Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Saturday - December 29th, 2012 (Margaret)


Thought for a day - Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can.  John Wooden


Robin with team 119 welcomed in Barbara on Friday at 2:00 A.M.   Barbara is from Connecticut. She traveled from JFK to London to Chennai and arrived on December 28th.      

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Rae traveled from California to London to Delia to Chennai and arrived Saturday after 5 pm.  Margaret traveled from Columbus. OH to Atlanta, GA to avoid the bad weather in the East coast – Amsterdam, Netherlands to Mumbai to Chennai and arrived on Saturday at 5 am.  She was so happy to find her checked in luggage after waiting an hour the power kept going out so the turn table did not run. 


Rain Rain Go Away

Global Volunteers Want to Play

Electric Electric Please Come Back

Air Conditioning and Charging Our Phone are an American Fact.


Lunch :  Chicken and rice, egg plant and yogurt and onions.  I had lunch late because getting in at 6:00 A.M. I needed some sleep.


Sunday – December 30th, 2012 (Margaret)


Thought for the day: If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.


Orientation:  We are Global Volunteers number 120 and our choices are:

Assisi Illam - Kindergarden in the morning

SEAM Children Home - 5 to 7 everyday

Grace School - painting project

We did see Seam Childers Home tonight.  For 33 years children slept in hall for boys and girls in separate room.  Global Volunteer set-up the dormitories.  We got in a little bit of shopping Ya   Rae was happy to find some new clothes Barbara took the longest, but with all of our expert advice she succeeded finding an outfit.  Margaret was also successful. 


Dinner was rice, cauliflower with curry and beans.


We walked to Seam Children’s Home and missed all the puddles and holes in the road.  We came back in a taxi rickshaw and we ran thru everything that we missed when we were walking.  With Rae, Barbara, and Margaret pushed together we laugh all the way home.  It was a Hoot!!!!


Monday - December 31st, 2012 (Barbara)


Quote for the Day: “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.” Gandhi


Our first official day was filled with pink paint and paint brushes and real teamwork. Rae, named in honor of her Grandfather Raymond, and I are the tall and short of it so she did the top and I painted the bottom – with supervision from Barnabus, Barnabus worked especially hard and like so many of his country people openly welcomed us with kindness and patience.


I never thought painting could be so interesting. As Rae and I were waiting for the paint to be mixed – it does not come in pre-mixed cans – we peeked out of the gate to the school to find a whole world busy at work and play. Women were filling large plastic water bottles at the neighborhood watering spout and children greeted us with great joy, smiles and wonder. Pictures were taken including neighborhood families who readily posed for a family portrait.


At the end of the morning session it was great to see the fruits of our labor – one additional classroom finished.  Back to the guest house for lunch of traditional Indian food which is so delicious! I then took a shower. If someone had told me on my first day here that I would welcome a cold shower I would never believe it but here I am two days into the journey and that shower was great!


After a much needed rest we returned to the SEAM Children’s Home where we were once again greeted with hugs and noise and laughter. The children came to individual sessions and worked very hard to improve their English skills. It was great to work with them again and this time individually.


New Year’s Eve is a religious event in Chennai. We celebrated by attending a Catholic mass along with the children of the Assisi Children’s Home and Sisters Rose and Metilda, the two sisters in charge of the home. The church had open doors, large fans, hundreds of people and barefoot priests – a new one for both me and Margaret. Everyone was dressed beautifully including Global Volunteers whose hair was adorned with jasmine flowers, thanks to the thoughtfulness of our co-host Sheba, the wife of our host Stephen. We were then invited to a New Year’s celebration at Assisi including a special cake. We were accompanied by fireworks in every direction on our ride home.


Team 120 has traveled far in the hope of being even one small step in this long but not impossible journey.  


Tuesday - January 1st, 2013 (Rae)


Thought of the day: (Something I’ve observed both from Barbara and Margaret) : they don’t let language get in the way of communication.

Barbara and I went to the Grace School to work on another classroom. Instead of immediately painting the room the same pepto-bismo pink, we had to scrape old paint off the walls--very grueling and less fun but necessary.  The power did not shut off while we were there. The two hour black out period moved for this and other Chennai locations. Barbara and I were grateful to have fans going while we worked. In the last hour we did some painting. We’re going to take a couple days off from painting because of a change in plan. Barnabas is going to switch from improving the Grace School to looking after Mary in the hospital. Barbara and I have made many friends in the neighborhood and at the school. People are curious and eager to speak to us. Barbara never lets language barrier get in the way of communication.


Margaret held down the fort at Assisi Illam while the sisters stepped out to visit with Mary. She and a group of college students played with the kids. They students mostly behaved except one student tried to climb up the window. The college students were very playful with the children offering them piggy back rides.


Lunch was a traditional South Indian dish served on a banana leaf with okra, potatoes, a banana and two sweet Indian desserts: latu (wheat flour) and cashew and milk kova.


We made sure to fold our remaining food into our banana leaf the proper way so the hosts knew we liked the food and wanted to come again.


The team went to SEAM to do one-on-ones with the children for a couple of hours, helping them with vocabulary and pronunciation. Thankfully we had electricity the whole time, so that meant lights and fans, but the library shelves and books were quite dusty which made me feel allergic, but no one else seemed to notice.


We went to Anjappar, a local restaurant, for a special dinner out. We had tandoori chicken, buttered naan, some mushroom masaala, and buttered chicken masala. Margaret and Barbara ordered a dessert with umbrellas.


We continue to joke about Barbara losing her pocketbook and Margaret not being able to cross the street alone.



