Monday, January 30, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” - Albert Einstein

Chris and I headed over to SEAM’s with only one thing on our mind. It was to finish making the sand shifter. We have a big crew coming in next week and I didn’t want anything slowing us down… Last week the odds weren’t in our favor whether it was power outage, missing extension cord, or lack of proper supplies. Well nothing was stopping us today! Even after a fuse blew on our first cut, we were determined to finish. In the end, we succeeded and built the best shifter in southern India. We’ll see how it holds up next week…

During the afternoon break I decided to clean up the activity cabinet in the guest house before the new team arrives… There was so much random stuff in there and I did the best I could to straighten it up… Then I focused on finishing the SEAM’s children's profiles. We decided we would place each kid in 4 different categories based on there English abilities so that when future volunteers teach a SEAMs the will know where others have left off and where they should continue... After all that was complete a ran some errands and got ready for another trip to SEAMs

Today Chris and I finalized all the profiles, then spent the rest of the time reviewing the points system, and handing out some fruit. This has been something we’ve done the last few Fridays and the kids really seem to enjoy it. In the end everyone wins but they realize that it's important to keep their home clean and finish their chores. Room 1 won again this week and there has been much improvement since the program was started. The boys have yet to win but are gettin close.

Over the weekend I spent the my time looking all over Chennai for a blackboard for SEAMs Children's Home. This was a task I set out for in 2010 and finally found one. I went to a few stores then carried this thing back to the guest house by train,auto, and even crossed the main road without getting run over! I cant wait to install it this week...


Thursday, January 26, 2012

“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain- either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Today was similar to those preceding it, except that Dustin and I went in different directions. I made my last trip to Assisi to complete work on the computers and I’m happy to say that everything went very well. Dustin made his way to SEAMs to continue work on the profiles. Following lunch we both headed back to SEAMs. After more than a week of work we are almost finished. The profiles will be immensely helpful for future volunteers. Based on the children’s levels we can group them in order to improve teaching efficacy. My hat goes off to Dustin for his brilliant idea with the profiles. Like me, he’s never satisfied with just the status quo and is continually searching for areas to improve. We ended the day with a delightful meal, though by the end we were all nodding off, a sure sign of a pleasant rest to come and a great conclusion to the day.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

“All great things are only a number of small things that have carefully been collected together.” – Anonymous

Today I woke up pretty early and I headed downstairs for my normal morning coffee… Today I figured I would try to make coffee a little different by heating it using one of those hot plates. Well I turned it on and it started making some noises, so I put my hand over to see if it was hot. Well it was and I burnt the tips of 3 of my fingers (don’t worry mom I’m ok). I guess I was a little more sleepy than i thought.. Let’s just say if the coffee doesn’t wake you up this will… I escaped with only some minor burns and Sheeba came to the rescue. I’ll just stay out of the kitchen for a while especially after my incident last year.

At Assisi Illam, Chris continued with the computer project while I played with the babies… We read books, played with blocks and worked on some basic English skills…. The time moved quickly and they were some much fun. After they were fed and napping. Sister Rose had a wonderful lunch prepared for us of cabbage, beets, tomato rice, okra, French fries, and a few other treats. This was my first time having lunch over there but Chris has been talking about how great it was since I arrived. He was right, it was amazing!

After a quick break back at the guest house Chris and I worked at SEAMs. Our goal is to complete the profiles for each kid but I can easily be distracted when asked to play; snap cards, bingo, cricket, or just reading with the children…There is definitely not enough of me to go around and I just need to find away to make my rounds to each child… Chris and I are trying to learn all the kids’ names and I think we have about 85% memorized…

Just when you think the day couldn’t get any better. We finished the night off with dinner at a local restaurant with Sister Matilda, Sister Stella, and 5 of the Assisi children. Great meal and great company!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

 “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.”  - Rudyard Kipling

 Today started with a great breakfast of omelets, rice cakes and spicy peanut chutney.  Then Dustin and I headed over to Assisi Illam.  We set up two computer stations yesterday and got everything up and running; however, we discovered that one of the computers, which was donated, contained some viruses.  So it was decided that we would wipe the computer’s hard drive and install a fresh copy of Windows.  This was where things got interesting. Armed with my copy of Windows I assumed that the procedure would be a short and sweet affair. No such luck. The optical drive was damaged and not registering with the operating system, nor was the Ethernet adaptor functioning.  Only after taking the computer apart, editing the system registry and reconfiguring the Ethernet settings did we start to see any progress.  But by that point we had to call it quits and head back to the guest house for lunch.  I assured Sister Rose that tomorrow the computer would work better than it ever had. 

After a nice lunch, Dustin and I got a special treat.  Stephen’s mother Jamuna came to the guest house and gave us some South Indian cooking lessons.  We had requests ready for our favorite dishes and she was only too happy to show us poor white boys how to cook some real Chennai cuisine.  Most importantly, she demonstrated that the majority of dishes we have been savoring these past weeks start very simply with a wok, hot vegetable oil, mustard seeds, onions, curry leaves, and chilies. We told her that we would return the favor and cook for her one day soon.  That’s one critic I wouldn’t want to disappoint.

In the afternoon we went to SEAMs as usual.  This is the third week of the points system that Kerry and I crafted and the improvement is huge.  I’m stunned at how clean SEAMs is now compared with four weeks ago. I’m so proud of the children. We took a break from our usual routine to show the kids a movie.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watching the Jungle Book so much. It was quite moving to see all of the little faces glued to the screen, clapping and screaming at the dance between Baloo the bear and King Louis the orangutan.  Back at the guest house we got to enjoy all the excellent food that Stephen’s mother had prepared during our lesson.  Just another wonderful day in Chennai.


