Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Friday, August 22, 2013


Thought for the day: My thought for today is really a paraphrase of lines from "Ode on Intimations of Immortality" by William Wordsworth.  His words:  "Thanks to the tenderness, its joys, and fears, thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."  My words:  Thanks to SEAMS children, their joys and cares, thoughts do often lie too deep for tears."

Throughout Thursday, a scratchy throat and irritated nasal passages told me that I must have met something that causes an allergic reaction.  By Thursday night, the scratchy throat had grown far more bothersome and my sinuses were not happy.  Still I was certain the cause of it all was some allergy.  During the night the situation intensified and I grew certain that it was not an allergy; the cough, the sore throat, and loss of a sense of well being sent a chill through my body.  All right, not a chill because it is really warm here, but a terrible feeling came over me.  It was not just a question of whether I could meet with the children, but whether I would be severely tested on my flight home.  The images of this old woman checking her luggage, passing through customs, waiting for a changing flight, all were most unpleasant.  As I tossed and turned when sleep failed me, random thoughts scattered in my mind.

Am I, at my age, a fool to travel to faraway places in a quest to serve and try to make the world a better place?  I would hope that I am not, but I do know that the body is not as willing as the mind.  I also know that whatever contribution I make can never be equaled by the rewards I receive from the Global Volunteer experiences.

Among my random thoughts were those about cows.  Cows are ubiquitous on the lanes, the streets, and highways here in Chennai.  A cow with a calf at her udder in the middle of the highway slowed traffic as cars and other vehicles swerved around the animals.  As we traveled to school, we encountered cows along side the lane, on the lane, or simply walking across the lane.  The two black cows just outside the Global Volunteers Guest House was a normal occurrence, although Sheeba said that cows were not often there.  The two had found a nice shady spot to rest. Yet in my random thoughts, I wondered about cow manure.  What happens to the manure?  When we returned from SEAMS last night, a truth hit me.  Any girl who grew up or on farms in the Midwest knows that one thing one does about cow manure is one steps around it and not in it.  Same goes here.  We stepped around the little pie of manure near the entrance to the Guest House.

This morning, I began to feel somewhat better; I should not go to school, but it apparent that I will be able to manage a return flight back home.  Situations always look more difficult in the dark of night.  Sheeba made a special tea for me that I believe will work wonders and I will spend a bit of time catching up on the sleep I missed last night.

I am disappointed that the special last day will pass by without me being with the children at Christ King School.  I am hoping to be able to see the children this evening at SEAMS.  The last day is bittersweet as one can imagine.  A reflection on the joys of being with the children and realizing that the adventure is drawing to a close touches the heart.  And as I reflect on my time in Porur, Chennai, India, images of the children scroll through my mind.  There is Sweety, such a mature young woman.  She is so inquisitive about life and wants so to learn.  What a bright girl!  She would like to be a doctor and one can only hope that doors are opened so she can at least receive further education in the medical field.  There is a calmness that surrounds this young girl and yet she delights in having fun with the other girls.  

Saranya tugs at my heart always.  She is so loving and so in need of love.  Yet, I suspect that school is most challenging for her.  We spent lots of time working on pronouncing words and understanding the sounds of various letters in the English alphabet.  Saranya is in the 10th standard so I am so concerned about her.  Saranya is a delight, a girl who brings joy like a big package to so many around her.

Aneesh has the eyes that look into one's very soul.  A man-boy with such a sense of responsibility.  He assumes the role of a man when he crushes bricks for a building project or helps install the screens at the home.  He is a most thoughtful boy who patiently taught me to say "see you tomorrow" in his native tongue.  Aneesh would like to become a computer engineer and I have no doubt that if the doors are open for him to do so, he will succeed.  He is a motivated and bright student.  

These are but a few of the faces that pass before me in my mind who have changed my life forever and who will indelibly be imprinted on my memory.  I long to have them be successful and caring adults.  SEAMS offers them an opportunity that would not be available to them otherwise.

And one's heart cannot be touched by Stephen Raja and his beautiful wife, Sheeba.  In this world there are good souls who make each day a better one for those around them.  It is so with Stephen and Sheeba.  My life is richer for knowing them.

It is so difficult to write about the last evening at SEAMS.  I am so filled with sadness and yet I know that I must leave tomorrow.  I met with some of the girls this evening, each one is now a dear friend.  We shared goodbyes, while I thought how often these children must say good bye to Global Volunteers.  So there is a bittersweet feeling that flows tonight.  When Saranya gave me a tight, big hug and said, "Sister, we are best friends," I felt the pull to return to India next year.  I do want to go to other lands, but there is something drawing me back to this special place.  I must have a talk with my children about making two trips a year as long as I am able, physically and financially.  Decisions weigh heavily tonight.  I do want to follow these children as they continue to grow.  LIFE IS VERY GOOD to have offered me this opportunity.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Thought for Today; "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others."  Mahatma Gandhi  

Our morning drive began a bit differently this morning.  Two black cows were lying near the gate to the Global Volunteer Guest House.  I suspect that they will remain for quite a while since they have found a shady place to rest.
It was another good day at Christ King School; yet, I am concerned that some of the fifth graders will not do well on the upcoming exams.  I am probably needlessly concerned.  The private school apparently has much more to offer the children than the public schools, but the resources are so very limited and the space is so very crowded that it is challenging to provide a great learning environment.  My only wish is that I provided some help during my time there. When I leave the school and go to the car in which Stephen delivers me and picks me up, the children clammer around the car to wish me good bye and remind me that I will see them tomorrow.

After returning to the Guest House this afternoon, Stephen drove Stephen Raja and me to Stephen's family home for lunch.  It was so very pleasant to meet his family.  They are so very kind and we enjoyed both great food and good conversation before we returned to the Guest House for the remainder of the afternoon.