Wednesday - January 2nd, 2013 (Margaret)


Thought for the day:  When we face our maker.  We will not be asked how many positions did you hold, but how many people you helped.


Esther is principal of Grace School.  Barbara, Rae, and Margaret are present at Grace School. 


We were located in one room and tried to group by age.  It was hard because they were at dofferemt levels of learning.  With all of us talking at the same time it made it hard to hear the students talk.  We were able to exchange students among ourselves.


Last 15 minutes we were with staring and confused kindergarden students.  It helped when the teacher appeared back in the room and encouraged students to sing.  We sang Itzey Bitzey Spider, Dog named Bingo


We had lunch and then headed to Collage Industries Expo.  Barbara and I are proud owners of a Pashmina neck scarf or can be a shawl.


Electric power is off 4 to 6 this week.  Somehow we have been able to avoid outages at Grace School and Seams Children Home.


On the way home from Seams I stared to sing the Witch Doctor song, then finished off with If I Had a Hammer.  Steven our driver is probably glad it was a short ride to the guest house.


Dinner, dishes, and shower are our only things left to do.


I’m ready to buy GOLD tomorrow.


Thursday - January 3rd, 2013 (Barbara)


Thought for the day: “If you educate a child, you educate the world.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)


A cold kept Rae at the guest house and I missed her sounding out cords so carefully to the children whose names she seems to remember but which fail me. Her persistent and often times successful attempts at Tamil are admirable and result in a very positive response from the people she meets especially the children. Equally admirable is Margaret’s energetic way of relating to the boys and girls – whether in song or smiles. Her overall enthusiasm and good nature keeps the experience upbeat and fun.


At Grace School today the plan to work with one grade at a time worked well and with our cleaner, larger area the noise was far more manageable for everyone.


When we returned from school for lunch the house was surprisingly quiet. It took me awhile to realize it was absent the humming, playing and soft voice of Roshan who returned to school after his holiday break. After an afternoon rest I awoke to a familiar voice – Roshan saying “Daddy” whom he clearly loves and admires. At lunch we had delicious fried bread and also decided who would go to the gold store. Ultimately, Sheeba and Margaret went to the store where Margaret had her very own personal shopper!! She explained in great detail the process whereby her ears were pierced – OMG!!!!!!


Later we again returned to the SEAM Children’s Home where the boys and girls again worked hard to recognize and pronounce words correctly. A, L, M, N, S and W seem to be the most challenging. One of the highlights was when young girls in their school uniforms stopped by the guest house to meet the “white people.” They were so friendly and even gave us kisses when they said good-bye. An elderly woman who accompanied them gave me a big hug which I will remember all of my life.  


Friday - January 4th, 2013 (Rae)


The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer. - Oliver Wendell Holmes



Barbara and I have traded places—I’m feeling much better and she’s gotten sick. Despite her sore throat she braved going to Grace School with the rest of us in the morning. The kids rushed at us giving us hugs and kisses and sat on our laps.


It was nice tutoring only one or two students at  once and sitting outside near the playground was more ideal than sitting in an echo-y classroom where students end up yelling over each other just to read a text aloud.


I tore a hole in my jeans and decided to buy some Indian clothes that would cover my legs. Maragaret, my shopping buddy came along for the ride. The people who work there recognize us after all our trips to that store—the three of us all bought our New Year’s Eve mass ensembles there.


The Government School girls came calling again and again they had a bag of fish. Little Stephen acted as the translator between us and the girls. Details I noticed: one of the little girls didn’t wear shoes because of a religious observance and at least two girls had henna on their hands. By the end of our visit there was around six girls and one outspoken girl was clearly the ring leader. The first thing she asked us was: “Do you remember me?”


We went to SEAM without Barbara who needed to rest up. It was business as usual minus our third partner in crime. We helped the children with vocabulary and reading. Margaret was amped up that it was Friday and that we would get to go to Pondicherry the next day.


Dinner provided us with bonier than usual fish and it was my turn to do the dishes.


Onward to the weekend.


Saturday - January 5th, 2013 (Margaret)


Kanchipuram is one of India’s seven holy cities. It is the only holy city in the south of India. The first temple we went to was Kamaskshi Amman temple. The gopuram (the entryway) was carved in the 16th century, but much of the temple was much older.


The female pilgrims wore red, orange and yellow. The male pilgrims went bare-chested and wore lungis (black wraps). There were many women making and selling flower leis.


Barbara made friends with some pilgrims in the courtyard as Stephen was giving us a tour. They lined up for pictures with the volunteers and they gave Barbara two lotus blossoms.


There were very aggressive vendors within the temple who followed you around.


We passed by a neem tree where people left their prayer requests, couples asked for children, single women asked for husbands.


There were two big painted elephants who were brought out of their cages so that people could offer them money for blessings. Barbara said the elephant’s trunk felt heavy, but the elephant was trying to be gentle.


Also in Kanchupuram, Margaret and Barbara bought silk scarves at a silk factory. There was a large loom where they did silk weaving demonstrations.


We visited another Hindu temple, Ekambranatha temple, where we saw priests doing arati and Prasad in front of various shrines to hindu Gods. Walking around the uneven stones of the temple was like a foot massage.


The last temple we saw that day was called Kailashnatha temple which was a sandstone temple from the 7th or 8th century. Time had taken its toll on this monument, all the vibrant colors painted onto the deities were almost completely gone.


As Americans, was so amazing to see all these ancient temples and be able to touch them.


