Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sunday, 24 July, 2011

"We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character" -Henry David Thoreau

Wild Mongoose, black bear, water buffalo, eagle, warthogs, deer and two kinds of monkeys were some of the animals that we saw today in the Mudumalai forest. As I lie in the bed high up in the trees, (I am sleeping in a treehouse in the Safari Land resort!) and listen to the stream below and the calls of the animals outside, I am still trying to take it all in. We woke up early this morning on the the sleeper train from Chennai to Mysore. Some of us slept better than others in the cramped quarters but spirits were high as Stephen found a cab and we headed to a restaurant for breakfast. It was a combination of Indian and American food. I had toast, papaya and coffee. Then we began our two hour drive to the forest. There was a little "hiccup" when the taxi ran out of gas, but this was quickly remedied by the gas station located less than a quarter of a mile away. The volunteers all slept for some of the ride but woke to see fields of blooming sunflowers followed later by the entrance to the forest.

It was quite a change from Chennai There is lots of green and the air is cool. The forest is so large it covers parts of of three states. We drove through it for an hour or so on our ever elusive search for wild elephants. Although we have not yet spotted a wild one we have seen some others that were working for their owners. Then we arrived at the Safari Land resort where we are staying for our visit. After lunch Sylvie and Katie napped while Marion and I explored the grounds with Stephen, Sheeba and Roshan. We played on the slide and swings with Roshan and then Sheeba showed us all of the the fruits that were growing around us; mangoes, sweet limes, and small oranges were the ones I recognized. She also showed us this amazing ground cover that looks like a one inch long fern. When you touch it the leaves fold in on themselves so that it looks like a little dried stick. This must be how it protects itself from the goats that Sheba says like to eat it. Marion and I spent the next half hour finding these plants, touching them and watching them fold. They open up again after a few minutes. At 4:30, after a quick cup of coffee or tea, we left for a two hour jeep tour of the forest. The part we were in is nestled by the mountains of Nilgiri which made a beautiful backdrop for the tour. This is when we saw most of those animals I mentioned above while braving a heavy rainstorm in the open jeep. Dinner was a buffet at the Resort Land including French fries, macaroni and cheese along with some Indian favorites of biriyani and naan. We are going to bed early to be ready for a 6:45 a.m. departure for an elephant ride. This is great!


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Saturday, 23 July, 2011

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are”

Today started off like any other work day except for the fact that it was Saturday and breakfast would be later. Since we're scheduled to go to Mysore via overnight train, our weekend became Sunday and Monday instead of Saturday and Sunday. So, like usual, we all headed out for Assisi. Today, they were throwing a celebration and the kids who live there that we don't normally get the pleasure to see were there. They were dressed in their best from frilly skirts and tops to clean shirts and jeans. Katie and Alex, a boy helping out at the orphanage, began giving the children bracelets and headbands made of sparkly ribbon which the children loved. I spoke to some little girls who taught me some silly dances and would stand on my feet as I walked. They wore purple sparkly dresses and all had jasmine in their hair. Soon all the children had came downstairs and we sat down to watch the celebration begin. A girl named Priya, who wasn't one of the children dancing, sat on my lap as we watched the older and younger kids dance. Some performances were well synchronized, full of colorful outfits and dance moves. Others were silly, children laughing or making up their own dances. Afterwords, we played games, starting with who-can-finish-their-banana-first. I specifically remember after this game, Sheeba came up to us and announced Roshan had placed last as he gleefully held up his banana, barely touched. Next was some sort of balloon game where the children tried to pop each others balloons while running around in circles. Lastly, the volunteers, nuns, and Alex played musical chairs. Katie and I joked about how vicious we would get during playing, already circling the chairs. The game was still a lot of fun and for some reason it didn't surprise me Sister Rose won first, pushing Alex off the chair. After that, awards were given, including presents and flowers to the volunteers. Sylvie and I gleefully pawed at our presents, wondering what could be inside. Like children. Next we had lunch of vegetable briyani, beets, cucumber-yogurt salad and some soup. It was all delicious and after every bite, the children next to me would yell "Suuuppeerr!". Soon after, we drove home for a relaxing afternoon before SEAMs. We went shopping, where we all bought something and explored the stores. We packed for the overnight train and left for SEAMs early. Tonight we had one-on-ones as usual, but I was nervous about working with a seventeen year old, Charon; what can I teach to someone older than me? It turns out the answer is rhymes and reading comprehension. After Charon, I spoke with Siva and Charons older brother, Kabilan. We all joked around and overall, couldn't stop laughing. As always, I was sad to leave SEAMs when the time came, high-fiving and handshaking everyone goodbye. But we hurried home, taking quick showers and eating dinner before leaving for the train. We got there right on time, finding our "berths" and quickly dibs-ing which one we wanted (top bunk!). We stayed up till around ten, before one by one we all headed for bed, snuggling into our blankets, stuffing earplugs in, and hoping we wouldn't roll off.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Thursday, 21 July, 2011

‘The happiness of one's own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one's own happiness, the happiness of others.’  Paramahansa Yogananda
Day 13 began with the charming diversity of bird’s songs and the first rays of sun.  The promise of a beautiful, hot and sunny day in Porur.

As usual, the team and our kind hosts shared a delicious breakfast before starting the daily schedule.  Heather, Marion at Assisi Illam as for Katie and myself at Grace School.  Needless to say that it is always a new pleasure to be with the children day after.

By the way, our friendly driver Stephen just purchased a new car which he was proud to show us all.  And fortunately, we have been lucky enough to try it! 

As our daily activities followed the usual rythmn, a very special one took place today : a drawing contest for all the children of Grace School and SEAM as well.  Katie, Heather, Marion and I had a lot of fun watching them all concentrated on their white sheet of paper which slowly but surely revealed shapes and colors.  We spent unforgettable moments at both places, observing them all, the young and the old, drawing and erasing, drawing and erasing again and again!  The result has been just amazing.  After a couple of hours of intense creative work, plenty of colorful mountains, flowers, fruits, birds, butterflies, pumas, etc. appeared before our eyes.  And the challenge did not stop there.  After eating a splendid meal for supper, the team, Sheeba and Stephen had the challenge to decide who would be the winner for each grade.  Personally, I would have all given them the first price!  They all deserve it!  By next week, the students will found out about the winners of this fun contest!  I just cannot wait to see their reactions, and I hope that from now on, this new activity will take place every year.

Ho yes, before ending here, I have to add that the team also spent the day with a new movie star : Roshan in person!  The little boy just looked so cool with like his new sunglasses.  A star is born, and I am positively sure that he has a great future in front of him.  For real.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Wednesday, 20 July, 2011.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. - Theodore Roosevelt

Today was a "regular" day, which is a good thing. We have been so busy with the children and traveling and shopping that we have not really had much down time. I am not complaining, I am just observing.
This morning, after a breakfast of eggs, noodles and mango, Katie and Sylvie went to the Grace School and Marion and I headed off to Asissi. Now that it is the third day I recognize the children and they recognize me and they don't always cry when they see me. Sanjay and his cousin were happy today and had a lot of fun combining the blocks to make a tall tower. They kept asking me to count how many blocks they used, not with their words, but with their gestures. They took pride in making them as tall as they could. Karthic, the five-year-old boy who is living at Assisi and waiting till next year to go to school counted with me. Marion spent most of the day watching Athina, an strong willed thirteen-month-old, making sure she did not ingest any small toys or take any from the others. Danny finally came out of the kitchen to look at some books and fell asleep on Marion's lap, which was fine, but hot for Marion. We practiced some English with the children as we played with the blocks and books and the plastic jungle animals that we brought with us.

