Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

"But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?"  Albert Camus

This journal is especially hard for me to write as today was our last day (Friday August 24) with the children at Grace, Assisi and SEAMs. Amanda, Gretchen and Sukhi encouraged the students to write cards and color pictures at Grace School, Raja playfully lifted the little ones into the air until his arms ached and I snapped photos and stole hugs while fighting back tears. Sister Rose at Assisi generously gave gifts to our whole group and we shared them with our teammates when we arrived home. Though we've done our fair share of souvenir shopping, we each have another little piece of India to take home with us.

In the evening, we made our final trek to SEAMs and were greeted happily as always. We worked, mingled and played before the students were each given a balloon. When finally blown up and tied we had a balloon party! It was practically raining balloons as the kids shuffled around to keep them from falling to the ground. Occasionally we heard one pop, but most of the sounds were laughter, shrills of joy and calls for "sister sister" encouraging us to play. Afterward the boys danced for us (which we later learned is typically a funeral dance to lift everyone's spirits when feeling sad), everyone sang and they each shook our hand and encouraged us to "come again." We were also presented with special cards with each child's name inside (so now we know how to correctly spell them).

We came home and sat down to eat our final meal together traditionally: on a banana leaf using only our right hand. Raja and I were excited for the challenge, while Gretchen and Sukhi remained a bit apprehensive. As usual, dinner was delicious no matter how it made it to our mouths.

As our last day winds down, we are all dealing with a bundle of emotions (whether we show it or not). Some are excited to return home: to see loved ones, to take long hot showers, to eat our typical food; while others aren't quite yet ready to leave. Regardless, we have the past two weeks (three for Gretchen and Amanda) forever engrained in our hearts (and well captured on our cameras). Hopefully, we  will follow in Amanda's footsteps and return to Chennai within the next five years (though I doubt any of us will be persuasive enough to convince our moms to join us)! I look forward to reading the blog to hear the experiences of the teams to come and to catch up on the children through stories and photographs.

To Stephen and Sheeba, there is no way we could show you how grateful we are for the experience you have provided for us. Meals will not be the same without the educational anecdotes and the introductions of new and exotic foods (especially the sapotas). You welcomed each of us to India, into your home and in turn you both have a special place in our hearts. If/when we return, please know that the two of you (plus Roshan) are responsible for that so rather than say "goodbye" or "go go" like the doctors at the hospital, I'll leave you with "see you again."




Thursday, August 23, 2012

“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will - whatever we may think.” – Lawrence Durrell

Today was our second to last work day in the program, and I think we are all realizing that our time here is coming to an end – a bittersweet realization.  Jenna and Raja got an early start to the day, visiting the Flower, Vegetable and Fruit market before breakfast, which they seemed to throroughly enjoy.  The rest of us began with Stephen informing us that the power would be out in our neighborhood from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. today for routine maintenance. As it was 8:45 when we learned of this, we all scrambled to check our emails and send Skype messages one last time. I think this test of our “going with the flow”-ness may have been the most challenging so far – a sad commentary on our dependence on wireless and A/C.

Sukhi, my mom and I left for Grace as usual, as Jenna and Raja waited to go to Assisi. We were happy to discover that Grace was on a different power grid, and so the lights and fans were still on. Sukhi and I engaged the children in games of Hangman, Put-the-Animals-Back-in-the-Zoo, and other assorted activities. The first and second graders were much better behaved today, as their teacher had returned from being sick yesterday – she is essentially the Sister Rose of Grace and knows how to get the kids back in line with just a look. My mom worked with her kids on creating autobiographies, writing a number of true sentences about themselves, and one false one, so that the other children had to guess which was false.  She was surprised to find that most of the kids thought it was true that she had 20 cats.

We returned home for lunch, and Jenna and Raja reported a nice morning at Assisi. Over lunch, we learned the history of the Elephant God and the four ways in which he tells us to be successful – tenets which I wrote down after lunch for later consultation.

As the power was still out, Jenna decided to join Sukhi at Grace in the afternoon, while the rest of us lay low, some of us literally, as I spent much of the afternoon reading and laying on my floor with a cold wash cloth trying to stay cool.  Jenna had quite an introduction to Grace as she was thrown in to supervising three classes at once because the teachers were having a meeting.

As the power was still out when we left for SEAMs, today we actually looked forward to the cool fans in the main room at SEAMs. I worked with two of my favorite boys for the whole time, which was a nice treat. They showed off their climbing abilities as I nervously watched them scale the shelves and balance on the window frames. Jenna and Raja made use of the library upstairs with its newly installed fans.

After SEAMs, we went out for another amazing dinner at a local restaurant. In spite of being here for two or three weeks, we still seem to need Stephen to order for us, and he always does a great job. On our way home, we stopped off to get balloons for the SEAMs kids and mango ice cream for us. We returned home exhausted from another full day, as I think we are all trying to wrap our heads around the fact that tomorrow is our last day here. Even though this is my second trip here, I am amazed by the ways in which being here always opens my mind and my heart, which I will definitely carry with me.




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'"Do not say it is  morning and dismiss it with a name of yesterday.  See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name."  Tagore

     Today, Wednesday, August 22 was a regular day of work although no day is regular for us volunteers.  Each day brings new experiences, observations and reflection. Our breakfast was eaten without the presence of Stephen and Sheba as we all were wishing Stephen success with his eye surgery.  After breakfast, Sukhi, Amanda and I went to Grace School for the morning.  Amanda was very happy to have Sukhi work with her today as the regular teacher was absent so the two of them had to deal with two classes at the same time.  I was right next door and my own students were sharing vicariously in the rather loud activities of the little ones.  But they certainly seemed to be having a good time.  My own little group worked on some alphebetical skills as well as some sentence writing.  We ended with a game of categories which forced the more eager ones to restrain themselves from  speaking out of turn   The winner was the one with the FEWEST checks, not the most.  I certainly learned some new names when the categories were fruits and vegetables.  As usual, the power went off at 11:00 so we were in semidarkness for the last hour.  We are learning to take it all in stride.

