Volunteer in India – Team Journal Dec. 22, 2010

Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from December 20 to December 25

130 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 5 volunteers and 130 Hours of preparation time

36 Hours of Childcare by 2 volunteer. over 35 students impacted

2 Children’s Homes, 1 School and over 140 students impacted.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

“There is nothing quite as satisfying as creating joy in the life of a child.” -Me

“Happy Christmas!” That phrase was used today countless times by the happiest group of kids I have ever witnessed, and five benevolent volunteers, spending the most celebrated holiday in the Western world, Christmas, with the children at Assisi-Illam and SEAMS. My search for the perfect quote could not be answered by the Internet this time. How could it? For only we were witness to the childrens joy. Only we could put into words what today was like.

As with all December 25ths, Asha and I seemed to spring out of bed; however, this year we left to find a phone in order to contact our family. Our search led to a payphone on the main road, in front of a bustling coffee shop. After fumbling with the dial pad and a few Rupees, we managed to briefly hear Asha’s mom’s voice on the other line. Unfortunately, it was covered by an annoying “busy” signal that prevented any conversation. Our second attempt was futile, but just then, two gentlemen approached us and asked, in perfect English dialect, if we needed help. At first we politely refused, but they were insistent on helping us, and we timidly agreed. A quick switch of the SIM cards between phones and Asha was dialing away. After a brief, but emotional conversation, Asha finished and one of the men said, “You miss your mother.” He was spot on. Although we both missed our family this morning, their incredibly kind and unexpected gesture felt like Christmas morning usually does; though this time, it was on the other side of the world, and in the presence of total strangers.

After another scrumptious breakfast, the ladies were off to wrap themselves in Sari’s. Naturally, Sheeba assisted with the proper tucking, pinning and accessorizing, leaving all five ladies looking beautiful. I on the other hand, squeezed myself into a Santa outfit more appropriately fitted for a child. With a pillow stuffed under the shirt, the highest water pants one might imagine, and a mask that looked more intimidating than jolly, we were off to spread the Christmas cheer.

Arriving at Assisi-Illam was quite an experience. People in the neighborhood surrounding the home lined the streets as we approached and welcomed us to their area, St Thomas Mount. “Happy Christmas,” they shouted, as we shook hands, smiled and spread the Christmas cheer. The kids at Assisi were thrilled to meet Santa and see the ladies in full Indian attire. Shelly mesmerized the kids as she sang a beautiful rendition of Silent Night and visions of sugarplums danced in their heads. They were thrilled to receive gift baskets complete with soaps, towels and most importantly candies. In return, we were treated to a dance performance by the children that was fit for the next Kollywood film. These kids are talented!

Lunch today was our first true traditional meal; eating on banana leaves, with our hands and joined by the staff, Barnaby, Stephen and Ronnie. It was an enjoyable experience and I am glad I tried it, but I will stick to my utensils.

This evening was incredible! We spent Christmas night with the kids at SEAMS, fully intent on spreading Christmas love and cheer. As we arrived, the children were speculating who was underneath this Santa mask, taking cues from my shoes, light hair, and my voice. “Jon!” they shouted. “No, he’s at home sick. I am Santa!” I replied.

Regardless of what we looked like on the outside, the kids could sense our compassion on the inside. The highlight of the evening was giving each child a gift basket, created by our team, complete with shoes, essentials and candy. They were overjoyed and very thankful! In response, we again were treated to beautiful dance performance by the kids, seemingly thrilled to show off their dance moves. Shelly sang Christmas songs to the kids, and they responded with a singing competition. Maria was cunning in her approach to judging the contestants; however, the clear winner was Room #6. A few wild games of musical chairs, complete with Shelly crashing to the floor and Cathy offering the victory to Maria, was the perfect ending to a fantastic day.

As we finish off Christmas night, we all have a deep sense of satisfaction from today’s activities that comes when creating joy in the life of a child. This has been the most meaningful Christmas of my life and I am truly proud of what our team was a part of today. Happy Christmas!


Friday, Dec. 24th 2010
 “One moment of patience may ward off a great disaster and one moment of impatience may ruin a whole life” Chinese Proverb

It’s a good thing too since Maria was going to Seam’s to treat the children for head lice. They wouldn’t let her wash their hair at night because they were worried the children would get colds. I guess they’ve not been informed that the cold doesn’t cause colds, bacteria does. So it was just Asha and I at Assisi with even more children than normal. While slowly getting ready in the morning, I came down to find Asha more than prepared to take on today’s group of wild orphans. Thank god since I was in slow motion.

While at Assisi Illam Asha takes the older children and I play with a larger group of younger children. Needless to say today was the first day that really tried my patience. I really enjoy being called auntie but it was pretty overwhelming being called auntie over and over by ten different excited young children at once. I had to go take a break in the washroom at one point. I almost completely lost my patience with Augustine since he was really acting up today. I had to try to ignore him while keeping him sitting and cornered to punish him for his violent behavior which was no easy task.

