Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

“Choose life.”  said Moses

We did when we chose to come to India and serve in Porur.  We've found what Columbus was looking for when he discovered the Americas, spices. The spices in the food and the spice of Indian life.

It's hard to say “Farewell.”  The sweet faces and kindness showed to us will remain with us forever.  Tonight we had a “Send Off Party” at SEAMS. We were thouroughly entertained with songs and dances by the children. The speakers Kay Kay purchased allowed us to all dance in the big hall and sing again and again “Skinna Ma Rinky Dinky Dink, Skinna Ma Rinky Do, I love you.”  The Bunny    

Hop was fun for all. Treats were provided and we left with hugs, smiles, laughter and tears.

We finished the evening with a re-entery dinner of pizza from PizzaHut. We feel we've been a good working team and have achieved our goals.

We welcome the new team and wish them well. We know they will appreciate the wonderful hospitality and care provided by Stephen, Sheeba, Roshan, as well as the wonderful food Rani prepares for them, the many erands and chores Barnabus renders, and the miraculous driving of Stephen.

Farewell until we meet again.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quote for the day:  “All good things come to an end”

It is hard to believe that our tour of service in India is almost over, with only one day of “duties” remaining, as we left for our respective jobs this morning – Cindy and Anita to teach at Grace and KK to continue one-on-one English tutoring with Leah.  Shirley went with Dee to Assam Illam to meet Sister Stella of the order of FSJ Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph so she could tell her nun friends back in L.A. about their work here.  She could not stay long as she had to go to Grace.  The little ones were disappointed not to have another Auntie to play with.

The name of the game which amused the other volunteers and delights the children is called the “Grab and Fox game”.  The leader pours imaginary rice, curry and ghee into her cupped hand and then grinds them together using her elbow as a pestle.  The imaginary mixture is then formed into little balls – are popped into the onlooker’s mouths and are chewed with great gusto and smacking of lips.  After the hand is cleaned it moves very slowly up one child’s arm until it becomes faster and ends up tickling the tummy. Stephen and Sheeba visited while the game was being played and Stephen was able to videotape the whole thing.

In honor the the visit, Sister Rose, the head of Assam Illam made a rare appearance.  She has made a good recovery from a stroke but still needs to rest.  She expressed her gratitude for the toothbrushes and toothpaste donated by Cindy.  Sister Rose the fed the children their lunch but had the children neatly lined up rather than in a constantly moving group.

While kids napped Sister Stella taught me other Indian games  called “Chapati/Dillaybee” and “Knock the Door” to be played again tomorrow.  She also decided to teach me a few words of Tamil to go with my one word “Nandri”.  I can now say “Vanakkam - greetings (similar to Namaste) and Tata (goodbye). 

After a midday rest for all except Shirley, we went to Seam and then on to a delicious meal at the same restaurant where we shared our first dinner together as a team.  Where did the time go?

Diane (Dee)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The purpose of life is the life of purpose. - Anonymous

You finish breakfast? What you have for breakfast? This seems to be the first question asked after greeting someone in the morning. When I arrived at SEAMS this morning I was asked this question by three people. Even Pastor wanted to know what I ate for breakfast. Maybe this is small talk for the local people. Similar to when we talk about the weather. There are so many customs and habits different from ours here in India. On the other hand, what seemed shocking and strange to us the first few days, is now, after almost two weeks, the norm. How easily we humans adapt.

Not much construction going on at SEAMS today. The painters were painting the outside of the library today. They were high up on homemade ladders held together with twine. I instantly decided I had a horrible fear of heights. I spent my day picking up around the grounds and helping Laya prep vegetables for the meal she would be making for lunch. She then gave me a private cooking class as she prepared the lunch. All the while I was helping her with her English which seemed to improve before my eyes. Indian cooking class for English lessons, a fair and fun trade.

The library is coming along at a good pace.Tomorrow tile will be laid on the floor and the painting will continue. I wish the previous volunteers who have worked and sweated over the library project could see how far it has come. I won't see the finished product, but close to it.

After SEAMS this evening the team went to the local movie theatre to watch a Kollywood movie, "Monitor Lizard" It was hysterical. Very melodramatic with the actors breaking into song and dance for no apparent reason. Stephen and Sheba said it wasn't a very good movie, but we all found it very entertaining.

Off to bed with visions of Monitor Lizards in our heads!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012.

Quote: Today was a good day...past Global volunteer

Time is now flying by...

It was nice to get away for the weekend and experience another part of India. KK and I went to Mahabalipuram on the coast of the Bay of Bengal and Anita and Dee went to Pondicherry, a bit further south. Shirley stayed at the Guest House for some R & R. The car ride was 1 1/2 hours and Steven arranged for a nice big car and safe driver. The hotel was on the water and just steps from shopping, food and a relaxing massage. The town was quaint and full of venders selling their wares and just a walk away from one of the amazing UNESCO sights of ancient temples. Unfortunately, the town is without power ten hours a day which makes it very difficult for businesses to survive. At dinner, the lights went out and before we knew it, our waiter had his mining light attached to his head. I would definitely recommend the short trip.

At Grace school, the kids and I are very well acquainted. I plan a short lesson the night before and can usually measure the success by the smiles, repetition and begging for more. Typically, we sing a few songs and a new favorite is Skid a marink. They laugh and scream when I sing the part, "I love you". Now all of them know the song and it's part of our daily routine at Grace and Seams.