We went to Puducherry, a beach town that used to be colonized by France, and was exited around 1955-ish. This is a big tourist attraction where we encountered many Americans/Europeans. It was nice to breathe the ocean air after being in the city so long.


We walked the boardwalk, but couldn’t go in the water because the Bay of Benghal has strong undercurrents. Also the beach is rocky, not sandy which made it seem a little forbidding, but it was still fun.


There were wondering cotton candy salesmen, men selling glow in the dark toys, ice cream salesmen and parrot fortune-tellers.


 The card the parrot selected for Barbara was Joseph and the Virgin Mary. The card said that Barbara would take care of herself and her life would be good until age 82. Margaret’s card was the Virgin Mary which meant God would take care of her. She needs to be careful that people would want money from her and she would take care of other people.


We briefly stopped at the Ambedkar Memorial where Rae had a memorable encounter with a young Northern Indian nicknamed “Kindle” because it was embroidered on his shirt. We would see him again the next day in the same shirt at Oroville.


We went to a French restaurant called “Rendez-vous” where a lot of other ex-pats eat and as a rare feature it serves wine.


We laid our heads down at the Lotus Comfort Hotel. We each enjoyed our own rooms, our own TVs and showers with hot water. We also enjoyed a symphony during the nighttime—horns honking, dogs-barking, roosters crowing, cows mooing, goats bleating, etc., etc.


Sunday - January 6th, 2013 (Margaret)


The second day we visited the Auroville and Mamallapuram. Auroville contains a non-religious commune of 2,000 people open to everyone to live at free of charge. Its centerpieces were banyan trees and a large golden sphere housing a crystal ball which the public cannot walk into, although it was allowed at one time. Meditation is supposed to be the center of life there.


We bumped into Kindle who was wearing the same Kindle shirt and said some quick hellos.


We stopped by the town Mamallapuram to look at carvings from the 7th or 8th century. This was a place where carvers practiced their craft before carving “real” temples. Many of the rocks structures were impressive because they carved intricate designs out of one piece of rock where one mistake would mean a completely ruined piece.


It felt like a very hot day for us Americans, but the Indians were out in full-force. We saw our first Indian monkeys running through the crowds, as a family. Most people didn’t bat an eye, some of the children screamed. There were ladies who set up shop selling food to throw to the monkeys.


We witnessed a road block protest as well as Indian police power at work. We took a detour around it and sailed home.


Monday - January 7th, 2013 (Rae)


Thought for the day: Margaret is smart to store up multiple thoughts for the day so she’s ready when she does the journal entry.


Margaret and I met the Assisi Ilam children for the first time. I feel like our experience at Grace has prepared us for the short cute children who are puzzled when we start singing “Old MacDonald.” We also broke out Baa, Baa Black Sheep, Are you sleeping Brother John?, Twinkle Twinkle little star, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Head, Shoulders, Knees and toes. Mary bought some chocolate gold coins. The children loved and Margaret distributed them.


Sheeba, Margaret and I went to Joyalukkas (not GTR where Margaret had gone) and I bought a pair of earrings for myself and one for my sister’s birthday. Margaret found a necklace with a rooster—her Chinese zodiac sign.


After dinner we watched soap operas and did homework. Roshan, Stephen and Sheeba all have homework.


Tuesday - January 8th, 2013 (Barbara)


Mary and Barbara are still on the mend.  Now I found out that Rae is also down.  Well the survivor is Margaret and she will make it to Assisi Illam kindergarten by herself.


The kindergarden was drinking milk when I arrived.  Then it was bathroom time.  On the left when you come in the gate  is a area to go to the bathroom .  They strip their undies pants and skirts, then they come to you to put everything back on. 


A new little boy first day cried so hard that he got sick.  They had to call someone to pick him up. 


I’m losing my voice so trying to not talk.  We tried putting book on head and walking.  If you can’t read the book try using the book in another way.


Barbara and Margaret made it to Seams with Hershey kisses.  We worked with the girls today.  I’m trying not to talk so we played a matching game. 


Pizza is the order for dinner, make my day.  Also we celebrated  a belate4 birthday for Mary.  The pizza and cake was GREAT.


Tuesday – January 8th, 2013 (Barbara)

Quote for the day: “Life’s journey doesn’t need to be unique to be memorable; It becomes memorable through the appreciation of the smallest things.”  James Joyce (Irish Author)

The following is a list of the small things of January 8th 2013 which made for a memorable journey:

1.     Meeting our Global Volunteer Goals of Team 120…exceeding the “helping the Indian economy.”

2.     Margaret’s energy and whose theme song might be “Onward Christian Soldiers” as she alone represented Team 120 at the Assisi Day Care and sang so much she lost her voice.

3.     The breeze which cooled the rooftop terrace allowing for a quiet moment to create a lesson plan.

4.      Feeling well enough to walk not once but twice with Mary, a veteran of the Global Volunteer India Program and who told me about the significant improvements to the lives of the local children over the years she has volunteered here.

5.     Rae, who was in touch with her feelings at a much younger age than I ever was and took care of herself and recharged so she could be more energized and effective, which is especially needed when working in this ancient yet still developing country.

6.     The delight on the face of the children when they master a sound…a word…a sentence…a paragraph.

7.     Celebrating Mary’s birthday – albeit late yet heartfelt- in celebration of a woman who yearns to return home yet is a great example of someone who is making the best of it.

8.     The incredibly gracious and polite manner in which the children of SAME Children’s Home accepted Margaret’s gift of Hershey Kissses.

