Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

For Ellen, Katie, and me, this was our last teaching day, and it seemed to go very quickly. At St. Joseph’s Ellen and I had the lower kindergarten again, which has often seemed a difficult assignment, but today we seemed to sail through it, singing every song we knew and then some. It was sad to say good-by, especially to Mrs. Mercy, who has obviously enjoyed our visits and worked beside us, teaching us songs and learning songs from us.

At Grace I finally had the fifth grade. For the last several days they haven’t been allowed to work with me due to some infraction. I showed them pictures of my family and my home, and they wrote a love note to me all over the blackboard. Then it was on to SEAMS for more good-bys, and the children sang and danced for us. A number of them turned out to be very talented. Four girls danced with lighted candles cupped in their hands, and a boy and a girl sang lovely solos. Next was a delightful restaurant meal, another good-by, I guess, to Stephen, Sheeba, Roshan, and Jeff and Katrine, who will be continuing on without us.

I feel I am just beginning to know these children, and now I am leaving them. I wonder what they think of the way these foreigners come and go through their lives. I hope my small time with them has helped them in some way to make their lives better, to make them more able to fulfill their dreams.

“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in

bed with a mosquito.” Betty Reese


Thursday, February 17, 2011

After a usual schedule (Jeff and Katrine at Assisi Illam, Katie at Grace School and Assisi Illam, and Winnie and I at St. Joseph’s and Grace), all but Katrine went to SEAM’s and then afterward to Stephen’s parents’ home for a sumptuous dinner. Katrine was still a bit under the weather, so stayed at the Guest House to rest. Stephen’s parents (Mr. and Mrs. Chinnappan) live in a Christian community, with many relatives close by, so we had the opportunity to see several homes, into which we were welcomed graciously. Stephen, our driver and his wife and little boy, Robinson, live next door, Sheeba’s sister lives behind them. We met an aunt and cousins and saw Rani’s home, as well. The dinner was beautifully cooked, with several chicken dishes, fish, and all other lovely kinds of food, including a favorite, rice pudding, Mr.and Mrs. Chinnappan showed us perfect hospitality. Sister Matilda and the five youngest Assisi children were also invited, so Roshan had them, as well as Robinson to play with,. Much of the time Stephan and Sheba live in the parents’ home when they are not caring for a Global Volunteers team. It was a lovely evening.

Quote of the day: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can

change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

(paraphrased) Margaret Mead
February 16

Today we were invited to join the Assisi children and nuns for a visit to Dr. Rexaline's farm. We all piled into a yellow school bus at approximately 9.30 am. The children were very excited. Sister Rose and sister Metilda started off the trip with a prayer and then the children took over with lots of screams of excitement as we saw trains, passed the airport and just generally as we drove along. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to reach a pilgrim site called Acharabakkam, south west of Chennai. There we attended a mass. The pilgrim site is where many miracles have happened in the name of Mother Mary. The music during mass was lovely. The mass and cermon was in Tamil and ended just after midday. There is a shrine on top of a hill which we could have climbed up to but it was far too hot.

So we all piled into the bus again after having inspected some cages with different kinds of birds. A short ride later we reached Dr. Rexaline's farm. At the moment the farm consist of a retreat centre for the nuns but also for lay people if they so wish and a dispensary. We met with the sister who is in charge of the centre in her office. Then they served us a wonderful lunch. The children had a pick nick lunch which they had brought with them from Assisi.

Dr. Rexaline also has other plans for the site. Now they grow peanuts which they sell.

At about 3 pm we again took possession of the bus for the return trip to Chennai. Most of the children promptly had a nap on the bus. As we neared Chennai it soon became apparent that we were going to pay a visit to the beach in Chennai. We spent about 1 1/2 hours on the beach and it was dark as we all piled into the bus again for the return trip to Assisi.
We reached the house well after 8 o'clock after a very long and rewarding day.

"We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men" Herman Melville.