I also got to meet Arockia Das Christu Raj, a priest who is a friend of Sister Rose's at Assisi orphanage. He is an intelligent and widely travelled man who spoke with me for a while then enthusiastically asked if I was on Facebook and could he "friend me.” I said yes and, right then and there, he sent the request, had me sign on to my account and accept it. For the next few minutes we looked at each others pictures and interests but then it was time to leave.

Stephen's brother, Stephen, who is also our driver, was trying to buy a new van today so we travelled by an auto rickshaw. This experience brought the road, and traffic, even closer to us. I could have touched a hundred people simply by poking my finger out the side of the windowless carriage. Wisdom prevailed however and I refrained. We got home safely for a lunch of poori, a yummy deep fried bread, spinach and cauliflower curries, jackfruit (an Asian fruit which can grow to 83 pounds and feed a family of at least ten) and mangos. Katie and Sylvie gamely ate the mangos like Indians, by peeling and eating the fruit as we would an apple. It was very messy and entertaining.

After lunch, Marion and I headed to the Grace School where we met the headmaster's parrot named Becky and an 8-month-old boy Samil, from upstairs, who was eating his lunch and visiting. Then we headed to our respective classrooms to teach the exuberant children some English. Marion's class was visited by a tailless lizard, whom they named Peanut, making good use off the compound word lesson Marion was teaching. I worked on shapes and word scrambles with the first and second grades.

After a brief rest at home we headed back to SEAMS to continue our one-on-one tutoring sessions. For the life of me I cannot remember anyone's name, but that does nor seems to bother the children as they enjoy asking me who they are and laughing when I give the wrong answer. The other volunteers are so much better at this than I am. Today I worked with Sneha who sat touching my side as we sounded out our book. Then, as it was almost time to leave, we played tic-tac-toe. I loved seeing the glee on her face as she won her games.
Another American dinner from Pizza Hut with coca-cola. Marion was in heaven. Tomorrow are looking forward to judging the Grace School's 100th team coloring contest!

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Tuesday, 19 July, 2011

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. - Winston Churchill
Day 10

The team has recovered from our weekend out of town, but this is going to be a busy week. There are many extra activities to look forward to. There is a performance at Assisi Illam scheduled, as well as a dinner at Stephen's parents' house. We also hope to catch a classical dance performance and maybe even a Tamil movie.

In addition, we have a busy teaching schedule to keep up with. There are classes in the morning and afternoon, and English conversations in the evenings. We have each settled into our new teaching assignments. Sylvie teaches the 1st and 2nd graders, and I teach the 4th and 5th. We both teach the third grade in the mornings, but the other classes do not get shortchanged, because they get either Marion or Heather in the afternoons. By 5th grade (or 5th Standard as it is called here) the students are able to carry on conversations, and they can read basic books pretty well. Stephen says they do better than average students on English examinations because of their work with Global Volunteers.

In the afternoon while Heather and Marion were teaching, Sylvie and I decided to explore the neighborhood. There are daily power cuts in Chennai, so we left the house during the hour that the power would be switched off (and hence no air conditioning). We bought some much needed chalk and tape for the Grace School, and we purchased bangles and bindis at a local jewelry store. However, I think our biggest accomplishment of the day was crossing the busy main road without being hit by an auto rickshaw, motorbike, car, or bus. Traffic in Chennai makes New York look like a small village. We returned safely to the guesthouse, and then went to our evening session at SEAMs.

Admittedly, we cut our evening session a little short to go shopping in downtown Chennai, but one cannot go to India without visiting the clothing and jewelry shops (especially when you are with a team of women). And looked at in another light we were "learning more about Indian culture," which is one of our team goals after all.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Monday, 18 July, 2011

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate
the mind on the present moment" –Buddha

Today we woke up stumbled downstairs to breakfast. We're all still tried from the long weekend, jam-packed with adventure. We were welcomed with a breakfast of rice cakes with coconut chutney and eggs mixed with cheese and green pepper. I washed my down with some left over mango juice from the week. Mmmm. It's the first day of switched schedules, so Heather and I left for Assisi. I was pretty nervous as I rarely work with children this age and wasn't sure how to handle them. When we got there, some children were crying and others were running around. But soon after, a little girl fell into my legs and looked up with eyes that were ready to burst with tears. I immediately held her hand and said soothing words to her in a language she couldn't understand. Still she calmed down, and within a few minutes (with the help of some ridiculous dance moves) I got her to laugh and smile. After that, time at Assisi became a blur. One minute I was playing with blocks and the next coloring with crayons. When Stephen and Roshan (adorable in his school uniform)  arrived to pick us up, the children were sad to see us go. We went home for a lunch of Lemon rice (my favorite), cabbage, beets, and mango. While Katie and Sylvie were done till SEAMS, Heather and I still had work at The Grace School. I was comforted to see familiar faces and calmed down from my rambunctious morning. Before I knew it,  it was the last class and I was high-fiving student’s goodbye. We went home and shared our days with the rest of the team. After some relaxing and reading (yes Dad, on the kindle) we left for SEAMS. Katie and I made a quick stop on the way to get fitted for our Saris (which shall be done by Thursday. Yay!). At SEAMS, we did the regular one-on-ones, reading \ books and discussing school. I especially had fun playing with Tamil and John, two boys around my own age, as I owned them at Hangman AND managed to correct their spelling. We ended the day waving goodbye to the children and telling them we'll see them tomorrow. We went home for a wonderful meal of chickpea-potato curry,  white rice, flatbread, and squash before returning to bed, ready for some well needed sleep.

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”  Mother Teresa

Sunday, divine Sunday. 

We spent Saturday night at the Lotus Comfort Hotel located in Puducherry where I shared a room with Katie.  A room with a delicious view on a big mango tree.  While I was still relaxing in bed, in the morning, reading, Katie went for a walk on the boardwalk near the sea where she also enjoyed a nice and tasty coffee. 

8:45 was time for breakfast which we had at the hotel.  Orange juice, corn flakes, eggs, toasts and jam, coffee and tea were on the menu.  Then, with our bellies full, we were ready to hit the road and pursue the second day of our journey outside Chennai.

Still in Puducherry, our next step was the visit of Aurobindo’s Ashram, which was decorated with the delicate perfumes of plenty colorful flowers.  It is in this very garden that Sri Aurobindo and his faithful friend, The Mother, were both buried many years ago.  Our team was not alone there, as many visitors were showing up to pay a respectful tribute.  Silently.  We also discovered there a library full of spiritual and/or philosophical books all translated in many languages.

Then, walk in Auroville, located in Viluppuram, was how we discovered this small experimental township founded in 1968 by The Mother, and where about 2,000 souls, locals and foreigners, are living permanently.  On the site, I bought some Auroville sandal wood incense.  My favorite.  The team had refreshing lime drinks under this hot sunny day after taking a look, from far, at the Matrimandir, a special architectural object looking like a giant golf ball, and which has been acclaimed as "an outstanding and original architectural achievement". It was conceived by The Mother as "a symbol of the Divine's answer to man's inspiration for perfection as a scientific invention which is suppose to improve the concentration.”