Breath, Shelly breath….. They are just children and they are only trying to get your love and attention. I didn’t even bring out the rackets because I knew I couldn’t handle it!

Lunch was the usual talk of old volunteers and the children we work with. Stephen asked us today if there were any complaints or requests and none of us said a word. He then praised our group for being so great and making his job easy. Ahhhhhh….. Positive reinforcement and assurance feels good!

We went to Seams in the evening and I was light on the kids studies but instead of trying to play they talked amongst themselves (highly frustrating). I had to get Stephen to scold them in tamil and they were given a time out. They actually got angry with me and gave me back the words to the song I wrote out for them to learn and refused to sing and dance with me! It hurt my feelings but they are kids and by the end of our visit they lightened up and I gave them back the words and asked them to practice.

There is one thing about today which makes me laugh (kind of) Kathy has a way of making me cry! She almost brought me to tears in the morning with her beautiful journal passage but she actually made me cry relaying the awful story about the poor abused teacher at Grace. We do our best to help but still we must stand by and be witness to the many struggles of those suffering around us. All we can do is lend our ears and listen as best we can, offering our caring and empathy. As much as I appreciate and respect this culture it is hard being a woman and also having suffered abuse myself and fought my way out of it enough to be here and stronger in spite of the repercussions in my life. It makes me angry and sad to know there is little she can do to help her situation without receiving a negative response from her community.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

We are on our third day working with the children here in beautiful India. Being a small part of the development and education of a child, any child, is one of the most rewarding experiences one could ever do. And being a part of a team that has a common goal of assisting the children here is overwhelming.

Our day started as usual, a wonderful, aromatic, traditional Indian breakfast with discussions about almost everything. Previous days experiences, our upcoming weekend trip, Stephan’s funny stories and of course the children. Jon, the “token male”, was volunteered on day one by Sheba to be this year’s Santa Clause. Although the pants are 6” too short, the jacket 3 sizes too small and the hat stretched to capacity over his huge head, he of course agreed with a smile and is willing to put his hair-do aside for the children.

After our morning meeting we were off to our assigned locations. Jon packed up his 40lb back pack and was off to SEAMS to teach computer skills. He is inquisitive about the culture as to incorporate this knowledge with the children. He uses this as a learning tool and a piece of information to be able to relate to them. He was so proud that he taught them how to create an outline of India’s different school systems.

Kathy, the favourite among the teachers’s at Grace School, was able to spend the day teaching them conversational English, computers, and watched what sounded like a very strange movie with the children after their exam was finished She is in such high demand there that the Principal asked Stephan as to NOT COME BEFORE 1PM. Kathy’s generosity is a radiating quality about her and I see why she is so loved at Grace School.

Shelly, Maria and I were off to the Assisi Illam Day Care Center. Our day was full of reading, puzzle making, bubbles and several verses of “The Wheels on the Bus”, which I am still singing in my head. The children today seemed more tired and agitated than before. But all in all it was a fun productive day.

We all met back at the Guest House for lunch and decided to do some shopping for the Christmas. Stephan, Sheba, a sleeping Roshan, Shelly and I ventured out into the afternoon traffic of Chennai to collect some supplies.

We rushed back to the Guest House to get ready for our afternoon at SEAMS. Maria excitedly received her long lost luggage which contained a large variety of medical supplies for the children. Antibiotic ointments, children’s aspirin, and basic bandages fixed up a few of the young ones

We all commenced with our groups and each is falling into what type of teaching skills are best suited to the variety of skill level we all have both within ourselves and within our group of children. Shelly has found a relatable tactic by teaching the girls songs and dances. It shows her ability to adapt to her audience and is well received by the children.

At the end of the day we all, as usual, had our challenges and rewards with our groups today and I look forward to seeing what new and exciting experiences tomorrow


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Well, here I am, finally. After 3 days of being stuck in London, stuck in the same clothes, and stuck in hotel rooms with complete strangers, I have now joined my expected and appropriate group of complete strangers, and I must say, I couldn’t have joined a better group. As usual, Global has compiled a perfect mixture of people ranging from calm to hyper, naïve to experienced, young to old, and patient to OCD – “I can’t sit still a single minute while India is out there to be discovered!” Kathy is a sweetheart and I know from her warm and welcoming smile that the children and sisters must love every time she returns. John and Asha are the cutest couple from Arizona. Individually, John is patiently awaiting anything us women throw at him, teasing him along the way as the token male, and he simply nods and smiles and does what he is told to do. Asha is as friendly and helpful as a volunteer can get. She has a charming personality and a wicked sense of humor. She reminds me of previous trips since as soon as I arrived without any luggage, she insisted I wear one of her pants and think nothing of it. The joys of sharing personal belongings with complete strangers reminds me of kindergarten, and also how if everyone in the world was always like that, we wouldn’t have any wars, fear, or hate, which we are all here to prevent, and spread love and joy to the world. Then there is Shelly. I can’t even begin the comparisons of how much Shelly reminds me of Jodie. She is bright, happy, charismatic, excited over every second of life, and as soon as she walks through the door at Assisi, the children surround her because they realize within only one day that she is playful, goofy, and loving. I know for sure that we will have plenty of adventurous stories to tell!

