Volunteer in India – Team Journal Mar 20, 2010

Millinium Development Goals Achieved by this team from March 15 – March 19;

155 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 10 volunteers and 155 Hours of preparation time.

50 Hours of childcare by 2 volunteer

50 Hours of construction at Seams to build the Stage 2 of the Dormitories by 2 volunteers and we were plastering cement on the ceilings

50 Hours of health care provided to the poor at the hospital by 4 volunteers.

2 Schools, 2 Children’s Home, an hospital and over 400 students impacted

Sunday, 14 March 2010.

Message of the day:

“When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.”
African proverb

All ten of us are here coming from places ranging from Alaska (Sue Ellen and Claudia), California (Aneesh and Joan), Minnesota (Joelle, Laura and Katie), Oregon (Niki), Connecticut (Jana) and London (Nita).

We spend the majority of the day working through orientation materials and getting to know one another.

We discussed the verity of work assignments which ranged from teaching at two different schools to playing with children at an orphanage to working on a construction project to helping out at the local hospital. The volunteer assignments were selected for the upcoming week. The goal is for each volunteer to have 40 hours of volunteer work in each week.

We reelected on our personal goals of the trip and categorized them into the following categories:

Enjoy time with children
Understand Indian Healthcare
Enrich one’s life
Experience Indian culture
Make a difference

We also brainstormed on the characteristics of an effective team. After listing many items, Stephen pointed out that we were still missing something: patience. He said that in India, if you don’t have patience, you learn it, and if you do have it you loose it.

Later in the afternoon, we headed over to SEAMs to spend a bit of time with the students. They were every so happy to see us. We were impressed with how polite these children behaved; shaking our hands and asking our names all while making eye contact. That’s better than what I get from some professionals. We played games, sang songs, and took pictures. We are eager to see these kids again soon.
I think we all agree that we enjoyed a little too much Indian food at the local restaurant Kaaraikudi. Stephen ordered us a fantastic assortment of food and we shared it family style. Yum.


Monday, 15 March 2010.

Every child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged of Man. -Rabindranath Tagore.

India is my motherland. My heritage. The place of my ancestors. But having been born and raised in an entirely other world, it is a land whose people, stories, spirits and ancient culture have forever left me mystified, overwhelmed, awe-inspired. Today was no different. I started my assignment at assisi Illam, a day care/orphanage on Monday 15th March. I was joined by Joelle and Sheba, Stephen’s lovely wife. Assisi Illam started 4 years ago and serves orphaned, semi-orphaned, abandoned and underprivileged children from ages 3- 16. There are 35 children in daycare and 20 at the orphanage. The daycare children stay for a maximum of 2 years before going off to school. Assisi is linked to the St. Thomas Hospital and is run by Franciscan nuns.

The architecture of the orphanage is spacious and pleasing. You walk through a gate onto an inviting expanse of carved stone tiles that are shaded from the sultry heat. The building has two floors with large open rooms on each floor and adjoining smaller rooms including the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and study. There is also a roof top terrace. It’s a lovely, healthy environment in which to raise children.

We walked in to a sea of shining little faces and they were so beautiful I had to catch my breath. Joelle dove right in and started playing with the children and they responded to her immediately. Joelle is a legend at Assisi and fully deserves her legendary status. In fact there is a framed picture of her there which I am sure will one day become a shrine. I followed suit and started playing head and shoulders knees and toes with the children for a brief moment until Christu Raj walked in. We were greeted warmly by Christu Raj, a priest and relative of Sister Rose. Sister Rose runs and manages the day care/orphanage and is assisted by Sister Virgin. Their work is tireless and inspirational. After hearing more about the orphanage from Sister Rose she suggested that Joelle and I take 10 children upstairs to play games and read. About 5 minutes into our game-playing pandemonium broke loose and the 3 year old tots were bouncing off the walls laughing and jumping and yelling “Auntie! Auntie!” to show us how much fun they were having with us. A short time later Sister Rose came to our rescue and said TV Time! The children rushed downstairs to watch cartoons with the other daycare kids.

