India Team 119 Journal Excerpts

December 16, 2012 – Katie

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ? Helen Keller
Team 119
Introducing Team 119:
We have a nice blend of volunteers on our team; many of which are seasoned Global Volunteers. It’s fun to see so many repeat volunteers; it shows that Global Volunteers is doing something right! Here’s the roster: Chris (social worker/technology/world psychology in Portland), Nuriya (retired graphic designer in Portland), Joelle (Art teacher in St Paul, 5th GV trip in India), Mary (retired in Seattle, 3rd GV in India, experienced many other GV trips including Costa Rica, Tanzania, Indonesia, North and South Vietnam, Robin (Urban Planner for a NGO in Chicago, experience GV in Tanzania), and Katie (recruiter in Minneapolis, 4th GV in India). We had all arrived by breakfast the day before, so were already well on our way to getting acquainted.
The better part of the morning was spent working through orientation where we learned the rules of engagement, set personal goals and defined the characteristics of an effective team. The overall themes of our goals are as follows: to experience personal growth, to experience Indian culture, deepen relationships, work with children, and to let kids know they’re valued.
A common thread which drew us here was a shared belief in Global Volunteers’ philosophy of service whereby we help at the invitation and direction of local partners. Understanding our differences and building friendships is the first step towards waging peace in the world.
Through this process we got to know each other a bit better; I think we’ll get along just fine as a team.
With orientation out of the way, we had the afternoon off to relax or shop in the neighborhood. We hit the jackpot at a local sari shop and agreed that we enjoyed supporting local stores rather than taking a full evening to go into Chennai for the same outcome. Robin and I even purchased the lungi (male skirt) for wearing around the house and at the beach back home.
We headed back to SEAM where we were greeted with delight. The children run to greet us at the gate and spend the evening fighting for our attention. I sort of feel like a celebrity when I’m at SEAM—it’s a very rewarding feeling. We split up and some volunteers started working with the children on a one-on-one basis. With this being my 4th trip here in four years, I’ve gotten attached to these children. It’s hard to be back here with some of my favorite kids gone. In the same breath, I’m eager to welcome the new ones in.
The team headed to Anjappar, a new restaurant in the neighborhood. Roshan enjoyed chicken lollipop while Stephen ordered a spread for the rest of us to enjoy.
Lesson of the day:
If you see an Indian man and he’s smiling, he’s single.

December 17, 2012 – Chris

Quote (approximate): What you bring out which is within you, it will save you. That which is within you that you do not bring out, will destroy you. (From “The Gospel of Saint Thomas”)
This is our initial GV trip, and it’s already much more than I expected. Our leader Stephen makes real the values expressed in GV material, and I’m happy that his wife Sheeba is a large part of what we do here as well. Other team members, Katie, Joelle, Mary and Robin, and my wife Nuriya are all part of a team which feels great to belong to. The characteristics of a good team, and our purposes, feel meaningful and real – what I really wanted in a trip like this.
I love our meals, Indian food from this region, and I’m happy that we might have a chance, time and interest from other team members permitting, to have a cooking class as part of our experience here. During breakfast we talked about other activities we might do together during our days off the coming weekend, and field trips with children from the homes and schools we’re working with, etc. – detailed on the calendar now posted on the wall in the volunteer house.
Mary and I went to GraceSchoolabout 9:20 in the morning and early afternoon to clean, scrape and sand two rooms in preparation for painting the next day – which turned out to be quite an adventure! We began by moving out books and miscellaneous items from a room on the ground level being used for storage. Items had been there for a long time, probably for years.
The sanding and scraping were exhausting and hard work,
After we returned for a badly needed shower then a delicious lunch, Mary went outside to wash her clothes by hand, since the daily 2-4 o’clock power outage had begun, sharing that space for a few minutes with two rats who did not like her company ran into a nearby drain to hide – then, exhausted we went upstairs to rest before the rest of the team returned from Assisi Illam.
I learned from Nuriya about her experience there, preparing food (curry leaves, cilantro, etc.) in the kitchen with Katie and Sheeba, for the lunch there, while Robin and Joelle were spending time with the younger children downstairs. Finishing that, Sheeba left to pick up Roshan, and Nuriya and Katie went to join Joelle and Robin. Joelle was entertaining the children with Leo, her hand puppet monkey – holding their excited and rapt attention for a good twenty minutes!
After another break, we returned to Seam Children’s Home to spend time with the children there. Mary, Robin, Nuriya and I did one-on-one educational activities with several children, in shifts, while Katie played and studied with a group of children. After Mary instructed us in transplanting some plants in the rooftop garden, we returned home for a tasty dinner, a short meeting which included practice with a few Tamil expressions.