Beginning week two, we were assigned new children at SEAMS and they were a few years younger. There was quite a difference in their academic skills yet they were able to keep up on the games including ipad games.

KK bought some Iphone speakers so we could play music and teach some songs to the children at SEAMS. Most love to dance and some are familiar with several American songs. KK downloaded show tunes, pop songs and kids educational songs. We all sang along as we were playing endless games of snap and Bingo.

The highlight of the night was a wonderful meal at Stevens parents house. They graciously welcomed us into their home and served a delicious variety of traditional Indian food. A few of the family members live on the same street and his brother Steven, our driver, lives next door. The house was bustling with kids laughter and people coming and going. This is also Steven and Sheba's house. Following Indian custom, Steven and Sheba will live there and take care of the parents as he is the oldest son. You could see and feel the love flowing from the house.

Long day and ready for bed...


Monday, January 20, 2012

Quote of the day: ‘Always end  the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry.”  Bill Cosby

A foggy morning, an unusual condition according to Sheeba, as she and Stephen came back from taking Roshan to school earlier this morning. By the time we got into Stephen’s car for the ride to Grace School, there was just a slight haze  and when 10:15 came with the morning break, I could see no more from the classroom’s window.

Upon arrival at school, Cindy and I were asked to go to the principal’s office instead of heading directly to our rooms. Principal Esther came in, another chair, presumably for her was brought in—she was looking through a notebook and I wondered if we had done anything amiss from last week. But it seems there had been a miscommunication and the delay had to do with either one or both our classrooms was not yet ready, and Esther had no idea why we were sitting in her father’s office! I collected chalk and the duster (eraser) and walked next door where I was greeted by the 5th graders looking rather snazzy in Monday’s regulation all white uniforms with navy and white ties.

All three classes talked about memory and what they thought it meant. When I wrote ‘remembering things’ on the board it instantly resonated. I explained the memory game we would be playing in order for them to discover their capabilities. The only variable was the number of objects I put out for each group. I started with ten items for the 5ths, six for the 4ths and five items foe the 3rd graders. Items were: a pen, pencil, crayon,lipstick, clock (my travel alarm), scissors (travel kind), torch, pencil sharpener, paper clip and eraser. Supposedly without talking they came up and just looked at each of the things dispkayed for about two minutes then returned to their seats and wrote down each of the things they saw. Spellings weren’t a problem—draw the item if they felt more confident in recalling. Afterwards we went over the list of objects they saw, did communal spelling for each as well as discussing the scissors that got a delighted  seal of approval as they saw how it can be folded in half! The boys seemed more interested in the tube of lipstick while one girl, in particular smiled encouragingly as I applied a quick ‘schmeer’!

Before the memory game exercise we did in each class, I was most careful explaining what we were doing, tried my best to make certain I was understood—so it is still mystifying why only two students, fifth grade girls hardly participated while everyone else in all classes evidently understood—did they just not want to take part? They were inspecting those ten items but went back to their seats and neither listed nor drew pictures,,although they did do some drawing having nothing to do with todays class assignment. I did not admonish either girl but  was clearly puzzled as they could easily see. One of the girls had come to class without her dazzling smile all during the class so something else had to be on her mind. I did ask her as the class was leaving if she felt alright—that she clearly understood as I received a small smile from her.Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

A surprise: Simon Says is a roaring success with all three grades being slightly more competitive amongst the fourth graders—who knew? The third graders were adorable watching as I speeded up!

The thirds were rather exasperated with my  poor attempt in making the ‘correct’ spider hand movement for ‘Eensy-Weensy Spider’ as we sang the song. They in turn  had their ‘teachable moment’ with me—literally taking my hands and willing my fingers to copy theirs-more homework for me again before I dare come to class wanting to sing that song again. However they seemingly liked my moves with the line in the song ‘…..and dried up all the water” so I, too, had a teachable moment.

Rani, our Porur Julia Child demonstrated how she prepared a sought-after Volunteer favorite, cabbage porial. We had been asked at dinner last night for those dishes that had been most appreciated—the answers were fast in being announced! Certainly a huge vote of confidence of contented palates. Nobody, including this  welter-weight with the troubled palate (when it comes to the spices used here) has gone hungry. Between the various hot dishes served morning, noon and night plus the wonderful fruits always on the table: no stomach growling has been heard.

A new week with our kids at SEAMS. Before starting, Sheeba asked if I enjoyed coconut water—do I ever! Coconuts were being sold outside the gates..minutes later, a delicious drink was handed to me.One sip through its straw brought back so many memories to other exotic locales around the world where I had also taken sips.

I met with two new students this week. Ugendhran is a charming boy of ten and I am thinking on the shy side, but perhaps by day two or three I will be proven wrong. I tried engaging him in talk about school and whether he enjoys books and/or reading. Speaking very slowly he didn’t quite understand the question until I showed him ‘Sammy the Seal’ paer ot the ‘I Can Read’  series. He brightened considerably and when I asked him if he could read the words of the title or of the series, it was evident he could not and instead said that yes, he’d like to hear the story. I suggested he call out any words on the page as we slowly read on-he did not.

