Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day – Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Long View – One Volunteer’s Perspective

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “The fish only knows that it lives in water after it is already on the river bank.  Without our awareness of another world out there it would never occur to us to change.  (Author unknown, but contributed by a former student)

Coming to India on my 4th Global Volunteers trip has been a real privilege -  in spite of the long flight, unceasing mosquitoes, and not being able to spend enough time with “My Little Heart, Augustine.”  

This dedicated group of volunteers is enthusiastic, supportive, and striving to make the world a better place, so simply put in one of our team goals: To Make a Positive Difference.  Little actions have big consequences.  Unfortunately, in a brief, two-week encounter with children whose smiles can light our world, we do wonder who is changed more, the children or ourselves.  Over the past few days I have pondered this thought as we hope to make a positive impact on the children’s lives at SEAMs, our main work project this year.  In hopes of teaching the children good hygiene practices and clothing care we discussed how likely is it that these lessons will be learned.  The scripture passage that talks about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and Peter requests, not only wash my feet, but my hands and head as well…. – Jesus returns, “to those who have bathed, there is no further need for cleaning, but the feet….” Strange, but I never fully grasped the meaning of those words until this forth time to Chennai and feel that  as I prepare to leave this week, I will carry with me residual city street dust on my own feet all the way home to Minnesota.  So, how is it possible for these little ones to cross a dirt courtyard, five feet from their bedroom door and be expected to bed with clean feet?  I think about these things and our two worlds but know the children were proud to show us they could thoroughly and properly wash themselves.  It all matters.

So it may seem that Will’s song about teaching the parts of a tree to students at Grace School, playing “clothing Bingo” as the volunteers attempted to bring organize and inventory the boy’s clothing at SEAMs, singing the Lollipop song for the 100th time, or Katie planning and executing the picture board in the guest house of photos, names and family pairs of SEAMs children are insignificant acts of kindness.  Yet, all may be but a single grain of rice in the dish of vegetable biryani.  Each grain is necessary to create a delectable feast.  So today, dear volunteers, those of you embarking on your first India Global, I offer this as my Christmas Hope for you – Your action, your grain does matter.

I now see a dormitory where five years ago none stood - could be a room and a bed or a palace to these children.

I see children thriving, happy, and learning.  Conversational English is taking root and students could enjoy reading their letters from my students.

I hear sweet heavenly music sung for only my ears to hear as Sunitha sings a lullaby in Tamil; she has trusted me as “a friend.”

I watch the children of SEAMs work together and play together better before.  The Christmas program extravaganza “SUPER” – “PERFECTO”  – complete with stage curtains, props, set-design, make-up, directors, actors, performers, singers, comedy, stuntmen, lighting changes, special effects, song and dance and  (John) a precocious Santa weaving his magic throughout.  I’m convinced no traditional Indian dance in Chennai could have been more entertaining or performed with as much heart. 

I know that I’m remembered from past years by songs and rhymes and dances and hugs, because they have been heaped on me in abundant joy and these little ones continue to remind me what it was that I had forgotten I taught them in past years.   

I see healthy arms and legs which once displayed gaping wounds and infections.  To see less illness is truly wonderful.

I see Stephen and Sheeba so dedicated to doing the right thing and knowing how to set priorities for the work and improvement of the children’s lives and I continue to marvel at their wisdom and dedication.  I respect Stephen’s juggling ability for keeping the program in flight….. Of schedules, desires, transportation, food requests, outings, events, dance parties, weekend travel excursions, so patiently without skipping a beat.  Sheeba is the co-pilot of the craft and well, Roshan, sometimes the host and sometimes the rowdy passenger about to be throw off the plane - all make for a marvelous adventure.

I see in my niece, someone whom I highly respect for sharing her love, her heart, her life with these children who mean so much to me.  She has been my delight on this trip.

And I see a small boy, who thinks that in this world “he is my child”,…..the son of mother with no children of her own.  It is a tie that binds an Aunty to her “monkey boy!”

So much had been done in so short a time – because of your love and dedication to the children of India.

I offer this only as one volunteer’s view mindful that the God of Abraham, and Muslims, the Gods of Hindus and a Christmas God named Emmanuel have the ultimate view – but I’m sure God would say, IT ALL MATTERS AND IT’S ALL GOOD. 

Merry Christmas Everyone,

Love JOYelle  - my perfect seasonal name!  (Joelle)


Thursday, December 22, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “What you give ought to be in direct relationship to what you’ve received.  If you have been blessed with a great deal, then you have a lot of giving to do.” - Johnnetta B. Cole
We met, as we always do, at 8:30AM for breakfast and conversation.  I’m used to eating most meals alone on the run back home, so mealtime together is a treat, it reminds me of life growing up with seven people in my family, there is never a shortage of thing to talk about. After planning out the day’s schedule we divided onto our different tasks. 

Will and Ginny headed of to help the teachers at GRACE.  They have come to have an appreciation for grade school teacher; it’s tiring work! 