And then Mamalapuram, a town in Kancheepuram, where we visited some master pieces of rock carvings.  From the side of the road, on our way getting there, we saw mountains of salt, and instantly Stephen thought of Marionne who loves her salt sooooooo much!  We girls stopped and took some photos to immortalize this salty moment.  And another quick stop.  This time for Stephen to buy an enormous jackfruit.  Something Katie, Marionne, Heather and I never saw in direct until this day.  The size of this fruit is very impressive.  Then, time for lunch.  Already.  We stopped for a bite to eat in a new restaurant where even Stephen had never been before.  The vegetarian noodles and rice were very tasty.

The rock-cut monuments at Mamalapuram were just amazing.  We took plenty of pictures of these sculptures and cave temples.  Stephen, our generous friend and brilliant private guide, taught us interesting stories during the visit of this incredible and precious archeological site.

We ended this unforgettable afternoon, our feet in the ocean, playing with the waves.  A lovely moment.  And to make everything more perfect, we all had a taste of coconut water before hitting the road to come back home where we were kindly welcomed by Sheeba and Roshan who could not joined us this weekend.  Fortunately, they will next weekend!  The family will then be complete!


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Saturday, 16 July, 2011

"If you reject the food, ignore the custom, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home." ~ James Michener

Field trip doesn't do it justice. We planned to leave the house this morning at 7:30, for the first day of a two-day whirlwind field trip, but were a little delayed. The driver was late, and when Stephen called to check on him, he answered his cell phone while driving, promptly earning himself a ticket and delaying his arrival further. Fortunately there were no other problems and the driver got here by 8:30. We climbed into the luxurious air-conditioned SUV and were on our way. We had driven in town before, but not more then a few miles. This was a whole different experience, mostly because of the continuous cacophony of horns, both ours and other drivers. And when I say continuous, that's no exaggeration. Who needs a radio when you have this background noise? This beeping is not like American beeping saying "Get out of my way!"' but more like a "Hey, look out I'm coming, be careful, make sure you seem Me.", gentler kind of beeping. After a while I found it kind of reassuring.

On our way out of the city we passed 13 engineering colleges, on one road. It is no surprise that India graduates so many more engineers than the US. Next we passed the Hyundai plant that produced over 500,000 cars and ships them out to other countries. I was kind of awestruck.

Our first stop was at the Rajiv Gandhi memorial site, the actual spot where the Prime Minister was killed by a woman suicide bomber in May of 1991. There was a large green expanse of lawn and seven tall pillars that represent the concepts of Satya, Dharma, Vigyan, Nyaya, Shanti, Tyaga and Smiridhi. (I did not remember that, I copied it from a press release) I found the whole park incredibly moving and impressive and sad.

We headed back to the car. Unfortunately, this is where things start to blur for me, as we started the temple tour, visiting four beautiful temples. They were built starting in the 8th century and most were added onto over the course of the next 800 years. Some were carved from single pieces of stone, some from granite, some were enormous and some were not. I remember the first one best because Marion, Katie and I were able to sit on an elephant while we were there. All four of us were blessed by the elephant.
After a lunch of a selection of dishes, including pander, naan, chicken masala and lime rice, we headed to a more materialistic venue than the temples, a sari shop. There we were warmly greeted and shown the loom where they weave the products they sell and we were given a demonstration. Next we actually got to look at the wares. They had thousands of saris, floor to ceiling, of every color and complexity you could imagine. Some of them took forty days to weave, those were out of our price range, but we were not disappointed with what we could afford. Katie picked two saris, one purple and yellow, her school colors, and one cream. Marion picked a green one that brought out the color of her eyes. When we return to Chennai they will visit a tailor who will make matching shirts from the fabric. Sylvie and I had a blast looking at the silk scarves. I left with 14 of them. (Sorry to my husband, but good news for my friends.) When we left the shop, everyone was content, both the team and the proprietors.

Next we drove to Pondicherry, also spelled Puducherry, an Oceanside town where we would spend the night. We walked on the boardwalk, admired the ocean, and had an "American" style dinner from Pizza Hut and dessert from Baskin Robbins . I apologize to my family, who I know wants to hear about all our Indian meals, but the food was comforting and there is always tomorrow. It was a fantastic, exhausting day and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Friday, 15 July, 2011

 - "make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of the same mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others." Philippians 2:2-4

We have finished our first week, which means we are one third of the way through the program. I cannot believe it. It seems like yesterday that we arrive, yet it also seems like we've been here forever.

We've learned that children in India are just like children at home. But I have been particularly struck by the love and generosity of the children at the SEAMs Children's Home. During Roshan's birthday celebration Stephen and Sheeba brought a cake to share with the children. We sang Happy Birthday and then they passed out cake. There was not enough cake for us, which was fine since we had just eaten cake at the other children's home. Anish, who was seated next to me turned and tried to offer me his cake, something he rarely has the opportunity to indulge in. At first I thought that he must not like cake, but I still declined (we had already had two rounds of cake that day). After declining again and suggesting that he give it to another child he finally decided to eat his cake. I realized he wanted to share with me because he didn't want me to go without it. I was humbled seeing a child whose worldly possessions fit into a small box under his bunk bed insist that I share in the rare treat that he was receiving. The girl seated next to me then tried to offer me her cake, but again I insisted that it was hers, and that she enjoy it.

The children at the home laugh and play. When you look at their faces you can see such joy. They sometimes fight and become angry with one another, but the love that they have for each another is evident. The older ones help care for the little ones by cooking, cleaning and braiding hair. When we arrive each night there is a circle of young children with their homework out, and one of the older boys or girls helps them with the lessons. I hope after leaving Chennai that I have given them even half as much as they have given me.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Thursday, 14 July, 2011

"Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every
day a holiday and celebrate just living!" - Amanda Bradley