Sheba, Joelle and I then took rickshaws to the Mont Fort school to collect the 5 year old kindergarten children and take them back to the orphanage. We played with them while the other little ones were taking a nap after their lunch. Sister Rose fed us lunch after which time we helped the 5 year olds with homework (which entailed writing numbers from 1-50) and played with the kids until we left at 3 pm. The children’s energy, enthusiasm and whole-hearted commitment to life were life-affirming. Joelle made a wonderful comment as we left the orphanage. She said “It is so humbling to be around that kind of joy.” Beautifully put.

At about 5:30 Nikki, Claudia, Joan and I went to SEAM (Southeast Asian Mission). I helped some of the boys with basic computer skills which the boys seemed to really enjoy and I enjoyed as well. After our long day I was anxious to return to the house to hear everyone’s stories and compare notes. As exhausted and spent as I am I would summarize this day in one word: magical.

Tuesday, 16 March, 2010

You must be the change you want to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi

Katie and Laura were our energetic joggers this morning and were able to get a
quick run in before our morning yoga session. Our quiet yoga teacher arrived
promptly at 7:30am and led us through half an hour of stretching on the rooftop of our guesthouse. Everyone agreed that it was a pleasant way to start the day, and for Aneesh and I, it was good to stretch out sore muscles after our day at the SEAM’s construction site yesterday.

After gathering around our common dining table for a breakfast of rice, curry
sauce, and papaya we gathered our supplies and gear to go to our respective work
sites. Aneesh and I went back to the construction site at SEAM; Laura, Katie, and
Claudia also went to SEAM to so some tutoring; Joelle, Nita and Joan went to the
Assisi School to play games, give lessons, and work on paper Mache’; and Jana and
Nike went to St. Thomas Hospital to learn more about the India health care system.

When our morning assignments were over we once again gathered around our dining room table, this time for lunch. (Aneesh and I arrived dripping sweat from sifting sand and hauling it up to the second floor of the dormities being constructed at SEAM in the heat and humidity. The sand is being used in making mortar for the walls.) Stephen, our team leader, surprised us by providing fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots to have with our lunch after Joelle’s fresh vegetable request and he also provided us with a wonderful watermelon for dessert. We were able to rest awhile before we headed out early for our afternoon assignments. Our job assignments started early so that we could end earlier in order to get in a much anticipated shopping trip. Laura was very excited about the opportunity to shop for a sari.

I’m not sure where everyone went on their afternoon assignments, but Aneesh and I went to St. Thomas Hospital. We were first taken to the emergency room where we briefly talked to a dentist who told us about his children who now live in the United States. Soon after we got in the emergency room Doctor Sister Rexline (no, I did not make a mistake about her title) came by and took us to her office for a visit. She is the administrator of the hospital and has overseen its development
from a one room dispensary to a large multi-specialty hospital. I was impressed by
her deep humility and her joy at being able to serve people in need. She said that
we have only once chance to pass through this life and we should take every
opportunity to help people along the way.

After we visited awhile, she took us to see the nursing school and introduced us to
Sister Jaya, who was the nursing school’s head. My impression was that she runs a
tight ship, especially after she pointed out that gum chewing could be perceived as
being rude in some cultures as well as sitting with crossed legs; Aneesh stopped
chewing his gum and I quickly put both my feet on the ground. Sister Jaya did
graciously take time out of her busy schedule to take us on a tour of the entire
nursing school. The nursing school is a diploma type school, with all instruction
being done at the school or in the hospital. The length of the program is 3 1/2 years. Applicants between the ages of 17 and 35 years of age can apply. However,
Sister Jaya said that she will only accept applicants 25 years and under because it
would be difficult for an older student to sit next to a younger student.

We took our leave of Sister Jaya, and then went to spend some time observing in ICU.  Aneesh introduced me to the male nursing student he met yesterday. This student had completed a bachelor’s of science degree, but needed practical time so came to St. Thomas hospital to get this requirement completed. He seemed pleased to visit with us so that he could practice his English. I am really impressed with the amount of work the student nurses have to do in India. Not only do they have to go through nursing school, which is tough in any country, but they also have to learn and get fluent in English as that is the language used in the hospital environment.

When our time at the hospital was over, Stephen picked us up our group in the van and took us to Chennai Silks to shop for saris or churidars (a type of pant with a long top and scarf). Several of us had fun buying fabrics and are anticipating going to a tailor and having authentic and beautiful outfits made. The Indian shopping system is a touch different than that of the United States. First, an assistant helps you pick out your item and carries it to the cash register for you. Second, you pay for it at the register. Third, another assistant wraps it up for you then carries it to the delivery window where you can finally claim it.