Monday, January 23, 2012

 "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in
your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

It's the start of my third week and it still feels like I just arrived. Each week brings new and exciting things... On Saturday a few of the members from the last team headed back home. Diana and Candy
will definitely be missed. Even the Assisi kids looked shocked when Chris and I showed up this morning. I'm sure they were looking forward to all the balloons and other exciting stuff Candy brought the last two weeks... The construction is on hold this week so we will be working with the daycare kids at Assisi. Although, today we got a break from playtime and Sister Rose had us put together some computers. Afterwards she surprised us with homemade French Fries, yummy!

After another wonderful lunch back at the guesthouse I cut down my first banana tree with the help of Stephen and Sheeba. It went down pretty easy and I even cut out the trunk which we will probably be eating the rest of the week. I can't wait for the 150 some bananas to ripe...

In the evening, we stuck to our routine and headed over to SEAM's. Chris and I are working on giving each kid a profile based on their level of English skills. This will definitely help future volunteers prepare and bring the proper materials before heading over to SEAMs. After working with a few kids my eyes got heavy and I played a match card game with Sneha and finished the night off with B.I.N.G.O...


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

“We have so far to go to realize our human potential for compassion, altruism, and love.” - Jane Goodall

Well it’s the final day for team 106.  It started like any other with an enjoyable breakfast and a team meeting. We then split up with Diana, Meagan, and Candy going to Assisi and Grace School. Dustin and I headed to SEAMs once again for construction work. In the absence of the workers, we set to sifting large amounts of sand that will be used for the interior and exterior walls of the new library.  Over the last two weeks we have come to appreciate and dread India’s medieval construction methods.  After several hours labor, we rejoined the team for lunch.  Then it was back to SEAM in the afternoon.  This was my third time witnessing the children’s farewell presentation for the departing team members.  It was just as high-spirited and adorable as the others.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of little Ezekiel’s dance.  He’s quite the performer. 

Back at the guest house, we enjoyed yet another excellent meal courtesy of Rani.  Then it was time to say our goodbyes to Diana.  Working with her was a real pleasure.  I know the children loved having someone around to patch up all their boo-boos.  Next it was Candy’s turn to depart.  Dustin and I are already missing her good humor and infectious laugh.  The coming week it’s just me and Dustin until a new team of 12 arrives. I have complete sympathy for Stephen and the logistical nightmare he’s about to face with that many volunteers to tend. But I’m sure it will be prove to be another excellent group, just like 106.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Always look for the 'gold' in people and in life" My Grandpa
Today started like most with our morning visit to Assisi. Megan and I should have saved the balloons and bubbles for our last couple of days as no matter what we do the children are always looking for them now. However, with Sheeba's keen direction we made it through with songs and dancing and some colorful streamers. The best part is we noticed that some of the children who were either scared or nervous have warmed up to use and it's great to see them smiling.

After lunch we spent a short time at the Grace School which is always a joy but always too short. We then headed to the government store for some last minute shopping before we depart. Our evening visit to SEAMS was as lively as ever thanks to jump ropes Diana and Megan brought. The children (boys and girls alike) enjoyed having contests to see who could jump the most times.

We had the fortunate experience to visit Roshan's Parti and Tata (grandma and grandpa) and have a delicious dinner. We also had the sincere pleasure of meeting some of the rest of his family such as driver Stephen's gorgeous wife and children. We even got to meet Rani's family which was a real treat. It was a terrific visit and a wonderful way to bring my final week here in Chennai to a close.

I have been so blessed these past two and a half weeks to meet so many kind and genuinely warm people here in India. I can say that it's been very easy to find the gold in all of them because it shines through so clear, bright and beautiful.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“Happiness is a how; not a what. A talent, not an object.” - Hermann Hesse

Another wonderful day for team #106... This day didn't top yesterday but it was close...

Rani did something different with our scrambled eggs and some of us definitely enjoyed the change... Megan and Candy headed off to Assisi while our star teacher Dianna shaped the minds of the Grace School kids... Chris and I on the other hand head back to SEAMs. The construction crew is off this week so we scratched our heads as we tried to figure out how we were going to cut some wood left over from the construction project... With limited tools at hand, the first part of the morning went without success. The ax was pretty dull and it was like chopping through a tree with a baseball bat... Just before lunch Chris and I took the time to figure out how we would finish the project with the limited tools and resources that we had... In the end we decided to bring everything we had available... The coconut clever, one inch reciprocating saw, half an ax, and two determined minds...In the end the wood won and Chris and I retreated back to the guesthouse to take on the project another day...

In the evening, we all headed over to SEAMs like we have everyday since we started. We all broke out into our individual learning sessions and the time past by very quickly. Then the eight of us all packed into 2 rickshaws and finished the night with a wonderful dinner at the neighborhood restaurant!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quote of the day: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."  Nelson Mandela

The team started the morning with another delicious breakfast of rice cakes, peanut chutney, eggs, & milk tea. As the schools were closed Monday & Tuesday for the Pongal Festival, everyone headed to Assisi. We were greeted at the door by the children & soon we were gathered in small groups reading, practicing sight words, drawing, & playing games. The relative quiet was soon shattered when one of the kids discovered a bag of balloons in Megan's bag & a rambunctious game of balloon volley ball ensued. I had forgotten how strenuous chasing a balloon can be & soon I was breathless, hot, & sweaty. The children, however, were as energized as ever. We left Assisi at lunchtime & I hope for the Sister's sake we wore the boisterous bunch out enough for a long afternoon nap.