December 18, 2012 – Nuriya

We started off this morning as usual with a delightful breakfast. Our driver Stephen surprised us with custard apples from his tree. After a short meeting, during which Sheeba agreed to teach us Tamil cooking, the painters, Mary and Chris, headed off to Grace School to continue painting everything—maybe even a few residual cockroaches—rose-pink; and the Assisi Illam group—Joelle, Katie, Robin, and Nuriya—set off expecting another idyllic day of play with the toddlers in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon. After all, yesterday was idyllic, so what should we expect?
So…when we arrived at Assisi Illam, Joelle, who still was not feeling well, went upstairs to rest. Sister Rose, deploring idleness even in the sick and wounded, put her immediately to work making silk flower arrangements. Meanwhile, downstairs with the toddlers, Robin, Katie, and Nuriya experienced a change in weather patterns when the teacher left us alone with 30-odd kids, one of whom was crying incessantly (we worried he was ill or somehow terribly traumatized, but it turns out it was just his first day back after a long absence) and another was shoving other kids and making them cry also, drowning out “The Wheels on the Bus.” No one seemed happy with the crayon colors doled out either, and we were running out of songs to sing. At last the teacher came back and everything returned to normal—lunchtime and then naptime when they all lay down lined up (as Auntie Noelle says) like little sausages.
In fact, things became even better than normal when the big kids showed up at 12:30. It was Sophia’s eighth birthday today, and lunch upstairs was a celebration, with cake and chicken biryani. Sophia looked dazzling and happy in her non-uniform birthday costume. After lunch Katie led the kids in a rousing game of Twister. Then driver Stephen took us to the Government Emporium for an hour of shopping. Several dinner napkins, two saris, a pair of earrings, a ring, a handbag, pashmina shawls, and a few presents later, we drove home through Chennai traffic and got ready for the night at SEAM.
Chris and Mary, meanwhile—joined by Barnabas—spent the day painting two ceilings and some walls at Grace. Mary and Sheeba worked for a while in the morning at SEAM’s rooftop garden, where they were delighted to see that the plants they had transplanted the night before were still alive! The power at Grace went out at 11:30, so our intrepid painters had to paint in dim light, understandably missing a few spots here and there, which showed up later in the day when the head of the school shined a spotlight on the walls for inspection.
In the evening we went to SEAM for (primarily) one-on-one tutoring. Chris and Rajesh, who had formed an instant bond the night before over open source, worked on downloading PHP and Ubuntu. Katie entertained the kids downstairs. Joelle, Robin, Mary, and Nuriya worked with a series of students (some of whom, who shall remain nameless, wanted only to color or look around the room at what all the other people were doing).
Tonight after dinner some people had the strength to go to the internet café. Others of us fell gratefully into bed.
Today’s quote is from Stephen, worth remembering when things don’t go as fast as we think they might (after all, haven’t we been here already almost four whole days??): At GV, we’re part of a long chain. We build on others’ efforts, and subsequent volunteers build on what we’re doing now.

