard. I'm not sure how we went from a workbooks, to charades, to moonwalking, but this is how these moments happen. Sweaty and dirty but laughing, Katie and I headed back to St. Joseph's to teach first standard about families, reading comprehension, and the wheels on the bus.

In the evening I had the unique opportunity to accompany Jana and a Sister Genoa, both nurse practitioners, to one of the community clinics near St. Thomas Hospital. At first I likened it to the Minute Clinic of India, providing basic health services with convenient hours, but after spending the evening there, I realized it goes beyond that and offers a health care home to members of the community. Sister Genoa and two nurses staff the clinic every night except Sunday. They have a number of medications available on site, and they are able to perform a few simple lab tests (others they can send out to the hospital lab), sutures, and treatments. It seems that they act as the first line of primary care and an access point into the health care system for the community. Sister Genoa sits quietly and listens to each patient who comes in and writes orders on her prescription pad for the nurses. She knows each patient personally and they seem to trust her and take her advice. Sister refers patients to the hospital as needed. At first it didn't seem like Sister Genoa was doing enough (by our American health care standards), but towards the end of the night I began to suspect that she sees the patients so often and is able to monitor them so closely, that when more rigorous intervention is needed, she provides it. This system likely reduces overutilization of the emergency department and greatly improves access to primary care and ongoing monitoring of chronic conditions.

The night ended as most nights here do with a late dinner, good conversation, and a few mosquito bites.


Tuesday - March 23, 2010

Quote: “Challenges are what make life interesting, overcoming them is what make life meaningful “– Joshua J. Marine

Now into our second week we have all been challenged both personally and as a team. Initially the challenges were interesting but daunting, yet, slowly, as we overcome many of them we are finding them meaningful. All of us have been changed by our various experiences. It is often the little things that have impacted us most. Like the open and genuine enthusiasm with which the children greet us every day, calling us by name, holding our hands and vying for attention or reuniting with an old friend, earning the trust of Indian co-workers, or even walking around our guest house neighborhood and having people greet us like long time residents and having the shopkeepers keep a regular stock of diet coke or pepsi. We have even discovered a lot about ourselves and each other. Who knew that Katie could moonwalk and what it hit it would be with her little charges or Joelle, a Global Volunteer returnee to India who was surprised by a previous acquaintance who traveled 6 hours by bus to spend a few hours with her! Or, what about the construction of the new dormitory at SEAMS children’s home. The hard, hot, dirty work done by a handful of volunteers off-set by the excitement the children have about new decent living quarters.

For some of us, the challenge was finding ways in which to learn more about the Indian health care system and to participate in health care projects. Unlike the well-established programs at the various children’s homes and schools, finding meaningful and useful ways to do this was difficult. It required creativity. One must be pro-active. Which means, being assertive (pushy), cajoling (begging) and willing to try different things. But most of all it takes Luck! Like meeting Sister Jaya, the Dean of the nursing school and finding out that March is the month in which the students do community outreach programs and convincing her it was a good idea to take us along. Every morning we board the school bus and head off to rural and urban underserved areas and work in government clinics or do home health care visits. It is an experience that is not easily forgotten .

We are all reminded that each day is a gift and half the fun is un-wrapping it.


Wednesday - March 24, 2010

Two poesm for today,

What is the Measure of Love?
What is the measure of love?

Can it be found in the sifting of sands....sands of time, sands of place, sands of mortar and walls?

Can it be found in the courage to use a 10 guage needle when you know the results will be tears and pain and yet more dread to follow?

Can it be found in the Doe Si Doe of partners and new-found friends – a happy dance of life?

Can it be found in the uncomplaining soul when illness strikes at ones strength and will not to be overcome?

Can it be found in ABC's of life – Affection, Blessing, Compassion....while teaching wild children to recite: The cat sat on the mat?

Can it be found in observing traditions of color, a history of a people so great and vast and enduring amidst the challenges of stife, unrelenting poverty, hunger, and want wide and deep?

Can it be found in play, laughter, teasing when the unguarded soul bubbles up and out and pours out in release?

Can it be found in unity of purpose, compiled by separate beings single minded in desire to make a difference?

Where and how then can we find our measure?

The measure of love is what you have gained after contibuting heart and self, it is the gain after – unexepected and is something we haven't sought, yet it is this thing we have found....

and it is forever what changes us, fills us, and is the meaning in the measure.

This second poem, I recited on our way to Assisi Illam one morning to Nita, who seemed to like it. It is the Prayer of St. Francis, whose words I can not even begin to improve upon. This was a favorite evening prayer said by my family. And even when we are gathered here – not of one faith, but rather of one purpose, I conclude there is still truth and beauty in these words for all of us:

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


Thursday - March 25, 2010

May Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Ancient India: a country as old as human speech itself, where the modern and traditional walk, indeed thrive side by side. I came to India to learn about the culture and history as well as to know the people through volunteering. I have not been disappointed. It is definitely worth the effort. Autorickshaws with drivers on cell phones mingle with rickety bicycles, Japanese luxury cars, packed buses, cattle, women carrying loads on top of their heads, carts pulled by cows, and motorcycles. A four lane road is transformed into an eight lane road by the chaotic traffic. It is indescribable and I expect unique to this extreme, to India. It is 95 degrees daily. While there is no infrastructure for roads or sewage, the people transcend poverty, are friendly and industrious, working late into the evenings.The written language of Tamil, spoken here in Tamil Nadu (country of the Tamils) is 2000 years old. The multitude of languages in India are regional, with the different states hanging on to their history fiercely. I only know a couple words: Namali Kapakala (see you tomorrow).