We were all relieved that Chris was feeling better & out of his Benadryl haze. Candy however was feeling a bit under the weather, & so stayed behind for some rest & a much anticipated cooking lesson from Rani & Sheeba. The rest of the team walked over to SEAMS for the afternoon. The atmosphere there was much more relaxed than usual & it was a treat to spend time just "hanging out" with the kids. Franklin has become particularly enamored with my camera & greeted me at the gates with calls of "Photo! Photo!" The boys crowded around & scrolled through the pictures I had taken of them, the team's trip to Pondicherry, & of my friends, pets, & family in America. I helped Franklin & some of the other children take pictures. They all really love anything to do with cameras & had huge smiles & looks of pride on their faces after they snap a photo & see the resulting image.  The girls got their turn with the camera & enjoyed the pictures I had taken of the kollam around the neighborhood. Swathy said she could do it & proceeded to draw one of her own. She said she would show us how to do it tomorrow if we bring her the supplies.

A quick stop at the house & the team was off again, this time to the beach. Today was the final day of the Pongal holiday, Kanum Pongal, so the beach was quite crowded. Actually it was like Woodstock on steroids. we were the only white people their & so became a strange type of celebrity Kids & families rushed up to shake our hands & to wish us a happy Pongal. Many asked us to take their photo & some asked for photos of us. Megan, Candy, & I were even interviewed on camera for the evening news!

Upon returning home we had a delicious meal of korma & poori that Candy had helped prepare.

It was a long eventful day well spent. I am looking forward to return to the kids at Grace & to hear how they spent their holiday.


Friday, January 13, 2012

“Work harder, not smarter” Dustin Homicki

Friday the 13th started quite ominously.  Dustin and I headed to SEAM’s after breakfast, while Candy, Diana, and Megan went to Grace School and Assisi. Over the last week we’d come accustomed to the site of a small chicken that resides at SEAM’s.  A day earlier we joked about how meager the hen looked at that once its egg-laying days were behind it, the kids would get a surprise chicken dinner.  So we were a bit nervous when there was no sign of the chicken.  We didn’t think much of the disappearance and carried on with our work. I spotted the pastor and asked with trepidation if the chicken was around.  He said “chicken dead, chicken dead.” I was horrified until I realized he was actually saying “chicken there, chicken there” pointing to a shaded area where the hen was quite happily pecking at the ground, head and all. 

When the mason arrived we got to work pulling up steel beams for the roof of the new library/computer room.  Then we set to carrying up tremendously heavy fiberglass roof panels.  Once that arduous task was completed, Dustin and I took a well deserved break while the mason mysteriously vanished. Later we found out that those heavy beams were the incorrect length and he was off getting them welded for the right size.  We’re used to the mason’s seemingly inane attempts at communication for our direction, but in his absence we decided to carry on by getting rid of the large brush pile on the roof next to our construction site.  SEAM’s lovely neighbors had decided a bordering tree was a nuisance and cut off most of the limbs, leaving the children with no lines to hang their clothes. 

After lunch we made our way back to SEAM’s reenergized, this time with Diana to help us.  I for one was particularly glad to have a nurse around since Dustin was using an electric reciprocating saw.  Happily, the disturbing omen from the morning did not cast a shadow over the afternoon’s work.  We finished clearing the brush pile, put up new clothes lines. The evening’s work went wonderfully.  We revealed the top point earners for the week, and the girls, who previously had the worst rooms, came out on top.  It was a fantastic sight to see them all jumping up and down out in the yard after realizing their victory.  The children were overjoyed when we distributed candy based on their week’s performance.  It’s quite gratifying to see the amount of change occurring at SEAM’s.  One day at a time, it really is getting better and better.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Be the Change you want to see in the world" Gandhi

Well it’s Day 4 and it looks like everyone has settled into their routine. Candy and Megan prepared for Assisi, Dianna not feeling 100%, still headed off to Grace school, while Chris and I headed back to SEAM's for another day at the construction zone.

Today was all about sand! So one load at a time we hauled the sand to the rooftop where the local construction crew was waiting. Chris and I usually enjoy good conversation and music so the day goes pretty quick...Earlier in the week; I've scratched my head and tried to figure how this project was going to play out. But after only a few days things are really starting to come together. It’s a different style of construction for sure but we hope to have a roof on by this weekend.

Back at the guesthouse, Rani put together another wonderful meal for us and Sheeba added some awesome fried chilis! I never wanted the meal to end but I knew I still had an afternoon shift at SEAM's.

Megan joined Chris and I for the afternoon and it was more of the same thing! Sand, sand, and more sand! The pile is shrinking and it’s always nice to have an extra hand.