December 19, 2012 – Joelle

The Capacity of the Human Heart
I heard this quote from a MO (Minnesota Original – TPT) featuring a performance artist and I have been reflecting upon this for some time – it seems especially appropriate for today: “The mystery of the human heart is – its immense capacity to hold both great sorrow and great joy at the very same time.”
Today – my heart is full of both sadness and joy. Today I learned that my own Auntie died sadness for both myself and Katie because my aunt, her great aunt was such a strong woman of faith and goodness, doing….doing ….doing…… And here we were today, Robin, Nuriya, Katie and me, blessed with the title “Auntie” – a joy ringing from the lips of the Assisichildren. Today my brother had his surgery – a hard thing for sure…..and today I sit with other brothers and sisters a continent away from my family at home and this too requires a stretch of the heart.
This morning as we sent off fellow team mates Mary and Chris to Grace School to do painting, the tune I heard playing in my head was “Hi Ho, Hi Ho….its off to work they go….” with the same good cheer as any Disney character could possess. Even then, they felt they got the better assignment as we others prepared for another day with Sr. Rose, the day care children and the older sensational “six”! And the four of us conspired under our breath we were so happy that they thought so and wouldn’t force a “switch” in assignments. Somehow it has managed to work to the advantage of our skills and talents as we embraced one component of an “effective” team.
Starting our morning with a detour, a visit with Dr. Sister Rexline at St. ThomasHospital was among the day’s highlights. Such a powerhouse of a woman hidden beneath hospital white sister habit, small frame, gentle and tiny voice. She quickly zeroed in on Robin as a potential cog in her wheel of potential projects proposed – additional daycare space for an orphanage in the country. Of course this woman is a master at networking as we all realized from her vast lifetime achievements. And then there is God, who she credits with all! Nuriya pointed out how much pain and suffering has been relieved because of all the work and efforts of this woman who has managed to stretch her heart to encompass this pain and to find joy in doing so.
After a quiet lunch with Sr. Rose and the 10 of us – SS6 and the GV4, we decided to brave a trip to the Christmas market with the SS6, with Reena as our guide. Thank goodness……she became our money manager and kid wrangler as we enjoyed watching these children just be children having holiday fun. S-T-R-E-T-C-H!
At SEAMS we continued our work, some of us working one-to-one, while others entertained the masses. I’m thankful for the letters my students in Minnesota wrote to the children, as it has been a wonderful way to encourage practice in reading and writing English as they work on writing letters in return.
This evening’s activity was going to Stephen’s parent’s house for a five-star, yes, count them – five star feast! Jhoti’s smile could warm up any room with happiness overflowing. Stephen’s dad was a welcoming host. Still the walls of the heart expand. So much love and goodness to take in for one day! As I go to sleep tonight – a prayer for an aunt who has passed and a brother to be healed reminds me of our very human, and very big heart.

December 20, 2012 – Robin

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
Mahatma Gandhi
With the first week almost over, we six of Team #119 are comfortably settling into our work routines here in Chennai. Today Chris and Mary completed painting their second room at GraceSchool. Joelle, Nuriya, Katie and I did our thing at Assisi Illam. Our work with the toddlers wraps up when the teacher is ready to serve them lunch. At about that time, we were visited by a handsome, tall young man named Isaac. Isaac is a civil engineer who knows Sr. Dr. Rexline, and who met Joelle and Katie last year. He came by to meet us and wish us well. Before leaving after about a 15 minute visit, he led the four of us and Sister Rose in prayer to keep the children, us and our families safe and healthy over Christmas and into the New Year.
We looked forward to Sophie, Sylvia, Jasmine, George, Augustine, George and John returning from school – especially today, as it was Jasmine’s birthday. Katie brought her special presents and Sister Rose provided a decadent chocolate birthday cake. After singing and candle blowing, Jasmine fed each of us a piece (akin to the bride and groom ritual at an American wedding). We then settled into lunch – by far, my favorite ritual of the work week. I’ll explain why in a bit. We seven sit on the floor “Indian style”, Sister Rose serves us lunch and we eat with our hands and just visit with one another.
At SEAM later in evening we conducted an hour of tutoring, then turned over the prayer hall to anything but. We cranked up the music and got down with some dance moves. Our dance party got almost every one, even Lia and Mary, on the dance floor for at least a bit. A handful of the older girls and older boys were either too cool or too shy. But otherwise, we all busted a move, some more than others! The little ones were the best, just little sponges in picking up our freestyle dance moves and showing us a few fly moves of their own. I swear I could look into the eyes of a few of those little boys and see them on a Delhidance floor 20 years from now.
As for the lunch ritual at Assisi, It may seem like nothing to Sister Rose, as host, but it means the world to me. Choosing to participate for a second time with Global Volunteers, I had the same ulterior motive as with my service in Tanzania. My first priority, of course, is to serve and to do good in the world. But, I also recognize, this type of service becomes my “admission ticket” so to speak, to see the real India. As Stephen and Sheeba’s guests here in Chennai, I am invited into the most private of spaces, those that a tourist’s eyes would typically never see. Those lunches I’ve so come to enjoy. Toddlers coming back from potty break waving their underpants in search of help to put them back on. Dinner–home cooked of course–in a family’s home. A private hospital tour and coffee break with a champion for the poor and for women, time so precious for a woman who admits she never takes a day off. Sitting in the library of an orphanage, seeing children actually wanting to practice any subject we put in front of them.
And the library brings me to my last thought of the day. Twice earlier this week at SEAM, Paul Anthony was assigned to me for tutoring. I quickly learned he is far more capable in math, than in English, so I began to challenge him in his weaker subject. The looks I received in return assured me—so I thought—that he was not enjoying my company one bit. So wasn’t I surprised that he sought me out for tutoring tonight? We did some more English practice, as I kept making up new tricks and games on the fly. Finally, he said he wanted to play “the game”. I said, “what game?”. He couldn’t remember what it was called, so he drew a picture of the game of Hangman. Yesterday I had tried to teach him the game of Hangman, as a means to practice spelling English words. Here, I thought he was miserable yesterday not being able to guess any words. It was a really nice surprise to learn my efforts weren’t in vain.