     Since we returned from Grace before Jenna and Raja, Amanda and I took a stroll around the neighborhood to take some pictures.  An apartment building is going up right on the corner and we watched the men mixing the concrete and lifting it up to the roof.  It was very hot  As we walked along, we were a little self conscious but some wanted to have their picture taken.  One group of men asked us to take a picture of a comrade who was sleeping in the back of their auto-rickshaw.  They thought that was pretty funny.  We passed the cobbler sitting on the corner with his shoes and the chicken shop with a cage of chickens sitting forlornly out front while inside we could see some carcasses being chopped up. (We noted coming back from SEAMS this evening that there had been six chickens in cages in the morning and now there were only two.)

      Over lunch, we learned that Raja and Jenna also had spent a morning without power.  Raja had had a tiring morning especially having to deal with a little one who did not quite make it to the bathroom in time.  Most of the children at Assisi are pretty well trained. After lunch while Raja, Jenna, Amanda and I collapsed, Sukhi went back to Grace for an afternoon of teaching.  She took my 4th and 5th grade students in hand and gave them a lesson on the rain cycle.  At the end of the day, everyone sang the national anthem and the students accompanied her out to the car. 

      We have only two more days at Grace but the experience there working with the students  has been really rewarding.  I am going to miss them.  The experience has taught me how to work with much  less than what I am accustomed to in the States.  I have learned a lot.

      Our day ended with our usual visit to SEAMS.  The children were all asking for Stephen and Sheba.  They were their usual enthusiastic selves especially little Stella.  She craves attention and one is torn between wanting to hug her and push her away.  One important note is that Raja and Barnabas were able to install fans in  the new library upstairs.  Now with some tables and chairs and books, the library will be open for business. 

      When we arrived back at the guest house, we were happily greeted by Roshon and were so glad to see that Stephen had had a successful if tiring day in the hospital.  It was good to see  him.

      When I started to write today's entry, I was thinking that this was just an ordinary day so there would not be much to write about.  I was wrong.  Each day is special and there will always be so much to say  Really, each day is like a newborn child.




Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"you have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go" - dr. Seuss

Our morning began like any other day, we seated around the table to enjoy another fabulous breakfast. After a nice long weekend we began our normal schedules. Though stephen thought we might have trouble adjusting back into routine, we all were overly joyed to get back into action.

Raja and Jenna planned their day for Assisi, while I decided to join Amanda and gretchen at Grace School. Amanda had warned me before hand about the attention span of the little ones but nonetheless we were both excited to get the day started.

As we arrived at Grace school I wasn't too sure as to what to expect but I was certain of one thing, the kids would all greet us with their beautiful smiles and it was just that. Stephen then introduced me to the staff, who were welcoming with open arms. Gretchen quickly found her classroom and began her syllabus for the day. Amanda and I found our way to a room filled with the upper kinder garden kids who quickly sprung into action yelling "good morning miss".

As the kids were full of energy we started off with a few warm up songs like twinkle twinkle and heads and shoulders but the kids quickly sought out for other activities. Luckily Amanda had a alphabet exercise planned out but it didn't take long until we realized that we would have to do most of the pairing work. The kids just starred at us with blank looks on their faces. The language barrier Is probably our biggest challenge.

After the 45 minute classroom session we took a 15 min break where the kids enjoyed snack time and Amanda, Gretchen and I took a breather.

Our second and third period consisted of playing  bingo with the 1st graders and sentence development with the second graders. This wrapped up my first day at grace school, but needless to say I am excited to spend my last days in India with these kids.

We later returned back to the guesthouse where we enjoyed lunch, nap time and a awesome cooking lesson from Sheeba and rani. Thanks to the two beautiful ladies we are able to take a little bit of chennai back home with us!

While most of us took our down time, raja, Stephen and Jenna decided to head over to a local shop to purchase some fans for the library at seams, which will be neat surprise for the kids once completed! Then as per usual we ended the day off by heading over to seams where we all worked one on one with the kids, trying to spend as much time as possible with them in our last few days here in India.

I was told by a friend that "life's hardest lessons are also the most precious, because they force you to face your own weakness and fears and unleash hidden strengths you never knew you had" and working with these kids has given me a real life example for this quote. Though we all thought we were coming here as role models for these kids, I can truly say I am inspired by them each and every day and they have become a role model to all of us. Everyone will be greatly missed.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Quote of the day- "The most wasted day of all days is one without laughter"- E.E Cummings

It's Monday, August 20th, which means we are in the last stretch of our program. The thought of having to say goodbye to the kids is already becoming a tough concept to grasp. Nonetheless, our day started off as usual; breakfast at 830; however we were all exhausted from the wonderful trip and because of the loud bangs from the fireworks; which lasted all night. The fireworks were in celebration of Ramadan, and as a result of the festival it was a holiday for everyone; including the little ones at the day care. Gretchen decided to celebrate the holiday as well and stayed home to rest; as a result it triggered Sukhi to also stay home.
After breakfast Amanda, Jenna and I made our way to Assisi to spend time with the older kids. Upon our arrival we saw Vijay, on e of the boys from the day care that has grown a close bond with Jenna, and even with his mouth stuffed with food he blew her a kiss.

Assisi was as usual full of laughter and energetic children. After a quick study session, Stephen rounded up everyone into a circle to play a game of “Simon says”; I guess I need to brush up on my listening skills because I was the first to be out. Soon after the three of us got to witness the girls practice their classical dance lessons; Amanda and Jenna tired to learn a few of the moves but couldn’t keep up with the fast pace rhythm.