Tonight's time at SEAMS had an undercurrent of preparing for a special event; the pastor's birthday will be celebrated this weekend.  Tidying up and preparing for at least 700 people is no small task.  I met with several girls this evening and enjoyed the time as we read, worked on some special skills in both math and English language.  The electricity failed several times.  At first we simply moved the table and chairs outside library and carried on.  When it became too dark, some boys delivered a large light for us to work by. When the electricity came back on, we returned to the library for the remainder of the evening.  The girls that I have been with at SEAMS are such beautiful young girls, kind and loving.  I shall miss both the girls and the boys, and I shall remain concerned about their paths to success.

I must prepare for my last day of classes.  I do so with mixed feelings.  I look forward to returning home to see family and friends, but I also know that I will miss the new friends I have made in Chennai. Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I can't believe that it is Wednesday and there are only two more days with the children.  I will truly miss them.
Today was a lovely day at Christ King School.  I met with four boys from the fifth grade class. Again, we worked on the skill of telling time and calculating how long one waits at the station for the bus or how long one rides from one city to another.  This group of boys did very well.  I do think that the children with whom I have spent some time have shared their experience with the other children so there is the expectation that we will work with clocks and time.

After we did a few warm-up practice problems, they were very involved in doing an excellent job marking times on the clocks that the drew on the papers that I gave them and then calculating how much time passed between the times they marked on their two clocks.  When the session was over, each of the boys had to shake my hand and thank me.  Of course, they were all more than willing to walk me to the fourth standard.  The trek between the two places is something else because the school is a maze of little rustic classrooms.  The fifth standard is up a number of steps when one enters the school gates.  To go the fourth grade class, one descends the flights of steps, walks through a portion of the ground floor and then ascend another series of steps on the outside of the building to the class room.

The fourth graders and I built a "chart" of the multiples of nine.  After I wrote on the chalk board that nine is unusual, a word we talked about since we could talk about the meaning and opposites, I also wrote that nine is an odd number and we talked about the two meanings of odd.  I finished off with the big word that is not part of their vocabulary, but big words are fun.  Nine is extraordinary.  We than explored the crazy world of nine.  

After we finished with nine, we spent some time with letters that form the sound of A, like ai and eigh.  We built words with those letters and then alphabetized our list of words that we had put on the chalk board.  

The chain word experience seems to be one that the children love so we finished class with that.  Their vocabulary is quite impressive and their excitement when they come up with the connecting English words is fun to behold.
Stephen drove me home from the school; it is quite a jaunt from the Global Volunteers Guest House.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Today I met with five boys at Christ the King School.  We worked on skills related to telling time and calculating its passage.  Although the boys had no trouble reading the time on the bus schedule I had prepared, they had real difficulty putting those times on a clock face.  We practiced and practiced and practiced counting out the minutes on the face so that they could make the hands say 3:15.  We also worked on the concept of 60 minutes to an hour.  By the end of the period the boys were able to put the time on the clock's face and calculate how much time passed between the arrival at a city and the time of departure.  We did not advance to "borrowing" minutes from the hour side though.  I do hope that some of what we did is retained.  The lessons we worked on today was actually a review of lessons they had studied in preparation for the special exam earlier this term.

The fourth grade is such a delight.  We began class with some tongue twisters and then changed the tenses of the verbs and continued to twist our tongues.  We "played" with English words and their sounds and such, finishing off by making chain words on the chalk board...

After class, Sheeba and I traveled to The Central Cottage Industry Emporium.  What a lovely shopping place, especially when one understands that the proceeds from the sale of the goods go to the cottage businesses that created them.  I bought far more lovely elephants than I should have, but for my children, family, and friends, I could never acquire enough.

The evening at SEAMS presented yet another interesting challenge.  The library was open, but the electricity was not working so I met with the children outside the library until it began to rain when we scurried into the library.  Fortunately electrical power had been restored.  Through it all, time with the SEAMS children is always wonderful.
When we arrived at SEAMS, I met the pastor's wife -- a lovely woman.  Noticed that the yard had been swept in a beautiful pattern that would remain until footprints changed that and the rain fell.  As I prepared to climb the stairs to the library, I stepped around the children washing their clothes on the clean cement.  The small children as well as the older ones are responsible for doing their laundry.  They hang it to dry upstairs and outside the library.  Of course, when the rain began to fall, they also scurried to get their clothes from the lines and walls.

We returned to the Guest House where I began to think about plans for school tomorrow.  It was a fine day.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Today I am wearing the red circle on my forehead and jasmine blossoms in my hair, thanks to Sheeba who so kindly attempted to make me more beautiful.  I also smile when I partake of the variety of Indian dishes, dishes that were unfamiliar to my palate, but which I have come to appreciate. I smile because of Stephens’s account of returning to Chennai from Minnesota and announcing to Sheeba that he had eaten grass.  In India, vegetables are always cooked and seasoned with complex spices; they are not eaten raw.  Eating a salad with raw vegetables is such a normal part of our lunches and dinners in the States, and yet it is unfamiliar to my friends here in Chennai.  The fruit, however, has been awesome: the tiny bananas are a treat that can't be matched by the Dole or Conchita bananas from our super markets,  the end of the season mangoes are delicious, and the pomegranates are the fruit I will truly miss for I have never had any as good as those I have eaten here in India.  

My experience with the fifth graders at the school was more than delightful.  I worked with a small group of girls on calculating passage of time, a skill that was beyond their understanding at first.  Remembering that there are sixty minutes in an hour is finally a fact that they can remember and use in their calculations of passage of time.  We became so excited about working with the "problems" that I had little girls begging for more problems so they could work them in their notebooks so I could check them and affirm that they had calculated correctly.  One little boy managed to "escape" the regular classroom to "join" us to work some of the problems as well.  Although the concept was one of review, this was the first that the students had that "AHA" moment and grasped the process.  The teacher for the fifth graders has a very large multi-aged class that makes teaching concepts especially difficult.  AHA for the day!

The 4th graders, a sweet bunch of students with a wonderful and effective teacher, practiced listening to English directions as I took them through the steps of making paper boats.  Each mastered the step by step process which concluded with a boat in each student’s hands.  We then did language exercises centered on boat sentences: everything from verb tenses, to rhyming words, to use of apostrophes to show possession, too proper and common nouns, and the list goes on.  These concepts are all reviews of what they have studied this year and will be tested over soon.

