Saturday, August 6, 2011


Song by the little ones at Assisi Illam


Dance by the kids from Assisi Illam


Dance by the Children of Assisi Illam


Speech by Sylvia at Assisi Illam

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from July 9 - July 29.

270 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English by 4 volunteers and  270 Hours of preparation time
60 Hours of Childcare by 2 volunteer. over 15 students impacted

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

Friday, 29 July, 2011

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story" -Orson Welles

Today was easily the best and worst day of my life. I do not say this lightly or sadly; it was full of smiles but joined by tears. It was a hard day.

We got up this morning and set off for the regular day. We were all a bit tired from packing and melancholy to see the end come. Had it really been three weeks? Are you sure it wasn't three days? It was three weeks? Are you sure? Well...can we stay longer? We had a breakfast of eggs, pongal, and toast. It was delicious, with some mango juice to wash it all down. Katie and I left for work, our last lesson plans in mind. For all of my classes, we read a book, answered some questions about the book, then played a game before I took a picture of the class. My first class was sad when they realized I wouldn't be coming back, which I quickly fixed by bringing out my camera. Jerryn and David made Spiderman poses in every picture while Vishal flashed his quiet smile. The fourth graders, as active and energetic as usual, hid their papers from me after they answered the questions and later revealed they had all wrote me letters. They were all smiling for the picture, even the withdrawn Aruna, putting bunny ears on an unsuspecting Priya. The fifth graders and I definitely had a special bond, and I didnt want to ruin their happy attitudes with the news of my leaving. I love every one of the students in the class and our secret little jokes. I will especially miss hearing the children yell "STATUE!" when I tried to erase the board; this command would force me to move away from the board, hands in the air, and standing as still as I can as quick as I can. The children found it hilarious. Once I told them the news of my leaving, Deepika demanded I close my eyes while they came up with a song for me. I opened them a minute later to the entire class standing up and singing "Happy journey to you...happy journey to you...happy journey dear Marion Mam...happy journey to you!" followed by laughter and clapping. They posed for the pictures, smiling and putting the arms around everyone, making the peace signs with their hands. Sureka had reminded me of some left over stickers I had, so I gave them each one for the end of class. As I opened the doors to scurry the reluctant children out, I found my 3rd and 4th standard there with letters in hands. I have yet to read many of them as they demanded I wait till I was on the plane. I did see one said "I am cry" which I got the urge to hand back so they could correct this typo. At least everything was spelled right. I hugged the teachers goodbye, which was highlighted by the jasmine in their hair. Katie and I were reluctant to leave, but eventually got through the doors. For lunch, we had some raw veggies, lemon rice, and chapati where we talked about what we would miss. Katie and I wandered around town, getting slightly lost on our way, in search for some henna. We returned to our pervious destination of Naidu Hall, where I talked to saleswomen my own age. I bought three packs in hoping to let my friends back home experience some of what I did. Katie and I changed into nicer clothes for the evening before SEAMs as did the others. I must say, the realization of leaving SEAMs hit me like a wrecking ball. I was hit with the flashbacks to my first week. I was miserable but didnt want to admit it. The food hurt my mouth, the heat was overwhelming, I was sick, and none of my friends had tried to contact me. But seeing Johns smile or hearing Tamils jokes erased all that easily. The thought of leaving my newly made friends hurt badly. When we got there, the children had beautifully decorated the main hall with streamers and balloons. We all sat in the back while the children danced and sung. The dances were intense and original from the younger children’s dance with candles in their hands to Sivas dance which I can only describe as "spazzmically rhythmic”. Siva, Kabilan and Tamil all danced like crazy, and even covering my mouth couldn't stop my laughter. Lastly, a bunch of the boys went up to the front and invited the volunteers for a dance. We got up to dance our silliest or our best dance moves. I danced with Kabilan and Tamil mostly who dance like wild animals let loose. We switched seats to hand out gifts to the children, for things from the cleanest room to the-only-person-who-studied to cleanest clothes. We were then herded out while they set up for dinner. During this time, I taught the kids a dance my older sister (Hi ceile!) and I did at events when we were younger. Cheran and Tamil, once they learned it, performed it for the other kids and I who were smiling nonstop. We had a dinner of Briyani where we sat with the kids. I sat next to Tamil, who was my first friend at Seams. He is a fourteen year old, who is nonstop talking or acting crazy. Throughout my time in India, we would pull pranks on each other or play hand games as fast as we could. I was sad to realize that though this was my first time eating with him, it is also my last. After dinner, we all went out for hugs where I did everything I could to not cry. I hugged my new friends, Kabilan, Siva, Cheran, Tamil, and John goodbye. They all asked when I was coming back and I was sad to say I don't know if I would. The minute we walked out the gate, our backs turned to the children, I broke down. I hadn't realized how much they all meant to me until it hit me I wouldn't return. I was sad to say the least.