Today was a very special day. We woke up early, and had to be downstairs at 7:15 to celebrate what could be a world holiday. The other "Auntys" and I gathered around to admire the smartly dressed little boy who was especially excited. And we all pulled out our cameras, iPhones, and iPads to watch Roshan blow out the candles that adorned a singing flower on top of his cake. Today was a very special day because today is Roshan's third birthday! Soon after Sheeba and Stephen left to take the birthday boy to school. Katie, Sylvie, Heather and I all sat round at the table, trying teas till they returned. We had a delicious breakfast of rice cakes, coconut chutney, and eggs with green pepper and cheese. Mmmm too good. Sheeba put garlands of Jasmine in our hair and decorated our forehead with a bindi before we left for the Grace school. Our lesson plan for each class we have is to start with a game, go over the main subject of the day and then end with a book and/or song. Our third graders did well with the lesson and loved singing about snowmen at the end. Ah the fourth graders. The fourth graders are always excited for today's class; and though they sometimes struggle, by the end, I can visibly see that they have learned something. One of the fourth graders in particular, Bharath, always manages to make me smile. During the Guessing Game, when he answered something right he would stand up, flex his arm muscles, and point with a smile. When we played the Toilet Paper game, he fashioned his pieces into a scarf and attempted a runway walk. Every time, I laugh. Next were the fifth graders. These children really understand and every day they pass the challenges we think of with little struggles. I also really click with this class, remembering Sharmila and Arulkalkis favorite color is pink and that Deepilka loves chicken biryani. Even though they are too smart for me, they still love to hear us read a book and enjoy singing silly songs. Lastly, we talked with Sylvie, one of the Grace School teachers. She had brought in pictures of her beautiful daughter to show us. We oohed and ahhed at the photos of her family, all the while talking about what seems like everything. Before we left, she asked I come back one day with a Sari as I would look like a doll. That made me glow. We went home for a lunch of rice, chutney, and some cucumbers and tomatoes. Boy I missed raw veggies. Afterwords, Heather and I lazed around as we do most afternoons while Katie and Sylvie were at the Grace School. Later once they returned we got ready to leave, but this time not just for SEAMs. Since it was Roshins birthday, we would be going to Assisi for cake and dances before SEAMs for, get this, more cake! We just love cake. It was my first time at Assisi and I was very nervous. But the sisters were very nice and the children were so excited. Though there were 3 boys from Houston, Texas my age there, I didn't get a chance to speak to them between birthday festivities. Hopefully I will later. The childrens dance was beautiful, if not accented by Roshans playing with a trolley and wheeling it all over. At the end they all stood together and sang while Roshan stood in front, on the trolley, looking very much like a symphony conductor. Trust me, many jokes later came and probably will come of his famous conductor days. We left Assisi very late and got to SEAMs even later. But the minute we walked in, my living shadow hugged me. A young boy with a name sounding like Ajee who never let's go of my hand and demands my every attention. Still, he is very endearing and like all the children, I adore him. We sat down for some more cake and photo taking. After what seems like five minutes (and very well could have been) we left for dinner. Tonight, as part of the celebration, we went out to a hotel resturant near by. There we tried "lime sodas" where they bring you a bottle of bubbly water, a glass with lime juice, a straw, and some sugar syrup. You mix the syrup with the bubbly water to make it as sweet as you want and we all loved it. The food had every one asking for seconds, and even though it burned my cheeks and sizzled my tongue I was stubborn and managed to leave my plate clean.

We all went home tired and full, ready for Friday and to see the children's smiling faces.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wednesday, 13 July, 2011

'The great man is he who does not lose his child's-heart.'
- Mencius

Day 5 in Chennai - or another great day between two birthday celebrations.

After a good night of sleep, followed by an exquisite breakfast (the sweet couscous was absolutely wonderful, thank you, Ranie) taken with beautiful people, I was ready to start this new day!

Heather and Marionne left for Grace School, as Katie and I for Assisi Illam, where both of us spent a busy and fun time with our little friends. Few cried, few peed on the ground while few others fought and bit, but in the end we had a great time dancing, singing and playing with them. It is absolutely impossible not to love these beautiful angels. Some young visitors from Houston,Texas showed up during our busy morning. Then, without knowing, it was already time to come back 'home' for another delicious lunch and some pleasant conversations... but, not before experiencing a great concert of honking cars stocked on the crowded road. Definitely an experience by itself, I would say.

After lunch, Katie and I got ready for our daily afternoon at Grace School. Needless to say that, as usual, Stephen had the kindness to take us there. So off we went, Roshan and his father seating in front. Our teaching only lasted an hour today because we had the privilege to go make some shopping. Around 3h45, the four of us left with our private chauffeur for a new destination : the Central Cottage Industries Emporium which is a leading source for indian handicrafts created by skilled Indian artists. We girls had a good time buying gifts to bring back for our friends and the family.

After our shopping session and few purchases later, we all went to play with our brothers and sisters of SEAM Children's Home where we had a great time as usual. Taking pictures and having fun blowing soap bubbles outside. That is right : no teaching today!

Finally, to end this day more beautifully, a power cut invited all of us, after dinner, to the intimacy of candles lightning. Yes,another great day this was, and I just can't wait for tomorrow!


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Tuesday, 12 July, 2011

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

I've read that it takes three weeks to change a habit, or to make a behavior rote, and I wonder if this is true. We've only been In been Chennai for three days and what was originally nerve wracking and unusual is no longer so. Small children on motorcycles - seen that. Cows in the middle of the street - no big deal. Temperatures in the high 90's - ho hum. However, what does strike me, is the things that are the same. Children in Chennai want to learn. Children in Chennai will goof off, if given the opportunity. Teachers in Chennai get excited talking about teaching, what you ate for breakfast, and 100's of other things.

Today there was not the anxiety of first walking into a classroom. We knew what we were going to teach and knew the students. Or at least, we knew to have them make name tags so we could pretend we knew who they were. The third graders laughed at the mad libs game, at the same time that they were learning nouns. The fourth graders didn't want to use full sentences, but couldn't play the guessing game without using them. The fifth graders surprised us with their comprehension of the story we read and we learned that we needed to make the next day's lesson a little harder.

We returned to the guest house for another delicious meal, of lemon rice, green curry sauce, and the fried bread that takes like potato chips, and after a quick rest, worked on our lesson preparation for tomorrow. Then we went to SEAMS house for one-on-one tutoring. It was haircut and bath day. The boys were sitting outside getting their hair trimmed by a barber and the girls were just finishing putting fresh braids into their clean hair. We each worked with a child and started with the usual, "How are you?" , "I am fine.", "How are you.", and progressed into more complex topics, depending on the ability of the student. But, as I was sitting there, talking to a young boy, and and listened to him say that he wanted to go to university to become a computer engineer, as he swatted the flies off of his face and I watched another 100 or so buzz around us, I thought about how he was living. There are six children in a room, he sees his parents one time a month, His meals are cooked over a fire, and I realized that it wasn't the same. Some things are meant to be changed and this is certainly one of them, even if it takes more than three weeks.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Monday 11, July 2011

"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about."

Today was our first day teaching.

Sylvia and I started working with the little children at the Assisi Illam Children's Home and Daycare Center in the morning. Sister Mathilda and Sister Rose run both the home and daycare. The oldest child in daycare is five, but most have never been to school before. Their school year just started, so many of the little ones were having a very difficult time adjusting to being away from their parents for the first time. Some cried, and some were so young they weren't even speaking in Tamil yet. We played with them, looked at picture books, and sang nursery rhymes. I think I need to brush up on my nursery rhymes! I forgot how short two and three year olds' attention spans are. But they were darling.

There was one boy in particular, Karthick, who already knew several English words. Stephen told me that he is 5 years old and will be starting school next year. He is an orphan and lives at Assisi Illam. The other children that we worked with were only at the facility for the morning while their parents worked. But Assisi Illam is also a children's home, mostly for girls who either lost or can no longer live with their parents. They live at Assisi Illam and attend school during the day, so we will most likely not be working with them during our stay in Chennai. We met one girl though, because she was home sick. There were a lot of children sick today because of the rains last week.

After a couple of hours we returned to the Guesthouse for lunch. It was awfully hot today, even the Indians complained, so the air-conditioning was a welcome relief.

Sylvia and I began our second assignment after lunch, teaching English at the Grace School. She had 1st and 2nd graders, and I taught 3rd through 5th. It is a small private school that serves mostly lower income families who hope for a better education for their children.

My classes were small, but they were lively. I teach fifth graders at home, so it was fun to work with kids the same age here. Their English is surprisingly good, especially since their English teachers change every three weeks as new volunteer groups come. We could carry on basic conversations without the need of a translator. They have a lot of vocabulary, but their sentence structure is weak, so we will focus on that in our lessons.

After Grace we returned to the Guesthouse for a break, and the other volunteers and I were able to plan lessons for tomorrow.