Tonight presented an interesting challenge.  When we arrived at SEAMS, we learned that the pastor had the keys to the library so we had no way to enter it.  I met with the students outside the library with just my bag of tablet paper, pens and a few books.  The library books were no more available than the library itself.  The time passed quickly as we did some impromptu lessons in math and reading English; then we moved on to creating questions and answers written on my yellow pad.  Before the evening was over we were working under a bulb by the library door.  The library is on the second floor so our time spent together was as though we were in the trees.  When we arrived at SEAMS one of the boys was just finishing his laundry, a task done by hand out doors.  They are responsible for their laundry, hanging it up outside the library area, and hopefully gathering it in before the rain falls.  That area also contains the special container gardens that the children for which the children are providing the care.  I must say that I have grown to love and care about this children.  As my last week begins to pass, I know that I will miss them very much.



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday's adventure took us to Mamallapuram.  Sheeba and Roshan joined the two Stephens and me for the trip.  It is a tourist spot located on the shore.  We were not there to enjoy the shore; rather we walked about and marveled at the stone carvings.  In the location we first visited on our way to Mamallapuram had granite carvings that date back to the 7th century.  The carvings in Mamallapuram itself were carved later and demonstrate the skill learned through the centuries.   The history and stories that are part of the carvings is so very interesting.  I must explore the history and stories of these carvings further when I return to Arizona.  The size of the works is astounding.  Mamallapuram is a very, very warm place; okay it is really hot and humid.  By the time we finished with our "tour" I was sweating buckets, something I have not done in years.

Since we left early this morning, I am taking a short rest this afternoon, preparing a bit for tomorrow, and joining the family for dinner at a restaurant this evening.  



Saturday August 17, 2013


Thought for the day - I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy, I woke and I saw that life is all service, I served and I saw that service is joy.

Today we did not meet with the children.  Instead, Stephen (Stephen Raja's brother) drove Stephen and me to Kancheepuram.  We left early in the morning to avoid the hotter afternoon sun.  The trip took at least two hours.  There are European crazy drivers, there are Lima's aggressive, honking, give me a paper's width between us drivers, and then there is travel in India.  There are the strange little lanes bumpy as a plowed field, muddy as a bit of marshland, and then there are multi-laned streets where vehicles, tractors, cars, vans, auto buses, bicycles, motor bikes, large and small trucks, and carts pulled by some sort of animal all weave in and about the lanes of traffic.  Honks are not aggressive honks of Lima, but rather polite honks to let the driver know that "I am behind you and I will be passing either on your right or left -- if you will please move a bit."  There was a big traffic jam on our way that brought traffic to a standstill and I watched patient passengers of the engineering school buses resting their heads against the windows, and motor bikes attempting to squeeze between vehicles to advance a car length or two.  The view from the roadway included cows, lots of cows, a few goats, and garbage, lots of garbage, and mud and puddles.  We passed by small stalls where people sold their wares, as well as some hotels, a large hospital with its medical school, engineering schools, and homes, the variety of which I can't begin to describe.  There are those made of woven palm leaves for the sides and roofs as well as tall narrow pastel homes with ornate decorations on their facades.  Multi-apartment dwellings of various sorts also dotted the country-side as we continued our travels.

We stopped on our way to walk through Rajiv Gandhi’s memorial, the place where he was slain by a suicidal person.   It is a beautiful peaceful, place.  The five tall spires with golden tops stand for the issues that were important to Gandhi.

We continued on our way to Kancheepuram and arrived under cloudy skies.  It managed to be warm and very humid.  I was barefoot for the time we spent at the temples. Awesome.  Stephen told the stories that went with many of the carvings and the temples themselves.  I gave an offering to the elephant who then placed his trunk on my bowed head.  

When I return to the States, I must learn more about these temples and about India.  


Friday, August 16, 2013


Thought for the Day: Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.  Albert Einstein

I was quite exhausted after our big day yesterday and the accumulating affect of the change in time so I didn't go to the school to work with the 4th and 5th graders today.  I feel a bit guilty, but I also know that if I am to hold out for the full time I am here, I must pace myself.   

One of the dear ladies who came to SEAMS yesterday is now my Face Book friend.  What wonderful women they are to take the day to bring joy to the children at the Home.  They bring home-made food to share with the children, as well as organizing games with prizes for them.  And they have been doing this for 19 years.  It appears that it is a tradition that will continue.  I spent some time talking with a young woman, and 11th grader, who joined her mother to be part of the group.  She shared family photos with me; her father is an engineer, her 22 -year-old brother has completed his studies to be an engineer as well.

I do plan to go to SEAMS to work with the children tonight.  I feel much more rested now.

My time with some of the children raised questions for me. I asked Stephen and Sheeba what happens to those children, especially those girls, who do not learn to read.  If they do not pass the necessary exams at the end of the tenth year, it can pose a problem.  If there is family with the means, a marriage might be in their future.  It becomes more desperate if there is no family and no means.  If the students can pass the exam, then they may proceed to additional schooling. The roles of nurse or teacher are then an option.  My reason for raising the question became important because tonight I spent time with a most cheerful and kind girl who is in her tenth year, but is unable to sound out words.  She relies upon photos and memory of stories to say the words.  For example she may point to the word 'ship" and say "boat."  She is such a lovely young girl that my heart hurts when I realize that circumstances have prevented her from reading.  It may be that she came to the Home too late to address any educational needs, but certainly the public schools do not do a good job of actually identifying those who may need help.   The classes are large; the teachers are few and not always qualified. To really teach those who need the help.  The children are caught in a difficult situation; because of their circumstances their only option is public school, while those from homes with tee means may attend private schools.

After my discussion with Stephen, he asked if I would like to meet for longer sessions with Saranya; of course, my response is yes, and yes again.  I fear that such a limited time will not bring optimum results, but if I can help her the time will be well spent.  We will work on the sounds of letters and blends with the hope that provides a key to reading English for her.