This trip breaks the mold for "trip of a lifetime". It has changed me and inspired me. Sheeba and Stephen are the nicest people I have ever met and I have so many specific memories of them putting everyone before themselves. Katie, Heather and Sylvie are amazing volunteers and even better teachers, as you could see their love for the children clearly. I have never ever before met more beautiful people in such a beautiful place.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Thursday, 28 July, 2011

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened. - Dr.Seuss

Today started off the usual way with a delicious Indian breakfast. I am finding that I am enjoying the lack of sugar in my morning meal, but wonder how long I'll be able to keep It up once I go home. At 9:30, Marion and Katie left for the Grace School while Sylvie and I headed to Assisi. I really like spending the morning with the two and three-year-olds there. They are so cute and most of them enjoy the songs and nursery rhymes that we try to sing for them. Even though they don't talk much I know that they are picking up the English that we are teaching them. Rakshan, who is about 3 and 1/2 will look at me blankly when I try to engage him in conversation, but I know he understands me because one time, just after I took his picture, I asked him if he would like to see it and he nodded and said "Yes!". Jessica will come up to me and talk rapidly in Tamil and pull my arm. When I ask her if it is the blocks she wants, her face breaks into a smile and she will nod enthusiastically. It makes me laugh every time.

As an additional treat this morning Sister Rose hennaed beautiful designs on the palms of our hands and on Sylvie's feet. The sisters at Assisi have been very welcoming and I will miss the tea they offered me every morning.

The rest of the day signaled that the end of our trip was near as the celebrations began. In the afternoon everyone dressed in their newly purchased traditional clothes; Marion and Katie in saris and Sylvie and I in our salwar kameez (these are the longer tunic tops with matching leggings). We went to the Grace school for a magnificent Indian dance performance by Sureka and Deepika, two talented fifth graders, along with other songs and dances by the rest of the school. After that Marion helped Stephen award prizes to the students for the art contest and the volunteers received heartfelt thank you notes from the school. As a final treat the kindergarten teacher, Vanitha, created intricate hennaed artwork on Katie and Marion's palms. The four of us could have easily been mistaken for Chennai natives. At 4:00 we headed back to the guesthouse where Katie and Marion carefully sat for an hour and half as the henna on their palms dried. Then it was time to go to SEAMS once again. The children's faces lit up as they saw us in our outfits. "Very pretty sister!" echoed throughout the courtyard. Knowing that it was our last evening to work with the children was bittersweet. I think were proud of the friendships and progress we had made while we recognized that there is always more to do. The children, who do not have much, were so happy to see us every day and the excitement they showed when we arrived every day touched us deeply. It will be difficult to leave tomorrow after the 100th team celebration.

Our final event for the evening was a restaurant dinner. We all choose our favorite dishes; chicken marsala, garlic naan, curried cauliflower and fresh lime soda and, for Katie and I, a dessert of Gulab jamun, small treats similar to donut holes doused in simple syrup. Stephen, as usual, kept the conversation alive with stories about India's history, geography and politics, then we switched to one of our favorite topics, his son, Roshan . As we left the restaurant I realized what a unique bond had formed between us and was sad that our time here was drawing to an end.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Wednesday, 27 July, 2011

I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then. - Lewis Carroll

It occurred to me today that there are only three days left in the program. I cannot believe that my time in India is almost over. One change that I have noticed in myself after three weeks here is that I talk more slowly, and I have stopped using contractions in my speech and apparently my writing too. I also have a newfound appreciation for rain that I have never felt at home (it is very hot and dry in Chennai).

I came to India expecting to pity the children that I worked with, but I have found that I cannot do that. I have seen too much joy and determination from them to feel pity. Despite being separated from their parents for varying circumstances, they have love and a family from each other and from the pastor and his family who run the home. I have compassion for their circumstances, and I desperately want to stay and try to do something about it, but I do not pity them. I am grateful that I have been able to be a part of this program and a part of their lives if only for a brief time.

We spent the morning and afternoon in our usual classes. There was nothing too out of the ordinary. Then we left after SEAMs to go to shower and dress before leaving for a classical dance performance. The dancer was beautiful and so was the music, but we had a little trouble understanding the story that she was acting out.