In the evening, we returned to SEAMS House, but this time we practiced speaking English with individual children. They loved looking through the picture books and having me read to them. We also practiced conversations. The two hours flew, and soon it was time to return to the Guesthouse for dinner. It has been a long and exciting day. We will all sleep very well tonight!


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunday 10, July 2011

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost,
to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer
experience."— Eleanor Roosevelt

Today we ate breakfast at nine. I'm still adjusting to the spicy food so I tried to eat as much of it as I could. Apparently it's bland to Sheeba and Stephen even though it burns my tongue. After breakfast we had a meeting. We all sat at the table as Stephen went over A LOT.

First we came up with our group goals and the characteristic of a good team. Our group goals are "To love, To serve, and To learn". Next we learned about the three school we'll be working with: SEAM children's home, The Grace School, and Assisi Illam. We figured out the schedule, so Heather and I will be working at the Grace school this week while Sylvie and Katie will be working at Assisi Illam and The Grace School. Next week, we decided we will switch places. Every night, including tonight, we will go visit SEAM from 5:30 to 7:00. We went over policies, guidelines, a Global Volunteers philosophy, the 12 essential package, and some vocab. This meeting went all the way till 1 which is when we had lunch. We then had some free time before visiting SEAM. Most of us took the time to relax. Next thing we knew it was time to go! It was a short walk to SEAM and when we got there we were sweating beyond belief. We went into a room where the children were sitting but the minute we walked in they all swarmed. They were so excited to see us. I shook hands with, oh I don't even know how many children. They were so eager to try English, asking us our names and telling us theirs. It was very endearing. After the quick meet and greet, we all sat down in chairs in front of the children. Stephen introduced us to the children and one-by-one they came up and introduced themselves. They started with the youngest, around five, and ended with the oldest, around seventeen. It was interesting to meet kids my age. Afterwords, we each got a tour of the buildings by our own guide, a little boy. My tour guides name sounded like Stanjay and after we shook hands, he didn't want to let go. He showed me all the rooms asking if they were clean and jumped up and down when I got to see his. After the tour, the children sang us a welcoming song while playing a drum and then we played around. Everywhere you looked, children were jumping up and down or singing. I played some games of Simon Says and Ring Around The Rosie. I was surprised and enlightened by how happy they became by simply jumping. They couldn't stop laughing when we played Patty Cake. What seemed like 15 minutes turned out to be an hours and we were all sad to go. We left saying "Goodbye" and "See you tomorrow!" while doused in sweat. Afterwords we went out to dinner and walked home. If I had to describe this day in one word, I would definitely say "fun".


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India
Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from June 18 -  July 9

 75 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English by 2 volunteers and  75 Hours of preparation time

30 Hours of Childcare by 1 volunteer. over 15 students impacted

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

July 8, 2011
“Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go. “ - Mother Teresa

The last day in India has approached. Although it was inevitably going to happen, I did not think that it would approach this soon. There is a mixed bag of emotions I am feeling today. I am very happy to get back to my soon to be husband, my dogs, and all of the people I love back at home. However, there are people here in India who I have built relationships with that I am so very sad to leave.

Zach and I survived three weeks being just a very small little team. As I said earlier, yes we were small but I think, no, I know we were power packed. We ran on diesel engines!  We were both so committed to the program here in India that we gave it our absolute all each and every day we woke up. Each day we had wonderful stories about the children we served. Each day we soaked in as much as India as we possibly could.  I think we both truly loved this trip to India.

I did my usually routine-ate breakfast, filled my water bottle and headed to Grace. Today I also dressed in my last saree. I was again greeted so kindly by the children and the teachers. A slight sadness was in the air knowing it was my last day and tomorrow I would be boarding the airplane back to Minnesota. However, I wanted to make this last memory as happy as possible so that is just what I did!  I decided it would be a day to have fun with the students.  My first graders drew pictures of a bear. We sang a song and I put a sticker on each of their palms. I then gave them giant hugs as they left, treasuring each one. They are young and do not fully understand it when I say I will be leaving tomorrow. So, when I said goodbye they stated, Nali ku pakalum (see you tomorrow). I just said, “Good bye” and smiled. My 2nd grade girls. OH how they have won my heart. This group was one of the hardest to say good bye to. We started by taking a lot of photos. I set my camera timer and we all hugged, made goofy faces and had fun taking pictures together.  We then played word bingo (which they ADORE). When the bell rang I felt the sadness in my heart to say goodbye to these young girls. Each gave me a giant hug and two said I will miss you. I stated to each of them, “I will miss you so much”.  Then on to my 3rd graders who have also won my heart. They are such a fun and smart group. They also requested to play word BINGO. We had a lot of fun with this and then after we too did a photo shoot. It was hilarious. We were all laughing so hard while we took such fun pictures together.   Their sweet good bye notes I will treasure.  At the lunch hour I gathered the teachers, whom I have had such fun with, for a picture and then big goodbye hugs.  They made me promise to write to them from America. That I will do. Wonderful ladies with wonderful hearts. I then realized I had to face the other direction and head for the van when Stephen arrived as the tears were beginning to well up in my eyes.  It was sad to say good bye to a new family at Grace.

When I returned home, Stephen, Sheeba and Roshan served Zach and I a wonderful meal on a big banana leaf. We ate the meal traditional Indian style, with our hands. It was such a fun experience and a fun way to spend our last lunch together at the guesthouse. Roshan was so kind to help clean up the table afterwards. A sweet, hilarious, and smart little boy he is! It was then on to my daily nap to rest from the morning and rejuvenate for the evening.

In the evening we went to SEAMS where we spent our last night with the children. The time went by so very fast, too fast. We played with the children, spinning them around in our arms, shooting baskets, throwing balls, simple things that mean so much to the children. We then went into the hall where the children sang us a thank you song, danced, said good-bye and presented us with a beautiful handmade card (I love handmade items-they tug at my heartstrings).  I again found it to be such a sad moment…we had a lot of fun; however, saying goodbye to children whom you have grown quite fond of is a hard thing to do. I was really starting connecting with many of the young ladies there which was hard to say goodbye to. All the children were hard to say goodbye to.  I leave them knowing that I poured my heart into them and I hope in the end, it impacted them in some way. I know I will continuously think about them, pray for them, and hope the very best for them. I also hope to see them again soon in the near future…hopefully sooner than later!

After SEAMS we went out for a nice dinner where Zach and I literally stuffed ourselves silly. The food here is just too delicious to turn down second, oh, third helpings!  Tandoori chicken, Naan, Chicken butter masala (Zach’s favorite), a lentil curry dish, dosa with onion chutney, oh my, it was all so good. It was so nice to spend our last night as a team, Zach, myself and also Sheeba, Stephen and Roshan. We all made up our team while here in India.  A small, but, wonderful team whom I will miss.  Thank you so very very very much to Stephen, Sheeba and Roshan. The three of them made our time in India amazing. Such kind, generous and giving people. I will miss them.  I also thank Stephen, the driver, Roni, our cook, Barnabos, the security guard and all the hosts at our work sites. They too made this trip to India amazing.