I met with Aneesh tonight as well.  What a bright young boy.  When he left, he said that we need to return to some additional long division problems so he can become even better.  He has been one of the best readers that I have encountered at SEAMS.  That he is a thoughtful and kind young boy is a bonus.

I shall miss the SEAMS students when I return to the States.  There are only five more days of meeting with them next week before I must leave.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thought for the day - There are o foreign lands.  It is the traveler who is foreign.

Indian Independence Day

Because of the holiday, I slept in a little longer than usual.  Big mistake.  I should have shampooed my hair and made myself look a bit better, but the reason becomes clearer a bit later in my journal.  There is no school today, but Stephen, Sheeba and I, along with Roshan, went to SEAMS around 10:30 with the plan to nail strips on some windows so we could install screens.  I dressed for that occasion -- tee shirt and scrub pants.
As we were ready to depart for SEAMS, a little impromptu parade in celebration of the special day walked down the street that intersects the lane in front of the Global Volunteers Guest House.  

Again, the lanes were especially treacherous with a great deal of standing water and slick mud with pot holes hidden beneath all sorts of water and mud.  I am so pleased that we did not have to walk to the Home.  We arrived at the SEAMS before the children had returned from their school celebration.  As soon as they arrived, they unlocked the library so we could begin to pound our nails on the strips that would keep the screens in place.  I think every child at the Home wished to assist.  Anish and Sarana proved to be the best of "carpenters" to help, but the others were shooed out of the way. We successfully installed screens in the library with the assistance of some of the students.  

I noticed many lovely ladies had descended on the Home with their stainless steel containers of food.  Because of the holiday these ladies bring food and have games with the children to celebrate the special Independence Day.  They implored us to come for five minutes to watch the games and the five minutes grew into several hours.  There were many photos taken, all of which Anuja promised to post on FaceBook.  I look like a drowned rat in most of them with hair that was damp from both the rain and perspiration; working in the close area of the small library on an upper story did not produce great photography material.  The women were most gracious and insisted on many photos to be taken with me.  Oh, My! The games were small competitions with little prizes awarded to first and second place winners.  I was asked to be a part of the presentation of prizes -- again photos.  Then the five minutes continued to grow as we were invited to join the children for lunch.  The women had brought home-made dishes that they served on banana leaves.  I was most thankful that I have mastered the art of eating with my fingers.  Each dish was most tasty; I enjoyed the rice pudding the most.  It is a delectable, delicate, sweet tapioca pudding dish seasoned beautifully.  My dad would have loved it.  

After more photographs, Stephen's family and I excused ourselves to return to the Guest House.  The children and the ladies would have preferred for us to spend the rest of the day with them.  Yet, we plan to return to the Home for my evening helping the children with English and math skills while Stephen and Sheeba will spend time the rest of the children.  

Around 5 p.m. we rode to SEAMS; the recent rain and construction have made the lanes like stormed tossed seas, except we are on hard earth under the mud and large, very large puddles.  The cost of this weather and the related conditions has made it difficult for venders to sell their goods.  I was impressed by the sight of the young man who delivered eggs.  Literally dozens and dozens of eggs in three dozen flats were packed on the back of his three-wheeled bike.  I saw him several times restocking his supply for delivery in the rain.  I can't begin to imagine how he navigated through the bumps, puddles, slippery mud and traffic to deliver this fragile cargo.  But I must return to our evening at SEAMS.  I met with a number of very bright young children:  Aneesh is so very smart.  We reviewed some math problems and then he read to me about volcanoes.  He is so very inquisitive and quite fluent in English.  What a delightful young man.  Aneesh told me he would like to become a computer engineer.  I certainly hope that goal is attainable.  I also met with Sweety again; she is in the tenth grade.  We did some reading together and every time we met a contraction in the story, she would tell me (most of the time) what the contraction meant.  Sweety and I also talked about Gandhi and Independence Day.  She told me about Republic day that first was celebrated in January of 1950.  Joyce is younger; she too is very bright.  She is so very quick with math skills and understanding.  And, she is an excellent reader of English.  

The evening always passes too quickly.  We returned to the Global Volunteer Guest House, where I watched a bit of a comedy movie with Stephen's family in Tamil language.  I could follow the story, but decided to turn in for the evening.  We had so very much to eat while we were at SEAMS earlier in the day; I decided to pass up another big meal tonight.  Sheeba gave me a taste of a very sweet dish -- it was so very good, but I am more than full and truly ready for bed.  I cannot believe that tomorrow is the last day of my first week here. During those days, I have met children every day, including Saturday and Sunday.  It has been very good.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thoughts for the Day: I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail.  William Faulkner

The rain, the sound of glorious rain, awakened me early, very early, this morning.  Although the rain made for a rather wet outing today and roads that were more than muddy, it was a welcome rain for those concerned about the water table in this part of India.  Even with water puddles and small lakes on the roadway and lanes, the coolness that accompanied the rain was great.

Today at the school, I taught in two classes, fifth and fourth grade.  The fifth grade continues to be a puzzle.  The principal had requested that I present materials in unit one as a review for the fifth standard; unfortunately they must not have retained anything from the previous weeks.  I suspect their inability to perform the simple work makes behavior an additional problem.  We worked on clocks and measuring time.  They could put time on the clocks and also tell what time is marked on the clock.  But to measure the time between to events eluded them.  We reviewed how to count and measure the hours and minutes between two events.  This became even more challenging when it became clear that some of the students did not grasp the idea of 60 minutes in an hour.  The frustration of being so lost trickles down to lack of attention and behavior concerns.  Clearly the students need to work on some skills so Stephen has suggested that I work with them in very small groups.  It's an idea that I like and hope we can get the agreement of the classroom teacher.

The fourth grade performed wonderfully; their participation showed that they understood the concepts.  Their teacher is to be commended for assuring that this happens.  I have observed her when she is working with just the fourth grade alone (without having the fifth graders thrown into the mix) and found her to be most capable, caring and positive with the children.  The morning with the fourth grade was so very rewarding.