After the performance we stopped by the Puma store to buy the essential tourist souvenir, the t-shirt. I had been searching for an "India" shirt all week. I have to admit I felt a little embarrassed wanting something so touristy, but I realized that this is my way of saying goodbye to a place. I want to remember my time in India forever and this t-shirt is one way that I can say I was there and I will never forget it.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

"The language of friendship is not words but meanings." – Henry David Thoreau

To think that I had thought our first weekend was tiresome seems ridiculous after this weekend. From getting caught in the rain to jungle safaris every day to sleeping in tree houses, we were all excited to return home this morning. We took showers and ate breakfast, realizing that though our weekend had just ended, we still had to work today. Katie helped me with my lesson plan for the day of making masks and discussing emotions for the 3rd-5th grade at Grace. We left for Grace School as Heather and Sylvie left for Assisi. As we got there, we set off to work. I began class by asking the kids emotions and having them make faces showing the emotions. We wrote them on the board and drew the faces before handing masks out. The children set off to drawing and coloring, learning new emotions along the way. Jerryn and David wanted to make their masks look angry without being angry. We explained this was called being "scary" and had them explain what was scary to them. They came up with horns and big teeth, which they quickly drew on. We ended with each student standing up and explaining what their mask (or masks) emotions were. I did this for all of the classes, and the children loved it. I left Grace, waving goodbye and promising to bring the masks back tomorrow. Katie and I returned home for lunch were we discussed our mornings with the other volunteers. Heather and Sylvie soon after left for Grace whereas Katie and I set out for the hard work of our afternoon: sleeping and reading, of course. We met up after an hour and returned to The Government Store, where we all shopped for everything. Since we had been here before we knew what we wanted and split up to check the items off our list. We all ended up buying a lot of gifts for family and friends, and left the store earlier than expected, but content. We relaxed at home before going to SEAMs that night. I must admit, I really missed the children from Seams and was excited to return, cracking jokes with John and Tamil or simply talking with Kabilan and Siva. We continued with one-on-ones, working with children who had a lot of trouble with English or were very young. I worked with a girl named Keerthana, who couldn't read English and barely knew the alphabet. I was interested that she could recognize words like lions, mangoes, or peacocks but not dog, cat, or day. We worked on the sounds the letters made and before I knew it, Stephen came in to announce it was time to go home. We returned home for dinner and showers, all tired and eager for a goodnights rest.


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India

Monday, 25 July, 2011

‘Love to be real, it must cost – it must hurt – it must empty us of self.’

Mother Teresa

Mudumalai.  Day 17.

We all got up around 6:20 after spending the night in a vert unusual decor:  the team slept in tree houses.  The sounds of the birds and the songs of water were our lullaby.  The place called Safari Land is located in the middle of a beautiful wild garden where tropical flowers happily grow in abundance.  Spending the weekend at this resort was definitely a magic moment I will never forget.  I really loved this place.

The next activity on the schedule was suppose to be a ride in search for elephants, but because of the recent rain falls, the ground was too muddy for it, and we had to look for a plan B. 

On our way to breakfast, we saw few tamed elephants and a baby elephant too.  So, after a delicious meal, the team went for a jeep safari and a trek inside the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.  The path we drove on was pretty bumpy and the experience was a lot of fun.  It is also why Roshan and his wonderful parents did not join us: the road was certainly too bumpy for little Roshan! 

So, while Katie, Heather and Marion went for a trek with the guides, I went for a jeep safari during which I took several pictures of the nature surrounding me, but no tigers in sight!  We ended the ride with a cool walk to get a nice panorama of the Nilgiris Mountains all around.  What a wonderful view we got from there! 

And time for lunch already which we took a last meal at the Safari Land before hitting the road for our next destination: Mysore and its royal palace.  This was an amazing visit in the past with Stephen our friendly private guide.  But before getting there, in between two scattered showers, we saw many sunflowers fields from the road as for tumeric, cotton, sugar cane, etc.  Pure beauty for the eyes.  After the visit of the palace, we did some shopping again. And then I became the photographer in charge, trying to immortalize the elephant ride everybody took after that.  It was certainly fun to watch Katie, Heather, Marion, Sheeba, Stephen and Roshan approaching slowly but surely, all smiling on top of the big animal!

Before taking the train back home to Porur which was our second experience, we had a wonderful time sharing a meal at the restaurant of the Park Lane Hotel.  Good restaurant.  Good food.  Good company. 

Certainly one of the most unforgettable weekends in the Indian country side. 


Celebrating 100th Team in India

Celebrating 100th Team in India