Sunday, April 11, 2010

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


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