February 15, 2011

Our day began with yet another of Rani’s wonderful breakfasts. As much as we enjoyed it, we also knew we needed to save room for the relatively early noon lunch we would be having with the sisters at St. Thomas Hospital. Because of the early lunch, we also knew we would have less time to spend with our kids this morning. Katrine was glad to finally have Jeff back at Assisi Illam today. The kids were pretty wild yesterday and two volunteers, plus a normal staff level at the school helped things go much more smoothly.

By 12:30, everyone had gathered at St. Thomas’ for lunch. The section of the hospital facility where the sisters live is very serene with a shaded courtyard. Even though sister Rexline couldn’t eat with us today, due to another meeting, she and other sisters, including mother superior, served us a larger meal that included fish, rice, fried potatoes, cabbage, a crispy snack, papaya, and much more. They even fixed Katrine a special omelet to accommodate her vegetarian diet. After lunch, the sisters presented each of us with a beautiful scarf, apparently in appreciation of the work we are doing. It was all very humbling, especially for this writer, bearing in mind these are people who have devoted their entire lives to serving others.

Lunch was followed by Katrine, Katie, Ellen, and Winnie taking an afternoon excursion to the Government Emporium market, where one can purchase local handmade art. Finally feeling better after days dealing with the “crud,” Jeff chose to return to the guest house with Stephen to take it easy.

Our visit to SEAMS found work finally resuming on the under-the-bed boxes. Tonight’s task was to plane the sides of the box in order to prepare it for the lid and hardware, which will come next week.

Stephen led us in a 10-day assessment of our GV experience at dinner. We all reported growing confidence in abilities, increasing success in our tasks, and continuing enjoyment of the children. In reviewing our team goals, we agreed we are certainly “learning about India,” making strides in “teaching English,” indeed “connecting with Indians,” constantly “sharing of ourselves.” We also feel we are meeting the standards we set for being a successful team. During our discussion, Stephen complimented us by saying we are a wonderful team to work with and we all agreed we couldn’t do it without his effective leadership.

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Mohandas Gandhi


February 14

We started the second week back at our daily assignments: St Joseph’s School, Grace School and Assisi Illam. The common theme among the projects is the need for flexibility in our volunteer work. You never know which class you will be teaching, if the day care teacher will arrive, if the kids will have their pencils, or if the power will be on.

The entire team spent the early evening at SEAM Children’s Home. What seemed like an overwhelming amount of people and names to learn last week now seems much more under control. I’m amazing by the discipline of these children. After they get home from school, they change out of their uniforms and start with the chores: washing dishes, cleaning their room, sweeping the dirt ground. Next they spend two hours studying and doing their homework. It’s also nice to see how well the kids take care of each other. Ellen noted that one of the older boys came by her group and complimented the young children on how well they were going on with their coloring.

We were invited to Assisi Illam for a dance recital. The kids swarmed to great us when we arrived. They were dressed up in what seems to be traditional Indian dance costumes complete with lipstick, blush, red markings on their hands, and jasmine in their hair. They did a few Indian dances and then switched to some American ones. The kids invited us to dance with them. I had a great time dancing with Sister Rose. Sister Rose prepared a wonderful meal and the rest of the evening was spent visiting and playing with the children.

“The best way to find yourself is to loose yourself in the service of others.”



Friday, February 11, 2011

February 10, 20ll

Today  Katie went as usual to Grace School and Ellen and Winnie taught their usual morning Kindergarten classes at St. Joseph’s. Then the three of them joined Katrine at Assissi Illam, where they and Stephen had a bountiful lunch with Sister Rose and Sister Matilda. It was fun to watch the nuns’ soap opera with them while we ate. In the afternoon, Stephen took them to meet the amazing Sister Rexline at St. Thomas Hospital. She suggested they see another project of the Franciscan sisters, a printing business, garment factory, housing project and day care for the workers and their children. Winnie seemed an especial favorite of one of the nuns who insisted on leading her by hand all over the building, the rest of us trailing behind.