When I returned from school, Stephen, Sheeba and I enjoyed lunch.  Stephen informed the principal yesterday that I had mastered (or nearly so) the art of eating with my fingers without the aid of a fork.  I am finding it a most convenient method for eating the interesting Indian food.

I decided to take a short rest after lunch because I had arisen far too early this morning.  Unfortunately, I really rested and barely woke up in time for our evening at SEAMS Children's Home.  Tonight I spent time with some of the same older girls.  We read a bit and worked on multiplication and division problems and strategies.  I am always called away from these sessions -- the time passes far too quickly.

Tomorrow promises to be a very different day.   The children have no school since August 15 is India's Independence Day.  There will be some celebrations, but Stephen, Sheeba and I will do a little maintenance work (very light construction work) around the SEAMS Home.

I am rather tired tonight so will turn in a bit early and look forward to tomorrow.  Meanwhile, plans are underway for me to take a few trips to see the sights this weekend.  

Oh, yes, I am learning some interesting facts about India, all to be shared later.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Thoughts for the Day: The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon for each day to have a new and different sun. Christopher McCandless

I awakened early this morning anxious about how to handle the large group of 4th and 5th graders.  The anxiety was ill-placed.  Stephen joined me in the classroom and delight of delights; the classroom held only fourth graders.  It was a small group and certainly more manageable than the large group of the previous day.  The class was well behaved and the teacher was far more relaxed than yesterday

all with good reason.  She was required to take an extra class because the fifth grade (they are called fifth standard) teacher was absent.  

 After I presented the lesson, Stephen and I spent some time with the principal who had not been present at school the previous day.  What an interesting and helpful man.  The principal provided me with books for the fourth and fifth standard which should prove most helpful.  My fears about serving at the school have been allayed and Life Is Good once again.  I must thank Stephen and Sheeba for putting up with my concerns.

This evening, we returned to SEAMS Children's Home where I met with more young girls individually.  Although each had her own strengths, it is clear that they differ in many abilities.  We spent time with words, math, and reading.   Again, I was ready to stay longer than the time allotted.   



Monday, August 12, 2013


Thoughts for the Day: Your basket and my basket will feed the nation.  Mauri saying gleaned from the Cook Islands trip

Last evening we experienced another bit of rain.  I could hear it falling and thought about the muddy lane near the Global Volunteer Center.  It was not a problem since I was provided a car ride to the first school for the day.  The trip was one that assaulted the senses:  I love the aroma of cooking with the exotic spices of India, but there are sometimes other odors that creep into the car as well.  Yet, the spices are what I most notice and appreciate.  My eyes were filled with the colors of the women in their beautiful saris, the yellow of the autobuses (those three wheeled vehicles that weave their way through the traffic of cars, small buses and motor bikes), and the buildings covered with signs and lovely colors.  Today I saw for the first time cows roaming free on the lanes.  Sheeba, Stephen's wife and assistant, told me some people feed them so they stay close and are available for quick drinks of milk.  Of course, there were a few goats, dogs, and chickens sharing a piece of the roadway.  The sounds -- always the grumble and rumble of the motor bikes weaving their ways through the traffic and the beeps of car horns warning pedestrians and cars alike of their approach.  Stephen (Stephen Raja's brother) drove us to the school this morning, maneuvering his car through the animals, pedestrians, the motor bikes and other vehicles.  

For an old school teacher, this morning's class was quite an experience.  Stephen had told me that there is a shortage of teachers, a truth that became most evident.  I popped into a classroom of nearly sixty 4th and 5th graders. They were quite a handful, especially since nearly half of them were seated on the floor.  Apparently, the teacher was covering two classes.  This situation promises to be a challenge because the teacher rules with a stick and provides lessons in a way so very different from the process in the States.  I shall do my best to help the students be more effective with the English language.  

Tonight provided a delightful experience.  I worked one on one with children at SEAMS Children Home.  Tonight it was three girls; the time passed far too quickly.  It is so easy to love these children.  I met with some of the older girls -- very bright and very interesting.  We played with building words, interesting math facts, reading and conversation. I could have stayed for another hour easily.  Even an older lady can stay up a bit late.  

We had an extra passenger for our ride home.  Stephen and Sheeba brought one of the children with us to be taken to the hospital to look into the problem that might arise since he swallowed something like a safety pin (I think).  All is well and now that he has been fed an evening meal, Stephen and Sheeba are taking him home and picking up their son Roshan.  Stephen and Sheeba are such caring people and truly a gift to the community.

Now need to be ready for tomorrow.    



Sunday, August 11, 2013

It's Sunday in Chennai and I overslept so I didn't join Stephen and his family for church this morning.  I must awaken early next Sunday so I can be with them in church.  Perhaps the sleep was necessary for me to get my days and nights oriented and be ready for my week.  

Stephen spent time with me in and introductory orientation and I must say that it was excellent.  In the short time that I have been in Chennai, I have learned so much; Jamie provided a good introduction on Saturday and Stephen continued the process this morning.  I began to work on my plans for tomorrow.  I will meet new students tomorrow morning and then return to SEAMS later in the day.  

This evening, Stephen drove his family and me back to SEAMS for another get-acquainted experience.  When we arrived, we were met with a plethora of sensory delights:  a number of beautiful fires were burning over and under big pots, the aroma of food cooking on the open fire, and the cacophony of the children shouting as they ran to greet us. What fun!  The children played games and I had the opportunity to talk with some of the students.  The evening activities ended too soon and we drove back to the Global Volunteer Center where I changed clothes for dining at Anjappar, a lovely place with excellent food.  All in all it was a wonderful day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013



"We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give." -Winston Churchill



Today, Thursday, August 8'th starts the end of our time here in Chennai. After breakfast, I left for Assisi and Frank and Sam left soon after for Christ King school for our last day at the schools and daycares due to the holiday on Friday. Following our usual crazy and exciting morning, we came back to the house to have a delicious traditional India lunch served on banana leaves. At the end of the fun dining experience, Stephen and Sheeba presented Frank with his first and oh-so-longed-for official lungi. Of course after receiving it, it was immediately put to use for pictures and practice. Soon after, Stephen, ,Frank, and Sam went to experience an Indian bus, rickshaw, and train ride. Upon their return, we headed to Seams for the daily reading sessions with the kids. After some time, Frank and Sam left to go see an apparently hilarious Bollywood movie which took up mostly the rest of their night. Stephen and I stayed at Seams for a good bit after that where I continued to read with them and even practiced writing in Tamil. We soon said our goodbyes for the day and walked back to the house. Over dinner, Sheeba and Stephen shed some light, in much detail, on the very complicated caste system which I thought I knew much about bit was certainly shown otherwise. After a very interesting and eye-opening conversation, we headed to bed to get some rest for our final day here in Chennai.






