Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

As we near the end of our busy week (busy being an understatement, more like shock trauma, in your face culture extravaganza with Stephen reminding us every 5 minutes about the updated schedule), I am saddened and dismayed as our rambunctious group of 10 volunteers dwindles down to one. As I could not decide between several goodbye quotes, I have many intertwined in my journal, so bear with me, the first being: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened - Dr. Seuss.” The continued theme of this week was most definitely “for it is in giving that we receive,” (which interestingly enough was quoted by Francis of Assisi), as each volunteer not only gave their love, devotion and attention to the caring boys and girls at SEAMs and Assisi Illam, but also formed a traders market with shirts, skirts and dresses being exchanged and clothes thrown to roommates to fit Indian treasures into suitcases. Sheeba generously contributed to the theme by surprising the volunteers with bangles and flowers for their hair in the morning, and Regina had uncanny insight in switching bangles with Elisabeth to match her stunning saree. Almost the entire group was awake and roaring to go very early this morning, as their presence on the couch welcomed me as I walked down the stairs for breakfast.

And we’re off to our designated areas. We made our way to SEAMs where Ken, John & Marjorie worked tirelessly on the construction site, breaking their backs to make the last bit of difference in the cement pile to fill the flooring of the children’s home. They also struggled with the older boys who were making the bandu’s too heavy for Vadavel to carry on his head, and after getting a stern warning from their health adviser (me), Marjorie took over Ramesh’s shovel to protect the boys’ heads and necks. I was performing lice treatments on the girls’ hair when I was informed by the pastor that Swathy & Sweety had come down with a fever and were not feeling well; so I went back to the guesthouse and returned with a thermometer, ibuprofen and my stethoscope, but their temperatures had gone down and their lungs were clear, but Swathy’s heart rate was still fast so I encouraged her to drink more water, and later that evening I rubbed their chests and backs with ointment. I was also glad to see that Sadish’s cut on his toe from the night before that I had dressed was already healed.

A ways down the first main road, Elisabeth, Tey, Regina, Cat & Jackie had a fantastic journey with the Assisi Illam children. The older girls taught Elisabeth some Indian dance moves while they had a birthday celebration for one of the girls. They asked Sister Rose if they could take the children anywhere and within seconds Sister had the children packed and ready to move. They first said prayer at church before adventuring up to St. Thomas’s Mount, conquering 160 steps to reach the shrine that was built in 1523. All the volunteers and children had a wonderful time, and one of the older girls moved Jackie when she looked at Stephen and said “that was a good day.” Later that evening when Regina, Jackie, Elisabeth & Cat returned to Assisi Illam, the children were having a singing competition for Children’s Day, with three official judges. Unfortunately their goodbye was cut short by a surprise government inspection visit, but they were still able to express their love to the children before their departure.

As for our Lone Ranger Jenny, she took the morning off to rest and prepare for the evening, but she said her mind was racing and she could not sleep. As my quotes continue, all I can say is: “You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams - Dr. Seuss.” And who among us cannot say that about India!

As for lunch, again Regina’s uncanny insight took hold of this small yet overpopulated Indian community as we ventured out to a local cafe where a gentleman has a very nice shop which is remotely void of any Indian customers. The volunteers treated Stephen, Roshan and Stephen the driver to a pizza lunch, in which Stephen’s brother experienced his very first, and last, iced tea. Regina, Ken & Tey held up the fort with coffee after coffee as me, Sheeba & Elisabeth went shopping, followed closely by Cat & Jackie. Elisabeth & Sheeba watched in amazement as I dodged cars, rickshaws & bikes without batting an eye while crossing the street … not sure if it’s the Indian in me or the New Yorker in me! Elisabeth bought another lovely saree which I know will look beautiful on her, and I again was conned into another salwar, which funny enough Cat bought the same one in a different color.

Back at the guesthouse, Tey tried to lose her evaluation form, which was cheered on by her roommate’s cunning guidance, but alas it was sadly found. As we arrived at SEAMs, there was a very strange, calm and quiet atmosphere that is usually alien to the children’s home, but most likely as an after effect of most of the children being sick, as well as running around playing games the night before. I gladly kept my mouth shut for the surprise awaiting the departing volunteers, and as tears of joy streamed down Tey and Cat’s smiling faces, the children sang songs, danced, and then hugged them goodbye with their farewell cards, asking them to return again sometime soon. As Marjorie and John handed out their lovely gifts of cashews and raisens, goofball Rajesh had his plan all worked out, and instead of extending his two hands for his share of the trailmix, he produced a large shopping bag. Stella Marie and Poseia also made a fair trade since one only liked the cashews and the other raisens. Tey gave her classic, infamous line to all the children, “only one more photo,” as we sadly left for dinner.