Time flew by because all at once Stephen sent in Praveen, a fifteen year old lad with a simply dynamite smile. He is coming towards the end of the ninth grade—facing Public Exams by the end of his year which ends in April. With May the month of school being out, he returns in June in the tenth grade if he passes all the exams: Tamil I and II, English, Social Studies, Chemistry, Math, Science and others I believe I forgot to write down. He is interested in studying Computer in a college and eventually first work here in India before travelling to America.Where in America? Doesn’t know, just America?

Time quickly passed once again when it was time to come back for dinner. The cabbage dish was very tasty and my gratitude to Sheeba when she purposely left out possibly the most important spice keeping me in mind. I am positive the others around the table missed the added zip they all have come to enjoy immensely. The dill with red onion will be a must I go home with. I adore yogurt and love it with dill and cucumbers..never thought of the onion—scallions, why of course—red onions even better!

I have the distinct feeling this week will zoom by with so many things on our cumulative list of must do activities.

So as I write my last journal let me thank Stephen and Sheeba both for their warm welcome into their home as well as into their lives. For me, without a doubt their hospitality, has been the most outstanding memory I carry home with me. This second Indian project was an experience I will never forget—with Stephen and Sheeba being the icing on the cake. Many, many than you’s for your considerations.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Friday, January 17, 2012.

“The more you travel the more you meet yourself.”  From the travel diary of my sister-in-law. 

Our first week is over.  Stephen and Sheeba took us to dinner as a reward.  We enjoyed another delicious Indian meal as we start our R & R weekend of rest and relaxation.  Dee and Anita are off to Pondicherry, KK and Cindy to Mahabalipuran and I’m staying here.

We’re moving along on our goals.  We’ve planned and shared what worked and what missed the mark.  Learning as we go as to what engages each child or group.  We hope they are appreciating our ways a bit as we are learning and appreciating theirs.

At Grace and SEAM we’re impressed with the amount of English the children have acquired since their experience with the language is largely the work they do with Global Volunteers.  It shows that each one of our small efforts can make a difference over time.

KK is like the Energy Bunny she just keeps going with the construction of the library at SEAM.  I think she should write her name in the cement for posterity.  It is so impressive that matching Global Volunteers workers to skilled local workers the dormitories and now the library have been built.  Without Kay Kay the construction may have been stopped for these two weeks.

Stephen Raja, Sheeba, Roshan, Rani, Barnabas and Stephen #1 are helping us experience India in a way few travelers to this wonderful country will ever have had.  I’ve just read India in Mind with introduction by Pankaj Mishra.  All those authors really didn’t get it.

Construction is everywhere in Porur.  It reminds me of China 13 years ago.  Every morning you can see new piles of brick, sand and gravel.  New sewers are going in, so narrow streets have to be traversed very carefully.  On a few streets you see boys playing cricket or football (soccer) after school.  Houses are painted bright colors outside.  One of my favorite, on the way to Grace School, has varied textures as well.  Houses are tall. The lower floors remain cool during the day. Bedrooms are on the next level with a garden above on the rooftop.  Most yards have a banana tree, the most important tree in India.  It never dies even when cut to the ground.  At every important event weddings, etc. an arch is made at the entry with large banana branches that has a full stalk of bananas on each side.  Each morning after the front garden and porches are swept and sprinkled often a symbolic ground stone finger painting is made.  I wonder how Porur will look in 13 years?

Enjoy the weekend and we’ll fire up our flexibility engines again on Monday.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quote of the day:  Carpe  Diem  (Seize the Day)

The sights, sounds and smells of India continue to intrigue as we end our fifth day in Porur with Global Volunteers.  The roads filled with motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks appear to be equally busy at night as they are during the day.  Indeed, being a passenger in a small car on a congested highway  can be  a daunting experience – not for the faint of heart!  The roads are not without their charms, however.  Yesterday we stopped to  move a goat from the middle of the narrow street where she had found a nice, sunny spot.  She quickly returned to her favorite warm site the minute we had passed.  Along the way we also saw chickens, dogs and, of  course, cows.  As an American accustomed to seeing “do not honk horns” signs, it was interesting to see “sound horns” as well as “One family, one  child” signs painted on many trucks.

On the way to Assisi Illam this morning I chatted with our driver, Stephen, about  the roads and vehicles in general and discovered the small, yellow three-seated minivans, ubiquitous to the highways and side streets are Indian made by TATA and, at $2,000, are the  least expensive car available, costing considerably less than a good-quality motorbike.  They go  about 40 mph and are economical to run making them the ideal car for the stop and go of city driving.  As in many countries gasoline (petrol) is sold by the liter and costs RI 70 – an increase of RI 20 since January – a large jump  by any standard.