In the evening, we all headed back to SEAM's to finish the day off with our one-on-one English sessions. This is usually the best part of my day. I'm working on creating a profile for each kid so that current and future volunteers will know were we left off. Once I figure out a system I will be sure to share it with the rest of the team... Towards the end of the night my eyes were getting heavy and we headed back to the guesthouse for dinner and some much needed rest! Candy and Megan headed off for some shopping.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”

The day started off with a lovely breakfast of eggs and papaya.  Very delicious!  We discussed as a group our schedule for the day and talked about the needs of some of the children at Seams.  It was decided that we would have a wash day next week to shampoo the girls’ hair which I very much look forward to.  Sort of like playing beauty parlor with the girls for an evening.  J

Megan and I arrived at Assisi to find Jovan with a serve allergic reaction that he must have received at home and worsened as the morning progressed.  We all gathered around him in obvious concern to soothe and comfort him as best we could while we waited for his grandma to pick him up.  He was so brave and never complained.  I am always struck at the resilience of these children and how incredibly strong they are.  Jessica, Munesh were their usual mischievous selves but like the others, were a joy to spend time with.  There were a few meltdowns by some of the girls and there always a couple kicks and slaps that occur amongst the little ones but we always get through it with a couple of songs and some coloring.

We breaked for a lively lunch filled with laughter and it was great fun learning more about my fellow volunteers.  After lunch Dustin, Chris and I headed to Seams and it was great to change things up a bit and work outside with the guys.  Shoveling and carrying sand was hot, sweaty work but Chris provided us with some tunes to help pass the time.

Later and after a much needed shower, we headed off in a rickshaw to see the beguiling and beautiful Bharathanatyam dancers.  The rickshaw ride was both fun and exciting but also a little hard on the sinuses and the buns.  However, it was well worth the experience and Diana and I made it home in one piece. J

All in all just another interesting, challenging, emotional and growth filled day here in India.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

“If you could only see how important you are to the lives of those you meet…There is something of yourself you leave at every meeting with another person.” –Fred Rogers

Today was another incredibly exhausting & rewarding day. The beautiful chaos of Chennai is like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. Cows, cars, motorcycles, cabs, bicyclists, & brightly colored pedestrians all come within a breath of collision at any moment. It is literally a symphony of sight & sound that is hard to imagine & even harder to describe. Our driver, Stephen, amazes me every morning as he calmly & deftly weaves among the throngs to safely deliver me to Grace School.

Today was my second day at Grace teaching English to the 3rd, 4th, & 5th graders. They are all so beautiful & eager to learn. I showed the 3rd graders pictures of my garden back home in Virginia & they worked on their English skills by writing sentences describingwhat they saw. We have been challenged at times to understand each other, but so far we’ve been able to work it out. They have requested stickers, longer stories, & Simonsays for tomorrow. One of my third grade boys, Jastein, ran back into the room atthe last minute to give me a flower, which I have pressed into my journal. The 4th grade class had fun working with anagrams & the competition was fierce tocreate the most words. 5th standard is my largest class with 9 students. It can get quite boisterous as they call out “Mam, Mam “ to get my attention. We have been working on expanding their conversational English by writing descriptive sentences. Today they wrote about their favorite thing to do after school.

Balaji, a boy from my 4th grade class, came & sat with me during recess. He showed me his sticker collection & reminded me to bring some tomorrow. Then he & some of the others taught me a few Tamil words before it was time for me to go. As I was leaving I was surrounded & given high fives & fist bumps as some of the little ones hugged my waist.

After a delicious lunch & a quick nap the team walked to SEAMS to work with the kids one on one. SEAMS always starts off a bit chaotic as the kids are getting home from school & are rushing to complete their chores & get groomed for the evening’s activities. Arun, “dancing man,” always looks particularly sharp with a bright crisp shirt & jeans.

Before we got started, Megan, Candy & I ran upstairs to check out the progress on the library. The mason & some of the boys proudly posed for pictures while they worked. Chris & Dustin have done an amazing job working with the masons. It looks like their goal to have it completed before they leave in February just might happen.

In between working with the kids on their English skills I held a mini clinic to check their various wounds. I wish I could have done more, but they seemed happy to have their cuts & sores washed & bandaged & to receive a few soothing words. Some seemed disappointed when their fresh scars weren’t “band-aid worthy.” As always our time at SEAMS was way to short. I’m looking forward to returning tomorrow.


Monday, January 9, 2012

A great day for firsts!

As our new team assembles for the first time at the breakfast table, there are many emotions running in all of us.  Excitement, anxiousness, curiosity, and even a little fear are all present in the team as we prepare for our day of firsts.  First time building a library, working construction,  or teaching  children English.  All tasks equally  daunting  and difficult but nevertheless, rewarding and satisfying to each of us.  

Chris, who is helping build Seam’s first library has also taken the task of putting together Seam’s first reward point system.  This system allows groups as well as the individual kids to accrue points by completing chores, cleaning their room and going the extra mile to help in whatever way they can.  At the end of the month, the top team and top individuals  win a prize.  This is a great way to instill responsibility in the kids and it’s also really fun! Chris put together the chart, the point system and even put on his photography cap for a Seam’s group photo!

It was Dustin’s first day working on the construction for the library.  When he came home from lunch, his clothes were drenched , and he had a look of pure satisfaction on his face.  The look of pride in getting your hands dirty and really accomplishing something great.  He told us of how he enjoyed  his experience learning how local construction takes place.  He also helped with Chris with the point system, and while at Seam’s in the afternoon, took individual time to help the kids with their comprehension of words. 

Although Diana’s a nursing teacher, this was her first experience teaching kids.  I empathized greatly with the nervousness and trepidation she felt as she was also the first to go to Grace school.  Talk about brave! But with determination in her eyes, and with a stoic nature that I’m sure she has had all her life, she faced this head on and succeeded in teaching her class to use descriptive words and making sentences of those words.