Mary and Kerry joined Stephen Sheeba and Roshan to shop for some essentionals for the SEAM kids.  Their list included towels, underwear, soap cases, shampoo and cleaning supplies.  They shopped at a local store that was without electricity; the storeowner was leading them around with a candle.  I have to think that we made this storekeepers week with the amount of inventory we purchased. 

Joelle, Chris and I headed back to Assisi.  Joelle was greeted at Assisi with the children ruining the surprise that her special boy, Augustine would be home for lunch.  This was terrific news and she’s been missing him while he’s been at school taking exams all this week.

Our task at Assisi was to decorate for Christmas.  We created an assembly line of sorts for the children to paint a Christmas tree, holly, flowers and bulbs.  The kids stayed focused on this task for well over an hour.  We even had Sister Rose and Sister Matilda helping out too. 

The three first graders arrived before lunch and went about their routine of putting their bags away, changing out of their uniform and washing up for lunch.  All attention was the Indian soap opera that runs from 1-2PM.  There is no point in striking up a conversation with the Sisters or the kids during this show; all eyes are on the TV where it seems that the same thing happens every episode where some Indian girl starts crying. 

The afternoon at Assisi was spent rehearsing a dance to the Bruno Mars, Just the Way You Are song along with dancing to a few other tunes.  These kids sure have great moves.

Mary stayed back to work documenting the inventory for SEAM on a professional looking spreadsheet and the rest of us headed out to SEAM for our washday. After their chores were done the kids linked up in a row with their toothbrush in hand.  I distributed toothpaste on each kids brush and did a demonstration on how to brush your teeth.  We brushed for the duration of 3 ABC’s (which I have to admit is way longer than I brush back home).  Some kids had troubles keeping the paste from overflowing out of their mouth.  Next was the washing demonstration let by Will.  The kids were eager to follow suit, with some washing themselves three times over.

Our last activity at SEAM was a special project that Joelle coordinated with her art students back in Minnesota.  She had her students create a culture box of things that represented MN to share with the kids at SEAM, items included a hockey puck, teen magazine, baseball bat and pictures of snow.  Each kid also received a letter written by the students with a picture enclosed.  It was fun to see the children’s reactions to the individual letters.  The older boys loved getting pictures of the attractive teens.  Some kids received additional goodies including stickers and the prized possession of a $5 bill. We helped the younger kids read their letters; it was fun to share in their excitement. 

Next was dinner at Stephen’s parent’s house.  The intention was for us to take auto rickshaws back to the guesthouse to freshen up before heading out to dinner.  When Will and Chris were missing at the guest house Stephen called their driver to find that he thought Stephen meant for him to drive them to his parent’s house and not the guest house.  I can only imagine the concern that Chris and Will had when the 5 minute drive turned into a 30 minute one.  I’m sure they were put at ease when they were greeted by Stephen’s mom and her beautiful smile. 

We agreed that dinner at Stephen’s parents was our best meal yet.  Chicken briyani, raita, aloo mattar, appalam, vada, complete with rice pudding.  Since it’s the holidays. Stephen’s sister and her family where in town on their annual visit.  We were also able to meet Little Stephen’s 10-month-old daughter Jaclyn.  After our meal, we took a tour of the neighborhood to pay a visit to Stephen’s relatives who live nearby.  We visited Little Stephen, Rani, our cook along and Stephen’s aunt. Stephen’s cousin was home with her youngest child, a 3-month-old baby; Ginny had the opportunity to attend this cousin’s wedding when she was here four years ago on her first Global Volunteers trip.  Ginny was quick to hold the baby and was busy signing her songs until she realized that the baby wasn’t wearing a diaper or anything on her bottom for that matter.  Ginny quickly said, “Take it back” and her grandmother quickly took the baby and put some sort of covering over the child’s bottom before returning her back to Ginny. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the guesthouse and called it a good day.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Watch your thoughts: they become your words
Watch your words: they become your actions
Watch your actions: they become your habits
Watch your habits: they become your character
Watch your character: it becomes your destiny

Today was officially day three at our volunteer assignments and it felt really good. I think it was because we were more relaxed and the kids were becoming more familiar to us which helped put us all at ease. Joelle, Chris and I continued the paper mâché project as Assisi, the kids are really good at it and at getting glue all over themselves and their clothes! Mary, Ginny and Will went to the Grace School and were joined by Katie who made a special guest appearance. Steven brought some gifts that Ginny provided and the children were surprised and delighted.

In the afternoon, Mary, Chris, Will and I went to visit St. Thomas Mountain ( the site were Doubting Thomas one of the decibels of Jesus lived and was later killed). Meanwhile Joelle took a trip to the hospital when she had an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite and Katie went to Assisi. Fortunately, Joelle was okay, she got a shot which made her a little dizzy so she went to bed for the remainder of the afternoon. She was amazed at how efficient yet cheap the hospital visit was, just 200 rupees (equivalent to 4 dollars) which included being seen by the doctor and the medication. Funny how a trip to the hospital in India is cheaper then most people's daily Starbucks latte.