Wednesday, August 7, 2013



Morning with the students of the fifth standard at Christ school included a competition between girls and boys in performing multiplication and division problems. The girls won handily. Singing, a round of "Simon says," and reading from a pop-up book rounded out the session. Sam and Frank signed more autographs. Many of the kids who already had autographs brought theirs back so that we could add telephone numbers.

Jamie advises that the Assisi kids were pretty cooperative today. Jamie has an excellent memory for names, and has practiced some Tamil phrases. This makes him effective in communicating with the students. (At SEAM, he can call out every student by name in a matter of seconds.)

After class, Sam and Frank visited the government museum in Chennai. The museum is notable for its collection of bronze creations dating to about 1200 AD and its collection of Indian modern art.

At SEAM, we conducted another round of a dozen reading sessions. A couple of the kids were disappointed that they didn't get rewarded for reading with phone time, but this approach was better as it helped the kids focus on the work instead of rushing through it to get to the cell phone games. Some of the kids pretended to be crushed -- they're good actors, but not that good.

In the evening at the Music Academy Madras in downtown Chennai, Frank and Sam attended a ceremonial dance recital. The 70-minute dance performed entirely by one woman to the music of a five-piece ensemble, originated in the 12th Century and takes the performer about six years to learn. It's far more complicated and athletic than it seems, because the dance tells a story, and the story is relayed not just through movement but through facial expressions.







Tuesday, August 6, 2013
"Those who live passionately teach us how to love. Those who love passionately teach us how to live." -Sarah Ban Breathnach
Today, Monday, August 5th, starts our second work week at Seams, Christ King School, and Assisi Illam. Just as we had last week, after waking up and having breakfast, I left for Assisi and Frank and Sam went to Christ King School. Upon arriving, I was greeted with a quick game of soccer with some of the older kids who had the day off school. We played some games for a little before sitting around and actually having a pretty successful teaching session of the ABC's with the toddlers who usually have quite short attention spans. Just as last week, before I knew it, it was time bid Assisi farewell for the day and return to the house for lunch. Over some beef briyani, Frank informed me of his morning and how they, as well, had a very successful morning teaching the kids, having some educational contests, and a good reading session. After lunch, we went to a place called "The Cottage Emporium" to shop for some bronze statues and Indian textiles. Immediately after arriving, I knew I could get lost in there for hours and spend every last rupee that I had on the magnificent collection of cultural goods surrounding me. They had what seemed like literally every piece and kind of Indian art that any foreigner would ever want or need. Before draining my wallet, we checked out and headed back to go to Seams. We spent the usual one-on-one time reading with them before everyone headed off to catch movie. I stayed at Seams for a good bit after that finishing up our reading session and playing some games as I was not too hype on the idea of seeing another 3 hour movie in Tamil. As it was getting late, I said my goodbyes for the night and took my leave back to the house to have some dinner. Not too long after did they get back and explained their night's cinematic adventure which seemed to wear everyone out. We were all feeling quite tired and headed off to bed to get some rest for our next fun filled day.



Monday, August 5, 2013



At Christ King's today we taught the kids how to measure things using centimeters and meters and how to convert the two into each other. After about an hour and a half of practice, we read about the human body and dad led a digestive system learning train. Jaime told me the kids were crazy today, crying the whole the time, he had to run the whole time to control the kids.



After a particularly time consuming yet delicious lunch at a local hotel, Stephen explained to us the reason there were so many broken pumpkins. It’s a Hindu way of signifying either a new or full moon.



After more one on one reading time at seams, we went to the busiest street in Chennai, which is essentially a giant shopping center. We went inside a huge department store and walked down a very crowded street with store fronts on each side.







Saturday & Sunday, August 3-4, 2013

The team took a road trip out of Chennai to visit temples and other sites of spiritual and historic significance in the towns of Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, and Mahabalipuram.

The temples generally were built in the seventh and eighth centuries onward. They served far more than just spiritual purposes. For example, buildings in the area were never as tall as the temple; in that way the temple protected the village from lightening strikes. The temples are served to capture and store rainwater which recharged the ground water so that crops could be grown year-around. Artwork in the temples ranged from simple to ornate, depending on age. All the artwork tells stories of Hindu gods such as Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer.

On the Neem tree at one temple, people hung small colorful wooden and string creations that symbolized their responsibilities and hopes. For example, couples who want to have children tied miniature handmade cradles to the tree.

Temple elephants blessed us by tapping on our heads with their trunks. We didn't exactly ride the elephants, but we did climb up on them for photographs.

At the temple near the ocean stood two stone lighthouses in contrast to each other. The first was ancient with a flat top where large bonfires would be built to help guide approaching ships. The second was of contemporary design.

In Pondicherry, we visited the ashram, or place for contemplation, of Sri Aurobindo, a freedom fighter who became enlightened, and his acolyte, a French-born woman who would become known as "The Mother." After Aurobindo's death, to further his teachings and wishes, The Mother founded a commune on several thousand nearby acres and named it "Auroville." Purpose of Auroville is to have one place on Earth where no one owns property and where the main activities are contemplation and meditation on the meaning of life. Centerpiece of Auroville is the Matrimandir, or "Mother's Shrine," an impossibly large other worldly golden lotus ball where only certain people can enter in order to meditate. About 2,000 people representing several countries currently live at Auroville, although their planned population is supposed to be 10 times that. It's difficult to know what to make of Auroville, because no one sees the inhabitants, the personnel hierarchy is a secret, and no one seems to know what results the community has achieved.