It was Candy’s first trip to the classroom as well. She explained how she felt nervous to be in front of the students and even said she didn’t think she would like it.  But with Candy’s optimism and positive attitude she came home thrilled to have gone and was excited to return tomorrow! I think she has found a new calling with the second graders!

Like most of the team here, I have a lot of firsts as well.  First time to India. First time at Global Volunteers. First time in a classroom setting. My first experience with the little ones at Assisi was truly memorable.  I felt as if I had never left home when I entered the school.  Something about being able to teach the young ones appeals to me and inspires.  My experience at Grace was challenging to say the least.  But you know what they say, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

It was a great day for firsts and we all look forward to seconds!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend or a meaningful day.” – Tenzin Gyatso

While it was sad to see Kerry depart, this weekend was exciting because of the arrival of the latest team.  The new team is: Megan, Diana, Candy, and Dustin, who like myself will be staying until February 11.  It’s exciting to be surrounded by such an eager and enthusiastic group.  Saturday was a slow and comfortable day with several in the new group recovering from jet lag.  Today (Sunday) we went through the orientation process, my second.  When we got to the group exercise of describing the characteristics of an effective team it was interesting that the descriptors used were almost identical to those offered by the previous team.  I suppose great minds think alike.

In the afternoon we ventured over to SEAM for the new group’s introductions and tour of the facility.  Dustin has the upper hand here, being a former volunteer to Chennai.  Indeed, many of the children recognized him, with one pointing out that he was wearing the same pants that he had previously worn on his trip in 2010.  It was a very lively time that included songs and dance from the children.  After spending some time with the kids we headed off for a delicious dinner. Once we returned to the guest house I finally completed work on my photos…so far. Tomorrow we will be splitting up as usual with Dustin and I heading to SEAM for the library build.  I know he’s as eager as I am to see this thing completed.  I look forward to a productive day with an engaging and high-spirited new team.


Thursday, 5th January, 2012

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw
Today was one of the most rewarding yet.  After breakfast, Kerry and I headed to SEAM to continue with the construction project.  Kerry was assisting the mason and my job was the same as yesterday, moving bricks 3 or 4 at a time balanced in a pail on my head from the large stack in the yard to the rooftop build site. There was a new worker today, a young guy in his 20s, who was also carrying bricks to the rooftop.  He had a very lackadaisical approach to his work. Indeed, at one point I carried up 18 bricks in the same time-span it took him to move 5. But to his credit, it is difficult to text and move bricks at the same time.  On a positive note, the young man’s lack of vigor seemed to energize me.  I really hit my stride and by the time we were ready to break for lunch I had moved approximately 120 bricks. It was amusing to see the other workers smiling at me, at one point commenting “you work fastly!” I have every intention of seeing this project completed so I wanted to make sure that the workers had enough bricks to keep going.
During our water breaks Kerry and I walked around inspecting SEAM.  After finding a number of areas that were severely lacking, we decided on a new approach, based on a point system that rewards good behavior and discourages bad behavior.  The points are based on the performance of each dorm room as well as individual acts displayed by the children.  There will be a competition each week among the rooms for a small reward and at the end of each month a prize or a field trip will be awarded to the top room and top 3 children.
After spending the afternoon fine-tuning the points system and evaluation criteria we headed back to SEAM.  It was chaotic to say the least, but after we got the children settled and explained the new system there was a marked difference in their attitudes.  I could tell immediately that these kids relished the opportunity to compete with one another for a reward.  This is absolutely a learning process and it will take time for the children and volunteers to adjust, but ultimately we think it will result in a cleaner home for the children and more time to devote to the emotional and educational needs of the children. Since Kerry is leaving on Saturday morning we decided to have a final goodbye dinner at a restaurant.  It was a most enjoyable meal and we were most pleased at the amount of progress we achieved in a relatively short amount of time.  I will miss Kerry’s company.  We worked well together and she was a true asset to the team.

Wednesday, 4th January, 2012

"Life is not a matter of milestones but of moments"- unknown

Today when we arrived at SEAM the local workers were there to start constructing the walls for the new library. Steven made some introductions and told them we were here to assist them. Then he left us with the two workers who speak NO English. We took our lead by following one of the workers and piling bricks in a certain manner so the other worker who was building the wall could easily reach them. Every once in a while one of them would ask us in their native tongue, Tamil, to do something and the point. Chris and I would take turns looking bewildered and then by process of elimination would figure out what they needed. Meanwhile, there was some singing and drum music coming from close by and I asked Chris where he thought it was coming from and he said downstairs, sure enough he was right. The pastor that runs SEAM was having a meeting of other pastors and they were singing and praying as well as discussing important matters or so I assume. It was a nice backdrop for us as we worked. Luckily we got to leave at 12:30pm as the day starts to heat up but the workers will put in about a 7 or 8 hour day.

When we return at 4:45pm we find some good progress on the walls, it actually looks like something now. The girls are excited since they know the other half will get their hair washed and blow dried tonight since I did the other half last night. There is no lingering they pull me straight into their room to get started. Saranya is the oldest in the room since Sunitha is away this week so she takes charge. We start with the little ones, lathering them up good, scrubbing and rinsing 5 times and then we are done. Next, I comb their hair and we blow dry it, they love the blow dryer, a wise investment I must admit.