This evening we went to SEAM and started the inventory of the boys clothes and personal hygiene products. It was a very different experience then doing the about chaos! Since there were so many boys as opposed to the girls (25 to be exact) Steven had them come to us so they all brought their trunks or duffle bag full of clothes to the courtyard and we counted how many pairs of pants, shirts, underwear ( if any) that they had along with soap, toothbrush, comb, towel. To further complicate the task it seemed it was close to laundry day so we had to figure out a way to account for the dirty clothes which were in a community pile.

This is where it got fun: we gathered everyone into the prayer hall with their trunks and had them sit in rows and then had the community pile of dirty clothes in the corner and then the 5 of us sat in chairs at the front of the room facing them. We had two helpers Tamil and Anan who held up one article of clothing at a time and the boys were supposed to claim what was theirs then they had to find which volunteer had their card with their name on it and make sure we checked off their article of clothing. It was kind of like BINGO "Who has a shirt for Suresh? " Who has a pair of pants for Mukesh?"
Meanwhile Ginny kept the girls busy by reading and teaching them math.

About 45 minutes later we got through everything and it was time for a reward. Katie handed out pictures of each kid to them that she had taken a few days before. They were so happy, Eziekel was very careful with his and put it in a clear plastic bag as one of his most prized possessions. Mary went around and took pictures of the kids holding the pictures of themselves and they laughed. We played for a bit and then Steven had them line up again and everyone got chocolate candy Mary had brought.

We left there around 7pm and headed to a local hotel for dinner. We had a great meal and recounted the fun we had with the kids.

It was a great day for all except maybe Joelle...


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about.   -Angela Schwindt

We started out today with a bit more confidence than yesterday.  For the morning, Will, Ginny and I returned to Grace School.  I think all three of us were a little better prepared with activities for the children.  I'd like to thank the authors of the Global Volunteers Manual;  they expanded my children's song repertoire beyond "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" by reminding me of such classics as "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "Old McDonald's Farm".  I found that  "ee-i-ee-i-oh" translates perfectly into Tamil.  Our teamwork is strengthening too. Will shared one of his successful classroom activities with Ginny who used in her classroom today with equal success.

The other volunteers returned to Assisi Illam.  They enjoyed a birthday party for one of the children, Jasmine.  They also embarked on what sounds like a rather sophisticated paper mâché project with the children.    I haven't seen the blueprints, but it seems to involve a large, sticky mess with balloons and paints. I'm anxious to see the result.

This afternoon, the whole team met the SEAM children as they returned home from school.  Joelle had created a list of essentials that each girl and each dormitory room should have.  We worked one-on-one with each girl to go through their belongings.  We checked their clothes for tears, broken zippers and missing buttons, and to see that they had clothes that fit.  We also checked their personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies.   Besides learning what each girl needed, there were some unexpected benefits to the process. The girls enjoyed showing us their special Diiwali dresses and trying on clothes to model for us. Girls everywhere love to dress up and look pretty, don't they?  It was nice to see the girls supporting each other, encouraging them to let go of clothes that they had outgrown or that were beyond repair.   We also sensed the girls felt empowered making their own decisions about their clothes. It was a good process all around.

While all this was going on with the girls, it was haircut day for the boys.  It was fun when they came up to us with their fresh haircuts  wanting their pictures snapped.  We're going to tackle the boys wardrobe inventory tomorrow.

This evening, Joelle and Katie worked on a poster for the Guest House that has the picture and name of each child at SEAM.  They did a wonderful job on this.  Learning their names has been a struggle for all of us.  It means so much to the children to be remembered by name as individuals.  This poster will be a great asset not just for us, but for all the volunteer teams here in the future.


Monday, December 19, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “It’s the beginning of a great adventure” – Lou Reed

It’s the end of our first official day of volunteering and I like the rest of my teammates am totally beat.  The day started off with yoga (for some) and an excellent breakfast prepared by our cook Rani.  During breakfast we discussed the plans for the day. Then we broke off into separate groups with some going to Grace School and the others to Assisi Illam.  I was part of the group that went to Assisi Illam.  We managed our way through a terrific traffic jam before arriving at Assisi.  Upon arrival we were greeted by a group of little smiling faces.  There was such joy in those smiles.  We were introduced to Assisi’s matron, Sister Rose, who welcomed us to this most impressive home.  Amongst rows of meager thatched roof homes, Assisi stands modern, clean, and comfortable, and a true oasis for the children. 

It’s remarkable how intelligent and articulate these children are, even by American standards.  These are 3 and 4 year olds that can effortlessly recite and write the alphabet and count to 100.  I was impressed.  After studying with the children, we had a really enjoyable playtime.  George, a very precocious little boy was emphatic that his building blocks be stacked to his specifications.  I don’t recall having any idiosyncrasies at such a young age, but I probably did.  Sister Rose offered each of the volunteers a mysterious thick drink served in a tea cup.  We looked at one another and said this is very good, at which Sister Rose gave a wry smile and said “I know”.  We finally discovered that this amazing substance was oatmeal.  Yes, oatmeal.  Funny how we’re so conditioned to expect something exotic that we couldn’t conceive of anything as mundane as oatmeal. 