The power was out from 9 o’clock until this evening, and the drinking water wasn’t delivered today, but Stephen and Sheeba and the volunteers took it in stride. Some of us shopped at the Fancy store in the afternoon, for cheap, sparkly jewelry and bindi. At SEAM’s Jeff and Stephen and Stephen’s brother worked with the boys with the new saw, building boxes to store the children’s belongings. They completed the bottom and sides of the first box, which was designed by. Stephen, to be the prototype for the 40 boxes the children will need.

Pizza was the final treat of the day. Since Ellen is writing this, she claims the privilege of saying that she is growing very fond of her SEAM team, four 7 and 8 year olds, who love to draw and color. And she also quotes herself with this thought for the day:

“Whatever we do is more than would have been done, if we didn’t do it.”

February 8, and 9, 2011,

Both days started with yoga on the rooftop for almost all of us. This was followed by breakfast and then off to our various assignments. Breakfast consists of something new every day. We all seem to be getting more comfortable with our children although every day is different and what one day worked very well sometimes does not work so well the next day. On Wednesday morning Sheba pinned jasmine flowers in our hair - that is Jeff did not get any flowers. Lovely scent. Katie reported that the computer room at SEAMS now seems to be working well. And Jeff enjoys his time at SEAM although the planned start of making the boxes has been put off for another day due to problems with the saw.Stephen announced that there will be a dance party at SEAMS next Friday. A priest joined us at Assissi on Wednesday for lunch. He teaches the older children there how to dance on Monday evenings for one hour. He told me he is involved in a youth program for the children. We also had a discussion about marriage and how girls should be married. On Tuesday evening we all piled in the van and went shopping for a sari for Katie who is going to Hyderabad for a wedding this week-end. The array of sari material was incredible. Also some jewelry was bought - anklbracelets etc.
"Nobody can do everything but everyone can do something" (Unknown)


February 7, 2011

Today marked the first full day of active volunteering with the children. Even before breakfast, we were reminded that each day holds the potential for new surprises. For some of us, it was a morning shower amounting to little more than a trickle of water. For others, it was an unexpected encounter with one of the locals during a morning walk. Jeff and Winnie felt sure the kind man we ran into was the SEAMS director we met the evening before. Katey, was positive it was not. After being invited into his home and meeting his family, Jeff and Winnie agreed it was not. Like the SEAMS director, this gracious gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair was also a minister, but with other projects. We awkwardly turned down their kind offer of tea and biscuits, snapped quick photos, received his blessing in the form of a lengthy prayer and got quickly on our way. As we all embarked on our various assignments, so we reflected this evening with feelings of both apprehension and confidence. Katey is thrilled to begin her second GV experience in India. Thriving on the busyness offered by the first day at Grace School; getting to know her new god-daughter, Jasmine, at Assisi Illam; and welcoming the relief of a nap before heading off to SEAMS in the evening, her only frustration with the day was wanting to do “everything” that comes before her but knowing it is impossible.

Winnie and Ellen spent their morning at St. Joseph School and their afternoon at Grace School. Both felt a bit ill-prepared for teaching on the first day, but agreed on ways they can remedy that. For Ellen, it was the kids themselves at both Grace School and SEAMS who were the highlight of the day. Winnie echoed that by describing joy in students’ successes and positive responses.
Katrine and Jeff spent the entire morning and afternoon at Assisi Illam. Unsure about her teaching skills after so many years with no small children around the house, Katrine was reassured by the support and guidance provided by Sister Matilda, one of the school’s two coordinating nuns. At the evening meal, Katrine could state with confidence that the day had turned out well.

Jeff wholeheartedly agreed. Impressed by the children’s eagerness for learning, he specifically noted the SEAMS kids’ creativity and respect for the volunteers. Underscoring a comment made earlier by Ellen, his only frustration with the day was understanding and remember children’s names. In short, Stephen summed up the group’s feelings with five simple words: “It was a good day.” After a brief discussion about education in India versus that in our own country, we were well ready to retire early in order to be well- equipped for tomorrow. For some of us, that will also involve our first early-morning yoga session on the rooftop terrace!

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.