9.     Pizza, birthday cake and a special instrumental Happy Birthday candle which opened into a lotus…and the later dismantling of the God blessed thing!!


Wednesday – January 9th, 2013 (Barbara)


Quote for the day: “To those he gives great gifts, he gives great responsibility” (author unknown)



OMG!  Margaret and Rae took Assisi by storm with Rae’s drawings of flowers, seahorses, fish and lions and a bag of crayons the room full of little ones fell quiet while they each colored. It was the only quiet time I can recall of the morning session and unlike my time at SEAM the morning at Assisi went on and on and on and on and on. At one point exhausted and overwhelmed I looked at the clock which indicated that only an hour had passed since our arrival and I thought I would join the poor little fellow who endlessly cried for his mother. I was so thankful for my teammates and there unwavering ability to entertain and interact with these very little people. I think I may have stepped on one or perhaps two. Either way despite their size they had boundless energy and seemed nearly indestructible. Stephen and Sheeba’s presence was enormously helpful as was the fact that Assisi is absolutely spotless and the children clearly cared for. I had never been so happy to see the clock strike 12:30 pm and to have a sighting of Stephen’s car which transported me to safety! How on God’s earth did Margaret do this solo????? She really is a Christian soldier…I would have hid! All of this is an exaggeration - a good time was held by all especially the children who each had two Hershey kisses – after they finished their lunch of course. 



Team 120 then had the immense pleasure of meeting all of Stephen’s family who graciously invited us to their home and prepared a traditional Indian meal for us. It was truly an honor to meet this special and loving family. We were fortunate enough to have the meet his sister and her family (Prema, Thiyagu and Akash) who only visit once a year because they live so far away – nearly three day train ride from Northern India. Stephen’s parents, Jothi and Chinnappan, were so nice. His mother reminded me of my own sweet mother and meeting her caused me to yearn for home and my own mother. It is easy to see where Stephen gets his great humanity and patience from. After looking at photo albums I concluded it was truly divine intervention that Stephen ended up with Sheeba for his “would you like to be my wife” picture was totally absent his warm smile. Wisely Sheeba’s mother suggested she meet him in person and they have been together ever since – a  union of two truly gifted and remarkable individuals.



We then returned home for some much needed rest. Later in the afternoon we went to SEAM for the evening hours.  Mary, who appears to be gaining strength daily, was warmly greeted by all of the children.  



At home it was clear Rae’s creative juices were running and she, along with Margaret, her partner in crime, were cooking something up. With Rae’s drawings and Margaret’s singing it is bound to go to Broadway! I can’t wait to see what it is and learn my lines.  A grand day was had by all!!



Thursday - January 10th, 2013 (Rae)



Thought of Day: Singing has become the universal language of our group. We use it to teach children, keep our spirits up and to have fun on long car rides. Younger Stephen calls us the laughing group, but we consider ourselves the singing group.



This is our second to last day. Barbara, Margaret and I all went to Assissi Ilam for the second time as a complete trio. We made 40 copies of one of my flower picture drawings for the kids to color, which we distributed before we did our epic retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. We used cut-out drawings from a former volunteer, Joelle, who was an art teacher. Sangeeta, the teacher, was a very helpful ally in translating the story into Tamil as we acted it out—it was one she had never heard of before and even asked us if we made it up, but she was a really got ally in story-telling once we got going. We assigned Barbara the role of the ogre since she did such a great job of doing the Big Bad Wolf. The kids were entranced by Barbara’s delivery of the line: “Fee fi fo fum. I smell the blood of an Englishmen. Whether he’s alive or whether he’s dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”



They watched that tape of sing songs nursery rhymes which are very catchy and get stuck in everyone’s head. The children got up on their feet and were dancing.



After lunch we went to the second largest beach in the world, which is in Chennai. It’s a sandy beach with countless venders of all sorts and men on horses riding up and down soliciting customers for their horse rental business. Margaret and I attracted the eye of a wandering beggar women with two monkeys on a leash. Margaret snapped a good picture of her. We watched families on the beach frolic in the waves wearing all their clothes and then we headed back. As usual Barbara made so many friends. Even on the way back she was determined to make as many people smile as possible. She cracked a few hard nuts on the bus and in nearby shops.



The SEAM children were in rare form—extremely energetic, but also extremely focused on reading.



Tomorrow is our last day.



Friday – January 11th, 2013 (Margaret)



The last day but a good day.



Thought of the day ; We have flown the air like birds and swim the sea like fish.  But have yet to learn the simple act of working the earth like brothers - Dr. Martin Luther King.



How can you be sad and happy at the same time?  But leaving India brings out all emotions.  God bless everyone that I have been able to embrace.



Team Leaders Raja Stephens and Sheeba and the whole family have been wonderful.



Barbara, Margaret, and Sheeba with Baby Stephens as driver went SHOPPING..  We purchased 100 pairs of underwear for the Seams Children Home also 3 boxes for their clothing.  Thanks to Barbara. 



We enjoyed Seams as usual then we had a thank you from the students.  Barbara, Rae, and Margaret presented Jack and the beanstalk story and sang Bingo, If I have a hammer, and good bye song.



The students danced for us and sang several songs.  We received a thank you card signed by the students and a yellow flower.  How much we appreciated this ceremony that will stay with us for ever.