December 21, 2012 – Mary

Since today is the end of the world I feel I really don’t need to be writing this – but will persevere anyway.
Breakfast today included Kesari which is couscous with raisins, cashews, cardamon and orange food coloring. It is Joelle’s favorite and understandably so. After breakfast Chris and I rode with little Stephen to GraceSchoolfor our painting job. There was no school so the place was quiet for a change. The office was our project for the day but they left most of the furniture in the room so it was a tight squeeze. Scraping was first on the agenda and we immediately discovered that the old paint was literally peeling off the walls so preparation took a long time. When we finally started painting it was a relief but we soon discovered that some areas bubbled up and we had to scrape and repaint them. The only wildlife today was a few spiders and a small lizard who is now a pink small lizard. My biggest adventure was lying on the floor under the big shelf trying to paint over my head. Chris almost fell trying to step from the desk to the movable shelving but Barnabus leapt across a gap of 5 feet and saved him.
The Assisi gang of 4 had a very good day. (Enough said according to Joelle but to elaborate they enjoyed the little day care kids. They painted Santas with the children and proudly came home with their paint stains to match those that Chris and I have.)
Sheeba gave a cooking lesson in the afternoon. Vegetable korma was one of the dishes as well as sambar and poriyal. These were dinner and were delicious.
Working at SEAMS tonight seemed to be satisfactory for everyone, I spent the first 15 minutes watering the plants with the help of several boys who hauled big buckets of water up to the roof. The plants are thriving!
Back to the house for dinner and Internet access for the first time since we’ve been here. Stephen finally was able to get the modem fixed and we no longer have to go over to the Internet “café” for our “fixes”.
Tomorrow is the weekend and Stephen, Nuriya, Chris, Robin and myself are going off to Pondicherryin the morning. Joelle and Katie are hanging here. They will begin their weekend with a trip to the vegetable and flower market.
Thought for the day: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Rademacher Hershey
“When Stephen says, ‘Whenever you’re ready we’ll go’ it means he’s ready to go now. But don’t forget Indiatime – you may have been ready to go 2 hours earlier!”

December 24, 2012 – Christmas Eve: Joelle

As promised is brevity for Mary for Christmas. The highlights (and challenges) of the day: Stephen and Sheeba returned from a brief visit with their family as Stephen’s sister and her family returned from the north; My first glimpse of the beach – been waiting five years for this as we held hands with Assisi children and escorted them into the water, letting the waves was over us; Mary becoming ill, resulting in an evening trip to the hospital – dehydration and home again, we are all thankful, playing games with the children on their holiday lead by Stephen, and home again for primping – Sheeba, Robin, Joelle and Katie as they prepared for midnight Mass with the Assisi children; Walking all the Assisi family in the dark to St. Patrick’s for Mass, Katie and Joelle sharing a bit of an inside joke of the humor they found in the liturgy, but confess it really was so special and beautiful as Jasmine slept in Katie’s arms and Augustine sat wide awake next to Joelle….and hearing Robin confide, “There is no place else I’d rather be for Christmas…” A sentiment I believe we all share.
As my days with this team are coming to a close I want to thank these extraordinary individuals for having made this a truly marvelous and effective team. We found our own gifts to share – from play-dough making, painting Michelangelo-Style at Grace school, teaching computer technology, photographing children, playing games, reading, singing, dancing – and best of all – loving the children. I believe we have met our over-arching goal for this team: To let kids know they are valued.
And this seems a perfect message for a Christmas Eve when God sent a child to us – to change us, to help us know how much we are loved. But for those who do not share this belief, perhaps they will better relate to this kind of miracle – a quote from
Thich Nhat Hanh:
People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk on either water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.
Every Day we are engaged in a miracle we don’t recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, and the black curious eyes of a child —- our own two eyes. All is a miracle!
Still this trip would be made even more perfect if my last dream came true – Stephen dancing with us today…….Now that would be a miracle! Especially good timing since Christmas is all about miracles!