Our guest house is in a suburb of Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, the province, or state. Our host, team leader, regional & multi country manager is soft spoken Stephen Raja Chinnapan, who at only 32 years of age is somehow able to manage our diverse schedules, rides, communication with the staffs at the different sites. as well as any personal desires such as shopping, dinners out, cooking class, yoga class, All with infinite patience. He somehow accomodates us when we want to change assignments or throw in an extra trip to the tailor (thank you wife Sheeba), or alternate those who prefer to volunteer in the health care field. We are a large group.

It is meaningful to me when I learn that our program fees go towards building the new dormitory at the orphanage, & buying all the uniforms, textbooks, even desks, at Grace school. At the Assissi orphanage Global Volunteers has paid for a hot water heater, water purification, western flush toilet and recently an electric rice grinder. The fees also contribute to the hospital, St Thomas. Team members are creative at the orphanage and day cares, in their play and efforts to teach English. For example, tonight Katie & Laura organized a dance party at Assissi. We were met by the older girls & Sister Rose who wove & pinned Jasmine in our hair. We completed the evening with a traditional Indian dinner on the floor, eating with our hands. Definitely the most fun thing I've done here yet.Music of Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon & more, with loud speakers & 20 tiny graceful children dancing with us and for us. You know Bollywood? Well this is Collywood, as the name changes with the first letter of the region it is in. The children are graceful and practiced as Sister Rose arranges Indian dance lessons for them. We Americans finished the evening off with an energetic Hokey Pokey.

I love teaching grades 3, 4, and five at Grace school. I feel privileged to be able to hog that assignment for three weeks. The children are enthusiastic and when I see their progress, I feel quite proud. After the classes, first Joan, now Suellen and I, teach the teachers with conversational English. Of course I have found that we are the same everywhere. The hour zooms by while we talk about the universal themes of child rearing, beauty, marriage, birth control methods, clothing, juggling jobs and home., and Obama. Yesterday we talked about clothing, what it costs, what we wear for different occasions. Today all three wore their most beautiful saris to share with us. They change into “nighties”, like our long housedresses, as soon as they get home. Colorful chudidhars are for everyday wear in public. Saris are often sequined, worn for everyday, but in a dressing up way like to work, out to dinner, or shopping. The colors, gold and silver bangles and sequined scarves are candy for the eyes. Today we took what we bought yesterday while shopping, to share,like women everywhere.

If you are considering coming to India, do it! Your volunteerism is meaningful and the fees all go towards improving the lives of children. Learning English, for these children, is their hope out of poverty. Many universities teach only in English, leading to jobs and financial security. It is not for the faint of heart here, but then if you are looking at Global Volunteers, you are not.

Friday - March 26, 2010

We can do no great things, only small things with great love. Mother Teresa

Over breakfast with Rani's famous coffee and tea, we discussed the effect we have on the surrounding community. Not only are we directly serving the children at the orphanages and schools and patients in the community, but we are also indirectly keeping several Global Volunteers people employed not to mention the money we pump into the local market with all of the copies, Diet Cokes and ice cream we purchase, not to mention the trips to the tailor. We are truly making a difference here in many ways we many not even readily see.

We all went to our respective assignments today. Niki and Jana left early to pay their community health visits. Claudia and Sue Ellen to Grace School, Joelle and Nita to Assisi and Laura and I to St Josephs. Laura and I had our last day at St Joseph's as they have testing next week. I was honored that the teacher thought I was a teacher back home as well. We worked on adjectives and played a game similar to charades only using words. Without fail, the first guess was always elephant, no mater if we described it as small and furry or even not as an animal. We finished with singing a few of the classes favorite songs including baby fish, five little monkeys, row row row your boat, B-I-N-G-O , the itsy bitsy spider and twinkle twinkle (underwater style). We reviewed the material we covered with the lower kindergarten and were impressed with how much they've retained.

Aneesh, Laura and I headed to SEAMs in the afternoon for a few hours of construction which consisted of sifting sand and then carrying it up to the second floor rooms. The heat of the afternoon required us to take several breaks. We were happy to have the help of a few of the SEAMs children who were off from school today. I'm not sure how we transitioned from sifting stand to martial arts, but Aneesh got a taste of my hip throw which brought him to the ground (gently of course).

The team made it back to SEAMs to recreate the dance party that we had just the night before at Assisi. The SEAMs kids had a different kind of energy that the children at Assisi and we danced the night away one more time. Joelle even led the group in a round of the Virgina Reel. These kids have impressive dance moves and do a wonderful job of mimicking us. A few of the boys shared with us some traditional drumming which also made for great dance music. Being it was Laura, Nita and Niki's last day, the SEAMs children sang a few goodbye songs, presented cards, and individually said their goodbyes. As the kids were saying goodbye many requested us to come back again next year. I can easily see why people make repeat visits.

We hurried home to get cleaned up for a fancy dinner in Chennai at Ambika Empire. We were eager to show off our new Indian fashions with Laura and myself in a sari and Sue Ellen in a chudidar. With Sister Rose's help, Laura and I were secure in our saris. Sister Rose sent off one of the children to pick up some fresh jasmine for our hair and found hair clips, necklaces and bangles which she insisted that we wear. She is too generous. The children enjoyed seeing us in our new get-up. Sister Vergin joined our team for dinner. Some of us enjoyed being able to test our taste buds with some of the spicier dishes as Rani tames things down for us here at the guest house.

As the second week comes to a close, we are sad to see some crucial members of our team return to their respective homes. There will be a void on our team without Nita, Niki and Laura around.

I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love. Mother Teresa