Later in the afternoon both groups went to SEAMS and waited for the children who were making their way back from exams.  Now THESE kids get excited.  If you’ve never volunteered with orphans, it’s difficult to prepare yourself for the onslaught of all those little arms and hands reaching out for an affectionate embrace. My first duty at SEAMS was to stand guard outside the boys’ dormitories and ensure that they washed up, changed clothes, and cleaned their rooms.  Initially, they were so overwhelmed by our presence that it was difficult to keep them on task.  Several of them tried to drag me away from my post to go play.  I was amused by many of the boys ignoring the work at hand, who after making eye contact with me offered up a sheepish smile and a lively dance. 

We divided the children up for 30 minute one-on-one tutoring sessions with each of the volunteers.  I must admit that it was difficult to keep up with their energy levels.  By the end of the evening, after a spirited playtime, we headed back to the volunteer house very, very tired.  After a wonderful dinner, we discussed our favorite moments of the day and our most challenging moments.  Although it’s only been 2 days, I can say that we work well together as a team, a true collaboration amongst individuals that have the utmost commitment to achieving common goals.  I foresee the coming weeks to be exceptionally rewarding.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything is small stuff.”

We began our day with breakfast consisting of delicious scrambled eggs, steamed rice cakes with chutney, lots of tea or coffee at a very reasonable hour of 9AM.  We began our orientation by establishing the goals of our team followed by the objectives of our team and characteristics of a good team.  Raja described the schools or orphanages we would be working with this coming week.  The schools are having exams this week so I won’t be working at St. Joseph’s school this time but at Grace School and orphanage and at SEAMS.  Raja explained other activities we would be involved with in the coming weeks such as free time plans.

Our lunch began at 1 pm and consisted of another great meal cooked by Rani.  I remember he great t cooking the last time I was here four years ago and she didn’t disappoint me with a dish of eggplant, vegetable with rice and coconut lemon chutney   followed  by fresh papaya. 

After lunch we continued our orientation.  I will not be attending the Christmas party at SEAMS because my friend, Antony, has invited me to his house to share their Catholic Christmas.  I met Antony on my Elderhostel trip to southern India.  He, like Raja, was sent by his travel company on this trip. We had great fun with Antony on the trip. I was so impressed with southern India that I decided to come back and explore more on my own. I started with Chennai doing my third Global Volunteer program here. Antony arranged my domestic flights and a hotel in Goa.  I met his wife, daughter, Rakshita, who was three at that time.  Global Volunteers had accomplished my goal of establishing friendships with Indians including now Sheeba and Raja.  We continued orientation after lunch deciding what activities we would do during the week. The free-time coordinator is Katie, who has returned for her second time with her aunt.  Obviously, she enjoys these trips and one saw later at SEAMS how the children loved her and Joelle. Water and sewer pipes installed in the street have made walking on the streets around the guesthouse especially in the dark risky for me since I like to look at everything   as I walk.  So I got a ride back along with Joelle in a three wheeled taxi.  The SEAMS children were all happy to see us.  I don’t remember any of the kids here but do remember how excited they were to meet us.  We introduced ourselves to them and the only name I remember is John.  The kids are ushered into their r all purpose room, quickly seated and Raja o rather Roshan, passes out the Mint Chocolate chip gum.  I was thinking of bringing Salt water taffy but decided against it because I know what it did to my teeth chewing it quickly.  Soon the director of SEAMS appeared with his spotless white pants and shirt wearing a Santa Claus hat.  He danced very nicely and I was impressed with his arm movements and graceful body movement.  Soon, all of us were invited to accompany the kids to see where they slept. Next came the dancing in the all-purpose room with the kids.  I haven’t had this much exercise since coming to India.  We say good bye to the children and I ride back.

Dinner is at a local restaurant.  Raja orders for us but we all have a say in what we will eat.  Some of us ordered lassis (no mango ones but salty or sweet lassis available).  Some of us have the sweet and sour chicken soup with coriander. Delicious.  Spicy cauliflower, paneer, tandoori chicken and of course my favorite Indian food naan bread in two flavors (butter and garlic).  Will liked the spicy cauliflower but missed out on the lassi.  As a former teacher one of my personal goals is to get Will to TRY a banana and a LASSI.