February 06, 2011,

We gathered for our first breakfast together which consisted of dosa with kalla chutney and omelets. Breakfast was complete with coffee and chi, which we agreed was a nice way to add the sweetness to the meal. We spent the better part of the day working through the orientation materials and the discussions that stemmed from the various topic areas. The team consists of five volunteers: Winnie (Oregon), Ellen (Oregon), Jeff (Oregon), Katrine (Ottawa) and Katie (Minnesota). Winnie, Ellen and Jeff discovered that they all went to school in the west part of Portland and during the introductions we discovered that Ellen and Jeff both worked at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland (at different times). Small world. We learned about the different communities that we serve through Global Volunteers in the surrounding area: St Joseph’s School, Grace School, Assisi Ilam, and SEAM Children’s Home.  St Joseph’s School is a Catholic school with about 550 students with 40+per classroom. Although it is a Catholic school, only 20% of the students are Christians. This school is designed for poor people to be able to get a good education. Although the classes are taught in English, the students’ parents do not speak English so it is important for us volunteers to help out so that the hear native English speakers. The tuition is 450 rupees a month (approx $10/month) . Grace school has 65 students in grades K-5 with 8-10 children per classroom. These children come from families who are too poor for private school, but who do not want to send their children to government schools. When this program started the teachers were not even speaking English. Volunteers are needed for Grace school, as there is a shortage of teachers due to the minimal tuition paid for schooling. Assisi Illam had a day care and orphanage with 25 children in day care and 29 in the orphanage. This is cared for by the Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph. Their motto is to work with the poorest of the poor in the lowest cast. They offer day care so that the parents are able to work during the day. We got to talking about Dr Sr Rexline, an amazing woman who started up Assisi Illam and St Joseph’s Hospital among many different projects focused on serving the poor. We’re exited to meet her. SEAM Children’s home has 39 children who are orphaned or semi-orphans who attend public schools that are taught in Tamil. Their English is poor so we will work with them every evening in small groups. The also crave attention and affection, which is something that we’re able to provide.  We divvied up the assignments and set the schedule for the week. Each volunteer needs to work 40 hours per week. We worked through an exercise of determine our team goals and categorized them into four main areas: to learn about India, to teach English, to connect with Indians, and to share ourselves. We talked through the characteristics of an effective team, and from the sounds of it, I think we will work together quite well ,We broke for lunch which consisted on chapatti, eggplant and potatoes and got back to the orientation. One item that interested me was the Global Volunteers is in partnership with the United Nations. The United Nations has made up a list of minimum requirements for children around the world, “the 12 essential package.” We discussed what Global Volunteers has/is/and will do to serve in those areas which include: basic education, food for education, promotion of girls education, portable water and sanitary latrines, health nutrition and hygienic education, systematic deworming, micro-nutrient supplementation, HIV and AIDS education, psychosocial support, malaria prevention, school gardens, and improved stoves.  We headed to SEAM Children’s Home and met Pastor Arul who has been serving at SEAM’s since 1976. The kids were eager to great us. The sang and danced for us and lined up to meet us one by one. We were all a bit overwhelmed with all of the new names coming at us, but we’re confident that we’ll connect with the kids. We had free time to play with the kids and they sure wore us out. We walked to a neighborhood restaurant; Kaaraikudi and Stephen ordered us an assortment of food to try. The meal was served on a banana leaf and it was very tasty.

Message of the day: If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else. Booker T Washington


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from January 19 - January29

 140 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 5 volunteers and 130 Hours of preparation time

60 Hours of Childcare by 2 volunteer. over 35 students impacted

50 Hours of labor projects in painting a mural at the hospital's children;s wing by 1 volunteer

2 Children's Homes, 1 School and over 140 students impacted

Add caption
 28 – 01 -2011, Friday.

It was then off to our farewell dinner, a melancholy time for some of us as it means that our time in India is rapidly coming to an end. Leaving the place one has grown to love, and going back to my California home of 40+ years, is always bittersweet for me.I will leave with my memories and a camera full of photos, but nothing can replace the real cultural experience nor communicate it to others who have not had such a rich experience. I will remember the good things, and put the not-so-good things away in the back closets of my mind.