I (as well as Zach) hand the torch on to the next team. Please, enjoy every single part of India and everyone you meet. Try every single food and fruit that Stephen or Roni offers (you never know what you might just really like!). Eat as many Mangos as possible as they are so very delicious. Pour your heart into the children. They do not need anyone’s money; they need your full heart, love and care. I promise you, they will give it back to you as well!  To the eye, India may not be as beautiful as a tropical destinations you may have been on, however, underneath India is filled with beauty that is beyond imaginable; the people, the sounds, the children, the food, the country, it is all such a wonderful and marvelous place. Soak in every bit of India as you can as it will fly by and before you know it you will be boarding the plane to go back to America!

July 7, 2011

This serves as my final journal entry where I realize I cannot possible explain in words what a spectacular experience this has been. From day one, I recall stepping out of the International Terminal at Chennai/Madras Airport and being surrounded by a mob of locals there to help me with my bags and provide transportation. And within 3 short weeks, it is time to leave this now-familiar city we have called home. Naomi and I have both accomplished our tremendous goals in India. From the instant I started working with these ever-so-cute children, I knew saying goodbye was not going to be an easy task. From little Danny at Assisi Illam thinking I am his “pa pa” to my fourth grade class always hiding in the classroom when I arrive; my experiences in Chennai has left a dramatic imprint on my life. When I return home, I am going to recognize the simple values in life. Having bountiful amounts of food in my refrigerator, clean drinking water at my endless disposal, and a beautiful family to share all my memories with are all pleasures I have taken for granted in the past. The orphanages I have served at have taught me to value the simple things in life, and to not be so dependent on the luxuries that plague America. I am determined to cherish my family, lifestyle, and education; many which the children I have worked with lack. As it is our last day of service tomorrow, Naomi will be wearing her Saree and I will be wearing my new Kurta. I look forward to spending a carefree day with the children and taking lots of pictures.

To wrap this journal up, these 3 weeks have been life-changing. I know Naomi and I will return to the States with a new outlook on society. We have been through endless sore throats, a plethora of mosquito bites, and even a trip to the hospital. Yet, Naomi and I have successfully tackled our goal at improving the education of these young children. Our three goals were to love and care for the children, to experience the culture of India, and to teach the children English. All three of these goals have been accomplished, and I look forward to returning to this beautiful country in the future.

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” –Anonymous

I chose this quote because my time here in Chennai has taught me that the education and prosperity of children is not completely recognized worldwide. Naomi and I have contributed as a piece of the puzzle that Global Volunteers is helping to put together year around for these amazing children!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wednesday, 6th July 2011.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth". - Baha'u'llah (an Iranian theologian and philosopher)

Today marked the middle of our third and final week here in India.  It was yet another wonderful day.  Again, we started the day with a good breakfast.  As always, I anxiously waited to see what food would be waiting in the container, ready for my indulgence.  To my surprise, it was a new food! Pungul.  I liked it. I would say that I like the dosa or kasari more; however, this was pretty good. I was sure to remember the name of it as everyday at Grace the teachers as me what I had for breakfast. I have been doing a good job of remembering the names the past week and a half whereas before I would scrunch my shoulders and state, “Uhhh, ummm, a yellowish dish”. Much confusion across their faces.

Today I told me students that I only have a couple days left and I will then be flying on a plane back to America.  They were curious, asked a lot of questions and stated, “So you will be back next week?”  So, I then explained it again. Aw, awwwwwww, they said. “So you will be back next year?”  I responded by saying to them I will miss them dearly and hope to someday come back to India.  They seemed satisfied with this answer.  In my first grade class we played number BINGO. Oh wow, this is quite the activity with the group. Every time they get a number on their card each and every student, every time, and I mean EVERY time, needs to inform me they got that number by shouting, “Mam, mam” and they will not stop until I confirm with a head nod that they do indeed have that number. Needless to say, I do not think I would attempt this activity with them again; however, they sure did enjoy it so I was happy with that. The bell rang and each of the 1st graders lined up to give me their daily hugs and then they grab my head to pull it down for a kiss on the cheek.  This has been our routine for the past week. I must say, it is so very sweet and a great way to end the class.  I only had 3 students in my 2nd grade class today.  Although a small group, we sure did have a lot of fun. They are clearly great friends and care a lot about each other. It is so nice to see.  Again, our daily routine of a big, giant, squeeze of a hug and then out the door.  I am always in such a pleasant and content mood after seeing my 2nd graders. On to my third graders I go. The time with my 3rd grade always passes so quickly. Before I know it the bell has rang and they are on to lunch. One little boy in this class, Victor, just fascinates me. I have written about him before. Victor is always lost in space, thinking about something else. Always the last to finish his work. However, he is so incredibly smart. His cute little face always scrunches up, evident that he is thinking so very hard about something.  He is my translator as well. If I cannot get a message across to my students clearly, he will translate my English into Tamil for the other students to understand.  This child, clearly, has a bright future ahead of him. He probably has the most English out of any of the students I have met in Chennai!

During lunch time I again chatted with the teachers.  We always have fun conversations and many of them are quite interesting as well. Today I wore a beautiful blue saree. I was looking pretty fancy and also pretty Indian today! I had my blue saree, a bindi, jasmine flowers in my hair, bangles, and a beautiful blue necklace (many thanks to Sheeba for helping me blend in with India!).  The teachers had much to say about my dress today. It was a fun conversation. We also talked about how few days I have left in India and how we are all feeling sad about that. It will be sad to leave everyone I have met here in India. Great relationships have been formed.

Again, in the evening, we all headed over to SEAMS where Zach and I went through the routine, working one on one with the children.  As always, such loving, gentle, heartfelt kids are at SEAMS. Eager to please, eager to learn and eager to be loved.  One thing that I have recognized even more from the children and this trip to India is that it doesn’t matter what color our skin is, what religion we are affiliated with or what country we come from, for we are all the same underneath. All of us want to just be loved and cared for, the most important thing in life. All of us just want to laugh and be joyful. We all have that same inner need. I believe that if the world could recognize this, we would be more easily united. I do believe we continue to get closer to that and that is why I love global volunteers. It is a program that helps to unite countries and gain respect for each other through acts of service.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 5, 2011

Today we began our third week working with the children. We spent an amazing week in the forest this past weekend but I must admit, as wonderful as it was, I was ready to get back to Chennai and work with the children again!

Greeted again by their wonderful smiles, beautiful eyes, kisses on the cheek and their prideful exclamations of knowing my name, I again felt that reassuring feeling as to why I came to India, to impact the children in some way, shape or form.  I truly hope that the hugs I give, the lessons I teach, and the care I render will affect the children in some form after I leave.

My first graders worked on their shapes today, something they appear to struggle with. An activity at the board followed by a drawing activity on shapes, appeared to hold their attention well today. Of course, there were those whispers on the side, jumping out of the seat, and the constant “mam, mam” to get my attention so I could see the work they did, were all present, however, they worked pretty hard.  My second graders were again sweet as pie. Happy to greet me with the greeting song they had learned.  They are so sweet as the always want to be as helpful as possible; erasing the board for me, turning on the fan, placing my bag of supplies in a good spot, whatever they could do to help.  My last group, the 3rd graders, did their regular routine, a morning message, question of the day and then various work activities. One of the boys had a piece of wood that was covered with some blue crayon.  It was a piece of “art” he had made me over the weekend. The gesture was so sweet as this piece of wood was nothing but a scrap, however, the thought and love he put into it made it a treasured artifact.  Another great day at Grace school. I never leave that school without smiling on my way out.