We all walked back to the guesthouse including me.  Everyone crashed but I took my shower and was still not sleepy.  So I came down stairs quietly, and just about finished this journal when something flashed and I lost the entire journal page.   So hopefully I remembered everything.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 

The morning session at Assisi Illam was a lot easier today.  We started off by singing rhymes and songs, then read some books and colored.  We learned that the key to quieting them down is coloring books and crayons.  They also watched the Discovery Channel which featured a man having his hands bitten by venomous ants and a 600 lb woman.  The children were riveted and I was freaked out.  At the Grace School, both of my classes need to learn the difference between nouns and verbs and basic sentence structure which is what we worked on.  The 5th graders insisted, as in days past, that we start off the class by singing and dancing to “Love Me Do” by the Beatles which is their favorite.  It is a challenge trying to keep the children from talking to each other during class and to simply focus.  At SEAMS, McKenzie and I each worked with two girls for 30 minutes each.  We found that their English skills are very basic so there is a lot for them to learn.  But, they are very eager to learn, and such sweet kids.  The children at SEAMS are so welcoming and happy to see you that they make you feel like you are the most special person in the world.  After our sessions at SEAMS, we went to downtown Chennai to watch a traditional dance performance.  The music and dance were both very interesting – the dance moves seemed very complex with many facial expressions but did not seem to really follow the rhythm of the music.  The music lulled us to sleep so after 45 minutes we decided to head back to the guesthouse.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

           After day 1 things became a lot clearer about what we should be doing.  We played ring around the rosy and hokey pokey with the children from Assisi Illiam and they seemed to enjoy that. Some of the children just stood in the group and watched. Once they started loosing interest, we pulled out the books.  It kept them entertained for a while and they were even asking what some of the pictures were. When the throwing of books and yelling and running started to happen we decided we would try a new game. It was a failed attempt. We learned that once the books and toys are out, all we can really do is keep them from fighting and using the toys as weapons.  Zora’s spinning was once again a hit, and I finally go the shyest boy in class to come play and smile.  I would call it a pretty successful day at Assisi Illiam.

            The children at Grace School were just as energetic as ever. I started really listening to what they were saying and how they were saying it, and I realized that they have somewhat good vocabulary, but what the second and third graders really lack is using complete sentences. I had to change my whole lesson plan around and I have set a new goal for those students. For discovering weak areas, I would call it a success at Grace School as well.

            When we got to Seam’s they were having a birthday party for a young shild in the neighborhood. We had some cake and sang and had a good time.  Then Zora and I went off to do one on one sessions with the children. We only had time for one round, and I worked with Ramish. He is the sweetest boy and has a contagious smile.  It was difficult to know where to start with him. I asked him questions and he didn’t seem to really understand, then I asked him to read a simple book, and he didn’t do so well with that either, so for the remainder of the time we went over sounds, and what words had that sound in them. I think he became less nervous, and felt more comfortable because he stared doing better and better.

             Right after Seams we went into the city to go shopping! After that trip I can say I am truly grateful for laws of the road in America.  Sheeba helped us pick out some beautiful fabric for saris, and we got a chudidhar as well. It was a lot of fun.

            All in all, it was a pretty awesome day.


Monday, November 14, 2011 

 After breakfast we headed to Assisi Illam armed with boos and flash acards for our first day with the little ones.  We met Sister Rose and Sister Matilda who gave us a tour of the facility and children’s rooms.  The children sang the ABC song for us and after candy was passed out (it was Children’s Day) play time began.  McKenzie and I each brought out books which only held the children’s attention for so long.  The children were captivated by McKenzie’s camera and loved having their pictures taken.  I got my exercise by spinning children around and playing tag.  We then headed to the guesthouse for lunch and afterwards went to the Grace School. I worked with the 4th and 5th graders while McKenzie worked with the 2nd and 3rd graders.  I found that the children were more advanced in their English than I expected.  The students were eager to speak English and demonstrate what they knew.  The 5th graders enjoy singing songs.  In the evening we went to SEAMS where the children participated in a drawing contest of which McKenzie and I were the judges.  The children were very creative and some quite talented.  A group of local women brought treats for Children’s Day and played games with the children in which we were asked to participate.  It was a fun day with the children.  They are so happy to see us and their smiles warm your heart.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

It was our first day as a team.  Zora, a long time lawyer from Chicago who has travelled a lot, but first time to India, McKenzie (myself), a massage therapist from Salt Lake City, young and ready to start her travelling repertoire, and of course Stephanraja our team leader. Not to mention his beautiful wife Sheeba and adorable son Roshan.

            We had our first morning meeting and I don’t think Zora nor I knew quite what to expect.  This is both of our first times with Global Volunteers, and I must say, it has been a great one thus far.  We wrote our goals and came up with 15 characteristics of a successful team.  I believe some of those were repeating others, but we just wanted to fill the board with exquisite answers. Our goals included learning about Indian Culture, giving to the community, making progress with the children as far as education goes, and using our abilities and gifts to serve those around us.

            After our successful meeting, Zora and I wanted to take a walk to get to know our surroundings.  It just so happened that Stephan needed to take back some clothes for Rosha and get some new ones, so we decided to tag along. We knew we wouldn’t get lost that way. We dared the busy chaotic streets as we ran across them, and Zora found a nice friend who was insisting Zora to buy cotton swabs from her.  We returned the clothes and soaked in all of the unbelievable sights of Porur, Chennai, such as half demolished buildings, cows everywhere, and amazing colors of clothing worn by the Chennai women.