I know I should be able to end this journal with nostalgia, grace and creativity, but instead I’m sitting here wondering, “why did I agree to write the last journal?” I was already given the shameful task of following John’s eloquent journal from last night, highlighting all the wonderful attributes of our team. As it reaches midnight, all I can think of is how amazingly cohesive this team has been, and without lying, I can honestly say this is one of the best Global team’s I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. On that note, I wish everyone safe travels and an enjoyable journey onward, with the recommendations of Dr. Seuss to guide you:

“You're off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So... get on your way!”



Thursday, November 14, 2013


Quote of the Day:

There isn’t anything noble about being superior to another person.

True nobility is in being superior to the person you once were.

At our breakfast meeting we had a very interesting and informative conference with Steven regarding donations to SEAM and how it is structured and financed. Slowly we all got ready to go to our daily assignments.

The construction crew consisting of Marjorie ,Ken and John headed out to SEAM . They had  a very diverse day. Moving sand and gravel for the repair work to the terrace of the library.Then it was back to the rubble pile and raising the level  in the pastors' home in order to stop water infiltration during heavy rains. We had a nice conversation with the pastor and joked with him that soon our time was up. But if he was willing, we were taking on new contracts at very favourable rates.

Assisi Ilam:

It was party time at this location as it was "Childrens' Day" a national holiday in India. The kids came all dressed up and looked very cute in their outfits. They were also very happy as today they were there for only half the day.

It was also very special that the volunteers were able to meet the parents of the kids when they came to pick them up.

Regina was a big help in helping to toilet train the kids. The Indian method is to crouch down and pee in a tiled area that slopes towards a drain and then take a ladle with water and rinse the tiles .

When the teachers saw Elizabeth enter they were amazed by how great she looked in her newly purchased saree. But they still had to undress and redress her to do a bit of a  makeover on her. So they took her outside and pampered her by brushing her hair,applying make-up and re-adjusting her saree. She was turned into the 'INDIAN BARBIE" doll. To finish off the day kids,volunteers and teachers danced till they could dance no more .  A very joyous time was shared by everyone

Christ King School:

Jenny taught 5th grade along with  Tay. Tay was replacing Jackie who was feeling a bit under the weather. Thank-you Tay for jumping in to help on such short notice. But as we have learned during the past two weeks one has "To go with the flow" . The regular teacher was absent so the ladies did it on their own. They also celebrated "Children's Day". Jenny read a book entitled "Where wild Things Are" the kids adored it and Tay remarked that the kids were incredible.

As our stay here in India is slowly drawing to an end. I would like to acknowledge all the volunteers for who they are and for their personal contribution to the team.

Maria for her  6 yearsof commitment and tireless work here in Chennai . Your knowledge and contribution to the children here is amazing.

Catherine for her courage in travelling such a long distance to a strange country and dealing with everything that came her way.

Jackie for her gentle and thoughtful manner.

Jenny for her creativity in everything that she touches.

Tay for being so fully self expressed and connecting so easily with everyone that you meet,

Regina for your wise contributions to all our interactions and giving us balance.

Elizabeth for your way of being,you  are a sea of calm and a very classy lady.

Marjorie for your orgainizational skills in the removal of rubble and for being such a loving and wonderful partner to me thank you for sharng your life with me.

Ken for your wisdom, subtle sense of humour and ability to easily communicate your thoughts.Thank-you for the interesting conversations that we shared on our water breaks.

And last but not least to  our very gracious  hosts Steven,Sheeba and Roshan. You have both treated all of us like family. You were so patient with us responding to all our requests  and questions without ever getting annoyed. Your patience,tolerance and compassion have no bounds.Thank-you,Thank-you,Thank-You. for everything.






Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Quote by Krishnamurti:  His disciples once asked him why he was so peaceful and he answered, "I accept things as they are."

Journal:  Before breakfast we gathered in the dining area in one's and two's as we normally do. Today those of us who were early got to see a sari dressing demonstration as Sheeba dressed Maria in her beautiful white and coral polka dot Sari.

After breakfast the teams dispersed for their regular scheduled assignments: SEAMS construction, Assissi Allam Team, and Christ King School.

After morning assignments we drove to Stephen's parents where his parents took us into their home. We were treated to a a beautiful lunch prepared by Stephen's mother.  Here we had the opportunity to meet not only Stephen's parents, but also Rebecca and Monica, Stephen's brother's wife and daughter.

Later in the day we returned to our evening assignments. And this evening we were in for a special treat. Stephen and Sheeba took us to the shopping area of Chennai where locals shop ~ the Las Vegas of Chennai.  Our first stop, Saravana was a riot of colors as beautiful saris in every color and design and Fabric caught our eyes. Rich silks woven with gold, soft silks and cottons and rayon blends in every shade from gentle pastels to intense purples, fuschIas and gold, hung fan like from the ceilings. And stacks of boxes and piles of clothes. On the basement level were sari blouses and skirts. Upper floors sold chudidah, men's clothes and food stuff, all manner of wonderful things.

When we left the sari shop some went looking for gold in the gold store,while others went to the silver shop. Earrings bracelets, anklets.  Anything anyone could want.