December 25, 2012 – Nuriya

The most perfect Christmas Day begins with an image and ends with a song.
The image is from the day before, when we took the Assisi Illam kids to the beach. The little girl on my lap dropped her possession: a sheet of notebook paper folded in half, decorated in yellow flourishes. A red string serves as a handle. Careful cursive, in the form of an arch, reads:
Mary Sylvia
and it contains a plastic rosary.
Christmas Day is a day of visiting. In the morning we women wrapped ourselves in saris and jewelry, and joined by the less elaborately clad Stephen and Chris, went to Assisi Illam. The kids put on a spectacular show for us of katak dancing. They were gorgeously decked out in costumes, jewels, and makeup, and their years of katak dance lessons showed in their professional ability. This extravaganza was followed by free-for-all dancing including the Hokey Pokey, and then a fabulous lunch.
After a nap—which some of us took still wearing our saris—we went to SEAM. We arrived a few minutes before 6:00, so the power was still off, and the main hall was dark. We hung out in the courtyard, and when the power went on, we saw through the windows that the hall was festooned with sparkly garlands along the ceiling, plastic flowers taped to the walls, and hung with four bedspreads serving as stage curtains. We were taken by the hand and led to our royal plastic chairs. The show began: Tamil Christmas carols, dancing both intricate and wild, and punctuated throughout in the hammiest fashion by Santa wearing his red costume, large tummy, and purple and white balloons on his head.
Joelle and Katie distributed gifts they had brought from Target dollar bin: pencils and glow sticks. The kids made bracelets of the glowsticks, and we left SEAM again a dark courtyard alive with glowing purple, green, and yellow circles.
Following dinner at Anajappar, we returned to find Mary still sleeping. We hope she will have a good night’s sleep and feel better in the morning.
How could this get any better? With ice cream, of course. Stephen disappeared and came back with chocolate, strawberry, and tutti-frutti!
Of all the music today, the song that remains in my mind is by Bruno, brought to us—as so many other wonderful moments on this trip—by Joelle, choreographed and shared with the kids. Do they know we are singing to them? I think so. It sums up the reason we’re here, and the magic of this Christmas Day:
And when you smile
The whole world stops and stares for a while
Because you’re beautiful
Just the way you are.

December 26, 2012 – Chris
Stephen and Sheeba returned and ate with Roshan, who was now awake, before we left on the small bus to pick up the Seems children – Stephen teasing us, saying all of the children would be on the bus with us. At the Seems home, another bus was there, so we had a girls bus and a boy’s bus. We had a lively trip, especially in the boy’s bus as children danced to music from Katie’s IPod.
Our first trip was to “the mountain” where we toured the beautiful temple of St. Thomas, viewed the Nativity Scenes there, and statues of Mr. & Mrs. Santa Clause, and animal statues. The mountain provided beautiful views of Chennai, and the children especially the boys, enjoyed watching the big airliners take off from the nearby international airport.
Before leaving the mountain, we shared some ice cream with the children, then we drove to the famous Children’s Park, looking at a number of animals, and found a deer with large antlers wandering in the park who allowed the children who dared, to pet him. We stopped at a large playground with monkey bars, swings, slides, and merry-go-round, where the children played – and we considered that this is one of few places in Chennai where they can play like this – wondering if there was a way we could provide something like that at Seems home. Our stay at the park ended with a tasty picnic lunch prepared by our cook Ronnie earlier in the morning.
After lunch, we drove to a large and relatively uncrowded stretch of beach where we held the hands of the excited children as the waves came up and splashed around us – a daunting task as some of the children as they overcame their fear of the waves, didn’t understand the dangers of going out too far and getting swept out in the undertow. It was troubling that one little girl had said earlier that she wanted to lie down in the ocean and die – she was quite a handful for a while. On the way back to the busses Rajesh and Katie played games in the sand with the children, running races, and watching them turn cartwheels and summersalts – then we had a long drive home, broken by a stop for some more snacks shared with the children. This type of outing is a rare treat for the Seems children, and it was rewarding, though tiring, for us to share it with them.
Finally, we returned for a late, but delicious dinner, with tasty rice, and eggplant curry dish, and raita.

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

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