We ate a great lunch today, as always. A couple of my favorites were present, Chapatti bread and also mangos. Give me those to things at any meal and I am one happy girl. I am realizing how much I am going to miss this food. I look forward to opening the round containers at each meal to see what pleasantly awaits us. I am always happy with what it is because I have liked everything. My two cups of coffee in the morning and the delicious meals will be missed terribly!  Tomorrow night we will be learning how to make a few items we have come to love. I know they will not turn out near as good as Roni’s, however, I hope I can master a portion of the deliciousness so I can continue to eat some of this divine food at home.

After lunch and a MUCH needed nap from the weekend, we headed over to SEAMS. Zach and I both worked one on one with the children again. I love their eagerness to work with us and learn.  One of the girls, Saranya, was so funny as all she could do was giggle and hide her head in my arm. It took some time getting started on our work. I giggled along with her though as I just could not help it.  Toward the end of our time together so begged, and I mean begged, for just one more book mam, just one more.  I have into one. Then she did it again. I now had to figure out how to say no more books (which is so hard for me to say to child when they beg to read). Putting all the books into my backpack and zipping it up appeared to do the trick!  I worked with about 4 children tonight, seesawing between working and talking with each one.  Such impressions they each leave on me. Such sweet kids. The end of the night all of the sudden got a little out of control as it appeared they just wanted to play. But, all in all, it was a successful night, another night of memories.  Only 3 days left to make as many memories as possible with the children.  I will miss them, that is one thing I know to be true.

Don't spend your precious time asking "why isn't the world a better place?" It will only be a waste of time. The question to ask is "How can I make it better?”


July 3 – 5, 2011

This past weekend was quite the experience. We hopped on our overnight train to the town of Mysore. No I have never experienced an Indian train ride nor have I heard of the “vast” accommodations on these trains. However, it was definitely worth the crammed sleeping conditions and constant sounds of “coffee coffee chai chai”. When we arrived in Mysore we were greeted by our driver and headed to a small restaurant for a simple breakfast. Then into the forest (more like jungle) we went. The car took us to a small village where Naomi, Stephen, and I were met by our jungle expert. He took us deep into the center of the jungle to a small coffee plantation. On this plantation rested two beautiful cottages with simple living necessities. Here, amenities included an electric fence to warn off strange pretenders as well as a very nice viewing point. We unpacked, showered, and rested on the terraces admiring the absolute magnificence of the nature. Around 5pm we headed out onto our jeep safari. The forest was so quiet, and almost no animals were to be seen. We searched for nearly an hour, until the driver brought us to the main road where it seemed all the action was. Our drive spotted a few elephants in the distance and instructed us to remain silent. We admired the beasts from a distance and eventually moved on. Throughout the night we heard sounds of peacocks, bison, elephants, various birds, and leopards. The jungle seemed to be filled with hidden creatures that dared not to reveal their identity. After, we ate dinner on the terrace and listened into the jungle. Upon finishing, we sat in the dark listening for any animals who decided to indulge in the tasty salt laid out by our hosts. Suddenly, the mahout called that an elephant was close by. After a moment, he shined the mega flashlight into the night and there stood a magnificent baby elephant. We searched around for the mother, but she was no where to be found. The baby elephant eventually fled, and we remained in silence. Upon going to bed, I heard the sounds of something else strange outside our cottage. I woke Stephen up to find that an elephant and two bison made their way to the salty treats! We admired for a bit and went back to bed. The next morning we woke up promptly at 5:30am (yes that early) to attempt to go on an elephant ride through the jungle. The elephants were booked so we did some sight seeing instead. Throughout the village and forest we could see spectacular views of the large mountainous terrain. There exists on the top of the colossal mountains a village called Ooty. Ooty is home to tribal Indians who have rested there for a long time. Although many of these smaller villages are filled with nothing but unemployed drunks who enjoy their lifestyle of mooching off the government, I found the idea of living on top a huge mountain very interesting.

            After our failed attempt at the elephant we headed to a small sanctuary for elephants where Naomi, Stephen, and I got to touch and see a baby elephant. This little fella was only 1 year old and was no bigger than the size of a SmartCar. He was very playful and watching his trunk flail around in the air and grabbing string was very entertaining. Later, we trekked through the jungle where we only saw some spotted deer. It seemed as though the animals knew we were coming much sooner than we knew where they were. It was disappointing walking around so much and not seeing much. However, the sights were so gorgeous. As we rested by a rock briefly, our mahout noticed an elephant at a distance. It was a baby and a mama elephant. We watched in silence at these beauts, and admired their natural habitat that they lived. The mother and baby elephant seemed so natural and untouched, and I really admired that. The forest was extremely silent, with air only pierced by the sounds of wild birds and tiny insects. We packed up back at our temporary home, and made the long drive back to the village. Naomi and I proudly received complementary chiropractic adjustments by the generosity of the 4x4 jeep. As there are no roads per say, it was a bumpy ride to say the least. Rocks, dirt, mud, and lack of pavement seemed like no problem for this bustling vehicle. Our driver, as fearless as he was, seemed as he was taking it easy on the roads too. American roads have nothing on those in the jungle, that’s for sure! We started the drive back to Meysore an incredible palace. Here, we saw beautiful gold architecture, amazing dancing halls, and some authentic ivory-crested doors. The king of this palace was amazingly wealthy, and this obvious. Throughout the early 1900’s he was perceived as more of an idol, and when his former palace burnt down. An outstanding new palace was built at the low cost of only $100,000. If I could build that structure today at that same price I would definitely be taking out some loans. The architecture, history, and numerous artifacts were unbelievable to say the least. The palace had 12 temples located just on the grounds alone. There I got to ride my elephant around the palace (in the heavy downfall of rain) and admire the true gem of India. Later, we visited the marketplace that was hustling and bustling with hundreds of visitors and thousands of vendors. The true lifestyle of an average Indian could be seen in this small, crowded marketplace. Young boys preparing vegetables for sale and desperate men trying to sell their bananas next to 5 other people selling the same bananas was a common experience. The market was crammed with vendors, but few buyers were on the grounds. It was quite the experience seeing young boys trying to lure us in by saying “hello hello where are you from”. We then boarded the train out of Meysore and enjoyed the absolutely spectacular accommodations of the Southern Indian Railroad. The next morning Naomi headed to Grace and I headed to Assisi. The kids at Assisi were a bit difficult yesterday but it also may have been to my lack of sleep. As I have spent more time getting to know each child they seem to really feel more comfortable around me. The boys and girls each gave me a kiss on the cheek before I left, and it made me feel sooo special and important in their lives. That is why leaving India will be such a difficult thing for me. The kids at Assisi, Grace, and SEAMS all are purely amazing. At Grace, I worked with the kids on using a given noun in a sentence, and finished with letting them do some creative drawing. It’s quite comical how they always want to draw a house or some sort of an animal. I started to get creative and made one draw a dancing Veejay (a popular Indian actor/singer) and another draw an auto rickshaw in the forest and another draw a monster under a bed. They enjoyed these challenges and it helped to break them from the mold of traditional schooling, which I believe is important in all educational aspects. At SEAMS, we spent more time with the kids individually working on their English reading and conversational skills. The children always jump at the opportunity to read a book, but their attention span is quite short. It is necessary to come prepared with multiple activities and to always ‘play’ with the children in some way. I personally enjoy tickling them! The kids enjoyed some cake and then we had a bit of free-for-all time. Naomi and I were exhausted so we then headed back to the guest house and to simply put it…… slept like rocks. I’m anxious to come back home, but every time I’m spending time with the children it makes me want to stay for 2 more weeks soooo badly. The kids seem to love Naomi and me, and it will definitely be difficult heading back home after what seems sooo soon, yet so long.