I came to India with my own expectations. and leave with more than I dreamed-the beautiful children, the graciousness of Stephen and Sheeba, the cooking of Rani, the laundry service of Barnabas, and the driving of Stephen. Who can forget little Roshan, who is the center of attention wherever he is.

May God bless Stephen and Sheeba as they continue their services with Global Volunteers. I pray that Stephen's cataract surgery is successful and that he will have even a brighter vision for the orphan children of Chennai. God bless little Roshan, who already has the makings of a talented and compassionate leader in his own time.

Thank you, Stephen and Sheeba, for the multitude of little things you did to make my time with you comfortable and happy. Tonight, Sheeba shared with me this quote from Mother Teresa.

"The less we have, the more we give. Seems absurd, but it's the logic of love." To that, I say, "Amen".


26 – 01- 2011, Wednesday

A pessimist they say, sees a glass as half empty, an optimist sees the  same glass as half full. But a giving person sees a glass of water and  starts looking for someone who might be thirsty" ~Donald Gale

Well, I did it. With driver Stephen's help, we finished all the murals today. I feel so accomplished and so sad at the same time. Each one of those paintings has a special part of me in it. I can only hope that those who see them will appreciate the work as much as I had the  pleasure of doing the work. I didn't leave my signature, but snuck in my peace sign on one of the murals letting the world know that I was there! Cleaning up, one final time, I felt the weight of the world on me. I've 2 days left and I feel I've only touched on a small part of all that  needs to be done. I have to remind myself that I will be back. I won't say good-bye. With that said, I must remember to live in the moment and to enjoy what time I have left. I can say with much enthusiasm that I don't have to wear those jeans  anymore. I will take them home as they represent all the many missions I've done with spatters of paint on them from every project. At least I  won't look like some street bum!!! Ironically, in America people would probably pay a good penny for jeans like them!! Lunch was shared with Moses and Stephen. Interesting. Moses just rattled on. Stephen told me he talks mostly about Jesus. Thank goodness  i didn't frown or give dirty looks as he was probably exalting God to me in Tamil!! Stephen tried coaxing me to relax a bit after lunch, but as is my nature, not to mention 2 Red Bulls, I couldn't sit still. There was work to be done and I was determined to finish!On the way home, I found myself looking for puppy reminding myself that she is in a safe environment and I don't have to worry anymore. On a side note: The vet bill cost me 200 rupees....an equivalent to $5.00. I've decided to fly my dogs over here for treatment from now on. I feel  I will still save money in the long run as the American vets are astronomically expensive!! Shelly and Carol had a relaxing day, as it was a, GUESS WHAT!! HOLIDAY!  It seems that there is a holiday everyday in India. Carol puttered around the guest house, enjoying some much needed down time. Shelly visited SEAMS and hung out with the kids there. Waiting to go to SEAMS, Stephen showed Barnabas and I some magic tricks. He showed them to me and then taught them to me. Then Stephen Raja came out and showed me one that had me totally confused. When showing me the slight of hand (literally) way that he did it, I worked on doing it for some time. Stephen also downloaded a CD for me of his favorite Indian music. Cannot wait to get back to the States and pop that puppy in for my husband and son to hear. They may just look at me as if I left my brain somewhere over the Atlantic.Shelly and I POWER WALKED to SEAMS. Her every step is 3 steps to me. She shared with me the "pass and grab" story which had me both shocked and in stitches.Again, as it was a holiday, there was a free for all going on. Kids were jump roping, kicking and throwing balls, and mostly just having fun. There was enough energy generated to light half of NYC. Unfortunately, the older boys were busy doing chores. Heavy chores as they were removing bricks from one area to another.Because I teach computers, I was engaged for 2 solid hours surfing the net and face booking. I am going to miss these kids, but now know they are just a click away and can communicate with them when back home. All is well. Happy Whatever-holiday-it-is Day! Until next time....Peace!