Pondicherry stands out in Southern India for several reasons. It's a French city, and as such was planned with a grid system of roads. This is in contrast to India's other cities, which grow randomly as people occupy undeveloped areas. Later on the government has to come in and try to retrofit infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and water.

Pondicherry is reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans, only without all the nightclubs.

Of the historical shrines, two stood out. First is the memorial to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who, like his mother was assassinated. Rajiv Gandhi was the leader who tried to bring the nation into modern times through education, commerce, and science.

Second is the shrine to Dr. Ambedkar, who fought against the caste system. In the caste system, now outlawed but not forgotten, every person was destined to stay in the caste in which you were born. If you father was poor, then you had to be poor. If your father was a farmer, then you had to be a farmer. At tremendous personal sacrifice, Dr. Ambedkar shocked everyone first by getting a high school education and then by getting a doctorate degree in economics. In the first half of the 20th Century, the caste system was so firmly entrenched the Dr. Ambedkar came to believe that the best way to eliminate it was to get people to change their religion, which of course was difficult. In the end, he played an important role in assuring that the country's newest constitution, after succession from England, ensured that no one any longer had to abide the caste system.



Friday, August 2, 2013



"In a gentle way, you can shake the world." -Mahatma Gandhi



Today, August 1'st, started off like any other. After we woke up and had breakfast, I left for Assisi to start my day. Instead of playing ball with the toddlers for the majority of the time, we sat with them to read and helped them practice some simple English nouns... but of course we did play games, sang songs, and consoled the almost constant tears of children yelling for their amma and appa. After leaving and returning to the house for lunch, I learned that Frank and Sam had a great time at Christ King school playing educational games and Simon says, dancing, and even entertained them with "The Math Train". Almost immediately after lunch, Stephen, Frank, Sam, and I left to take time out of our day to visit Little Mount Church, Santhome Cathedral, and St. Thomas Mount to learn all about St. Thomas and how Christianity came about to India. Next, we all went to Seams for a couple hours where, again, we sat with the children individually to read and practice English. We even learned some Tamil in the process and definitely had plenty of fun joking around as the kids are clearly feeling more comfortable with us by the day, as well as us with them. With clear bonds being formed and their obvious affection shown, it is easy to see how they have won the hearts of many volunteers before us as well as many to come.







Thursday, August 1, 2013



Today at Christ king’s dad and I taught a different class than usual as the 4th and 5th graders were taking tests. We taught younger students, who were very excellent listeners and very eager to learn. We held some math competitions consisting of simple addition and subtraction, where the girls won every round. We also played a game of John Cena says. The kids had a lot of fun with everything we did.


While we were there, Jamie played and read with the children at Assisi, who enjoy reading despite their short attention spans.


In the afternoon, dad and I went to 2 different shopping malls, one of which is the oldest in Chennai. It was an interesting and unique experience, as the malls were very different from the ones in America we're used to.


At SEAMS, we had more one on one reading time with the kids, which grows more and more fun everyday as we become better acquainted with the children and their English skills grow.








Wednesday, July 31, 2013


At Christ school today, we had two classes combined, due to a holiday observed by some institutions. Our students most enjoyed the "Math Train," which involved the girls and boys forming long choo-choo trains, running around the room counting to 100, and falling down etc. when the two trains collided.

They also learned a new song, "This Is the Way We Brush our Teeth... so Early in the Morning." The catch was that while one group of kids would song the song, the second would have to act it out. The final verse was "this is the way we do our homework," at which point all the boys fell on the floor and pretended to sleep.

Most of the kids think that Sam looks like John Cena, the wrestling star, and today he made it a point to sign John Cena autographs, and to show off his arm muscles, for most of the class.

Jamie advises that the Assisi children are becoming more comfortable with him, and they are enjoyed a lot of games and reading. Frank and Sam are trying to talk Jamie into coming to Christ School for a session or two, so that he can witness the pure pandemonium of 60 happy and excited children.

At SEAMS, we conducted six 30 minute one-on-one reading sessions with the children. This was the only time we saw them in a relatively calm mode, as they had just awakened from their afternoon naps. Before leaving, we encouraged "feats of strength" which involved the kids trying to lift us off the ground, instead of the other way around.

One of the things we try to focus on in teaching is the idea that in India the kids learn by rote and tend to focus on memorization in order to pass tests. When they interact with us and other guests, however, they have an opportunity to learn to interact conversationally.

When our work was finished, Stephen Sr. and Sheba briefed us on religious cultures of India. Of particular interest were the Jains, who eat nothing living and move through successively higher planes of observance until finally they are naked (because clothes have come from plants or animal) and eating only fruits that have fallen off trees by themselves. The Jains are the nation's money lenders, and are strict and successful ones at that. There's only one Jain in Southern India who have reached the higher planes of observance that If he does go out, it's a time-consuming process, because at his level of worship he has to sweep the ground in front of himself as he walks, thus ensuring that no bugs are injured by his presence.

We learned of another religion -- one followed by the country's greatest industrialist, Mr. Tata -- in which the dead are kept in the Tower of Silence and left for vultures to eat. There are at least three challenges with this. First, the tower is in the middle of Bombay, and it's remarkably odorous. Second, the vultures often drop body pieces as the fly out of the Tower. And third, there are too few vultures. This has necessitated the creation of vulture nurseries.

In the evening we attended a popular action movie, Singham 2. Singham, which means "lion," is an assistant police superintendent who keeps African drug smugglers out of the Indian Ocean. The actors and actresses speak a mixture of Tamil and English, called "Tamlish." Indian movies typically are long -- from 2.5 to 3 hours -- and always include musical numbers. Viewers want singing and dancing in every movie, because there aren't a lot of other popular culture outlets where they can enjoy that.







Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quote of the Day: "Unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes." I chose this quote because it reminds me that today the children are following us, but in the future other people will be following these children. Either way, it is usually is better to be a leader than a follower.