The evening ended with a sometimes too thrilling auto rickshaw ride back to the guest house.





Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Today started early with a trip to the market before breakfast. I don't know what we expected, but this trip far exceeded any expectations we could have had. When we first arrived we were met with a scene of poverty. Indian gypsies live in the parking lot of the market, and they send their young children to beg from those who park there. Upon leaving the parking lot we entered the flower market, which is beyond description. Every color flower and amazing flower arrangements, some taller than most of the people in our group, filled the air with the most wonderful Floral scents. Our cameras flashed in every direction as each vendor's booth seemed more lovely than the last.

From the flower market we went to the fruit market, also filled with sweet smells and beautiful colors. In the fruit market, the vendors seemed much more interested in our cameras. They kept stopping us and asking us to take their photos. This market was also filled with people carrying heavy bundles on their heads. It seemed to become more challenging to stay with the group in this busy market as we snapped photos upon request and got out of the way of the fast-paced bundle carriers that came at us from every direction.The busyness of the vegetable market was much like the busyness of the fruit market. One vegetable that caught our eye was the bitter gord. It is lovely to look at, but I am told westerners tend not to like its taste.

After our trip to the market, we returned to the guest house for breakfast, and then went to our assignments. Today was a special day at the Assisi Illam daycare. We gave the small children at Assisi Illum new toys. They had almost none before. They had a few balls, one broken car and flash cards, which they fought over. Now there is an abundance of new toys, and the children loved them. They sat together in groups of three to five playing with blocks, puzzles, cars, noise-makers, a xylophone and other new toys. Although typically someone is always crying for his or her "amma" at this daycare, when the toys were introduced no one cried. The toys totally absorbed the children's interest

After our morning shift, we went to St. Thomas Hospital to have lunch with Sister Rexline. Sister Rexline is a tiny little nun who was friends with Mother Theresa. She is actually Dr. Sister Rexline, a medical doctor. She started caring for the poor in a one room dispensary many years ago. Now she has an entire hospital for the poor with out patient clinic and full inpatient care. She also runs a day care for autistic children and two orphanages including Assisi Illum, where I and some of the other volunteers work. She also has a farm, a home for the elderly and more charity services that I can't remember. She is 68. 

We met Sister Rexline for the first time yesterday. When we met, she invited our group to lunch. Today Sister Rexline and the other sisters cooked and served us lunch. We are told she made the dessert herself especially for us. Being served by these nuns, including Sister Rexline, was a very humbling honor; it felt like being served by Mother Theresa and her Sisters Charity. The volunteers in our group were touched by how deeply they give. These nuns are Franciscan nuns.

The nuns served us a huge delicious meal. In the car ride back to the guesthouse, many of us were overcome with sleepiness, so we took naps in the afternoon. We worked our typical evening shifts, then returned to the guesthouse for dinner. After dinner we had ice cream, both butterscotch and vanilla, and chocolates. The chocolates were a gift from a Sister Rexline.

One more little note: One of our team members, Jacqueline Tullo, had a birthday this week. The nuns honored her with a lovely bath shawl (towel) and two Happy Birthday songs at lunch today.




Monday, November 11, 2013


Quote of the day, from William Shakespeare, but out of context, and turned on its head by me1

'...  and let who will be clever.'

I believe, as does the United Nations,  that with will and purpose, everyone's IQ can be raised.  If we expect more from a student, that student will always achieve more; raised to go to college, will go to college.




Breakfast for four on Sunday; now we are a full table again.  The travelers are back from their journey; details from them are elsewhere on our journal blog. And Maria has arrived to be nurse to our children, and spread the word of health and hygiene.  Our spacious Global Volunteers  guesthouse, marble floored throughout, and with its two-storey living room-dining room, is full of chatter.  This room has several rooms adjoining, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, closets.  On the second floor are several bedrooms and a bathroom;  and up another flight of stairs, another room and bathroom on the roof, plus our treasured clothesline - a real boon, where our laundry dries fast.

On Saturday morning, I was driven to the massage center with Steven, our fearless driver at the wheel.  (Brother of our Steven Raj, our Global Volunteers  country and team leader - yes, two Stevens, and that is another story!) While we are on a personal note here, we have two wonderful and wonderfully-married couples:  Steven and his wife, Sheeba whose arranged marriage of 9 many years has bestowed on them a very smart little boy, Roshan;  they work together,  sometimes around the clock, for GV., and almost around the year.

Our other couple, J and M, met online - the opposite of an arranged marriage?  Another story!  We will not suggest there is a boss, but M. has garnered great respect  managing the construction team... And we have seen her in action, when the team had to do an emergency removal of about a cubic metre of sand one night before dinner, to prepare for an inspection;  she forged us new construction workers  into a smooth machine in minutes.

We have yet to meet the family of Steven, the driver, and it will happen on Wednesday, when we visit the parents of the Stevens for lunch - yes, all of us:  a most anticipated event!