Working  in Assissi Illam Day Care certainly shows the different approaches  to child care between our two countries.  The children here are taught to  be sturdily self reliant from an early age and there doesn’t seem to be a “helicopter parent” in sight, sadly in several cases, there is NO parent in sight. At Assisi Allam the days are broken into half hour segments appropriate to the limited attention span of these young children.  “Sit down” learning experiences, with the teacher in front of the classroom, are held earlier in the day followed by a snack time of milk and cookies.  Then comes supervised play such as “Ring round the Rosies” and “Doing the Hokey Pokey”.  This is  followed by a quiet play  period with Day Care toys.  It’s an interesting observational period  with young children playing alongside each  other rather than with each other, casually hitting another child and grabbing a toy or Lego piece they want.  Tussles and tears often ensure in which Sister Stella rarely intervenes.  Survival of the fittest?  Hitting, pinching and even biting are not uncommon.  Also not uncommon is seeing the person who caused the tears literally mopping the faces and consoling their peers.  Self toileting and hand washing is generally unsupervised for these 2-4 year olds.  Lunch is quite a sight with the children surrounding a teaching aide who  rolls rice and crackers into little  balls with her fingers and  pops them into their mouths like baby birds.  I asked how they keep track of which child has eaten and was told that they “just know”.  There was no pushing or shoving to the front of the group and, in fact, no one appears to be particularly hungry or interested in food. 

After lunch the children are settled  down for a nap.  Two thin mats are placed on the floor and the children are placed side by side without  pillows – boys on one mat, girls on another.  Their nap time is  when Sister Stella, whose hand was injured in an accident by a drunk driver, does her physical therapy exercises while watching TV.  Seeing  the Indian version of “American Idol” is quite a hoot. 

When we returned from SEAM we had the amazing experience of being served a traditional Tamil meal called virundu consisting of rice and sambar, two kinds of vegetables,  a b anana and a sweet called laddu.  Stephen and Sheeba are the most amazingly gracious hosts and we all feel incredibly fortunate  to have been recipients of their hospitality.  This is the unique kind experience which very few visitors share and we thank them both most sincerely.

Diane (Dee)

Wednesday, January 15, 2012.

Quote of the day"........"give more than you take and grace will be yours".
Seen on a bathroom wall in Rome

India fills all your senses. My 15 minute walk to SEAMS every morning is a real slice of India. The colors, smells and sounds all blend together in one chaotic yet harmonious blur. I feel I have already met one of our teams goals, "to experience India". I can't imagine a better way to experience India then working with and learning from the children.

Another one of our goals is "to represent our country in a positive way". I'm still working on that one. My day job here is to help with the construction of the new library at SEAMS. Since we are a team of only five I am the only volunteer working with the two Indian workers. The work is tough, hot and a bit tedious. I'm sure the workers are curious about a 100 lbs middle aged American lady handing buckets of cement up to them. I work hard and each day they open up to me a little more. We communicate with our hands as if we were all deaf. I am working on earning their respect, they certainly have earned mine!

The four on our team who are teaching reported a day of both delight and frustration. Kids bouncing off walls seemed to be the theme of the day. Cindy told of bring a bag full of games, books ect but the only thing that kept one of her classes interested was when she just started counting to 100 and making up dance moves to go with them. Shirley came home from Grace drained but satisfied.

On to SEAMS at 5:00 where Shirley took on the project of weighing and measuring some of the kids. Cindy and I had great success with using the iPad video to interview the kids then in turn having them interview us. They loved watching it played back and hearing themselves speaking English.

Shirley, Dee and Anita went to a traditional dance concert tonight. Their report was of an excellent 20 minute concert. Unfortunately to get there the drive was over an hour each way. Again a slice of India.

I would also like to say a little something about our team leader Stephan and his lovely wife Sheba and adorable son Rosham. They have been the most gracious host opening up their home to us and being our tour guides in Chennai. They have become our friends. So I have another quote of the day devoted to them......

"make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold"

Looking forward to another adventure tomorrow,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - Valentines Day

Quote: life is what's happening while you're busy making other plans.  John Lennon

Coffee...check, newspaper read...check, bug spray on...check. Ready to embark on day 2 of our journey. After a nice breakfast meeting at the Guest House, we prepared for the day ahead. It's a 15 minute walk to Grace School or a 10 minute extremely bumpy car ride. The streets in the neighborhood are all dirt and most of them have huge pot holes, big dirt piles for the new sewer drains, or cows in the road.

After yesterdays day one jitters and initiation, today seemed like a breeze. Working with kids in kindergarten, grade one and two is priceless. Spotless as can be in their little uniforms and have wonderful manners. They are so adorable and egar to learn but grade 1 has about a 1 minute attention span. I had very few items prepared but used my imagination and my ever so ready, grab bag. In my grab bag, I keep crayons, plain paper, flash cards, picture books, easy reading books, my laptop and iphone both filled with hundreds of pictures, games and best of all, Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson music. After they finish a few lessons, I reward them with some dancing or a physical activity. The kids biggest thrill was when I pulled out pictures of my husband fishing in Alaska and to see all the boats, fish and snow. When I showed them pictures of cities, they would yell out "America, America"! They are little sponges and soak up everything you do and say. Our job is to teach, be creative and provide positive reinforcement.

Anita and I both agreed the Valentines were a huge hit and the little candy hearts with words on them were magical. The kids called them "chocolates" because that's what they think all candy is called. Valentines Day is not celebrated in India so this was new to the teachers and children.

Dee had 18 children today at Assis instead of the 30 yesterday. I bit less hectic for her and felt that it takes quite a bit of energy to keep up with the little ones. She commented that the children at Assis are dressed to the nines in their fancy clothes, most from donations.

Shirley agreed that today went well with the second session at Grace school. The kids are making a great effort to say "may I have this and may I have that".