July 1, 2011

“Love is when the other person's happiness is more important than your own.”

This quote was chosen after visiting SEAMS tonight. Tonight at SEAMS I sat next to a young boy, who is 14 years old. I have been quite fond of this young man since the beginning of this trip. He has a constant smile, takes such care of the other children, and has such a sweet, gentle heart. Some members of the community came into SEAMS tonight to give some food to the children: a banana, crackers, and a rice-crispy ball. We were advised to not take the food (for health precautions). This young boy next to me realized I did not have any food (unknowing of the fact that I had declined) and he offered me his banana and crackers. Of course I politely declined his offer, however, I think this is something I will never forget. This child does not have a whole lot in life, however, he recognized I didn’t have anything and offered his food to me. My heart literally melted by his generous offer. It was a clear example of how people should live; with self-less love and generosity.

We have been in India for two weeks. My feelings of India, the children, the things I have learned, the places I have seen, the people I have met, the culture, they are all almost indescribable. I talked with my future husband on Skype this evening and told him we must come back together. Even if he does not come, I know I will for sure come back. This has been an amazing two weeks and I look forward to the third week. Yes, I am missing things back at home, however, I also feel a comfort here in India. I look forward to seeing my students at Grace each day, the children at SEAMS each night, the teachers, our hosts, Stephen, Sheeba, and Roshan, and everyone else we meat along the way. It has been a far better trip then I ever would have expected. They say that India is one of the hardest Global Volunteer trips. As a past volunteer in Ecuador, I would agree, this trip has been harder but, while I loved my experience in Ecuador, I have really grown quite fond of the India program and all that the program has given to me.

Today was a good day. I was really tired today as it was a hot, hot, hot one however, it was still a good day. My 2nd grade class again greeted me as I walked into the room, singing the greeting I had taught them. So very very sweet. There are 4 young girls in my 2nd grade class. We all have so much fun together. Each day we laugh and laugh and laugh. We are probably a little bit too loud, but, I am okay with it as there is learning taking place and smiles on their faces. They now leave each day giving me a giant hug and saying “see you tomorrow, I’ll miss you”. Ok, heart melts again. I can see why volunteers come back again and again to India! My 3rd graders had drawn more pictures and written more notes. The notes stated, “I love you mam”. Ok, again, melt my heart. These simple little handwritten notes are evidence that I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish here; giving the children as much love and care as I possibly can. At lunch time one of my 1st graders, who is as cute as a button but also tests my patience quite often, came over to where I was sitting on a bench, took my hand and just sat next to me for about 15 minutes. Ok, and again, melt my heart. These are the reasons why volunteering in India is so amazing.

At SEAMS tonight things became a little unstructured, however, it turned out to be a lot of fun actually. It is so very important to sit with the children to work on their English. However, once in a while having a “fun day” isn’t so bad! Zach and I worked with a couple of children and then the community members came in with food so we had to pause our work. It was then raining outside so the children could not go into the common area to play, read books, etc. so everybody was in the hall. Altogether, it did not lend to a good learning environment. So, we played 3 round of Simon Says in a big circle. This game tends to get very loud, however, I look around and I see so many smiles and so much laughter. After Simon Says we all just kind of hung out for a bit. I played many games of “hand slap”, “thumb war”, and “arm wrestling” with the boys. One of the older boys and I sat and played these games for quite some time. We were both rolling with laugher and were having a marvelous time. So, I thank the rain tonight as it provided us all with some fun times together and big smiles on everyone’s faces.

So, cheers to a wonderful third and last week in India. This week will be filled to the top with many emotions: sadness to leave, excitement to see our loved ones at home, reflection on our experience, and so much more. We leave tomorrow night for our train ride into the forest. I look forward to seeing a different part of India and experiencing more of the Indian culture! Luckily Zach is in charge of the journal entry because it will be cholk full of details!


June 30, 2011

Today Naomi and I continued at Assisi, Grace, and SEAMS. I have been struggling with a young boy at Assisi named Setvet, he constantly hit the other children and loves to make the other kids cry. I have been trying to break him apart from the other children so they don’t get hurt, but it seems as soon as I sit him down; he’s back up and hitting the other kids. Danny wasn’t at Assisi today, so it was just me and the other children. They really love their building blocks! Sister Rose was not feeling well so it was basically Shiva and I who were watching the kids today. The younger boy, Rocshen, has been very quiet. The sisters told me he is very shy and never talks. I’ve noticed he always keeps to himself and never plays with any of the other children. Today, I picked him up, set him on the tricycle, and pushed him around the room. He all of a sudden was laughing a giggling, and he seemed like a whole new boy after that. He was interacting with me and loved the attention. Teaching the kids at Assisi is nearly impossible, as their attention span is about .25 seconds, but today I did manage to work on some English noun-recognition with them. When I got to Grace, I taught my fifth graders more sentence-formation and they are really starting to improve. The fourth graders still struggle, but they love the activities I plan for them! At SEAMS, Naomi and I have been working with the kids individually, and the results seem very effective. The boys absolutely love playing the “high-five game” and being lifted up into the air. They are sooo light because they weigh hardly anything that I even pick up the 13 year olds! Tonight, we headed to Stephen’s parent’s house for a lovely dinner. I could hardly eat all of the food on my plate, but I enjoyed everything. I was quite amazed at a young girl we met at Dinner. She lives above Stephen’s parent’s house with her husband. She seemed very unhappy with her arranged marriage, and almost depressed. She was sooooo excited when Naomi and I visited her home and she was very ecstatic to have “company” in her home. It was hard to hear how miserable she was, and not tell her to just leave her husband. I understand Indian culture is quite different from American’s, but my philosophy is, if you’re not happy, why would one put oneself through the torture. She sits at home all day cooking and cleaning. Her husband is never home cause he works 12 hour days, and she has no friends it seems like. My immediate response would be to do what she actually wants to and travel and see the world. However, the culture is different. If I had to force myself into a marriage and cope with the conditions, I would at least find a job (despite her mother and father-in laws demands). She should also find friends in the village and work towards accomplishing some sort of happiness in her life. India claims to be progressing in women’s rights and better-educated women. However, her story made me realize the customs that may still oppress women to an unimaginable extent. This experience was extremely impacting on my beliefs and my interpretation of the culture within the system.

Other than that, I am extremely homesick. I miss my family and my friends so much! All of my relatives and compadres are very supportive and excited for me to come home, but I just keep thinking about all the smiles on the kids’ faces when I walk through their gate. The gleam in their eyes when I teach absolutely stuns me. I truly believe I am making a difference in these children’s education, and I can’t wait to see how we can continue to progress throughout this trip. But I definitely still miss my home!

"You see, when weaving a blanket, and Indian woman leaves a flaw in the weaving of that blanket to let the soul out." -Martha Graham

I chose this because all cultures are flawed or different in some way. Society needs these flaws to work towards some progress and to uniquely identify themselves as human. Humans clearly are not all perfect, otherwise they would lose the essence of their soul; their spirit; and the foundation by which they live.