On Monday morning, we threw our schedule to the winds, and had a surprise trip to St Thomas Hospital, where the patients' medical bill is relatively low. The renowned Sister Rexline is in charge of this and many other endeavors for the needy around this region. including the orphanage and day care center Assisi Illam, where we help every day.  She sends children to private school and to college whenever possible.  She is supported by worldwide donors, including many in the Netherlands.

After juice and fruit in her office, and also discovering it is Jacqueline's birthday, we went upstairs to the classroom for special needs children where Maria works.  Mothers must be there, learning how to teach their children.   We spoke with the staff, children and mothers, and volunteers, in a large space with much equipment and many play things.. 

We then rode up to visit the Global Volunteers at Assisi Illam, and met Sister Rose and staff and children.  We toured the very comfortable building, past the dormitories and up to the roof.  From there, we looked up at Mount St Thomas, where we were on Thursday, looking down.

It was a good feeling to see the other sites where Global Volunteers helps out.  Meanwhile, back at the Guest House, Marjorie and John were assembling a complete new poster with all the children at SEAMS, where I go to help students in the library in the evenings.

I cannot resist a few comments about two fascinating elements of this country, through my  eyes - the chaos and the color.

There are so many people in India, and it is not a big country, everyone is busy going somewhere, doing something - so the teeming streets.  With 1.3 billion in a country not much different from combined  Alaska,Texas and California, you will see them almost all at the same time.  At least it feels that way.  We have a quarter of that population in a country ten times the size. I wish I could include a pie chart for you.  And nary a gun in the whole country - to me, that is a major benefit!

As I went to my Ayurdevic massage on Saturday morning the traffic seemed calmer; not exactly calm, that is - just calmer. It only looks chaotic to us as we are so unused to it (of course, we have chaos in the US too, but I won't go into that.)  After all, the store shelves get restocked; the children get to school;  election schedules are maintained; and, so I have been told, the trains run on time. But the traffic IS wild - few traffic lights, few zebra crossings to give a pedestrian a break; and when a Y-junction is part of our route, or a U-turn, well - every man-woman-bicycle -motorcycle-car-bus-truck for itself - except the sacred cow.  What he or she does decides the issue.  And we may have three feet for a bicycle by in California, but the tolerance between the vehicles here is one inch - whew!

And so to the colors of India. As you have remarked already, I do love color;  and for me India is a feast for the eyes.  All the saris, in ALL the colors, worn by most women every day, it seems.  Or maybe the ones in jeans and T-shirts just disappear into the background?  I did see one, near the MacDonald's!  But the saris are everywhere, and close by, as you wait for a gap in traffic, several pass, riding side-saddle, every color, tint and shade of the rainbow, bright and beautiful.  And the 'blouse' fits so well, we learned, because the sari comes with extra yardage to take to the tailor, who will measure and sew and fit you.  Maria was married in a sari - a most lustrous pink - another story there too!

If not the sari, a practical chuvididar may be worn.  In an infinite variety of fabrics, we find it very desirable, as witnessed by buying dozens for ourselves at the so convenient MetroMart just around the corner!

At the other end of the spectrum, in the 'neutrals' column, are the cows, most revered; the goats - prettiest; and the dogs, inbred into a homogenized body shape;  all in all shades of beige, gray and not-quite-white.  We learned the cows do have homes with owners, get milked every day, and go home to calve.  It is good to know that they are not interminably wandering the streets searching for food.

Here's to the great movies: Water;  Earth; Fire;  The Heat and the Dust; Slum Dog Millionaire; Best Marigold Hotel (an actual fantasy of mine!)

This is India, and I wish I had come earlier in my life, not seen it as an unreachable mirage, when it was actually a country with a GV mission.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Quote of the day - “Beware of monkeys seeking water “  ...  Anonymous


Early morning walks started the day for most. The Lotus Hotel is a pleasant walk from the beach and today the group went to the pier and back.  Our last stop in Puducherry was the Sri Aurobindo Ashram where beautiful gardens surround the burial plot of Aurobindo and the Mother.

Driving through the villages to Auroville we were treated to the sight of colorful statues of the local deities and a lovely lotus pond.  The Auroville grounds were extensive and the path to the visitors centre was a delightful walk through greenery and pergolas and offered the wisdom of the Mother along the way.  Lunch at the site was a welcome treat and some of the group were pleased that salads there were deemed safe to eat for western stomachs.

The final destination before heading home was Mamallapuram and in case that name is not long enough for us to pronounce it is also called Mahabalipuram. It is a world heritage site of 7th and 8th century carvings in granite – practice grounds for the stone temples that followed in the holy city of Kanchipuram.  In addition to the physical wonder of the place.  We were provided a treasure trove of stories about the Hindu gods and goddesses, their vehicles, their guards and their battles.

Peripheral activities included monkeys trying to free us of our water and vendors trying to free us of our rupees. Both were partially successful.