When I come outside to hang their towels on the clothes line it's an hour and a half later and Steven tells me I missed the chaos,for which I am grateful. The reason it was so crazy is that all of the clothes that had been washed the night before were up on the roof and when the workers showed up to begin construction they had to be moved and some (most) were put on the brick wall which is covered in dirt so they had to be re-washed. The real problem was not necessarily the re-washing but the assigning of the clothes from the big pile to the right kid, for some reason they don't seem to know what clothes are theirs, or maybe they just didn't want to claim it because they didn't want to wash it. Either way it all got sorted out.

The day went by fast and it's hard to believe I only have 2 days left in my program. I will make the most of it!

My best moment of the day? Having the girls sit on my lap as I blow dried and combed their hair. Their giggles as I put the blow dyer in their face lifted my spirits and the way they closed their eyes and sighed in contentment when I brushed their hair moved me beyond words.


Tuesday, 3rd January, 2012.

“Nothing got without pains but an ill name and long nails” – Scottish Proverb

After surviving a bout of what Stephen termed “Delhi Belly”, I was able to rejoin Kerry for a hard day’s work at SEAM. We are starting a large project that will result in a library/computer room for the children.  The logistics are somewhat challenging as the build site is atop the roof of the main hall. For several hours in the morning, it was just Kerry and I hauling load after load of bricks across the yard, up a staircase, and stacked along the rooftop. Coming from a place that relies so heavily on machinery to accomplish similar tasks, it’s quite humbling to move hundreds of bricks, four at a time balanced in a pail on your head. I’d be lying if I said my back wasn’t a little stiff. 
After a well-earned lunch and a short break we headed back to SEAM. Kerry spent the evening in the girls dormitories going over grooming techniques, braiding hair…girl stuff.  I on the other hand continued with the construction project, only this time I had a lot of eager little helpers to assist me. After a dreadful attempt at tossing bricks up to one of the boys on the roof, I suggested we try a relay approach where I would carry bricks across the yard to a boy who would then take them up the stairs and hand them off to another to stack.  This was far more successful, although it was pretty funny to see Siva, a 17 year-old eager to impress me with his physical prowess, strain under the weight of the first load I handed off to him.  He quickly resumed his stoic composure and proved to be an excellent helper the rest of the evening.
I’ve noticed in the past that the American non-profit and volunteer world is disproportionately female.  I have no objection with this….but the children at SEAM are so used to a majority of female volunteers that they habitually call me “sister”.  I correct them and say “no, brother” at which they grin and reply “sorry, brother”. We wrapped up the evening by having all of the children gather their dirty clothes for washing.  This is a much more manageable task now that we have taken an inventory of their clothing.  Tomorrow we will continue with the construction project and finish the clothes washing. I must say that even though we are engaging in difficult manual labor, it’s incredibly rewarding to know that this library and computer room will have an enormous positive impact on the lives of these kids.  I feel very fortunate that I am volunteering until mid-February.  It is my hope that I will see the project completed during my stay. Well, off to bed…I’m sure I’ll sleep like a rock tonight. Bonne nuit, à demain!

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

"We can do no great things- only small things with great love"- Mother Teresa

Today since the rain has stopped we have decided to prep for the construction project at SEAM. This project will build a library on the rooftop above the kitchen and prep area. Piles of brick were delivered a few weeks ago and have been sitting in the courtyard, it is my job today to begin to move the bricks up to the roof so construction can get under way later this week.

This sounds easy enough but the stairs are steep and I am still being gentle with my left knee and ankle since the swelling just went down and the pain has finally gotten better I don't want to press my luck my re-injuring it. After a few trips up and down the stairs carrying just 2bricks at a time I am a hot sweaty mess and decide to take it easy. There are two boys that stayed home from school as they didn't feel well and they begin to help by bringing the bricks I unload from the piles up the stairs. Soon Siva and Ajith Kumar are also tired so Jacob, one of the caregivers,who wants them to continue moving the bricks goes and gets a chair and brings it under the overhang of the roof by the wash area. I was wondering what he was doing but soon found out that what I though was odd what was actually ingenious. Siva climbed from the roof down onto the overhang and Jacob stood on the chair and began to toss a brick up in the air to Siva who miraculously caught it while balancing on the grooved makeshift roof that forms the overhang. Next Siva tossed the brick up the all the way to the roof, which is about 3 feet.

I left at 12:30pm to return to the guest hose for lunch and I think the boys were relieved as it meant they could also take a break. I took a shower and for the first time was happy it was cold water! It felt good.

Chris is still feeling under the weather still so Steven and I return to SEAM at 4:30pm and had to wait 45 minutes for the kids to return home from school, it ran late today. I went into the girls room oversee their changing and washing up and when I came back to the courtyard I was amazed at how well the boys were working together to unload the bricks and carry them upstairs. There were many different techniques being used. Kabilan and Siva continued the tossing the brick up in the air and then catching it while standing on the overhang while the younger kids keep the supply of bricks coming. Others are speedily unloading the bricks from the pile and handing off to other boys who are filling up their arms with 3-4 bricks and still others wrap a towel around their head and pile 3 bricks balancing on their head to transport the load. One thing all of these methods have in common is teamwork, they all work together and eagerly with a common goal.
When it got dark we gathered in the prayer hall and had a visit from some local neighborhood people who came to wish the children a Happy New Year. They handed each child a notebook, pencils with a case and colored drawing pencils. Then they ended by giving out candy, it was a great end to the night and well deserved by the children who worked hard and showed good cooperation.