            When we got back we ate a wonderful lunch made by Sheeba and went and took a very long power nap.  Eleven and a half hours of a difference in time is not easy to overcome.

            We then went and met the children at the Seams home.  The welcome we received when arriving is one I will never forget.  Children ran up to us with the largest smiles. They were hugging us and putting their arms around us and holding our hands. They were all saying “hello, how are you” then tell us their names. It was overwhelming but so incredibly amazing.  They led us to the front of the room where there was two seats, the reluctantly went and sat in front of us. You could tell they were dying to play.  They then sang a song to us and I felt as if I would cry! I was debating on which sweet child I was going to stuff in my suitcase and take home with me.  They did an amazing job at welcoming us.  I thought I was the most special person in the world at that moment.

            After they all introduced themselves individually, they sang another song then Stephan selected a few to show us their rooms. They gave us a thorough tour of every dorm and the bathroom inside. The dorms were decent, probably credited to Global Volunteers, but it was just heart breaking to think that they had to live there with no parents of the constant individual care they all deserve.  These children need all the love they can get, and I am so proud to be able to give it to them for a short time.

            These children are just to die for. Their joy and energy can fill a room in a second. They were just being kids, but their emanating sweet spirits told you they are much more than that.

            The time came all too soon that we had to leave. It would have been very pleasant farewell they gave us, if I wasn’t sad we had to leave. They taught me how to say “I’ll see you tomorrow” in Tamil, then were on our way.

            Their excitement and enthusiasm rubbed off on me and had me leaving with a large smile and a high of self-esteem. These children really are spectacular.

            We then went out for dinner and enjoyed a wonderful meal from Kaaraikudi, a Chettinad restaurant, and returned to the guest house practically falling over ourselves with exhaust.  We retired immediately to bed and had a good nights sleep, dreaming of the adventures that would be awaiting us the following day.   


Monday, November 7, 2011

Friday November 4, 2011

“All religions, arts and sciences are the branches of same tree” Einstein

Today is our last day so we started with heavy heart as we have been getting used to the people here and now we have to leave.

I went to Grace School as usual to teach the 3, 4 and 5th grade classes. They were aware that this was my last day so they kept on asking when I will come back. I mixed the English and Arithmetic teaching with stretching exercises and some singing to break the monotony. It was hard to say goodbye to the students and the teachers as they were so nice to us. The students and teachers gave us letters expressing their thanks to us for being there and asking if we will be back. Eileen and Sherie had gone to Assisi to work with the young children there and said their goodbyes to them. In the afternoon Eileen & Sherie visited the Grace School to do their last teaching classes there. They also received many letters from the students expressing there love for them and wanting them to come back next year. It was genuine expressions of gratitude by them.

In the afternoon we made our usual visit to the SEAM orphanage, where we did not teach, but have them play games in the courtyard. It was fun to watch them play and watch their enthusiasms for the games. They played two Indian games- Kabaddi and Koko, which are not common outside India, so we enjoyed learning them. It was again sad to say goodbye to them also. They performed some songs for us and we even joined them in some dances.

After a great dinner at a restaurant nearby, our day was over.

As we finished our two weeks here all of us felt that it was a great experience in more ways than one. It was a good teamwork with good leadership from our local host. We hope we made some difference in the lives of these children and adults with whom we interacted.


Thursday November 3, 2011

Life is too deep for words,
Don’t try to describe it.
Just live it. - Unknown

Only one day left, how can this be.

We left for our morning work with showers still in the air and very slippery mud on the road.  Shankha was happy again with his students at Grace School and later joined Sherrie and me at Assisi.  We had a very busy morning with fourteen daycare children who were enjoying some of the new books we got at the store the other night.  Some of them are really trying to make English sounds.  The sisters had invited us to stay for lunch today which was a south Indian feast.  

In the afternoon we headed to Grace School and continued our English conversation with the students.  I can maybe see some improvement in the fourth and fifth grade even in this short bit of time. 

We spent time again at SEAMS this evening.  The children there really thrive on the one to one attention that is really lacking in their lives.  Tomorrow evening I begin my three plane trip back to Boston.  An unforgettable experience here in Chennai.


Wednesday November 2 ,2011

We must recognize that the suffering of one person or one nation is the suffering of humanity.  That the happiness of one person or nation is the happiness of humanity. - Dalai Lama

Because of the heavy rains there is no school for the children at the Assisi orphanage.  That means we have a bigger job with more children and a lot more energy.  We did coloring, stories, songs and some one-on-one reading.  Stephen (Raja) organized a ball toss game which everyone enjoyed.

Grace school was in session today so we had our normal schedule there and we attended Seams as usual later in the day.

The big event of the evening was going to Stephens parents home for dinner. Stephens’s warm and gracious parents served a delicious dinner.


Tuesday November 1, 2011

“If you can, help others; if you cannot do that at least do not harm others” Dalai Lama

As usual after a great breakfast we were off to our tasks. I went to teach the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at the Grace School. I started with the 3rd graders with English, followed by more English for the 4th graders and finished the morning with the 5th grade arithmetic lessons. I gave them some simple problems to solve and it was fun to see who finishes it first. We are doing some stretching exercises before the start in all my classes.