KK did her manuel labor at SEAMS and chistled away at bricks all morning. Quite labor intensive but trying to get the library done before April.

This evening we went to SEAMS to do our one on one with the kids. We started out giving them their Valentines and they were beaming from ear to ear. At SEAMS, it's all about the TLC and one on one communication. Their english is quite impressive and they love to play on the laptop and with the iphone. For never having a computer in school, their skills are amazing due to all the volunteers who bring along a laptop.

Walked home and the usual traditional Indian meal was waiting on the table. Absolutely delicious!

Tired and time for bed.


Monday, February 13, 2012

“There are only 2 mistakes, one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way and not starting” Buddha 563BC – 483BC

Those of us here in Porur, these 2 weeks are certainly starters and judging by our various life stories or all well along our own roads. What better location then working with our Indian children and learning their truth? Some of their life stories are amazing. .

Today was: Batter up, Everybody! Tasks at our three day time sites had been arranged yesterday by Stephen during our orientation. It seems less chaotic to give us assignments lasting this first week.

Cindy and I volunteers our morning shift at Grace School and Shirley covers the afternoon period. Stephen introduced us to Appavu, Correspondent, Esther, Principal and Daughter, Rudy an upper grade teacher was also present in Appavu’s office. Scheduling was finalized, Cindy taught kindergarten, first and second grade. I started with grade 5 then 4 and finished with grade 3. With all 3 classes, I had the children write their first names, and their grade assignments on a bottom of a 5 by 7 card. It was interesting to learn that how many students actually listen and follow these directions. I then practiced the correct pronunciation of each name asking for their assistance.

In introduced myself, that iam from New York state in the US just as they live in Tamil Nadu state in India. I then showed them 2 puzzles of the United States, Each state a different color. Could they count the states and tell me just how many make up the United States? The difficulty of doing so is that two of the New England state on the puzzle was of the same color, yet divided by a line in the two newest states were pictured at the bottom of the puzzle. If they would like, we might put the puzzles together at the end of the week.

A discussion of the days of the week and what the children enjoy doing most on Saturdays took some skills in putting sentences together. In turns out that most enjoyed eating food!

Classes were small, the smallest being 4 forth graders, 6 third graders and 9 fifth graders, who were the most receptive and totally engaging group. Perhaps their English language abilities were also the most practiced.

I asked the classes their patience in learning how to pronounce their first names. 3rd grader keerthana, bless her heart would leave her seat quickly to come as close to my face as possibleand ever so slowly show me over and over again, just how to get the last 5 letter of her name correctly spoken. She is a natural born teacher, with her tendency to help a slower child get this name straight. She was most patient with me. I will have to practice her name.

All 3 classes spent some time with conversation – days of the week, favorite subject in school and why. Didn’t find time today for songs, but then again we will have the rest of the week.

The children salute as they greeted us, looking rather ‘spiffy’ dressed in white and navy and white ties.

At noon, the students have lunch and we came back for ours. Shirley classes run from 1 PM to 3.30 PM.

I briefly joined a decompression session with Shirley asking Cindy about her day teaching her school with the younger set, a large energetic group of first graders – always a challenge worldwide.

Following lunch with 2 deliciously sweet oranges, I came back to my room to start today’s journal and caught a lovely nap as well.

We left for Seam’s at 5PM and met individually with 20 min each speaking with 3 students. I shared a boys dorm room with Shirley and her children. As a group, my 3 youngsters were not very verbal as compared to Shirleys first lad – who seemingly was chattering away. Several conversations with all 3 of my children needed translations rendered by Shirley’s students. I received many confused looks from my children so I became even more aware of speaking slow of being understood. It was not as successful as I would have hoped. There is always tomorrow, isn’t their?

I would like to try the following exercise before I leave Grace School – Maybe with that alert 5th grade class. It has to do with the famous Casey Stengel’s quote “All right everybody, line up alphabetically according to your height”

I once tried it with 5th graders who were about to leave my library. Just watching their facial expressions as the joke dawned on them was priceless


Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Be doers of the word not hearers only.”  St. John

Our team of five represents three of the four corners of the United States, the Northwest, Northeast, and Southwest.  Together we hope to achieve our goals to be positive ambassadors for the US in India, to get to know and appreciate the culture and people of India.  To bring joy to the young people we work with as we encourage their use and knowledge of English and good health habits. We’re even going to help the construction workers as they work to complete the library at SEAM.  By accomplishing our goals we hope we’ll be of service to India.

Our experience is special since our team leader, Stephen, his wife, Sheeba, and son, Roshan, share their home us.   

Our senses were bombarded the minute we left the airport with the hurry and scurry of traffic; cars and many motor bikes weaving in and out of lanes, constantly honking to protect themselves and others, leaving only inches to spare in front back and on both sides.  Literally breathtaking!  The beauty of the people, the gorgeous colors, designs and textures of the saris and the smells of flowers and food in homes and along the streets delight the eyes and nose.  Food in the south of India is spicy, but there is always a balance in the dishes served to complement the spicy, cool watermelon or other fruit, yogurt and onions which was something new for us.

We met the students, principal and one staff member at SEAM and they welcomed us   with smiles, songs and great joy.  We’re anxious to return tomorrow evening. 