After Assisi we were all invited to Stephens’s parents’ house to enjoy a tasty and never-ending lunch, the only thing I wished to have offered to me next was a bed. None of the girls were able to finish their dishes and Jenna was surprised that I couldn’t go for seconds. We headed back to the guest house to keep on schedule because after lunch it’s nap time!  Shortly after we made our way to SEAM, this time Gretchen and Sukhi decided to join us. The kids greeted us as always, hugs, handshakes and asking “color”? The power was out at SEAMS so we all sat outside and enjoyed the older boys play Khabadi as we colored paintings with the younger ones.

It’s hard to believe that only after a week we have all grown so close with the kids, at both SEAMS and Assisi, and also with each other. The trip has been like the containers of Rani’s food, unexpected but always wonderful. 


Saturday – Sunday, August 18 - 19, 2012

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” – Fitzhugh Mullan

This weekend (August 18-19), we embarked on a weekend journey to see a bit more of Southern India.

Originally Stephen had an important doctor's appointment that would have left us on our own, but luckily he was able to reschedule and join us. He really has filled every role for us since coming to India: he educates us on the history, culture and customs, serves as an interpreter, and even helps me make important decisions when faced with a vast menu of unfamiliar choices. He also knows everyone, which leads to some really amazing opportunities we couldn't have experienced without him.

We were all at the breakfast table bright and early Saturday morning, where we ate quickly and reviewed our travel agenda (Kanchipuram, Pondicherry, Auroville and Mahabalipuram). Our bus and driver were awaiting us around the corner and we all found a seat and settled in.

Unexpectedly our first stop was the memorial of Rajiv Handy in the spot where he was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991. After walking through the memorial, in between the 7 pillars and gazing up at the largest national flag to fly in India, we reboarded the bus for history lessons and intermittent naps.

Kanchipuram, or the city of thousand temples, was just that! At the first temple, our newness was still showing as both Raja and I were handed flowers by a lady standing outside who would not accept our refusals. She ended up following us past the outside wall and informing us of the 20 rupee notes we owed her on our way out. The same lady managed to hand Gretchen a handful of fish food and Sukhi was encouraged to buy leather slippers both as we entered and exited. They sure know how to profit off the visitors. The temple itself was beautiful and we observed the correct way to confess ones sins prior to entering (which we as non-Hindus are not allowed to do), and it was here that we were affirmed just how lucky we are to have Stephen as our guide because we had the opportunity to climb up and sit on one of them temple's elephants! We climbed up the 40 year old elephant's raised leg one at a time and posed for photos atop her back. The coarseness of the elephant's hair was shocking for most of us, but was quickly overlooked. Definitely the highlight of the weekend for me! After our other temple tours, we boarded the bus with dirty feet/socks and saw firsthand how silk is woven into saris. Both Raja and Sukhi bought saris (but luckily not both for themselves), while Amanda and I perused the scarves and Gretchen found a beautiful table runner.
The next stop was our destination for the night: Pondicherry, a former French territory. Though Pondicherry still looks and feels like you're in India, the French influence was apparent (especially in the French street names). The air here felt cleaner than we've gotten used to (though the smell coming from the Bay of Bengal as we walked along the boardwalk was not so pleasant) and the streets were cleaner as well (perhaps due to the large billboard encouraging visitors not to litter). Dinner was enjoyed at a Vietnamese restaurant (with French offerings) and the first rain greeted us as we tried to walk back to our hotel. Stephen warned us of the danger of the first rain, but we took our chances (mostly because Stephen told us of a Baskin Robbins on the way and we all wanted ice cream). That night we enjoyed long hot showers, but not the rooster or crying baby that seemed to wake everyone up a little too early (with both Amanda and Raja feeling sick). Before leaving Pondicherry Sunday morning, we visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which was a very peaceful experience as there is no talking that goes on past the entrance. Our walk through was brief, but served as a welcomed calm before resuming our bumpy ride.

Next we arrived in Auroville, an experimental township whose purpose is to realize human unity. After exploring the Visitor's Center, we watched a brief movie on the creation of Auroville and the building of the Matrimandir (a golden sphere for members to "find one's consciousness"). Then we walked along a long path to a viewing point where we were able to snap photos (including one of Raja posed as if he were supporting the structure from the side). The walk back was long, hot and exhausting enough to allow ourselves to be rocked to sleep on our way to Mahabalipuram.

I myself wasn't as excited for Mahabalipuram as I thought I'd be due mostly to the heat and the fact that we'd seen so many carvings at the temples, however Mahabalipuram was beautiful and the stories behind the structures (as told by Stephen) were fascinating. Though most are unfinished, I was surprised to find that each one was carved from a single rock. My favorite was Krishna's Butterball, a rounded structure perched on a slant that seems to defy all laws of gravity. After viewing this, we came across a man with two parrots. When you tell him your name, one of the birds comes out and picks a card from a large stack and the man proceeds to read/interpret the card for you. Rest assured, our futures are mostly bright: (minus the evil eye Amanda had removed for an extra 100 rupees and the evil eye I decided to bring home as an additional souvenir). We'll all look forward to the success, money, many children and long lives read for us in the cards. The wildlife wasn't limited to these well-trained birds; this area is home to many goats and we were lucky enough to see a baby mountain goat climbing the side of a rock as a young boy reached out to pet it against his mothers wishes. Our walk upward through the stone structure lead to cool fresh air and views of monkeys who live in the trees and take advantage of the generosity of visitors (though we didn't get to witness their love of orange soda). Stephen showed us another structure with built in steps from which we could see views of the whole town, but after seeing how many stairs there were we all decided to just stick with the visions in our imaginations!

An hour and a half more and we were back at the guest house for showers, dinner, calls home and the comfort of sleeping in stationary beds rather than sleeping sitting mostly upright on a street filled with potholes, honking horns, cows and the occasional speed bump.