Sheri and Eileen went to Assisi for the usual work with the kids there. Today Carlos had joined us also for our rounds. They loved him at the Grace school as he plays with them a lot.

In the afternoon Sheri & Eileen went to Grace School and they had prepared themselves more to be even more efficient. Carlos accompanied them also. They were happy by their interactions there.

We went to Seam a bit early as we had some engagements later in the evening. I had three kids to teach in the hour that I had there. I grilled them with right pronunciations and phonics. One of the new children needed more help than others. A new student (a girl) was quite good at reading. Sheri and Eileen also have been trying their best to get points across so that the pronunciations of the students get better. We had to cut our visit short as I had to leave for a dinner engagement and others were going for shopping. Our roads near the Guest House are getting rougher as the rains damage the surface, but we are managing to get in and out somehow. Stephen is doing a great job of transporting us all over the place.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday October 31, 2011

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle, you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein”

Week two begins.   Raining again as Shankha headed off to the Grace School this morning.  He really enjoys his time there with the students as well as helping the teachers with their English.

Sherie and I went to Assisi.  Soon after we arrived we went with one of the sisters to St. Thomas Hospital to meet with Sr. Rexline, the medical director and head of Assisi and many social programs for women and children in the area.  She is a tiny, very energetic woman who has built a very impressive program over the past thirty five years. She lives in a single room at the hospital and is on call for the patients day and night.  We met with two of the doctors and toured the pediatric ward.  There were a couple of children who were just going home after suffering fire cracker burns over the Devali holiday. 

In the afternoon Sheri and I continued our classes with the first through fourth graders at Grace School.  The children are quite receptive and their skills are quite good.  Today I had them make as many small words from large words and they were pleased to get nearly twenty.  They had to spell and pronounce the word with the class. 

Tonight at SEAMS we met with students we had not worked with during the first week. They just love to look at the books and sit quietly on the bunks while we are working with an individual student.  The day went quickly.

The monsoon rains and drainage problem have caused the road outside the guesthouse to collapse in a number of spots with deep holes.  Steven now meets us at the corner but the way is made a bit drier with dried palm branches to ease the way.


Friday - October 28, 2011

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

The cyclone missed us, the holiday is over and we are back to our regular schedule. 

Eileen and I went to Assisi facility in the morning and interacted with the day care children for an hour and then we helped with ironing, mending and folding clothes, which had piled up because of the rain.

Shankha spent the morning at Grace school where he truly enjoys teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. He also spent some time conversing with the teachers.

After lunch, Eileen and I went to the Grace school.  I felt more prepared this time but the thirteen 1st graders are a challenge.  My four 2nd  grade girls are eager to learn and a real joy.

We picked up the energetic, smiling,  Roshan, Stephen and Sheeba’s son, at his kindergarten.  This private school with spacious grounds, is K-12th grade with approximately 1000 students and more on a waiting list.

We later, continued our daily work at the Seam Home.


Thursday – October 27, 2011

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else” – Mark Twain

We were getting ready to do our usual routine in the morning but Stephen informed us that the school classes had been called off in Chenai due to a Cyclone that was heading this way. We were disappointed but we had to change our plans and I went to Assisi Orphanage with other volunteers as the home children would be there and need help. The rains have been fairly regular so the roads are still a bit difficult but our driver Stephen has been doing well to get us wherever we want to go. There were many children at the orphanage. We worked one on one with a child to help their English comprehension. Later we got them busy doing some coloring which they like a lot and then played some games with them.

After lunch we went shopping downtown at the Government owned Cottage Industries store. It was a good place to get Indian products of good quality.

The last activity was our usual stop at the Seam Orphanage where we teach individually students English reading and spelling. As mentioned earlier these kids really need attention to improve their reading skills. We tried our best to have them pronounce words correctly and read simple sentences without coaching.


Wednesday - October 26, 2011

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

Deepavali, Chennai 2011

Well the firecrackers started before four in the morning to make the most celebrated Indian holiday. Neither monsoon rains, deeply muddied roads or endless exploding fireworks in the path of the Tata could keep us from our assignments for Global today.

At Assisi there were no daycare children as they were home with their families. However the center was teeming with excitement as we arrived to nearly all of the children who reside there setting off fireworks in the street and courtyard.  Even the small ones were setting off sparklers with their own smoldering lighters.  Truly a scene we would not see in America. Once the explosions were over and without any obvious injuries we worked with the school age children with reading, English pronunciation and songs.  They were very enthusiastic.  Some of the children are from homeless families and some are survivors of the past Tsunami several years back.  The work of the center is truly a humbling experience.