Monday, February 6, 2012.  
“Do not take the path right in front of you, instead, find your own way and leave a trail behind.” -anonymous
We woke again this morning to the sizzling of food and scent of peppers and spice wafting up from the kitchen. The dog pack next door gave us a thankful reprieve for the day. We enjoyed a breakfast of couscous and boiled eggs and strapped up for another day of work. I was teamed again with the construction crew of Haunani, Gwen, Dustin, and Chris. It was much more humid and sunny today and made our work quite warm and taxing as the sweat beaded and droped from our bodies to the sound of AC/DC being rocked from Chris's ipod. Working on the library at the Children's Home consists of hauling and sifting sand. We attempt to get instruction from the one of the local labor force at work today, Kutty, and were unsuccessful in our communication attempts. Finally, Stephen showed up and clarified all. We sifted, sweat, hydrated and chatted the hours away on the roof until well into the afternoon. As most of us ran out of water, we decided it was time to head back to the guest house for lunch.
For lunch today we enjoyed a treat of braised squid and eggplant with orange rice and cooling yogurt sauce. We ate and talked about our mornings with the rest of the group then headed off to the showers to rinse the sweat and sand and grime from our bodies before running back out into the dust, heat and humidity for the afternoon work. After a nice afternoon break, my crew headed over to SEAMS to play with and work with the children. It is always a joy to enter the complex and be greeted with smiles and hugs and the constant greeting of “Brother!, Sister”. We swing the children through the air in circles, compete at chopping wood for dinner fire with a blunt and rusty axe, and play games ranging from BINGO to jumprope to tag and always eventually cricket. After saying our hello's and playing for a bit , we break off into one on one and small group work where we do word searches, matching games, reading and more...basically anything educational that will hold a child's attention after their long day at school and before their awaited supper. I worked with four teen boys attempting to hold a conversation in English and eventually breaking into song and fits of laughter. As the light dwindled and the cooking fires start to crackle alongside the Children's Home, we pack up and wander back to the guest house for an Indian-style dinner.
Dinner was engaging due to the lack of plates and silverware. Use of banana leaves and hands replaced our western utensils as we dug into a veritable smorgasbord of Indian cuisine – 100% pure vegetarian but totally delicious. Dinner was capped off with an orange treat of sweet couscous and cashew rolled into a sticky and oily ball. Marcia and I played a couple of songs on the newly-strung and borrowed guitar as the rest of our crew sang back up. Marcia was and endless jukebox of 60's classics ranging from Puff the Magic Dragon to You Are My Sunshine. Honestly, I just tried to keep up with our resident rockstar.
After all this fun, a few of us journeyed up to the hotel on the main road and relaxed at the restaurant recharging our batteries for our last week of work and exploration in the wonderful world of India. Each day proves to be quite long, trying and interesting. As the cool of night overtook the humid and scorching winter sunshine of the day, we rickshawed back home – four of us in front and two in back of the tiny yellow ride – and wearily made our way to our beds to await the next day and adventure.

Thursday, February 2, 2012
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said to them, people will forget what you did to them, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Mother Theresa.
I need to start out with a flash back to yesterday with the reason becoming clear as I talk about today.  As we were walking to SEAMS I was approached by a man holding out his hand and assuming he wanted to shake I reached out to him.  He immediately grabbed my hand, squeezed it very hard, refusing to let go and screamed “I am Jesus, I am Jesus, I am Jesus”.  I wrenched my hand away and he followed us a short way screaming the same.  Dustin commented that was a first for him, so perhaps there is a hidden message for me.
Day 4 started out with the usual routine as some of us caught up on our correspondence while others planned for the day.  Breakfast included noodles (ramen), eggs and papaya.  Haunani shared a poignant journal entry and we headed off to our respective worksites.   On our way to the worksite we ran into two men with a smartly adorned cow – blanket, painted horns, ribbons etc. – and I assumed immediately they were holy men similar to the sadhus.  They held their hands out seeking alms, but we passed by without acknowledging their plaints.  That was my first mistake of the day as I learned later from Stephen that these men, Boo Madus, travel the area and give blessings which convey good luck on those they bless.  When we got to the worksite we were confronted with difficult directions, which we did not fully understand and were unable to get a grasp on our duties for the day nor the rationale for it all.  Haunani and Dustin sifted wet sand – a difficult task – while Chris and I moved the sifted sand on the roof to the inside of the library.  As we were doing our chores the workers were mixing cement and applying it to the outside of the library.  The finished product, which we witnessed in the evening, was quite amazing considering the rudimentary equipment being used.  These men are very skilled laborers and it is fun to watch them in action.
Although I cannot speak for everyone, it sounded from the conversations during the afternoon that things at the schools are improving.  Marcia said they played some word bingo, which was a big hit.
On our return to SEAMS we were greeted with hugs and handshakes.  The children were busy cleaning up apparently hoping to position their team for a better finish in the points race this week.  Prior to working with the kids, the SEAMS crew met with the foreman/mason and Stephen and we received a full explanation of the plan for the next two days.  It makes much more sense in English than it did in Tamil with the accompanying unrecognizable hand signals of this morning.   The evening with the kids was interesting, as they have an unbelievable amount of energy and an insatiable need for attention.  I find it very difficult to work with one while the others stand watching wanting a few minutes of my time. 
Everyone but Marcia and I headed out on a shopping trip after SEAMS.  As we left SEAMS Marcia spotted a man sitting in the middle of the parking lot at one of the ATMs and asked if that was “Jesus”.  It was and as soon as he saw us he jumped up and started yelling “I am Jesus, I am Jesus”, but this time I steered clear of his grasp and continued on my way.
It may only be coincidence, but for the rest of the trip I plan to hedge my bets and will not pass on an opportunity to please the gods.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Grains of sand to Build…

     A Library for children…

        To Lead a nation.