Thanks again to Stephen, not only for rescheduling his appointment, but for providing lessons that cover more than I ever learned in school!

While the weekend was amazing and I am grateful to have been able to explore new areas and have been exposed to a small piece of India's great history, I am excited to start this next (and last: sad face) week, specifically to see all of the children we've been working with!


Friday, August 17, 2012

"We cannot do great things, only small things with great love." -Mother Theresa

This is my second rendition of the journal entry as my first one got lost in a temporary internet outage due to a rain storm. Going with the flow... (And it was my own fault for not writing it in a word document first).

Today was a restful day though after several full days of activity, which was also nice because we have a full weekend of travelling and sight-seeing ahead of us.

After breakfast, my mom and I left for Grace while Jenna, Sukhi and Raja waited to go to Assisi. My mom continued her lesson in geography with the older children, and I improvised a number of activities with the Upper Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders. I find that I have to plan at least ten activities each day across the three grades and adjust what I do depending on what they are able to do or their interest level. Some activities are more successful than others. For example, playing Grandmother Goes on a Trip with the second graders was a great success, and even led to an impromptu lesson on using articles with nouns. On the other hand, my attempt to play Pictionary with my three first-graders was a miserable failure. I tried using flash cards for the drawing prompts, but they just drew what they wanted anyway, and drew the same thing over and over again, so I ended up with a bunch of houses and cats. I quickly moved on to another activity.

On our drive home, we saw another vehicle stuck in the mud - it seems like there is a new one each day. Ironically, this one appeared to be a tractor that had been brought in to fill in the other sinkholes in the road with dirt.

At lunch I had my first taste of Rani's soup, which was very tasty, and Jenna, Sukhi and Raja reported that a number of the children at Assisi were missing today. After lunch, Jenna and Raja took a walk to run some errands while the rest of us took it easy.

Our evening trip to SEAMs today began with the enthusiastic killing of a centipede by a number of the boys wielding giant sticks - quite an effort! My mom worked with Rajesh on a PowerPoint presentation he has to give for a college class on water resources, while the rest of us colored and played bingo with the little ones. I chose this Mother Theresa quote today because it is these small moments of attention and affection with the children that I cherish most and which I believe have more impact than anything else we do here. The highlight of SEAMs for me was seeing Stephen do the Hokey Pokey with some of the kids, putting his "whole self" in and shaking all about.

We returned home to have a relatively quiet dinner, as I think we are all mentally preparing for our exciting weekend adventure.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I can remember and I’ve remembered more than I’ve seen.”  Benjamin Disraeli.

Today, August 16, was more or less a regular day after the excitement of Independence Day yesterday if any day here can be called “regular”.  After our usual tasty breakfast which always includes a delicious cup of tea, we all set out for our regular jobs.  Amanda and I went to Grace School where the children were still dancing about after their performances on Wednesday.  I have to admit that I am becoming very fond of my small group of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders after having worked with them for almost two weeks.  We have been doing a little unit on geography and it was their idea to hang their maps up on the wall in our classroom which nicely brightened the rather dingy room.  I had asked Sheba for a dust rag because the room was rather dirty.  When I left it on the table overnight, it was gone the next day so hopefully someone else may be using it.  Jenna, Sukhi and Raja went to Assisi as usual.  I think we all are getting a kick out of how much Raja is enjoying the kids and how much they enjoy him.  We were glad that Sukhi was feeling better.  Lunch continued our discussion of so many aspects of Indian culture.  Stephen’s explanations are wonderful and it is especially interesting to get the input of Sukhi because of her connection to India.  After lunch, Jenna, Amanda, Raja and I were once again driven by our faithful chauffeur, Stephen (brother) to a government store where we spent a happy hour browsing and buying gifts for people back home.  Returning, we had time to cool off a bit before heading for SEAMS for an evening of relaxation, if you can call lots of noise relaxing.  The children were eager to color and paint and play Bingo, and Stephen got a game of Kabidi (I know I didn’t get this-Stephen told me how to spell it and I already forgot>) going out in the yard.  The evening was capped off with a short walk to a vegetarian restaurant where we had a delicious meal of three different kinds of dosas.  But the most delicious part was a wonderful bowl of mango ice cream at the end. And so ends another day full of so much to take in.  It will be a while before all of this is finally processed in our heads.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

“Let your dreams be bigger than your fears, your actions louder than your words and your faith stronger than your feelings” -unknown

Today was an early day for us; we were all up and ready to have breakfast at 8:00. As usual we all sat around the breakfast table to enjoy another delicious breakfast prepared by the beautiful Rani. I was feeling a little under the weather so I decided to take it easy with some eggs and an apple, the others enjoyed the same but adding the southern touch of India by indulging in some dosa.

As today marked the day of India's Independence we all eagerly awaited our history lesson from Stephen - the in-depth conversations - is probably the most anticipated part of our meals.  Today's topic shined light on the journey of India's independence and how India's traffic system works.

As Stephen wrapped up his lesson, we finish breakfast and got ready to head on out. Sheeba had bought flowers for us girls to place in our hair as a traditional touch to today's outfit. Raja felt a little left out so Stephen might need to take him shopping for a “lungi” to feel at home.

The schedule today was a little different, Amanda and Gretchen still attended Grace School but instead of teaching they took part in an assembly consisting of dance, drama and speeches prepared by the students. Raja, Jenna and I headed out to Assisi Illam to entertain the older kids.

As we arrived at Assisi Illam, we were a bit taken back with the emptiness of the room, suddenly we found ourselves missing the cries of “amma”. The little ones have truly grown on us.