At SEAMS this afternoon, each child had a separate new outfit and were very pleased to show us.  No two shirts or dresses the same.  Everyone was special.  We continued to help them with their reading skills which are really very elementary.  Using basic flash cards and very easy reading books and lots of praise for small accomplishments seems to be the way to go.  The children greet us as soon as we arrive and are really eager to work with someone just to themselves. The ride back to the guest house was harrowing with  live fireworks being set off right  in front of the car but as usual Stephen our driver was determined to get us through so we could have dinner and prepare the next day’s lessons.


Tuesday - October 25, 2011

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” Mahatma Ghandhi

‘It’s raining-it’s pouring’ Today we woke up to a downpour but because of our efficient driver, Stephen (Stephen/Raja brother) we were able to go to the Assisi facility.   We were better prepared with more books and crayons for coloring but to our surprise there were only three children attending the day care.  Because of the Dewahli holiday on the 26th, many families had other plans.  It actually turned out nicely in that we could give special attention to Karthick, Rickshan and Sherin and get to know them better.  Sherin we decided was a very good manager, as she directed Eileen to color her fish picture with specific colors.

We had some free time in the afternoon since the Grace School was closed for the holiday.

In the late afternoon we went to the Seam Home, to work individually with the children.  We felt we were better prepared since we had some of the same children and we had brought materials which met their level. The children were very excited for tomorrows holiday when they can wear their new clothes bought for them from the community.


Monday – October 24, 2011

“Life is like a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving”

After a delicious breakfast we went on our separate ways to our respective work.

I went to the Grace school which is a primary school from KG to 5th grade. It is a small school with about 60 students. I met the Principal and the teachers and toured the classes where I was greeted in unison with a loud remark-Good morning. I was assigned the grades 3, 4 and 5. I taught English using their textbook to the 3rd grade first. We practiced reading in simple sentences and asked each student to spell out words. I also questioned them about words that they read and asked them to use these in sentences. It was a joy to teach these bright kids. Next I had the 4th grade kids. There were only 4 students today. Again it was English lessons and I used their textbook to go over some pages that they already had studied. It was fun to see students trying to answer out of turn and trying to help the one on the spot.

After a 15 min break I went to teach arithmetic to 5th grade class. There were six students and one was supposedly absent. They had no textbook so we practiced simple additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions. Some of them were quite adept at these exercises and would answer me even though it was not their turn, so eager and wanting applause. They did listen to my requests and were well mannered. It was a fun morning. I also spent some time with teachers as they wanted to speak better English. We exchanged our life histories and our family details. Not surprisingly their ultimate goal was to be a good teacher,

Sheri and Eileen visited in the morning the Assisi Illam which is a daycare facility. They were dealing with 2-4 yr old kids. They liked the experience a lot as the children were lovable but Sheri described it as a “challenging” task. They read books to them and sang songs to them. In future coloring of books may be a regular task for them.

Raja suggested that we should have 4 or 5 half hour activities for these kids to keep them busy, such as book reading, songs, physical activities like playing ball, etc., coloring books and maybe practice alphabets on the wall blackboard. He also suggested that we should take breaks once in a while.

In the afternoon (after lunch) Sheri and Eileen went to the Grace School. Eileen was involved with the 3,4 and 5th grades and Sheri handled the 1st  and 2nd grades. Eileen found them to be quite competent in math; she read passages from their text books and played a language game with them. In Sheri’s first grade class the teacher was also present which was a bit unsettling to her as often when she asked questions, the teacher would let the class know the answer and the class chimed the answer in unison. She also had songs in the class whose words she wrote on the board. Her 2nd grade class had only 3 students so she could manage them well. They were quite bright and did communicate more.

Later we all visited The Seam Children’s Home which is a home for poor and orphaned children. We had been there the evening before and seen their enthusiasm toward us. We each had a child to go over individually some practice in English reading. It was clear that these children did not have the competence to read simple words from lessons that they already had gone over. They need lot more practice in reading. They are understaffed at this place so the help that Global Volunteers provide can be of great help in remedying their English.

It was a rewarding and memorable day for all of us.


Sunday - October 23, 2011

Orientation Day

"If we are to come together in peace, we must come to know each other better." Lyndon Johnson

Our team of three, Sheri, Shankha and myself under the kind and very informative Stephan had our day of orientation beginning with breakfast. Stephen introduced us to the projects that the volunteers currently participate including the SEAMS Children’s Home, Assisi Illam and the Grace School.

Stephan helped us to formulate team goals for the week to focus on helping the children learn better English skills as well as gaining a better understanding of the Tamil culture of South India. We reviewed the schedule for the week which will involve working at three community projects with children from age two to twenty.  We know that we serve as the guests of the host. 

We took a walk through town this afternoon and met a number of families who were out with their children as it was not a workday.  The children were quite eager to have their photos taken.  We practiced a few of the Tamil greetings Stephen shared with us in the morning. 

This evening we walked to the SEAMS home and met the lively cheerful residents who were very eager to serenade us with local songs as well as to show off their dorm rooms.  We promised to return nightly for more stories, conversation and games. 

Stephen was ever so patient with our endless questions as we tried to absorb as much of the information of this new, busy bustling culture.  After only twenty four hours it seems that this time will just fly by.