I’m so pleased to be assigned to construction to finish building a library for the children at the SEAMS (Southeast Asian Mission School)  with a happy bonus of working with the kids at night.  Our motley crew includes Greg, Dustin, Chris and me.   Chris & Dustin have been working on the library for a few weeks now.  Chris’s goal is to complete the library by the end of the program in 2 weeks.  Dustin’s goal is to hang a much needed blackboard (5’ x 3.5’), which got done today!  He risked life & limb to get this much needed gem for the school! 
Grains of sand toBuild”…
Sand is used in the cement mortar, T – H – R – E – E tons of sand for this library.  Chris & Dustin proudly explain as Greg and I look at the library for the first time, that it also took T-H-R-E-E  thousand bricks, many of which they carried up  to the 2nd level library, 4 to 5 at a time, in a bucket, on their head.  We take turns shifting sand (to sift out debris and larger grains) and hauling sand up… like the bricks, 1 bucket at a time, on our head, up 21 steps.  Yes, I counted every step each time!  Oddly, it was easier than counting the number of buckets.  Twenty one steps is a finite number.  No matter how many buckets I count, it wouldn’t be enough.   Yet, each bucket counts, no matter how big or small, because they just keep adding up!

“A Library for children…”
You can build a library without counting buckets.
This got me to thinking.  A Global Volunteer is like a grain of sand.  As a team, we make one bucket.  And the teams, or “buckets”, just keep adding up.  Even though we don’t see the progress over time, Stephen does.  He sees the difference in the children’s lives and in their performance.  He says just our mere presence makes a difference.

So I keep hauling sand on my head, counting my finite 21 steps comforted in knowing, each bucket makes a difference.  Frequent water breaks help in this heat, but we’re lucky it’s winter in Porur, India so temperatures are in the mid to high 80’s…so far.  Dustin’s tip to pad my head with a towel helps as does my sweat band and bandana to keep the salty sweat from burning my eyes and the dust from overwhelming me. 

I’m equally fascinated and intrigued as I observe the construction practices of the local workers.  My first inclination is typical American, “why are they…why don’t they…we could…but wouldn’t it be easier/faster/simpler/better, etc.  It doesn’t take me long to chill and go with the flow.  After all, the project is just a vehicle for our servant-leader role. 

Dustin and Chris did a great job of building a new screen sifter for the sand.  We prop it at an angle so we can release a small shovel of sand at the top.  The finer sand filters through quickly, while the heavier debris and bigger sand grains falls to the bottom.  After a few shovels, we run our gloves over the debris to get out additional fine sand before dumping the rest in another pile.  Within a couple of hours, the head mason comes over, picks up a handful of sand and throws it at the screen.  At first, this method is puzzling or more to the point appears back breaking and painfully slow, at least to this 60+ year old body.  I have to admit though, his method didn’t require the second step of running our gloves over the screen because we didn’t get it all the first time.  He also tried to show us that dry sand is easier to sift than wet.  We got that one!  But, I wondered, how we must have looked to him if he thought it necessary to show us “dry, easier than wet” concept?  Hmmmm.
So I started thinking again, different cultures, different ways, same end.  No one way better than another, just different.  And it makes sense that it should be different because the resources are different.  If you had unlimited power tools or raw materials, you’d need less labor.  On the other hand, if your raw materials and power tools were limited, you’d need more labor, ingenuity and tried and true methods that work.  While standards may be different, in the end, a library will be built for the children.