Good Night but never Good Bye


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

December 16, 2012 – Katie


“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ― Helen Keller


Team 119


Introducing Team 119:


We have a nice blend of volunteers on our team; many of which are seasoned Global Volunteers. It's fun to see so many repeat volunteers; it shows that Global Volunteers is doing something right! Here’s the roster: Chris (social worker/technology/world psychology in Portland), Nuriya (retired graphic designer in Portland), Joelle (Art teacher in St Paul, 5th GV trip in India), Mary (retired in Seattle, 3rd GV in India, experienced many other GV trips including Costa Rica, Tanzania, Indonesia, North and South Vietnam, Robin (Urban Planner for a NGO in Chicago, experience GV in Tanzania), and Katie (recruiter in Minneapolis, 4th GV in India). We had all arrived by breakfast the day before, so were already well on our way to getting acquainted.

The better part of the morning was spent working through orientation where we learned the rules of engagement, set personal goals and defined the characteristics of an effective team. The overall themes of our goals are as follows: to experience personal growth, to experience Indian culture, deepen relationships, work with children, and to let kids know they’re valued.

A common thread which drew us here was a shared belief in Global Volunteers' philosophy of service whereby we help at the invitation and direction of local partners. Understanding our differences and building friendships is the first step towards waging peace in the world.

Through this process we got to know each other a bit better; I think we’ll get along just fine as a team.

With orientation out of the way, we had the afternoon off to relax or shop in the neighborhood. We hit the jackpot at a local sari shop and agreed that we enjoyed supporting local stores rather than taking a full evening to go into Chennai for the same outcome. Robin and I even purchased the lungi (male skirt) for wearing around the house and at the beach back home.

We headed back to SEAM where we were greeted with delight. The children run to greet us at the gate and spend the evening fighting for our attention. I sort of feel like a celebrity when I’m at SEAM—it’s a very rewarding feeling. We split up and some volunteers started working with the children on a one-on-one basis. With this being my 4th trip here in four years, I’ve gotten attached to these children. It’s hard to be back here with some of my favorite kids gone. In the same breath, I’m eager to welcome the new ones in.

The team headed to Anjappar, a new restaurant in the neighborhood. Roshan enjoyed chicken lollipop while Stephen ordered a spread for the rest of us to enjoy.


Lesson of the day:

If you see an Indian man and he’s smiling, he’s single.



December 17, 2012 - Chris


Quote (approximate): What you bring out which is within you, it will save you. That which is within you that you do not bring out, will destroy you. (From “The Gospel of Saint Thomas”)


This is our initial GV trip, and it’s already much more than I expected. Our leader Stephen makes real the values expressed in GV material, and I’m happy that his wife Sheeba is a large part of what we do here as well. Other team members, Katie, Joelle, Mary and Robin, and my wife Nuriya are all part of a team which feels great to belong to. The characteristics of a good team, and our purposes, feel meaningful and real – what I really wanted in a trip like this.

I love our meals, Indian food from this region, and I’m happy that we might have a chance, time and interest from other team members permitting, to have a cooking class as part of our experience here. During breakfast we talked about other activities we might do together during our days off the coming weekend, and field trips with children from the homes and schools we’re working with, etc. – detailed on the calendar now posted on the wall in the volunteer house.

Mary and I went to Grace School about 9:20 in the morning and early afternoon to clean, scrape and sand two rooms in preparation for painting the next day – which turned out to be quite an adventure! We began by moving out books and miscellaneous items from a room on the ground level being used for storage. Items had been there for a long time, probably for years.

The sanding and scraping were exhausting and hard work,

After we returned for a badly needed shower then a delicious lunch, Mary went outside to wash her clothes by hand, since the daily 2-4 o’clock power outage had begun, sharing that space for a few minutes with two rats who did not like her company ran into a nearby drain to hide – then, exhausted we went upstairs to rest before the rest of the team returned from Assisi Illam.

I learned from Nuriya about her experience there, preparing food (curry leaves, cilantro, etc.) in the kitchen with Katie and Sheeba, for the lunch there, while Robin and Joelle were spending time with the younger children downstairs. Finishing that, Sheeba left to pick up Roshan, and Nuriya and Katie went to join Joelle and Robin. Joelle was entertaining the children with Leo, her hand puppet monkey – holding their excited and rapt attention for a good twenty minutes!

After another break, we returned to Seam Children’s Home to spend time with the children there. Mary, Robin, Nuriya and I did one-on-one educational activities with several children, in shifts, while Katie played and studied with a group of children. After Mary instructed us in transplanting some plants in the rooftop garden, we returned home for a tasty dinner, a short meeting which included practice with a few Tamil expressions.


December 18, 2012 - Nuriya


We started off this morning as usual with a delightful breakfast. Our driver Stephen surprised us with custard apples from his tree. After a short meeting, during which Sheeba agreed to teach us Tamil cooking, the painters, Mary and Chris, headed off to Grace School to continue painting everything—maybe even a few residual cockroaches—rose-pink; and the Assisi Illam group—Joelle, Katie, Robin, and Nuriya—set off expecting another idyllic day of play with the toddlers in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon. After all, yesterday was idyllic, so what should we expect?

So…when we arrived at Assisi Illam, Joelle, who still was not feeling well, went upstairs to rest. Sister Rose, deploring idleness even in the sick and wounded, put her immediately to work making silk flower arrangements. Meanwhile, downstairs with the toddlers, Robin, Katie, and Nuriya experienced a change in weather patterns when the teacher left us alone with 30-odd kids, one of whom was crying incessantly (we worried he was ill or somehow terribly traumatized, but it turns out it was just his first day back after a long absence) and another was shoving other kids and making them cry also, drowning out “The Wheels on the Bus.”  No one seemed happy with the crayon colors doled out either, and we were running out of songs to sing. At last the teacher came back and everything returned to normal—lunchtime and then naptime when they all lay down lined up (as Auntie Noelle says) like little sausages.