It's not long until the kids arrive from school, all smiles, introducing themselves to us one by one. As Raja struggles to keep up with all the rhymes, Jenna is once again the favorite as she snaps away pictures with her camera and I find myself putting together a puzzle with the adorable Jasmine. We are later joined by Amanda, Gretchen, Sheeba, Stephen and little Roshan. Gretchen and Amanda seem to quickly inter-mix as Gretchen had started off a quiz session with the handsome Augustine. Amanda came prepared with colors books to keep the girls occupied and calm. Seems to be an effective strategy.

After the block building, house decorating and puzzle making, we were all drained but the kids seemed to have only become energized but thankfully it was lunch time.

A much needed break.

Sister Rose had kindly invited us to stay for lunch so we all took places with the kids; I was seated next to Augustine who insisted I not let anyone take his spot till he came back with his food. So I guarded it with my life. Jenna on the other hand un-willingly had to give up Devi’s spot so she suffered the “stink eye” throughout lunch. Lunch was nothing short of fabulous as it was topped off with rice pudding as dessert. The food is India never seems to disappoint any of us.

As lunch came to an end we all got ready to leave. I decided to go back to the guest house to get some rest while the others headed out to the local mall to shop. Stephen had an Auto-Rickshaw ready for me to leave, little did I know that the conversation at breakfast today was about to come a reality. Stephen was right; it was definitely a ride I’d never forget. As I hung onto dear life, I made it safe and sound back to the guest house where I spent the rest of the day napping and trying to recover.

The gang returned home from mall but quickly left to go see the children at SEAMS, I'm sure the we're all greeted with hugs and smiles as they entered through the doors.

The rest of the day is a bit of a blur for me as I spent it sleeping but I'm sure the rest of the team enjoyed a terrific dinner.
As we finished of our third day here in India I know it goes without saying that we are all blessed to be here and this experience is forever life changing.


Tuesday, August 15, 2012

Quote of the day- “where there is love there is life”-Mahatma Gandhi

It's Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 which means its our second day of our program. When Steven first told me I would be working with children, instead of construction, I was quite terrified of how this trip would develop; however, after two days of our program  I can say that I've  fallen in love with the place.

We start our days as usual:

·wake up and call our friends and family's

·get dressed and sit around the dining table and discuss serious topics, such as politics, socialtal concerns, women rights etc. (it's my way of getting the latest news)

·next either Amanda, Gretchen or Sheba will set out our plates (but today Jenna tried to help by handing out napkins)

·then there is 10 mintues of silence, because everyone is stuffing their faces ( Jennas been having a tough time with the whole “not allowed to use our left hand to eat, so she's always the last to finish eating)

·and afterwards Sukhi Jenna and I go to Assisi and Amanda and Gretchen head to Grace.

The kids at Assisi were being themselves, full of excitement and laughter; some more than others. Jenna grew a close bond with Vijay and sang him ba ba black sheep and once again I became the human jungle gym. But it wasn't for long till a boy names Vinay found my shoulder to cry on; he happens to miss his mom more than I do.

After lunch we all went for a walk to a nearby clothing store because silly me underpacked; but it turned out for the best both Amanda and Jenna bought traditional South Indian outfits. 

Around 5pm we all made our way to SEAMS and like always the kids came running to the door to greet us with hugs. We were each paired with a child to spend one-on-one time, however Amanda, Jenna and I were exhausted so instead we decided to team up and play Bingo with the kids.Regardless of our energy level,  the kids have tons of their own and it tends to rub off on us.


Monday, August 13, 2012

The laughter of a child is the light of a house." - African Proverb

Today was our first full day and as Stephen encouraged us to do, we went with the flow. This was especially important for Sukhi, Raja and I who are still adjusting to all the changes that accompany flying across the world. Gretchen and Amanda are practically pros now and they are have proven to be a great resource for us. This morning we were all very excited to dive in and gather new experiences.

After breakfast, gretchen and ananda left for Grace School and the three of us traveled to Assisi Illam where we met most of the day care children. We encountered a number of tears and calls for "Amma" (mother in Tamil) as this was their first day back after several holidays, but we managed to win them over (mostly with our cameras). The children enjoy having their picture taken and love to look at them afterward (and sometimes share the photos with their friends). We read books, colored, played with toy animals, sang songs and eventually helped the students wash their hands before lunch. Afterward, they laid down to rest (several students had fallen asleep earlier in the morning, but no one looked tired after lunch). I think the volunteers were more in need of a nap than the children; they have so much energy! Though the language barrier was obvious, it was nice to be able to communicate through hugs, smiles and laughter.

Over lunch we shared the stories of our days. Gretchen continued working with grades 3, 4 and 5 and taught a geography lesson on continents and countries. Amanda transitioned from the day care to teaching upper kindergarten, first and second grade about body parts. We recapped stories for Amanda about some of the little ones she worked with last week. The rest of our afternoons are still spent adjusting to our new conditions (which meant naps for most of us).

Sheeba predicted rain as we walked to SEAM Children's Home and soon after we arrived it began. The children greeted us at the gate and then we worked with them one on one (and through our second power outage of the day). My favorite part of the day was working with Anish, a 13 year old boy, who taught me about his favorite Indian sports (Cricket and Kabbadi) and how to write and say several words in Tamil.  We returned to the guest house mostly dry (though maybe a little muddy) for dinner, discussions with Stephen and Sheeba about India and the culture and finished just before another unexpected power outage.

Though my goal coming to India was to help teach the children I encounter, today I realized how much the children will teach me. Throughout this experience, I hope the laughter of the children continues to guide us (especially through the power outages)!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

In every child who is born, in no matter what circumstances, and no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again. - James Agee

Today my mom and I were joined by three new team members, Jenna, a teacher of children who are deaf or hard of hearing from New York, and Raja and Sukhi, two students from Canada whose families are from Punjab. The three of them brought a breath of fresh air to the house, and I think we will have an enthusiastic team.