After that it was back to the bus for the two hour trip back to our Chennai family where another tasty meal awaited us. 




Saturday, November 9, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY: If you are good the whole world will be good for you. - Swami Sivananda


While we were asleep Friday night another team member arrived. So a big welcome goes out to Maria from New York City.

We are off this weekend for a little bit of sightseeing. We will be visiting temples in the town of Kanchipuram and then head south to visit the former French colony town of Punducherry. Where we will be staying overnight in a simple hotel. We are promised our own bathrooms and hot water, what a treat !!

Eight of us piled into our very clean and comfortable air conditioned mini bus. Our driver a good looking Hindu gentleman introduced himself as Madhu. And we were off on our adventure. as we blended into the morning traffic i was as usual amazed how it just works. From my western mentality there should be more accidents and stressed out drivers. But it is not like that. It just works.

Along the way to our first stop we were pointed out points of interest; marriage palaces and numerous engineering colleges.

Our first stop was at a memorial for Rajiv Gandhi. A very simple and solemn memorial to honour this man.

The next stop was in the town of Kanchipuram. Here we visited the Kailasanatha, Ekambareshwara,and the Kamakshi Amman Temples. I will not go into too much detail about these temples as you can look them up in your guide books. But we very much appreciated the depth of knowledge about the Hindu religion. We learned so many details about the customs, beliefs and myths of the Hindu religion.

Lunchtime!! And a great lunch was had by all. Most of us experienced for the first time a south Indian thali. A varied assortment in small quantities of delicious foods ranging in taste from sour to sweet to mild and spicy.

After lunch we stopped at a silk emporium and the ladies purchased some beautiful silk sarees and scarves.

We arrived in Punducherry after a 2 1/2 hour drive during which most of the people reclined the seats in the bus and had a good nap. As we neared Punducherry we narrowly missed hitting a cow which brought some shrieks from the passengers. Our hotel was great. Clean comfortable.

After settling in we went for a walk along the beach bordering on the Bay of Bengal. Had supper on the second floor of a palm thatched roof restaurant with the ceiling fans giving us a very pleasant breeze. Over conversation during dinner we continued to get to know each other a little better, and shared a bit about our experiences with the kids that we had met and how we are becoming attached to them. We skipped dessert but then on the walk back to the hotel we dropped into a Baskins Robins ice cream store and treated our selves to some delicious ice cream.

Then it was off to bed and a well deserved rest as some of us planned to get up early and watch the sunrise  over the ocean early next morning.




Friday, November 8, 2013


Quote of the Day;

"Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment."

- Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth


 "Ah... I hear noises downstairs:  "Dah-deeee!"  This means Roshan is up and getting ready to leave for school.  Our hosts Stephen and Sheeba have a delightful 5-year-old boy who lights up the house with chatter, offering his innocent form of comic relief which is so welcomed as we come and go to our work assignments each day."

Today's assignment:  Four of us again went to the day care center to sit with the 35+ children, most of whom would rather be with their mothers, so there are always many tears to chase away.  We do our best to keep their minds occupied and their hands busy, and I can see that we're successful some of the time in making them feel comforted, happy and, most of all,  loved. 

I know that the time we spend with them is useful, and deeply appreciated, yet it is also obvious that the kids are not getting the full benefit of that time.  They have so few toys or learning materials and what they do have is pitifully inadequate.  With the tools necessary to stimulate their minds and hold their attention, I think our efforts could be greatly enhanced.  These kids are so eager to learn, and they deserve a chance to show us how bright they are!

I mentioned this to the group a couple of nights ago at the table after dinner when we were sharing issues we saw as challenges.  Well, "Ask and ye shall receive!" And guess what?  Today, when we arrived home for lunch Sheeba  greeted us with smiles, said she'd been out shopping, and then brought out bags and bags full of puzzles, books, cars and trucks, building blocks, toys for learning stacking and sorting, bouncy balls with flashing lights, and lots and lots of Duplos!  Duplos are like Legos only with larger parts.  The handful of Legos the children now have are so few that the kids often fight over them, hiding them in pockets, tightly closed fists, and quite often their mouths, which can be extremely dangerous. 

We were thrilled to see all this, but not at all surprised at Stephen and Sheeba's compassionate response to our request.  They are truly dedicated to their work and have committed themselves to the goal of making the lives of these children and their families happier and more functional.

After lunch Stephen took a number of the group on a shopping trip to the government center where he said we would be able to find a wide selection of reasonably priced merchandise if we wanted to buy any souvenirs, etc.

Since my cash was running low, I decided not to go shopping and instead used the time for a personal outing to find a local ATM.  Sheeba wanted to come with me to ensure I made it home safely, but I told her it wasn't necessary -- I'd be fine.  I'd be careful.  She told me exactly how to get there:  "Down the street and around the corner."  Simple, no problem.  What she didn't explain was that the ATM sign was printed in Tamil, not English, and I ended up walking much further until I found an ATM which did display a sign in English.   However, that particular ATM would not work with my card!  Somewhat frustrated, I started back to the house empty-handed. 