In fact, things became even better than normal when the big kids showed up at 12:30. It was Sophia’s eighth birthday today, and lunch upstairs was a celebration, with cake and chicken biryani. Sophia looked dazzling and happy in her non-uniform birthday costume. After lunch Katie led the kids in a rousing game of Twister. Then driver Stephen took us to the Government Emporium for an hour of shopping. Several dinner napkins, two saris, a pair of earrings, a ring, a handbag, pashmina shawls, and a few presents later, we drove home through Chennai traffic and got ready for the night at SEAM.

Chris and Mary, meanwhile—joined by Barnabas—spent the day painting two ceilings and some walls at Grace. Mary and Sheeba worked for a while in the morning at SEAM’s rooftop garden, where they were delighted to see that the plants they had transplanted the night before were still alive! The power at Grace went out at 11:30, so our intrepid painters had to paint in dim light, understandably missing a few spots here and there, which showed up later in the day when the head of the school shined a spotlight on the walls for inspection.

In the evening we went to SEAM for (primarily) one-on-one tutoring. Chris and Rajesh, who had formed an instant bond the night before over open source, worked on downloading PHP and Ubuntu. Katie entertained the kids downstairs. Joelle, Robin, Mary, and Nuriya worked with a series of students (some of whom, who shall remain nameless, wanted only to color or look around the room at what all the other people were doing).

Tonight after dinner some people had the strength to go to the internet café. Others of us fell gratefully into bed.

Today’s quote is from Stephen, worth remembering when things don’t go as fast as we think they might (after all, haven’t we been here already almost four whole days??): At GV, we’re part of a long chain. We build on others’ efforts, and subsequent volunteers build on what we’re doing now.



December 19, 2012 - Joelle


The Capacity of the Human Heart


I heard this quote from a MO (Minnesota Original – TPT) featuring a performance artist and I have been reflecting upon this for some time – it seems especially appropriate for today:  “The mystery of the human heart is - its immense capacity to hold both great sorrow and great joy at the very same time.” 


Today – my heart is full of both sadness and joy.  Today I learned that my own Auntie died sadness for both myself and Katie because my aunt, her great aunt was such a strong woman of faith and goodness, doing….doing ….doing…… And here we were today, Robin, Nuriya, Katie and me, blessed with the title “Auntie” – a joy ringing from the lips of the Assisi children.  Today my brother had his surgery – a hard thing for sure…..and today I sit with other brothers and sisters a continent away from my family at home and this too requires a stretch of the heart.   

This morning as we sent off fellow team mates Mary and Chris to Grace School to do painting, the tune I heard playing in my head was “Hi Ho, Hi  Ho….its off to work they go….” with the same good cheer as any Disney character could possess.  Even then, they felt they got the better assignment as we others prepared for another day with Sr. Rose, the day care children and the older sensational “six”!  And the four of us conspired under our breath we were so happy that they thought so and wouldn’t force a “switch” in assignments.  Somehow it has managed to work to the advantage of our skills and talents as we embraced one component of an “effective” team. 

Starting our morning with a detour, a visit with Dr. Sister Rexline at St. Thomas Hospital was among the day’s highlights.  Such a powerhouse of a woman hidden beneath hospital white sister habit, small frame, gentle and tiny voice.  She quickly zeroed in on Robin as a potential cog in her wheel of potential projects proposed – additional daycare space for an orphanage in the country.  Of course this woman is a master at networking as we all realized from her vast lifetime achievements.  And then there is God, who she credits with all!  Nuriya pointed out how much pain and suffering has been relieved because of all the work and efforts of this woman who has managed to stretch her heart to encompass this pain and to find joy in doing so. 

After a quiet lunch with Sr. Rose and the 10 of us – SS6 and the GV4, we decided to brave a trip to the Christmas market with the SS6, with Reena as our guide.  Thank goodness……she became our money manager and kid wrangler as we enjoyed watching these children just be children having holiday fun.  S-T-R-E-T-C-H!

At SEAMS we continued our work, some of us working one-to-one, while others entertained the masses.  I’m thankful for the letters my students in Minnesota wrote to the children, as it has been a wonderful way to encourage practice in reading and writing English as they work on writing letters in return. 

This evening’s activity was going to Stephen’s parent’s house for a five-star, yes, count them – five star feast!  Jhoti’s smile could warm up any room with happiness overflowing.  Stephen’s dad was a welcoming host.  Still the walls of the heart expand.  So much love and goodness to take in for one day!   As I go to sleep tonight – a prayer for an aunt who has passed and a brother to be healed reminds me of our very human, and very big heart.   


December 20, 2012 – Robin


“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”

Mahatma Gandhi


With the first week almost over, we six of Team #119 are comfortably settling into our work routines here in Chennai. Today Chris and Mary completed painting their second room at Grace School. Joelle, Nuriya, Katie and I did our thing at Assisi Illam. Our work with the toddlers wraps up when the teacher is ready to serve them lunch. At about that time, we were visited by a handsome, tall young man named Isaac. Isaac is a civil engineer who knows Sr. Dr. Rexline, and who met Joelle and Katie last year. He came by to meet us and wish us well. Before leaving after about a 15 minute visit, he led the four of us and Sister Rose in prayer to keep the children, us and our families safe and healthy over Christmas and into the New Year.