After their first breakfast from Rani, we sat down for orientation to discuss our team goals, characteristics of an effective team, and project assignments. I think everyone was pleased with their assignments - I will be switching to Grace School with my mom, and the three newcomers will have fun with the little ones at Assisi. .

In the afternoon, the new arrivals took a much deserved nap, and we embarked to SEAMs around 5:30. On the walk over, Jenna was excited to spot her first cow in the street. The children literally sprinted to meet us at the gates today, and we were given a proper introduction complete with handshakes, a tour of the facilities from the boys, and a song from the girls. We then got to play with the kids for a little while, and Raja took on the role of human jungle gym for the boys.

We ended the day with a feast at a local restaurant with tandoori chicken, three types of bread, sear fish, and two types of sauces. Many thanks to Stephen for treating. I think we'll all get a good night's sleep tonight in preparation for our new or continuing assignments. 


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

“Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein

Today is Friday, August 10, 2012. 

We had a great volunteer experience in India.  Stephen taking us to see the wonderful places to see and learn more about the Indian culture and history; and being in town of Porur, Chennai.

Today is my last day of teaching the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade.  The children now get up and start class with physical exercise for 5-7 minutes and I will have to get them to stop for our lesson of the day.

Today 3rd grade – my lesson plan was - small creatures in the garden.  Some examples were butterflies, honey bees, centipedes, earthworms, and ants.  We also discussed diseases caused by some insects like dengue and malaria.

My second class- grade 4 – was presented about the home planet – different parts of the earth- the sunlight- sunrise-sunset; seasons of the year; number of days of the year; leap year, etc…

My 3rd class – grade 5th – was presented on World Health Day – April 7th- in Union School Puthakulan .  We covered subjects – the brain- sense organs – like eyes, ears, nose, taste.

We end each class with singing and the children love this.  I have really enjoyed trying to teach each grade and they are very loving children.  One little girl in the 3rd grade gave me a “happy friendship” day note.  Her name was Bharathnahi.

This week, two new people join our group – Gretchen and Amanda.  Gretchen is teaching at my school in the afternoon at Grace and Amanda is taking care of the children in daycare at Assisi.  We are glad to meet them and get to know one another

This week Haeja moved over to Grace school and she really is good at teaching them and they really love her.

Melissa and Amanda are still doing a great job with the day care and they love them a lot.

Today at Seam’s – I will start off with the group physical exercise and then demonstrate face washing to all children.  This is our last day at Seam’s and they are giving a special dinner tonight for all.  Thanks to everyone.

I have enjoyed my 2 weeks here in Chennai and thanks to all of you for all your help in making our volunteer trip so great.  A special thanks to Stephen and Sheeba for being great hosts and leaders.  Last but not least, thanks to Haeja for typing my reports on the computer.

Thanks to all,


Thursday, August 9, 2012

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” - Mother Teresa

Much to the team's surprise, today was a holiday for many of the schools due to Krishna's (one of the Hindu's gods) birthday. Instead of our usual assignments, we all went to Assisi's Children Home after breakfast. Due to the number of people going, Stephen rented an auto rickshaw to transport Amanda, Gretchen and Haeja to our destination. They reported it was a memorable experience. At Assisi, the team worked with the children who live there in groups of three or four. These children do very well in reading English and enjoyed the books we brought to share. After spending about two hours there, we returned to the guest house. This time Emma, Gretchen and I took the auto rickshaw. It was indeed a memorable experience. We, then, had another delicious meal. In the afternoon, Amanda, Emma and Gretchen visited two Catholic churches in Chennai. Each was in memory of a significant event that happened to Saint Thomas after he came to India as a missionary. Amanda told me that she was glad that Steven knew so much about these historical places. While they were visiting the churches, Sheba, Haeja and I went for a walk and visited a few local shops. Around five pm, the team left for SEAM's Children Home. Emma led the children and team members in stretches and exercises. The boys really get into it. Then Emma gave the children a lesson in proper hand-washing. The children each had the chance to demonstrate the skill. Next, Gretchen tutored Rajesh, Amanda worked with a group of boys on their English and Emma worked with several of the children one on one. Sheba, Haeja, Leah (the children's caregiver) and I washed all of the girls' hair. The children and adults at SEAM's know that Emma, Haeja and I are leaving soon and expressed sadness. We are sad too but the people India will never be forgotten. They have made an enduring impression on our lives.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"if you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, aand avoid the people, you might as well stay home."  James Michener

Today, Wednesday, August 8, started out early with a trip to the flower and vegetable markets.  Chauffeured by our faithful  Stephen (brother), we experiended a genuine rush hour of traffic.  I will never complain about Chicago rush hours again.  Our first stop was the flower market at which we were confronted with the most amazing colors of mountain after mountain of flowers- baskets and bags and every other possible container.  The vegetable market was equally a magnificent display of every  possible vegetable.  Vendors were eager to have their pictures taken.  Trucks were rumbling by, filled to overflowing with produce.  It was a real assault on all of our senses.

      Returning home, marveling at Stephen's ability to avoid collisions, we were ready for breakfas  of rice cakes, chutney, and hard boiled eggs.  Everyone went off to their various assignments.  I have become accustomed to spen ding a quiet morning making plans and reading before I head off to Grace School in the afternoon.  I work with three groups, grades 3, 4, and 5, all no more than 4 students.  Because the groupls are so small, I am really  getting to know them.  I am not sure how much English they are learning, but they are a lot of fun.  As the last class was ending, we were greeted with a very welcome rain shower. 

     At SEAMS, the children were given a lesson in  tooth brushing..  I continued working with Rajesh whom I really like.  He is working on his pronunciation and just building his self-confidence in speaking English.