I can’t even begin to describe how relieved and overjoyed I was to see Stephen at the airport. Seeing Sheeba half asleep upon arrival to the guesthouse was even better. I felt at home again. The morning was off to a busy start with John and Kathy being asked to stay late until 1pm at SEAMs and Grace School, and me, Asha, and Shelly running off to Assisi home. Kathy had a productive day with the teachers and her arms were practically pulled off for her to stay all day with them. She says that the teachers take out her hair clip to play with her hair and the children ask if she is wearing contact lenses since her eyes are green. John is hinting at Shelly for a back massage after lugging around 3 laptops to SEAMs and bending over for hours, teaching the children new programs with Excel. Asha, Shelly, and I experienced the usual exhausting but extremely rewarding tasks of running, playing, falling over, jumping, shouting, kicking, singing, and screaming about sharing, events with the beautiful children at Assisi. Sister Rose practically threw me on the ground when she saw me, scolding me as always for playing with the children before saying hello to her. Her stern but charming personality warms me inside every time. John, George, Sophia, and Jasmine were as beautiful but naughty as ever. Just as typical children, they still argue over toys and fight for volunteer attention. Mario is still as cute as ever with his gorgeous smile, and Asha was completely taken over by Augustine’s sweetness, as he runs around helping the other children and sharing all the toys. We started off with nursery rhythms, and then Shelly taught the twins Danny and David how to play frisbee, I then played cricket with David, and Asha discovered how bright Davi is when we covered the alphabet, numbers, and first words with the children. After lunch Kathy rested while Asha, John, Shelly and I walked down the main road. I bought the few essentials I needed to survive without my luggage and it was entertaining trying to describe a hair brush to the local store owners. Shelly had girly mall madness and bought a beautiful sari, as well as nail polish to share with the girls at SEAMs. As usual, it was overwhelming to see my lovely children at SEAMs, all of them fighting for attention and asking me “Sister, what is my name?” to test how well I remembered them. John, Asha, and Shelly did their lessons while trying to control the other rambunctious children distracting the younger students. I first had a group of third graders, with Raji and Arun being the smartest of the four. Ammu is new to the orphanage and she is very sweet, and catching on very quickly. My second group was fourth graders with Franklin and Mukesh being the smartest. I found a great activity which combined addition with color recognition, as well as having to read the English words of the colors and instructions. The time flew by as we completed each activity.

We then came back to the guesthouse, talked for hours with Stephen and Sheeba about previous teams and the exciting personalities of volunteers. Even with the cold showers, the hot rooms, the pants that never fit quite right, my Italian afro hair going wild with the humidity, there is no other place in the world I would rather be right now. Since India is my home away from home, my quote for the day is “Home is where your heart is” by John McLeod.


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Monday, 20 December 2010

Quote:: by stretching yourself beyond your perceived level of confidence you accelerate your development of competence. – Tony Buzan

Day 1 accomplished! The morning kicked off early with an 8AM breakfast. Shelly and Asha spent the morning at Assisi’s and I was assigned computer training at SEAM’s. My time with the kids was impressive and exciting. They were thrilled to work with computers and eagerly started opening programs and pretending to have work to accomplish. We began with basic typing skills, to both familiarize them with the keyboard and sharpen their written English. After their eyes started to glaze, it was on to Excel for some brief training creating graphs and visual displays.

The girls reported that their time was spent playing games with the kids at Assisi’s, taking photos and singing. The volunteers reconvened for lunch and then shopping in the afternoon. Shelly and Asha found multiple Indian outfits, with varying colors and textures, while I found an Indian team cricket polo. We are sure to look like locals.

In the evening we returned to SEAM’s for group work. Again, I spent time with the older kids focusing on computer use and the girls spent time working with flashcards, games and songs. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience, including the kids. They are thankful for the smallest bit of attention, naturally, being one in a group of 39.

I truly appreciated my time with the kids and hope that they learn something of value.


Sunday, 19 December 2010
“The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die for a noble cause and the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” – Catcher in the Rye
We got our first taste of how easily things can change today. Our project leader got called away with an emergency right before our orientation started. There was a boy in the school that had suffered an injury and he had to take him to the hospital. So we didn’t start orientation till after lunch.

In orientation we were asked to state our goals for the trip and it was interesting to learn how similar our goals were to each other’s. It truly feels good to be surrounded by people that want to help change the world.

We went to Seam’s to meet the children and luckily we got there just before it started to pour rain. They introduced themselves one by one, some were eager and some were hesitant. I tried really hard to understand their names but after they were all done I couldn’t remember even one! They sang some songs which was really lovely and I could hear some very strong voices above the rest. We had some free time with them which I spent mostly dancing or spinning them around. The girls were very excited by this and soon they were fighting over who was next… I left sweating.

Afterwards we went to eat and I finally got to eat lamb rojangosh in India! The food was wonderful and full of flavor. I look forward to learning more and nervous about my first day working.


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