Long story just to say...  well, I got lost!  Luckily, Barnabus, the go-to man who works at the house, saw me walk by twice and came out to reel me in!  I made him swear not to tell Sheeba and he laughingly said the secret would be safe with him.  At least that's what I think he said.  Barnabus' English is a bit spotty!

After the group of shoppers returned, we all set out on the walk to SEAMS for our nightly work reading with some of the older children.  But instead of reading with the kids tonight, Tey, Jenny and I offered to help Marjorie and John with the heavy labor project they've been working on outside.  They have been working so very hard each day and said they could really use some extra hands to get it finished.  The hard work was just what I needed!  It felt great to be doing something physical for a change.  We made a fun time of it, forming a sort of relay line and passing "baskets" of gravel, rock and cement chunks from hand to hand to be dumped onto the ground inside a structure which never had a true foundation before being built.  Even some of the kids got involved, bless their hearts!   

Overall, I have to say it was a good day's work.  And now I can hardly wait until Monday to see the little ones' faces when they see their new toys!





Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quote: Miguel Ruiz

What you will see is Love coming out the tree’s, Love coming out the sky, Love coming out of the Light. Your will perceive Love from every thing around you. This is the state of Bliss.

Day Five began with a most delicious breakfast. We then all went off to our assignments for the morning, and returned home by midday for a wonderful lunch, This is also the time we usually set aside for our daily discussions of how our morning, and night before assignments went, but today was a very exciting day.

This afternoon we went to visit several St Thomas sites here in Chennai. St. Thomas was one of the disciples of Jesus. We started at the place where it is said that he initially lived - here we were shown a cross embedded in a big red rock that is said to be a cross that St. Thomas made himself. For years it was said to have blead until a nun wiped the blood off, and it stopped bleeding.


Steven told us a story of Saint Alphonsa whose statue was at this church that she came from a wealthy family here in kerala that had a beautiful daughter, that the parents planned to marry her off, and upon hearing of this, she set herself on fire. She was disfigured and scarred so badly, she was then free to become a nun - her true calling. And now she is the first Saint from India.

Next to this site was the rock St. Thomas struck with his staff causing water to run from it for drinking purposes. No water had been available in that part of Chennai in those days. This well holds water to the present day and is said to heal when drank. Next, we entered a cave where St. Thomas first lived and we saw a window where a hand print impression believed to be from St. Thomas remains visible when he was escaping from assailants. We moved to another site - I had lingered on longer with my camera, so I missed this next site - however it was a place where you can see the imprints of two forearms in a stone which St. Thomas is said to have used continuously in prayer. We move on to the site of the Stations of the Cross. This took us each a longer period of time to view, and of course we had wonderful photo opportunities. We cannot express our gratitude enough for having the time to spend here, it simply was a treat that we did not expect to be included as part of our service to Global Volunteers.

Then we went to a chapel where St Thomas was entombed, and we each sat, or knelt in silence and quietly prayed. Another unexpected treat to top off our already wonderful experience was a stop at the beach of the Bengal Sea where we walked out to huge surf crashing onto the sand. We really enjoyed this even though it was brief - Elisabeth’s picture that I took could best describe our heartfelt expressions. I will try my best to post these immediately. In traffic once more we thought we were headed home, but instead we went to the Mount of St. Thomas for the incredible view where I took lots of pictures which will be included in the post. Thank You Steven you are just the most wonderful host - above and beyond the call of service

Each of us has come here to India for reasons beyond our understandings - we thought we came here for the children, but it was them that pulls our hearts together and gives us the gift that we see to chatter about on a regular base. We try to help them, but it seems instead they help us with our fears. Something greater inside is Mighty, Loving, and Whole, and this is the way it seems to express. Have you noticed that there seems to be a going on in the background but we have not been involved in the hard beautiful complications of it? Global Volunteers is a name that springs to mind, yet Stephen seems to be the backbone of putting this beautiful basket of offspring in place just for us. His family is now ours, his home has become ours, the food planned has become exquisite; everything is in perfect order. Yes, this morning I woke up in gratitude and I knew that this came from a bigger part of who I thought I am. It came tumbling and fighting out of me initially, then into a fresh new stream of understanding, and this my friends is my heart that gets put back together, and it is India and it’s people, and their love that my Heart seems to have uncovered those bubbles from within/without. This is the feast of Life only the Mystics have spoken about - I am likened to the prodigal son, bruised, whipped, humble coming into my Own. So Miguel Ruiz’s pointer is alive for our taking. We have discovered the Mystery that had lain dormant within us. It had been growing in us all along. Have a wonderful day and let the magic do its Thing. For me, India is where Life is a spring of magnetic energy. Thank you All - we are truly our one dance - constantly becoming.





Wednesday, November 6, 2013



"The one playing as many." ~ Unknown

This was our third day of work projects. Everyone went to the same locations as before. At our meeting after lunch, Stephen asked us to share our challenges.