     The day ended with a wonderful traditional supper prepared by Stephen and Sheba.  We were served on banana leaves a variety of wonderful dishes including a delicious couscous.  We were shown by Stephen the best way to eat with our fingers, a skill which I have yet to master. 

     The day presented us with a wonderful variety of experiences, as has every day , which reinforces the quotation.  What is the point of travel if we do not immerse ourselves in everything.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Traveling can be a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it."  Cesare Pavese

Our day began with another of Rani's delicious breakfast's of omelette, couscous, tomato chutney, tea and mango slices.
Melissa and I set off for Assisi as Emma and Haeja left for Grace. The children seemed slightly more mellow today, if mellow is even a word that can be used to describe twenty 2-4 year-olds. When we arrived, they were singing and dancing to a video of children's songs and nursery rhymes and I was struck by the pure joy children seem to exhibit when they move their bodies to music. Well, that and when there are stickers in the vicinity. Melissa gave out stickers to the children, which they promptly affixed all over their hands and faces.

We also had story time later in the morning, and I was amazed by Catherine's ability to keep a captive audience with most of the children for a good five minutes as she told the story of four cows. Melissa and I told stories too, of the Three Little Pigs and The Boy Who Called Wolf, with Catherine and Sheeba translating, to slightly less success in keeping the children's attention.
We returned home to have lunch with Emma, Haeja and Sheeba as my mother embarked to Grace. Since it was just the ladies at lunch, we got to learn about the rituals and ceremonies that accompany the advent of young girl's monthly cycles, which was conveniently wrapped up just as Stephen returned. Haeja and Emma reported a good morning at Grace, with the only notable feature being a power outage at 11 a.m.

While my mom was at Grace having the children interview each other in front of the class, Sheeba, Haeja, Melissa and I took a walk to the pharmacy, ATM and grocery store. We were able to secure anti-itch cream at the pharmacy after some discussion with the pharmacist which was greatly assisted by Sheeba's translation skills and Melissa's nursing skills.
After a little rest, we embarked to SEAM and were greeted as usual with a swarm of handshakes. Emma and Melissa began by leading the children in a series of physical exercises, which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Melissa, Haeja, Emma and I worked with the younger children while my mom worked with Rashid on his pronunciation and interview skills. At dinner, we learned about how Rashid came to be atSEAM, which I think left us all in awe at his resilience.

And now I am off to bed, as four of us are off to the Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Market tomorrow at 6:45 before breakfast. Quite an early start, but I'm sure it will be worth it for what promises to be tantalizing experience for our senses.


Monday, August 6th, 2012

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle” – Albert Einstein

Happy Monday! 

First of all, what an amazing weekend we had!  It was filled with ancient, charming and incredible stories about the Hindu Temples and Rock Carvings, as well as the process of making silk.  Stephen Raja and his brother, “the real" Stephen took Emma, Melissa, and myself to see some of these breathtaking sites in Chennai.  To simply put it – definitely unforgettable!  Thank you, Stephen brothers.

Also this weekend, we had two more ladies join our volunteer group.  A mother and daughter team – Amanda, who’s getting her Master’s in Psychology lives in Minnesota and her mom, Gretchen is a teacher from Chicago (one of my all time favorite cities).  To welcome our new addition to the team, Stephen, Sheba, and Roshen treated everyone to a delightful traditional Chennai cuisine dinner on Sunday.  Fantastic!

So, for my 2nd week here, I asked to be placed at Grace School, to spend time with the slightly more mature children.  Although, I’ve enjoyed myself at Assisi, I thought that I would really love to meet more new people, since my time here is limited.  Stephen granted my wish.

Wow! Talk about manic Monday! Not in a bad way, though.  I’m referring to how the upper-kindergarten kids welcomed me.  I felt like a rock star!  My nervousness, then, slowly went away and it was smooth-sailing from there.  We talked, we sang, we counted, and we jumped up and down.  My agenda was the same for the 1st and 2nd graders.  By the way, Emma was next door hanging out and dancing with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders; while Melissa and Amanda were playing with the wild ones at Assisi.  Gretchen was preparing for her afternoon class back at the guest house. It was a productive morning, indeed.

Monday evening at SEAM’s Children’s Home, we were greeted with such joy and excitement, as  usual – it never gets old!  Amanda and Gretchen were introduced to the kids.  We all tutored three students each between the hours of 5:30-7pm.  Mission accomplished!


Friday, August 03, 2012

“Everything you can imagine is real”. – Pablo Picasso

Today is Friday, August 03, 2012 and Emma is having a wonderful experience with all the loving children.  They now come up to me and hug or wrap around me.

I am teaching the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade.  Today, I started my 3rd grade with a physical exercise for 5-7 minutes.  They like to do this now.  My lesson plan was “Germination” of seeds – peas, tomatoes, cabbage, mustard, medical plants (Tuile, Thumbal Keezhanetis and Malabar Nut).  We had a book demonstration of plant in soil, water, and sunlight to germinate the seeds.

 Second phase was special senses of animals.  Name of animals in a picture: elephant, lion, monkey, deer, rabbit, tiger, parrot, snake, and bees.


·       ant’s ear – you walk by a dog and he raises its ears, you and other children eat under a tree.  Which animal comes to get your food?  Dogs, cats, & birds.

·       Senses of animals

·       Animals can see most colors

·       Ox and crocodile can only see black and white

·       Honey bees cannot see red

·       During the night, the eye sight of a tiger is six times of a man.  The roaring sound of a tiger is 3 kilometers away.  The tiger can turn ears in all directions and can hear swaying of leaves and other animals walking.  It can feel the vibration of the air through its whiskers and by this can find prey and walks about at night.

Grade 4th & 5th class:

Today, I noticed the flag pole in assembly hall and the flag pole had no flag.  Answer was only – fly flag on Mondays.  Why?  I don’t know.

Today, we ended each class with sing around the mulberry bush.  The children are getting more attentive and I really enjoy them.