After spending time at Chennai Silks, about half the group wanted to go back to the guesthouse, so rode back in the intrepid white van. The rest of us went shopping for gold and silver at a store Stephen recommended. The variety was overwhelming.  There, you sit or stand at the counter while assistants bring you items to peruse.  After purchasing the item, an assistant elaborately wraps it up for you, then puts the package in a bag, followed by flower petals. The bag is then handed to you with a bow.

Since the van was not there to take us back to the guesthouse (having left to take the group of non-shoppers back home), Stephen hired auto-rickshaws to carry us back to the guesthouse. Riding in a tiny motorized cart with open sides speeding
through traffic that makes 4 lanes when only 2 are marked on the road, is quite the adventure. However, I was glad that I was having an experience that couldn’t be had in the United States. Having these new experiences is one reason I travel.  (I’m extremely glad, however, we didn’t have the experience of getting flattened by
a bus.) Riding back home, Laura, Katie and I were talking about the amazing variety of material we saw at Chennai Silks. I pondered if the extreme variety of
material makes up for the limited amount of styles that are available here in southern India. If the only clothing choices you have are saris or churidars, then perhaps the way to express your individuality is by color and print design.

After dinner, everyone was excited to show off their new purchases to the others.
Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. However, while the break in our routine was a healthy mental break, I’m sure everyone is ready to resume work tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010.

“Aim above morality, be not simply good, be good for something.” Henry David Thoreau

Incredible India! That is what the tourist posters say and they are right. From the street side vendors, to the cows roaming the busy streets, to the lovely traditional Indian wear, India is full of sights and sounds that assault the senses. But what a tourist sees when he comes to India only scratches the surface of this amazing country. What I wanted to accomplish by committing to Global Volunteers was to go beneath the surface and learn more about the people of India and their way of life, not to mention perhaps helping out where I could. Global Volunteers has definitely allowed me do all of that.

Waking each morning to a yoga lesson and a traditional Indian breakfast is a great way to start the day. My placement is at Grace Nursery and Primary School. It serves 80 local children in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, some of whom cannot afford to pay the tuition fees. Therefore the staff needs volunteer help to ensure the students get the attention they need. I am assigned to the Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes, spending 45 minutes with each grade level. Claudia and I are greeted each day with a salute and high volume greeting. The students are all very polite and dressed in cute little school uniforms. I think they must wear certain uniforms on certain days as on Monday, they were all in white and today they were all wearing red plaid shirts and blue skirts or shorts. They are all very enthusiastic learners and it is a challenge to keep them busy. It is also very rewarding when we find something they enjoy and grow from. After the morning classes we are picked up at noon from the school and go back to the house for lunch and an afternoon of class preparation for SEAM and the next day at Grace.

Around 5 p.m. I leave for SEAM with the group assigned there to spend time with my 5th and 6th grade boys. Today we walked to SEAM and it is always fascinating to walk through the neighborhood passing by the women carrying their wares on their heads, the little lady stringing jasmine, the local pawn shop, the vegetable farm, the cobbler sitting on his mat on the side of the road and the dry cleaning establishment consisting of a little outdoor stand and a really big iron. The kids at SEAM are always so happy to see us and our goal there is to pay lots of attention and show them love as well as perhaps to teach them a bit of English and other school skills.

By dinner time I and all of the other hard working volunteers are pretty tired and ready to start winding down in anticipation of doing it all again tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Quote of the Day-“The miracle is this- the more we share, the more we have.”

Today is the last day of our first week assignments. Nita and Joelle went to spend time with the children and work on paper Mache projects at Assisi. Katie and Laura went St Thomas school to teach classes and, later, worked with SEAMS 8th graders.

Aneesh, Jana, and Sue Ellen spent the morning with the ST. Teresa Nursing Students on their rural clinical rotation. Fighting a touch of food poisoning, I had to stay home at the guest house. Jana and Aneesh went to the clinic where they helped the students give injections with huge 10 gauge needles. Sue Ellen headed off to the village to do in home assessments. Without their instructor’s supervision, Sue Ellen soon discovered that the nursing students enjoyed playing hooky by sitting inside the homes and watching TV.