One challenge that came up was keeping the children's interest. At first, the children are engaged in books and learning, but then they seem to lose interest. As we discussed this together we realized that being with the children, showing them love and just speaking conversationally with them as we play is also very helpful. Stephen shared a couple stories about how the children improve over time as they work with the volunteers. He told us about one girl who was scared of the volunteers because of their white skin; she thought they were ghosts and would run and hide from them. But one day volunteers brought balloons. She saw the balloons, got excited about them, and forgot all about her fear. Now, she sees the volunteers as her best friends and loves working with them. So loving play is just as important as teaching the children.

Another challenge was not enough tools (books, toys and games). Some money was given to Stephen by an anonymous donor. He said the team will discuss which tools are needed, and he will use that money to buy them for SEAMs and Assisi Illam.

This afternoon, the ladies went shopping. Most of them bought some to a lot of Indian clothes.





Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Quote of the Day –

You must release your fear of death. Nothing happens. Sometimes you have a body, Sometimes you don’t.


By Jesus, as received by Nouk Sanchez

Days begin well before dawn for some volunteers who value the stillness of a resting family house for centering, before the sounds of awakening begins Eventually the host matron enters the lower dining/kitchen level and begins preparations for the day.

The nine volunteer team members have experienced their first morning and evening assignments with daycare, school age children, and construction, and have learned that possibly their greatest gifts to the children were not detailed lesson plans, but simply their presence as they practiced presence, patience, flexibility, loving kindness, and attention to children with such a deep hunger from caring adults.

The volunteers, who may have felt some initial anxiety, were definitely placed at ease by the enthusiasm and eagerness of the children who were so eager to learn and participate. We were welcomed warmly by the children and lead by the hand when it was time to depart. As we have attempted to give of ourselves to the children, we have all realized that we have received far more. We are humbled and grateful for this opportunity to be of service in this place for children in need.





Monday, November 4, 2013

The day started with 8AM breakfast, followed by daily group meeting at 8:30 in which the quote for the day and the journal entry for the prior day was read.

After breakfast the group split to go to different project sites. The first group of three was detailed to work  construction at SEAMS (Southeast Asia Missionary School). They repaired a leak in the roof; cleaned up and organized a library; and scraped slimy green mold from the terrace outside the library so the space could be useable.

A second team of four people parted for Assisi Illum which is an Orphanage for children 6 to 18 years, but is used as a daycare center during the days when the Assisi Illum resident population goes out to school. This team worked with the 24 or so young ones, playing games, reading books, cuddling and just generally showering attention in English to these little ones.

The last team of two departed for Christ King Nursery and Primary School. This school educates 250 students, boys and a girls, from K to 5th grade. There they had the privilege of teaching English to a combined class of 2nd and 5th graders - 50 students in all. The students were enthusiastic, eager, learners, and the teachers, wonderfully supported by the Christ KIng School teacher, responded in kind. Using a world map, the teachers taught language skills, and during a lively question and answer session the students enjoyed learning  comparative adjectives and possessive pronouns while increasing their vocabulary and enhancing listening and speaking skills. They also particularly enjoyed singing a rousing version of My Darling Clementine.

A delicious lunch back at Global Volunteers House, where the team gathered, was followed by a short group meeting at which Stephen asked each individual to report on what had most impressed them their first day of work on the projects.

While some expressed their surprise and pleasure at Overcoming personal fears, such as fear of working with small children, or uncertainty about teaching after so many years, all agreed that the warmth of the welcome by the host community, and the charm and robust enthusiasm, and sheer beauty of the children were unforgetable. There was also the feeling on the part of this writer at having been very well prepared by our Group Leader and his wife.

After the discussion meeting there was time to rest, or shop (Sheeba lead a shopping expedition to Ngirli), or prepare for the next day's classes.

At 5 PM the team separated into two groups. One group returned to SEAMS and the other to Assisi Illum, where both held one on one conversations with the children and helped them with their homework assignments.

At 7PM the groups returned to the house, where another great meal was waiting for them. Salutations to Rani, a fine cook.

After dinner Stephen furthered our appreciation of indian culture by impressing us with the amazing skills of Indian a alternative healers. He also introduced us to the Indian martial art of Kalari.

Respectfully submitted,



Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013
The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women could center themselves in it, the whole world would be transformed by itself, in its normal rhythms. People would be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire, all things are at peace.

~ Tao Te Ching, Verse 37


Today was our first day as a Global Volunteers team. Six of us came on this trip together as friends. We are joined by one couple and one other woman; nine in all. This morning after a good night's rest and an Indian breakfast, we met with Stephen for our orientation. One thing we did during our orientation was set team goals through consensus. Our goals describe what we want to achieve or do during our two weeks with Global Volunteers in Chennai. We decided on these goals:


To Go with the Flow

To experience Indian Culture 

To learn and to grow

To Give

To Connect 

To Be Love 

To Be 


We also received our work assignments. Three of us will do construction work at SEAMs. Four will work with preschoolers in day care at two different locations. The last two will teach at a local low cost private school. In the evenings, we will all tutor children one-on-one.