I marveled at how they erected the scaffolding to build an overhang from the second floor.  They hand made a ladder on the spot from old logs and planks, dug holes in the ground with a crow bar (I think) to support the vertical  3” diameter support logs, then lashed horizontal supports logs together to complete the scaffold skeleton, before placing old flat planks of wood as a working platform.  The platform holds maybe 325 pounds, i.e., 2 workers, hand tools and wet cement.  Many of their hand tools were fashioned out of rebar.  Ingenious?  Perhaps. Necessary?  Absolutely!  Necessity is the mother of invention!
I know a thing or two about concrete from my past life as an engineer.  There’s a whole science to making concrete based on the desired characteristics and use.  So needless to say, I couldn’t take my eyes of the process that unfolded in front of me.  Bear with me, please, as I describe it.  The worker might have been 100 pounds.  Centered upon his head was a 100 pound bag of cement that he hauled up the same 21 steps that I repeatedly counted.  No sign of strain, grunting or sweating, unlike me.  He had previously hauled up a bag of aggregate (stone) and then a bucket of water.  He then proceeded to mix the cement, sand and aggregate with a short shovel.  When he was satisfied with the mix, he made a well in the middle and poured a bucket of water in.  Right there, on the roof top!  No wheel barrow or other vessel to contain any of it.  Like making pasta dough, he gradually incorporated the water into the mixture until he was satisfied with its consistency.  I was flabbergasted.  Yet here again, in the end, it worked.  A library is being built for the children.
I have one last example to share of different practices.  Hanging a blackboard is a simple matter, if you have the right tools.  We could not understand why the worker chose to use a drill bit that was larger in diameter than the nail.  It made no sense.  So we decided to drill the hole in a downward angle so at least the loose nail would stay upright rather than pull away from the wall.  We didn’t know that their standard practice is to hammer a scrape piece of wood into the larger hole into which you hammer the nail.  Ahhhaaah!  A simple solution, that completely escaped us!
Cultural differences, yield different practices.  We may not always understand the why/how/or what, but with an open mind, we respect and learn from these differences. 
To Lead a Nation”
It’s a privilege to be working on the construction of the library, albeit I’m a late comer.  It’s not just a library for the children.  I hopefully think of it as building a library that will foster future citizens to lead a nation.  And that makes me tear up, given my Hawaiian heritage.   I tear up because it means they will think on their own, have the pride, conviction and determination to lead their nation, their culture and their ancient traditions into the future, of their making.    
I close with a personal footnote.  My dear friend and business colleague had her first published book launch today, “Film Is Not Dead.”  The book launch got delayed so she could not be home celebrating with friends and family.  Kristen wouldn’t miss coming to India, because of a silly old book launch, even if it is her first!  It was too important to her to be here.  Congratulations, Kristen! 
We closed our evening meal with Indian cup cakes (no dairy or butter) and Funfetti Frosting that we brought with us because it’s her favorite!  A fun way to end the evening with your new friends in India.


Monday January 30, 2012

 Quote of the day: "You had me at 'Hello' " - Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire.

It was impossible not to fall in love with each of the faces that greeted us at Assisi Illam on our first day working there. While most of the children were shy at first, by the end of our time there they were using me as a jungle gym, showing off their building block creations and holding out books to show me each and every page. The exception was two brothers who were new to the program - one of whom was crying pretty much non-stop for the first hour or so and asking for his mother. We tried using blocks to distract him. No luck. Then books. That did not work. In the end, it was getting out a digital camera taking a picture of the two brothers and showing them their picture that finally brought smiles to their faces. I guess we are all just "hams" deep down! Since these kids are only 2-4 years old, engaging them in their own language would be a challenge much less speaking to them in English. I think going forward Gwen, Kendra, Olivia and I agree that playing some games like "Simon Says", "Red Light, Green Light" and singing songs will help integrate us into the group. Stephen says that while this may not seem like hard core teaching he has seen the difference our involvement makes to these children's performance in school down the line.

In the evening we went to SEAMS. I am in awe of these kids who go to school from 9 - 4:30, come home, do chores, clean up and then welcome into their home for MORE learning...all with smiles, good manners and genuine eagerness. While we may be helping them with their letters, numbers, colors and words I know they are all teaching US much, much more....


Sunday, January 29, 2012
Quote of the day:
“Talents are best nurtured in solitude.  Character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.” - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Twelve of our team of 13 arrived by late Saturday night.  Ryan, our 13th volunteer encountered some passport/visa issues and could not make it here by Sunday.  We hope he gets here soon. 
We began Sunday with a breakfast prepared by Ronnie.  The dishes she presented reminded me of her cooking from my first visit here in 2004.  A lot has changed since then – Stephen married Sheeba and they now have a wonderful, entertaining son named Roshan.  The guest house is also new, providing accommodation for many more volunteers and a large common room for meetings and meals.  It also has a washing machine and wifi which are perqs not experienced during my last visit. 
We did the usual orientation program following breakfast.  It went surprising quickly considering that at least half of the team is first-timers.  This contrasts greatly with the last team I served on which had 13 volunteers and just one first-timer.  The make-up of this team is different also with a majority of the volunteers being in their twenties and thirties.  As Haunani noted it is encouraging to see young people taking time to do this life enhancing work so early on.  It can only make them better world citizens. 
Stephen described the three sites we will be servicing and the projects involved.  Assignments were made which appeared to fit the desires of the individual volunteers.  There is a rush to finish the work on the library room at the Seams Home that Dustin and Chris have been working on.  They will be ably assisted by Haunani and Greg with a push to finish the plastering of the walls by the end of our two week term.
The rest of us were assigned various teaching duties at Assisi Illam and Grace Nursery and Primary School and will concentrate on teaching English.  My experience has shown that when dealing with children of these ages in India, China, Peru, and Ecuador, just our being here is enough to encourage them and put smiles on their faces.   That alone will make our efforts worthwhile. 
We will be spending our early evenings at Seam Home or Assisi Illam helping the older students with conversational English.  It promises to be an eventful two weeks. 
At 5:00 we surprised Stephen with an impromptu birthday celebration that included a cake provided by Dustin.  We then walked to Seams Home for our first meeting with the resident children.  It was quite a welcoming with individual introductions from each of the 36 students, a rousing song from the kids with drum accompaniment, and a brief dance performance.  We were then escorted around the buildings by the students who were visually proud of the home they occupy.  It looks like our daily visits to Seams will be memorable for us and the children. 

We had dinner at a local restaurant that specialized in tandoori foods and various curry dishes.  Stephen did not disappoint with the choice of dishes and he proved once again that a volunteer will never go hungry when serving with Global Volunteers.