Claudia and Joan went to Grace School. After classes, the teachers wanted to practice their English, so Claudia and Joan talked with three teachers about a variety of topics such as arranged marriage, euthanasia, and India’s Lover’s Day.
That evening, we said goodbye to Joan and Nita. Joan left for new adventures in India. And, Nita went to spend the weekend with her family in Mumbai. Escorted by Sheba, Claudia, Anessh, Sue Ellen, and I walked to SEAMS for another 2 hours of chaotic activities. Katie, Laura, and Joelle headed back to Assisi for rambunctious fun.

Saturday morning, the rest of us loaded in the van for took our weekend trip to Pondicherry with anticipation of the ice cold AC promised for the ride. We had even been instructed by Stephen to bring sweaters to protect us from the freezing temperatures. Sweating the entire time, we still enjoyed the van ride, stopping along the way to see amazing temples and eventually making our way to spend the night at the ocean. After a day of exploring Auroville and the rock carvings, we headed home, looking forward to another wonderful week in India


Friday – March 19, 2010


“Remember it always. Remember that you and I made this journey and went together to a place where there was everywhere left to go”

Being the first generation of my family in the US brought with it a good number of challenges during my growing years. Conflicts between my parents and myself were common, often ending with one or both parties involved leaving with a less than stellar taste in their mouths. Little did I know that all they sought was to preserve what little was left of their cultural norms.

Fast forward a few years and came my first trip to India, I remember the day in second grade that my mom pulled me from class to go to the airport. The trip was to see my oldest uncles wedding and to see my grand parents for the first time. This would serve as my introduction to the richness and diversity of the culture that so many wish they could call their own. The vibrant colors and heritage that surround the Indian wedding in many ways mimic the daily lives of the Indian people. Where else can you see a woman dressed in vibrant colors complete with Jasmin flowers adorned in her hair riding a motorcycle through the crowded city streets; juxtaposed with the cattle that team the streets. To the casual observer, this chaos would only serve to deter anyone from wanting anything to do with what India has to offer, it takes someone with a special vision to see what lies beneath the many layers that India has to offer. Through the generosity of my parents, trips back to India have been somewhat commonplace for me, places like the Taj Mahal in Agra, Lake Palace in Jaipur, New Delhi, and even Kanyakumari are not foreign to me and have been extensively traveled and photographed so far. But, when it comes down to it, the monuments of a civilization are just that, monuments, the real make up of a country lies not in the buildings they build, but those who build them.

Part of the reason I chose to join the Global Volunteer team was to see what lower layers of India lay unexplored to me. The description for the India program stated working directly for the benefit of underprivileged children and citizens.
Our days consist of trekking (with the wonderful assistance of little Stephen and Stephen) to local childcare’s homes, schools and orphanages to work with local children to build their English and schoolwork skills. Presently, Sue-Ellen and myself are working the morning construction shift at the SEAMS children’s home working on their new dormitories. The work is…..not easy to place it lightly, however we can’t help but take some pride knowing that our sweat is permanently etched into the building. The rest of the team went about their daily assignments as well: Katie and Laura took to their class of youngsters with the same sense of excitement that they do day in and day out. Jana and Niki left us early again to head out to the community health clinic, something which Sue-Ellen and myself will be participating in tomorrow as well. Claudia and Joan went to Grace school and Joelle and Nita went to Assisi to spend the day there. In the end, our daily assignments are not of the real importance of this journal entry, regardless of where we work or what we do, our impact in the local community is the same. When we signed up for this program, we agreed to carry ourselves as ambassadors of the Global Volunteers program in our placement sites, the work we do enriching the lives of the local children regardless of location can be summed up as only one thing…amazing.
The evening consisted of a trip to St. Thomas Hospital for Sue and myself that saw us watching a live lipectomy on a middle aged woman. The both of us discussed the differences between American medical techniques and Indian standards and the inherent differences in the way doctors and patients carry themselves. We finished the evening with a trip to Stephens own house in Chennai (with a fun rickshaw ride with Laura and Katie) for dinner of chicken byrani, fried fish, chicken, potatoes, beans and carrots and kheer. All of us enjoyed the warmth and hospitality that was displayed to us by his family.
I’ll end as I started with a quote by Hemingway that I have held dear to myself during the often painful med school admissions process “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for, I agree with the second part”


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