During our orientation, Stephen told us a little about our free time options. One thing we learned is that there are some very interesting Christian sites in Chennai. The apostle Thomas, commonly know as "doubting Thomas", came to Chennai after Jesus' crucifixion. He converted several Brahmins to Christianity through a miracle reminiscent of Elijah's miracle on Mt. Carmel. In Kerala, St. Thomas came across the Brahmins while they were worshipping the sun god. As was the tradition, they offered water to the sun god. When they opened their hands to offer the water, the water fell to the ground. Thomas asked them why their god did not accept the water. When they did not provide a good answer, he offered water to God and the water did not fall to the ground; it rose up as the offering was accepted by God. Many of the Brahmins converted to Christianity right then, even before it was called Christianity. He walked from the west coast to the east coast preaching and in Chennai he even converted the king Mahadevan. But the Hindu priest was not happy with this, so one day while Thomas was kneeling and praying, the priest killed Thomas with a spear from behind. 


No one in our group knew this story. We also did not realize some of the earliest Christians were Indians in Chennai. Although most of our group would not consider themselves Christians, we found this story interesting and we hope to visit the sites related to St. Thomas while we are in Chennai.


This evening we went to SEAMs to meet the children. They greeted us tenderly. They seemed so excited to learn out names and eager to share their names with us. The girls sang a song for us, the boys also sang a song, and then the boys danced for us with accompaniment on the drum. There is definitely talent among these children. After their performance, we played with the children for quite some time, a few of us dancing with them before one team member organized a game of Simon Says.


While we were at SEAMs an unexpected downpour came leaving large deep puddles all along the way from SEAMs to the restaurant. This turned our walk into a hike-like challenge as we balanced on stones to cross the biggest puddles. We also needed to carefully avoid fireworks that were being set off by citizens in the streets as part of the Hindu celebration that is occurring now. And then, there was the excitement of crossing a very busy street at night. Stephen and his wife, Sheeba, were wonderful at orchestrating the crossing so no one was flattened by a passing car. Even with these two talented guides, crossing the street was an adventure!


Dinner was fabulous. We ate traditional Southeast Indian cuisine on banana leaves (instead of plates) using our hands (instead of silverware). Everyone loved the meal. In fact, we feasted.


Now we are all settling in for the evening. Tomorrow will be our fist day as servant-learners with Global Volunteers, and we are excited. We also feel very welcomed by Stephen and his family. They treat us as if we are their closet friends who have come for a visit.


Submitted for the team in gratitude,



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

September 16 - 20
This week was more focused on the very young kids during they day time and the older ones in the evening.

In the mornings I am working with daycare aged kids trying to help out in songs and games, and then try to do some 1-on-1 with a kid trying to teach some ABC's.

When it comes to the an American it is very interesting and only a few of them carry over exactly. Songs such as heads shoulders knees and toes, row your boat, and the itsy bitsy spider are the same.

The song that really blew me away that is different is the ABC's.  I had no idea there were other versions of the song. In India it's the same until the letter "P" where they repeat L, M, N, O, P..for some reason...and say Z as Zed.  I also don't even want to tell you about little Johnny Thin and Little Johnny Fat...and the horrible thing one of them tries to do with the cat!

During the movie song time I try to pull out one, maybe two kids to work on their ABC's. this can be a bit of a challenge since they don't speak English, and have a short attention span.  The method that I found most effective is playing the ABC song on my iPhone, writing the first few letters, and have them trace the letters. Once they get the hang of the motion I try to have them do it by themselves. Most struggle, but the few that do get it is an amazing feeling.  There face just been a with excitement. Truly awesome.

At SEAMs at night I work with some of the older kids.  I usually work 1 on 1 and some other times small groups.  The big thing with them reading is continuously give them praise...even if they aren't perfect...or really even close to perfect. they really try hard and any type of negative feedback can be tough/demotivating.

Working in small groups is all about finding games to keep them interested and ones where they work on there English. Two games I've found to be the most effective/fun. The first is Guess Who. The kids like it, and they have to practice using full sentences. I was really surprised on how much they struggled with that at first...but soon they were rolling with it pretty well.  The second game we play is using one of the picture books we all say 8 words together. Once we complete doing that I describe one of the objects. The kids race to say which object. This is a great game and the kids love it, as long as you don't repeat the words.

In the second week most of the kids have really gotten use to me, and ask when in coming back. It's always a bit bitter sweet making these attachments so quick. I'd like to be there for the long run, but that isn't possible. I do feel much better though knowing that they have Stephen Raja, his wonderful family, and the great adults around them as a constant presence.  I'm glad that I'm a part of this and that I get to share the amazing fun moments with the kids.

- Mike