We looked forward to Sophie, Sylvia, Jasmine, George, Augustine, George and John returning from school – especially today, as it was Jasmine’s birthday. Katie brought her special presents and Sister Rose provided a decadent chocolate birthday cake. After singing and candle blowing, Jasmine fed each of us a piece (akin to the bride and groom ritual at an American wedding). We then settled into lunch – by far, my favorite ritual of the work week. I’ll explain why in a bit. We seven sit on the floor “Indian style”, Sister Rose serves us lunch and we eat with our hands and just visit with one another.

At SEAM later in evening we conducted an hour of tutoring, then turned over the prayer hall to anything but. We cranked up the music and got down with some dance moves. Our dance party got almost every one, even Lia and Mary, on the dance floor for at least a bit. A handful of the older girls and older boys were either too cool or too shy. But otherwise, we all busted a move, some more than others! The little ones were the best, just little sponges in picking up our freestyle dance moves and showing us a few fly moves of their own. I swear I could look into the eyes of a few of those little boys and see them on a Delhi dance floor 20 years from now.

As for the lunch ritual at Assisi, It may seem like nothing to Sister Rose, as host, but it means the world to me. Choosing to participate for a second time with Global Volunteers, I had the same ulterior motive as with my service in Tanzania. My first priority, of course, is to serve and to do good in the world.  But, I also recognize, this type of service becomes my “admission ticket” so to speak, to see the real India. As Stephen and Sheeba’s guests here in Chennai, I am invited into the most private of spaces, those that a tourist’s eyes would typically never see. Those lunches I’ve so come to enjoy. Toddlers coming back from potty break waving their underpants in search of help to put them back on. Dinner–home cooked of course–in a family’s home. A private hospital tour and coffee break with a champion for the poor and for women, time so precious for a woman who admits she never takes a day off. Sitting in the library of an orphanage, seeing children actually wanting to practice any subject we put in front of them.

And the library brings me to my last thought of the day. Twice earlier this week at SEAM, Paul Anthony was assigned to me for tutoring. I quickly learned he is far more capable in math, than in English, so I began to challenge him in his weaker subject. The looks I received in return assured me—so I thought—that he was not enjoying my company one bit. So wasn’t I surprised that he sought me out for tutoring tonight? We did some more English practice, as I kept making up new tricks and games on the fly. Finally, he said he wanted to play “the game”. I said, “what game?”.  He couldn’t remember what it was called, so he drew a picture of the game of Hangman. Yesterday I had tried to teach him the game of Hangman, as a means to practice spelling English words. Here, I thought he was miserable yesterday not being able to guess any words. It was a really nice surprise to learn my efforts weren’t in vain.


December 21, 2012 – Mary


Since today is the end of the world I feel I really don’t need to be writing this - but will persevere anyway.

Breakfast today included Kesari which is couscous with raisins, cashews, cardamon and orange food coloring. It is Joelle’s favorite and understandably so. After breakfast Chris and I rode with little Stephen to Grace School for our painting job. There was no school so the place was quiet for a change. The office was our project for the day but they left most of the furniture in the room so it was a tight squeeze. Scraping was first on the agenda and we immediately discovered that the old paint was literally peeling off the walls so preparation took a long time. When we finally started painting it was a relief but we soon discovered that some areas bubbled up and we had to scrape and repaint them. The only wildlife today was a few spiders and a small lizard who is now a pink small lizard. My biggest adventure was lying on the floor under the big shelf trying to paint over my head. Chris almost fell trying to step from the desk to the movable shelving but Barnabus leapt across a gap of 5 feet and saved him.

The Assisi gang of 4 had a very good day. (Enough said according to Joelle but to elaborate they enjoyed the little day care kids. They painted Santas with the children and proudly came home with their paint stains to match those that Chris and I have.)

Sheeba gave a cooking lesson in the afternoon. Vegetable korma was one of the dishes as well as sambar and poriyal. These were dinner and were delicious.

Working at SEAMS tonight seemed to be satisfactory for everyone, I spent the first 15 minutes watering the plants with the help of several boys who hauled big buckets of water up to the roof. The plants are thriving!

Back to the house for dinner and Internet access for the first time since we’ve been here. Stephen finally was able to get the modem fixed and we no longer have to go over to the Internet “café” for our “fixes”.

Tomorrow is the weekend and Stephen, Nuriya, Chris, Robin and myself are going off to Pondicherry in the morning. Joelle and Katie are hanging here. They will begin their weekend with a trip to the vegetable and flower market.

Thought for the day: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Rademacher Hershey

“When Stephen says, ‘Whenever you’re ready we’ll go’ it means he’s ready to go now. But don’t forget India time - you may have been ready to go 2 hours earlier!”


December 24, 2012 – Christmas Eve:  Joelle


As promised is brevity for Mary for Christmas.  The highlights (and challenges) of the day:  Stephen and Sheeba returned from a brief visit with their family as Stephen’s sister and her family returned from the north; My first glimpse of the beach – been waiting five years for this as we held hands with Assisi children and escorted them into the water, letting the waves was over us; Mary becoming ill, resulting in an evening trip to the hospital – dehydration and home again, we are all thankful, playing games with the children on their holiday lead by Stephen, and home again for primping – Sheeba, Robin, Joelle and Katie as they prepared for midnight Mass with the Assisi children; Walking all the Assisi family in the dark to St. Patrick’s for Mass, Katie and Joelle sharing a bit of an inside joke of the humor they found in the liturgy, but confess it really was so special and beautiful as Jasmine slept in Katie’s arms and Augustine sat wide awake next to Joelle….and hearing Robin confide, “There is no place else I’d rather be for Christmas…” A sentiment I believe we all share.