Shelly T

January 24, 2011,

Today began slowly as we were all still in weekend mode. Of course, Shelley T was up first. By the time I got up and ready to pour a cup of her coffee, it was lukewarm. With just 3 remaining volunteers, the room was quiet as we received our morning assignments; Shelley A to Assisi, Shelley T off to the hospital and mural project, and I to my 3 kindergartens at St. Joseph's. Teaching alone was a challenge timewise, as the rooms have not clocks and I forgot my watch. The 3 year old kinders were behaving their age, when the sweet and very pregnant teacher was abruptly replaced by another teacher who seemed it her job to "straighten them out." It was painful to see her roam the classroom slapping children right and left. No attention was paid to me and their eyes were filled with fear that they might be next. If it happens again, I'm just going to sit down, or maybe even leave the room, because their productive learning time is simply gone. Fortunately, the next kinders have a sweet and kind sister as their teacher. The children are responsive, even though one little girl usually falls asleep. She promptly jumps up when the bell for the morning "Hail Mary" rings. The children look cute and serious as they shout out the prayer.

We returned to the guest house for lunch for a fresh fish lunch, all except Shelley T, who hastily eats a lunch packed by Rani before resuming her mural project. Today she was putting the finishing touches to her elephant, making it fit for a Rajah to ride. Ihad time for a 40 minute power nap before leaving for Grace School. Shelley A stayed at the Guest House and a cooking lesson with Sheeba, who was preparing fish curry for dinner. Shelley even gutted her first fish, a fresh eel purchased at the fish market on Sunday. I left for my 2 afternoon classes at Grace School, both of which I like very much. I'm always escorted in, today be the female "custodian" who seems to have adopted me. She always pops into my first class to give me two sticks of gum. After exchanging afternoon pleasantries with the ten 4th graders, they sit with their eyes glued on me for my lesson of the day. Today had dictated words and had them place them in two column according to whether they began with a vowel or a consonant. The only word they had trouble with was island. They are a fun, serious class with remarkable spelling skills in a second language. If only my next class of five 5th graders had the same interest in learning. The most serious of them, a girl, was absent today, and

the four boys can't stop talking long enough to focus. The whirlwind among them, Ashley, came in late and was slightly more subdued after my

discipline of him on Friday. The could not complete the same spelling dictation task with the same competance asthe 4th graders, We had no time left over to begin a word search, a favorite reward for good work. I wish I had more time with them.

Our planned afternoon shopping excursion was abruptly ended because of the traffic. I was to buy Indian leggings for one of my new chudodars and also for my 6 year old granddaughter. I also was to buy her a fancy chudodar as she is quite a fashionista.

Our evening stint at SEAMS began as usual. As we waited to the children to finish their chores and get organized, one of the girls stood close, hugging me with all her might. The power of human touch cannot be underestimated. Even though the boys hands are like sandpaper, grimy with the dirt of their playyard, they eagerly wait for an honest handshake and a friendly pat on the shoulder. I'm amazed at how seriously they take their chores at the children's home. My first group of four beginners competently identified pictures on flashcards. The rest of the week I'll have them identify and correctly pronounce letters and numbers. English enunciation is more difficult for some of them. Their reward was a coloring activity. From the colors one of the boys used, I wonder whether he is "color blind". In the meantime, Agith had finished his sweeping chores, cleaned up, and arrived eager to begin his lessons. For an eleven year old, he barely reads at a 1st grade level. His main problem is auditory as he doesn't seem to understand phonic relationships or sounding out words. He is definitely a visual learner.

After a delicious fish curry for supper, we retired to our rooms and evening tasks. I tried on my newly tailor-made clothes and decided they were wearable. Shelley A tried to solve her banking problem and Shelley T rested her sore belly and dreamed of the elegant peacock she planned to begin tomorrow. Stephen and Sheeba retired, excited about Roshan's first day of school. I then wrote the daily journal ready to type in the morning.
In closing, I ask these questions. Why are we here in India? Why do we preserver in spite of obstacles? What difference can we really expect to make in such a short time? I say we do it out of love and compassion for others. We are givers, not takers. As Ralph Waldo

Trice said, "Love is everything. It is the key to life, and its influences are those that move the world." Even one bit at a time.