Today Dad and I went to the Christ King's school, where we held a competition to see whether the boys or girls could name the most animals. It resulted in a tie. Then the children sang us some of their favorite songs, including Dad's favorite, "Five Little Monkeys." Before we proceeded to another classroom, I signed many autographs for my new friends.

Next, we went to a younger classroom, where we helped the children practice addition and subtraction. We called each student up to the blackboard, and once they successfully solved a problem, then they got to select the next student who would come forward.

We said our goodbyes and we to talk to Ebenezer, the principal of the school. He seemed like a cool guy because he is friendly and gave us positive comments and helpful advice to sing and do more interactive songs and dances with children.

While we were at the Christ School, Jamie was working with the little ones at Assisi. Jamie interacted with a particularly interesting child who seemed to be very mature for his age, which we think is somewhere between two and four. He is a quick learner -- he catches on faster than the other kids, and he has a longer attention span, too.

In the afternoon Stephen's brother, "Stephen Jr.," took us on a car tour of the city of Chennai, where we witnessed the unique culture of India. We passed malls, and old temple, theaters, an outdoor bazaar, and the home of some Kollywood actors and other wealthy celebs. Stephen Jr. explained the he was first in his family to own a car, and that it wasn't until four or five years ago that traffic in the city started getting bad.

In the evening, we returned to SEAMS, where we had one-on-one reading time with the children and enjoyed taking many photographs. While we were inside reading, Sheba and some other children used fire on a stick to exterminate some inch-worms. As we left the mission, the pastor came out to speak with us. He was especially eager to find out if we were enjoying Indian food.

As we left SEAMS, we encountered a construction site where we saw a strange effigy hanging from the side. Upon further inquiry, Stephen Sr. explained that this "dummy doll" attracts the evil eyes so that they are not cast upon the building, which is admittedly a good strategy, because you notice the doll well before you notice the construction site. After the building is completed, they take the dummy to the intersection of three roads, where it will be burned and where there will be an offering of a sacrificial goat or chicken. This Hindi practice assures a prosperous future. My dad said he want to hang a giant dummy doll around his neck.

We also learned about demon figures that are placed on Hindi houses. They attract evil eyes away from the houses so that the families can rest safely.

We returned to the guest house where we enjoyed a delicious dinner and retired to our rooms for the night.

The End





Monday, July 29, 2013



"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead



Today, Monday, July 29'th, starts us off on our first day working at the schools and daycares. Over breakfast with Stephen and Sheeba, we discussed our plans for the day as well as what to expect at our designated places. Immediately after breakfast, Sam and I headed of to Assisi Illam with Stephen and Sheeba, leaving Frank behind who would shortly be going to Christ King school. Immediately upon arriving, we could hear a crowd of children from 2-4 screaming their Monday morning blues. With the assistance of songs, rhymes, and candy, the initial wave of apprehension passed along with the diminishing screams and tears of homesick toddlers. We were quickly able to fit right in when it was time to play and the toys were broken out. After what only seemed like a couple minutes of fun games and activities, Stephen was already back to pick the 3 of us up to head back to the guest house. The 5 of us had lunch, shared our first experiences at Assisi Illam and Christ King school, and even spoke more about daily Indian life and daily happenings. Later on that evening, we walked to Seams where Frank, Sam, and I alternated reading with the boys and tutored them in English...making sure to reward their efforts with camera time which fascinates and brings them more joy than I would've ever expected. After spending a few fun-filled hours at Seams, we strolled on back to the house to finish the night off with a delicious meal, some late night ice cream, as well as some lovely evening conversation filled with even more information about this beautiful and awe-inspiring country.







Sunday, July 28, 2013


Quote of the Day:

"We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction."

That's what General MacArthur said in Korea when news reporters asked him why all of a sudden he was changing directions.

It's a good quote for work with Global Volunteers, because it highlights the need for flexibility. We understand that our hosts are in charge, and our role is to be flexible and to do whatever they need done in the way they want it done. With that approach, everyone's goals can be met.

Today, Sunday, July 28, 2013, is day one for Team 128 of Global Volunteers working in the community of Porur in Chennai, India. Our team includes Jamie from Pennsylvania and Maryland, and Sam and Frank from Portsmouth, Virginia, in the United States, who spent the day with our hosts Stephen, Sheba, and their first grade son Roshan getting oriented to our surroundings and learning about the work requirements for the coming two weeks. (The team was short three people, one had difficulty obtaining a travel visa. And the other two cancelled due to an injury,)

The team set two main goals. First is to grow culturally, and the second is to serve the children at the schools and orphanage where we'll be working. We discussed the attributes that will make our team successful, and key among them is patience. Stephen suggested that if you don't have patience when you come to India, you quickly will gain it. And if you do have patience when you come to India, you quickly will lose it.

We are reminded that in all cases, our responsibility is to help the children learn to read and write English. Although India has more than 100 "official" languages,  English is the language of commerce and technology, and they must be fluent if they are to one day join the modern part of the workforce.

We also, reviewed the United Nations directives concerning hunger, health, and IQ, and how those impact the students' ability to learn, and we reviewed local customs and laws, learning that "kite fighting" is illegal in the area because glass crystals on razor sharp wires have sliced peoples' necks. We practiced the traditional Tamil greeting of "Vanakkam," or "hello" said with hands folded in front of the chest if the addressee is an older individual.

At the SEAM children's home, we met 30 boys and girls with whom we'll be working over the next two weeks. Each introduced themselves to us, and several of the boys performed dances. In the yard, they taught Sam and Jamie a game that involved Sam and Jamie getting pulled to the ground. The girl's focused on Stephen's cell phone, except for two who were washing shirts against the pavement at the back of the dormitory.

The team enjoyed Tandoori chicken at a local restaurant before calling it quits for the evening.

Our new best friends at the guest house in which we're staying are the orange and black "badminton racquets." When there are too many Mosquitoes in a room, we pull them off their wall-mounted recharging racks, wave them around in the air, and electrocute any bugs that come in contact with a satisfying crackle.