We came back to the guest house and were greeted by Chris who looked much better than in the morning and was o. Good spirits despite a rough couple of days with stomach problems.
We had a delicious dinner and I slept really well after a long day of manual labor.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened"

Today is the second day of the cyclone and the rain is unyielding. The storm is predicted to peak this morning and then hopefully die down which is good since Katie, Will, and Ginny's flights are leaving late tonight /early tomorrow morning.
Chris, Mary, and I go to SEAM in the morning and play games with the kids. Memory is a favorite along with Bingo and the older kids like the flash cards. Anish ,Paul Anthony, and Kabilan are competing who can answer the fastest as I go through multiplication and division flashcards. It's a close race so there is no clear winner, to me they are all winners just for applying themselves. Cheran, 16, struggles to read me and the other kids a book but I give him a lot of credit for his persistence and patience in Trying to sound out the words and looking to me for reassurance that he is pronouncing the words correctly. Next I work with Anish, 12, and he breezes through flashcards with full sentences, I need to test that out next time by having him read a book to me.

Chris is working with Siva on the laptop helping him with his computer programming homework ( he is going to school to learn a trade) as he is 17 years old. Mary is has created a safe and fun environment for the girls in their room, away from the rain and the rambunctious boys, where she has cleverly created a game where the girls don't realize they are actually learning sentences while they play. Katie, Will, and Ginny go to Assisi Illam for the last time this trip and stay for lunch per Katie's request. Sister Rose is a delightful host always serving drinks and snacks whenever the volunteers visit and she is a great cook which is why it's a spe ial treat for them to be able to stay for lunch and sample her culinary talents. I ask Katie if it's hard to say goodbye to the kids she's come to know so well at Assisi ( this is her second visit this year) and she said it's not as bad since they are all still young and will still be there when she comes bak next time ( which I expect will be next year foe her). She explains it is harder to say goodbye at SEAM to some of the older boys who will leave next year once they turn 18 years old, she is deeply saddened by the thought of losing touch with them.
At 4:30pm it's time to go to SEAM again to say goodbyes for most. The power is out again from the storm and the rain has not let up. We prepare for the challenge of maneuvering ourselves through the mud and deep puddles without sinking in or falling, luckily it's only about 30 feet to the safety of the rickshaw which takes us to see the children.

We play for a little bit and then Steven has them line up order of age and sir in their rows by room number. They sing a song to Katie since she needs to leave for the airport in 30 minutes and present her with a card and their thanks for the time she spent with them and then come up one at a time to say a personal goodbye, pretty soon they are all surrounding her and she is giving out her email address and signing autographs os so it appears, also there are lots of hugs being exchanged.
After she leaves we begin to play again but I didn't bring any games so I have to think on the fly...luckily I had packed a flashlight in my bag in case the power went out again so taught them how to play my version of flashlight tag, as simple as it was it kept them amused.

Next it was time to line up again and say good-byes to Mary, Will, and Ginny. The same procedure was followed and then each of the volunteers said a few words. Mary expressed how they had all made a difference in her life by touching her heart which was evident by the tears that rolled down her face as she spoke. Ginny encouraged them all to continue studying hard so they could be what ever they wanted to be when they grew up, there options were unlimited if they put the work in. Will told them he had fun getting to know them and gave some very sound advice " be good to each other" which is a good reminder to us all..
We returned to the guest house for one last dinner and then Steven took Ginny and Will to the airport and Mary departed with her friends to begin the next leg of her trip.

The house is quiet now... but wait what's that? Oh yeah Roshan is still here so it won't be quiet for long...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened ". - Dr. Seuss

The cyclone that caused us to forego a field trip to the beach has brought rain and wind to Chennai.  But that did not deter Katie,Will and I from setting out before breakfast to experience the local flower and fruit market.  The flower market was a dazzling kaleidoscope of color.  More than a few of the vendors gave Katie and I flowers and wanted their picture taken, giving us their cards and asking us to mail the pictures back to them.   At the fruit  market, we  were happy to pick out oranges, bananas, strawberries and carrots for the children at SEAM.

When we arrived at SEAM this morning, the children were all assembled indoors with their books for study time,  I thought it would be easy to sit next to them, work one-on-one for a few minutes, and just move around the room that way.  After almost two weeks, how could I still be so naive?  As soon as we started working with one child, 5 more would gather around wanting the same attention. It was impossible to keep any kind of order. Within a few minutes of our arrival, we had disrupted everything.  Still, we did our best working in small, and shall I say "fluid", groups having the students read to us or reading stories to them.

When study time ended, I showed the caregiver the strawberries we had brought for the children.  She expertly restored order in the room once again, and the children sat in their neat rows while we handed out the strawberries. We had noticed pictures of strawberries in the picture books we used so the students recognized them,  but for some, it was the first time they ever tasted one.

In the evening, the team returned to SEAM.  We worked in small groups again. Katie organized a rambunctious game of "Memory".  Will and I played very competitive Word BINGO, and Kerry kept an older group challenged with multiplication and division practice.  A group of girls and I retreated to one of the dorm rooms where the girls got creative with crayons, stickers and cutouts for tracing. Sweety sat quietly on the bed and drew a very intricate flower design which she signed and asked me to keep.  I had been to an art gallery downtown earlier in the day where I purchased some fine art prints and a Buddha painting, but I have no doubt which work of art I will treasure the most.

Ginny took some of the older boys to another room where she helped them write letters back to Joelle's students who had written to them.  Joelle will be so surprised to get these. We and the children both missed her today, and we know that Ginny's thoughtful gesture will return to Joelle a small bit of the warmth she had shared with all of us. 