I had four girls at SEAM Children’s home.  Finding objects in one picture that wasn’t in the other one.  Each girl liked this exercise very much.  The boys schedule today was to have their hair washed.


Thursday, August 2, 2012.

“To do what you love and feel that it matters... what could be more fun” -Katherine Graham

It is hard to believe that we have been here almost a week. We have experienced and learned so much in the little time we have been here. The team has settled into a comfortable routine. Today Haeja and I went to Assisi with Stephen and Sheba. Roshan, their 4 year old son, did not have school today so he also went to Assisi. I really enjoy playing with the children. They love looking at the books we bring. Today we also helped take the children's clothes (from the Assisi's Children Home)off the clothes line and fold them. One of my favorite times is lunchtime. Some of the children need assistance eating and I have fun helping them. Emma went to Grace School again. She said there was a guest and so things were a little more disorganized. In India, you quickly learn to go with the flow.

In the afternoon, we went to Stephen's house and ate lunch. His family is so warm and welcoming, especially his mother. His mother said, “You came to my house and ate my food. You make me so happy.” She showed us a family picture album. After visiting, we returned to the guest house to rest and prepare for the evening.

In the evening, Emma and Haeja went to the Seams Children's Home. Emma directed aerobic exercises again. Then Haeja and Sheba washed 10 girls' hair with lice killing shampoo. Emma tutored some of the children one on one. She said it was enjoyable experience.

Another day is done. I have come to the conclusion that the Indian people are giving us so much more than we are giving them.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

“Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness, Only Light Can Do That.  Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate, Only Love Can Do That.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Vanakkam Chennai!

This is my 4th day in India – still loving the food and still in awe about how locals drive around – very impressive!

Anyway, here’s a list of my highlights for Wednesday:

·         Playing “London Bridge is Falling Down” with the Assisi Illam kids and chasing a few of them around with, I believe, a beaver hand-puppet.  That was crazy-fun!
·         Chatting it up with Sister Rose – She is one beautiful, yet fierce lady.  I found out that she has 7 siblings, two of which are also nuns.
·         Shopping at the Government Store.  This was our first outside “group activity”.  There were so many colorful and interesting local hand-crafted products such as, earrings and necklaces, wallets and purses, toys and figurines.  I wanted to purchase so many things but was able to control myself, since I’m on a budget.
·         And of course, our ever-so-enthusiastic children at SEAM!!  We started out our evening with Emma leading a brief aerobic exercise.  Everyone enjoyed themselves! Then, the three students that I met with- Sandil, Anand, and Tamil- did excellent with their flashcards and reading.  Bravo Gentlemen!!

‘Til next time.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

“Don’t Cry Because Its Over, Smile Because It Happened” – Dr. Seuss

Hi! This is Emma from Oklahoma,  the Sooner State,  with Global Volunteers.  Today is Tuesday, July 31, 2012. 

I have 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students at Grace school.  When I arrived at 9:20 am, the students are having an assembly and singing songs or listening to directions for the day.

We start with classes at 9:30-10:15 for grade 3.  I have four children and they have a lot of energy.  All students dress in uniforms of skirt, blouse, and tie.  Boys wear shorts or long pants. 

Our second day of class was on info about deers, turtles, crows, and mice; and how they help the people in food, environment, and life.

Today, we did songs and dance with the “Hokey Pokey “ and “Old Mac Donald Had a Farm”.  The children had a great time.

Then we had a break from 10:15-10:30.  Next, I have 4th and 5th graders.  Grade 4, we covered foods from plants.  Grade 5, we covered science in pollination, fertilization, and plants. 

The children are great and they love to write on the blackboard and sing. I am amazed at how well they have mastered English and write in English.

I love working with the children.   We have great food and a great leader, Stephen.


Monday, July 30, 2012

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them” Mother Teresa

Today was our first full day. Emma went to school while Haeja and I helped out at Assisi Day Care. The children were full of energy and many were not very happy. Lots of tears today. Sheba and Stephen said Mondays are usually like that. We sang songs and recited rhymes with the little ones. The children warmed up to us and were asking their new “akkas” to read and play with them. Emma enjoyed showing the children in her classes American currency. She turned it into a math game for them.

After lunch, Emma, Haeja, and I worked on lesson plans for tonight and tomorrow. We decided to take flashcards and books with us to Seam Children's Home. Once there, each of us worked one on one with a child for 20 minutes. Then a new child would be assigned to us. I helped each one read a book about Harold and the purple crayon. It was tough work for them but they succeeded at reading at least half of the book!!

Now the day is complete. I feel like I already have a lot to process from this experience but I am looking forward to another day of working with the children.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

“Nothing  Is Unless Our Thinking Makes It So”  --William Shakespeare

Orientation Day.  This morning, over breakfast, I got to meet Emma, from Oklahoma, and Melissa, from Indiana.  Both of these ladies are nurses and are here in Chennai with me to learn, love, inspire, and teach.

This is my first time in India and first time being involved with an international volunteer group, such as Global Volunteers.  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous coming here. When I arrived yesterday,  I was, however, relieved when I finally met our Family Host –Stephen, Sheba, their son-Roshen, Rani – the chef, and Barnabas- the house “watchman”.  They have all been warm and welcoming, hospitable and friendly.

Today, after going over our schedule, assignments, etc…with Stephen, we got to spend a couple of hours in the early evening with a group of vibrant, young kids at SEAM Children’s Home.  These little ones were full of life and amazing energy.  It was overwhelmingly positive.

Another positive note is that every dish that I have tried since I got here yesterday has been fantastic.  I can’t wait to try more traditional Indian food.

I have an exciting 2 weeks ahead of me.  I am so eager to learn about the rich culture of Chennai; to spend time with the children, and to meet new friends.