As my days with this team are coming to a close I want to thank these extraordinary individuals for having made this a truly marvelous and effective team. We found our own gifts to share – from play-dough making, painting Michelangelo-Style at Grace school, teaching computer technology, photographing children, playing games, reading, singing, dancing – and best of all – loving the children.  I believe we have met our over-arching goal for this team:  To let kids know they are valued. 

And this seems a perfect message for a Christmas Eve when God sent a child to us – to change us, to help us know how much we are loved.  But for those who do not share this belief, perhaps they will better relate to this kind of miracle  – a quote from

Thich Nhat Hanh:

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk on either water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.

Every Day we are engaged in a miracle we don’t recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, and the black curious eyes of a child ---- our own two eyes.  All is a miracle!

Still this trip would be made even more perfect if my last dream came true  - Stephen dancing with us today…….Now that would be a miracle!  Especially good timing since Christmas is all about miracles!


December 25, 2012 – Nuriya


The most perfect Christmas Day begins with an image and ends with a song.

The image is from the day before, when we took the Assisi Illam kids to the beach. The little girl on my lap dropped her possession: a sheet of notebook paper folded in half, decorated in yellow flourishes. A red string serves as a handle. Careful cursive, in the form of an arch, reads:

Mary Sylvia

and it contains a plastic rosary.

Christmas Day is a day of visiting. In the morning we women wrapped ourselves in saris and jewelry, and joined by the less elaborately clad Stephen and Chris, went to Assisi Illam. The kids put on a spectacular show for us of katak dancing. They were gorgeously decked out in costumes, jewels, and makeup, and their years of katak dance lessons showed in their professional ability. This extravaganza was followed by free-for-all dancing including the Hokey Pokey, and then a fabulous lunch.

After a nap—which some of us took still wearing our saris—we went to SEAM. We arrived a few minutes before 6:00, so the power was still off, and the main hall was dark. We hung out in the courtyard, and when the power went on, we saw through the windows that the hall was festooned with sparkly garlands along the ceiling, plastic flowers taped to the walls, and hung with four bedspreads serving as stage curtains. We were taken by the hand and led to our royal plastic chairs. The show began: Tamil Christmas carols, dancing both intricate and wild, and punctuated throughout in the hammiest fashion by Santa wearing his red costume, large tummy, and purple and white balloons on his head.

Joelle and Katie distributed gifts they had brought from Target dollar bin: pencils and glow sticks. The kids made bracelets of the glowsticks, and we left SEAM again a dark courtyard alive with glowing purple, green, and yellow circles.

Following dinner at Anajappar, we returned to find Mary still sleeping. We hope she will have a good night's sleep and feel better in the morning.

How could this get any better? With ice cream, of course. Stephen disappeared and came back with chocolate, strawberry, and tutti-frutti!

Of all the music today, the song that remains in my mind is by Bruno, brought to us—as so many other wonderful moments on this trip—by Joelle, choreographed and shared with the kids. Do they know we are singing to them? I think so. It sums up the reason we're here, and the magic of this Christmas Day:

And when you smile
The whole world stops and stares for a while
Because you're beautiful
Just the way you are.



December 26, 2012 – Chris

Stephen and Sheeba returned and ate with Roshan, who was now awake, before we left on the small bus to pick up the Seems children – Stephen teasing us, saying all of the children would be on the bus with us. At the Seems home, another bus was there, so we had a girls bus and a boy's bus. We had a lively trip, especially in the boy's bus as children danced to music from Katie's IPod.

Our first trip was to “the mountain” where we toured the beautiful temple of St. Thomas, viewed the Nativity Scenes there, and statues of Mr. & Mrs. Santa Clause, and animal statues. The mountain provided beautiful views of Chennai, and the children especially the boys, enjoyed watching the big airliners take off from the nearby international airport.

Before leaving the mountain, we shared some ice cream with the children, then we drove to the famous Children's Park, looking at a number of animals, and found a deer with large antlers wandering in the park who allowed the children who dared, to pet him. We stopped at a large playground with monkey bars, swings, slides, and merry-go-round, where the children played – and we considered that this is one of few places in Chennai where they can play like this – wondering if there was a way we could provide something like that at Seems home. Our stay at the park ended with a tasty picnic lunch prepared by our cook Ronnie earlier in the morning.

After lunch, we drove to a large and relatively uncrowded stretch of beach where we held the hands of the excited children as the waves came up and splashed around us – a daunting task as some of the children as they overcame their fear of the waves, didn't understand the dangers of going out too far and getting swept out in the undertow. It was troubling that one little girl had said earlier that she wanted to lie down in the ocean and die – she was quite a handful for a while. On the way back to the busses Rajesh and Katie played games in the sand with the children, running races, and watching them turn cartwheels and summersalts – then we had a long drive home, broken by a stop for some more snacks shared with the children. This type of outing is a rare treat for the Seems children, and it was rewarding, though tiring, for us to share it with them.

Finally, we returned for a late, but delicious dinner, with tasty rice, and eggplant curry dish, and raita.

Thinking about our impermanence and the precious life force that we all share, I realized that this trip is bringing me closer to what is really meaningful to me in life. Looking at each other here, the people struggling to survive in their various ways in this city, and the pains and joys we are sharing, I found this quote from Pema Chodron to be meainingful: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” In another quote she raises a question that's important to me: “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live in fear?” These are among my tasks on this volunteer trip.