At the end of the evening, we distributed the fresh oranges and bananas to the children.   As i watched them savor these delicacies, I thought to myself that I would never again be able to let fruit go uneaten and rot on my kitchen table.

After dinner this evening, we surprised Stephen and Sheeba with cake to celebrate their their 7th Wedding Anniversary. Mixing special occasion traditions, we sang "Happy Anniversary to You" and they blew out the Number "7" candle.  Our singing was so good, that we sang a "Happy Birthday" encore for Ginny who will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow,

Most of us are nearing the end of our two weeks together.  Speaking for myself, I found it very difficult to leave the children at SEAM tonight.  I'm worried about how I will be able to manage a final goodbye tomorrow. I'm happy to know that Kerry will be with them another week and Chris another six weeks, but still, it will be really, really hard for me.  I just have to remember that's the price I have to pay for the opportunity of having had these wonderful children in my life.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011
"If you think you're too small to make a difference, you haven't been in bed with a mosquito!"   - Anita Roddick, The Body Shops
Our team timed things right coming over the Christmas Holiday as the students have off from school and we’re able to take day trips together.  Yesterday the older boys had the opportunity to climb a mountain, today the girls and the younger boys joined the volunteers to the Chennai Zoo. 

We met at SEAM at 9AM where the children were cleaned up and dressed in their new Christmas outfits.  They lined up in two lines, one for the girls and one for the boys youngest to oldest.  The Pastor shared a prayer and we filled into two vans.  I was in the same van as the day before and the driver played some of the same callywood music, which was a hit again with the little kids dancing in their seats and isles.

Once at the zoo, Stephen had us pair up and counted everyone to make sure we were all set.  Plastic bags are not allowed into the zoo.  At the entrance there’s a table where people open their knapsacks and rewrap their plastic bagged items with newspaper.  I saw this as a step in the right direction towards keeping the park clean, I just wonder where the plastic bags are trashed, probably on the street just outside the zoo. 

The zoo was huge in size and tiny in quantity of animals.  The zoo was crowded with spectators as everyone seemed to be taking advantage of the holiday from school.  This didn’t seem to be an issue for the children; they loved it!  The best part of the trip to the zoo was watching the kid’s excitement as they encountered the zoo animals.  They were eager to point “Sister, sister, look!” It was hard to have moment to take a proper picture because I had two girls who clung to me like leaches.  We saw monkeys, ducks, birds deer and even chickens on display.  I was surprised in how excited the kids were to see deer.  We can’t get rid of the quick enough back home.

Having come off of the “Girls Night” at SEAM, we could tell that the girls displayed more confidence.  We saw them all smile wide grins and each of them cling to one of the female volunteers throughout the trip.  We saw this as a huge accomplishment, as two days prior; we had a hard time getting a smile out of a few of these girls.  The girls just needed a little bit of special love and attention; that was all.  

Us volunteers were the only foreigners at the Zoo and at times I felt like we were and animal of sorts on display.  There were several people who snapped our pictures and wanted to be in pictures with us. 

We found a spot under a shelter to break for lunch.  We had lunches packed of rice and potatoes and a hard-boiled egg with an ice cream treat to follow.  We continued on to see the tiger, lion, giraffe, elephant, snakes and white tiger.  We stopped once every thirty minutes or so to make sure everyone was still together and I’m relieved to say no one ever went missing.  Once we had seen all of the animals we were beyond exhausted and loaded the vans for the return journey home.

Joelle met us at SEAM, (she had opted out of the zoo in order to spend her last day with the kids at Assisi) to say her good-byes.  This was her fourth trip to India with Global Volunteers.  She has grown to love these children and it is clear that they love her in return.  I watched her say her good-byes and reflected on how thankful I was to have her as my real auntie.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Chris  Katie and all headed to seams to get on the bus with the older kids from seams. The minute we got on the bus everyone was jumping up and down because they thought the bus was so cool. You could tell it was a big treat for these kids. After we too off the driver pit on Indian Dance music and everybody in the bus got out of their seats and started dancing. Then we got to the mountain and encountered monkeys. These ones went so nice. They growled. I thought the hike was absolutely amazing you climbed up stone steps and wandered through old temples and ruins that might of been a thousand years old I'm not sure.and at the  way top was an amazing view. It was very tiring and hot and everybody was successful. After at hike I realized I need to save up for backpacking this summer. Mountains are different all over the world. When we got down we saw a banyan tree and me and all the kids swung on the roots like in the Tarzan movie. Then we went  to eat lunch in a grass field in front of a beautiful temple. It was very picturesque. Then we took off and when I thought we were heading back we parked at the next mountain and I thought maybe Chris or katie wanted to take a photo but then Stephen said we were hiking this one too. So we started to head up and everyone was very exhausted. But once we got to the top of the mountIn we climbed onto of the ruins and all dance to beyonce. The older boys at seems love to dance. Then we headed back to chennai and to seems. Joelle katie Kerri,Ginni and marry decided to have a girls night. It was a terrific idea. Normally the girls keep to themselves and do not play games. But once they get away from the boys apparently they all seem to have a more fun. Joelle said they did manicures massages and made a butterfly craft. All the girls had a great time I hope that the girls night carries on as a tradition with the next teams that come here. Then me and Joelle walked back from seams and talked about my future plans and not to stress about it. At home we had a nice meal and talked about our day together. The group gets along nicely. Everyday here in India has had many surprises