Saturday, 20 August 2011

The End.. Or is it?

Flying over my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario I looked down at the streets to a sight I hadn't seen in two months. Little traffic, straight and wide roads, houses aligned with large pools in many backyards, everything was so aligned and organized, just like our culture. This made me start thinking about what I had written in an earlier post.. the traffic reflecting the Indian culture. I wasn't sure if I was ready to step back in to the culture I knew. People following similar paths, in a similar order, repeating routines, and staying Aligned.
My last two weeks in India were spent with my toes in the sand, my hands on mountain rocks, and my heart with the children who never stopped smiling. The sessions with the children continued with some stop and go's, but I will never forget my very last day with the children. Not everyone I wished to see showed up that day, but I didn't need to see their faces to feel their goodbyes. This was the first day that we gave the children an opportunity to be actors in their own skits. I couldn't stop smiling as I watched them perform with so much personality and character. I couldn't decide if I felt like a very proud teacher or a student who was learning. Probably both. A little more then a week before that day I had the same feeling when we spent the session drawing pictures with the kids. I still remember how perfect that moment with them felt because it had been raining earlier that day which usually cancels the sessions, but when the time came for the session we were all sitting in the sun. At the end of session during the feedback I listened more closely then I ever have in my life when they were telling us what they had been learning from us. How it was important to keep the environment and the park clean because this is where they play and do activities, how they know that we come to do sessions with them to teach them how to be when their older, how they can learn English from reading our lips and watching our movements, and how they were thankful that we brought all of the materials for them to draw and colour. All of these moments are what brought about my tears and more tears when I said my last goodbyes. They tried to wipe them away and give us hugs, but what else can this do but bring out more tears!
During my last few weekends, I went from a hot and dry desert to the non-stop rain of the monsoon mountains. If you ever have the chance to experience a camel safari, please, please do this. In Jaisalmer we spent a day and a half riding on the backs of camels, sitting under a tree surrounded by heat and our desire for a cold glass of anything, and climbing up sand dunes to a view of the setting sun. There is so much that I've said I'll never forget about India.. but this is REALLY something that I can't forget. Waking up in the morning after hardly sleeping because of the wind that swept up sand and blew it in our hair and ears to the rising sun. Sitting on top of a sand dune watching the sun, no words.
So my story started with a decision that no one can be sure about. It's true that India ate all of my money and rent may be a little bit of a problem this year, but I feel better then I ever have before. To be honest, as I sit here with all of these things surrounding me that I didn't have in India, I feel like I had more in a place that seems to have less. But really, what someone HAS isn't anything material. Everything I took from India is in my heart. All of the friends I made will be with me no matter where I am and all of the kids will have the smile that I gave them. All I'm able to do now is Smile.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Reason

In the past two weeks I've experienced and witnessed moments of pure joy, compassion, and love. It's hard to describe the feeling of sitting amongst eight hundred underprivileged children jumping, shouting, and dancing in unison to a group of dedicated students. Five events travelling around schools, giving children the opportunity to express creativity and individuality, lead AIESEC of Delhi University to this one final event. I was extremely proud to be involved with this part of India. The people who see that change is necessary and don't waiver in that ideal until they see an impact made. Around eight hundred kids could look at the students who have only just come out of being kids themselves and start to pave a new direction.
As an intern of Project Udaan, which stands for giving Wings to the children, we have been working closely with about twenty to thirty children depending on the day. We were so happy to see "our kids" participating in this final event with such energy and enthusiasm. When the music came on they jumped through the crowd and onto the stage trying to bring us with them. Didi, sister and Buya, brother.. our new names.
The sessions have been a challenge. The fact that we are foreign to their culture leaves us a step behind the knowledge that might give us more direction. In the first few days of being with them, their energy and our inability to control them pushed us down. We slowly recuperated our control but being in a developping country leads to setbacks in all directions. The kids would show up to the session at different times, trickling in as jobs or parents would allow them. We really needed to keep a record of the children but each day the group would grow or shrink. Our lack of Hindi separated us from getting to know them as much as we would like, but they never stopped smiling or trying to get our attention. Translators weren't always present so the setbacks continued. Without a proper venue, we've been working in a fenced in grassyard. I've been calling these setbacks.. but being in India they are not setbacks, these are challenges that we must accept.
We've seen boys hitting and punching eachother, boys hitting girls, children crying, children throwing stones, climbing trees, smoking, and yelling.. yesterday we had to leave the session early because their behaviour was unexpectedly aggressive, but the good in them shines through far more then this behaviour.
In times when everything is in order and all of the children are paying attention it's obvious that they are enjoying themselves. Each day we choose two captains of the day who had shown leadership skills and who are responsible for leading the group out of the yard. Each day we also try to get their feedback about the lessons they had learnt and what they enjoyed. Some days when I hear them speak about how nice it was to work as a team with eachother or how they understood that they shouldn't cheat in a game because it isn't fair or that they just liked everything we did that day, it's truly rewarding.
Some of the children have really stood out to me, showing caring and honest characters. Some moments have also stuck with me. Yesterday there was a goat walking around in the yard (it's not uncommon) and it's legs were tied with a string so it couldn't walk properly. In the past I've seen children throwing things at animals or hitting them, but yesterday the kids worked together to untaggle it's legs. On the second day sitting in groups we asked the children a few questions about their lifestyles and their personalities. We asked the children of our group what they were afraid of and a few boys answered God. When I asked why they said because when they die God will punish them by hitting them and slapping them, taught by their religion. Another day when we were naming the captains a small boy named Useer was named captain and you could see the pride as he stood in front of the group. A few boys shared with everyone that they were happy that we chose him as captain.
It's always hard to watch the kids show up in the same outfits everyday, a little dirtier then the day before. Or to see the scarrs on some of their legs that start from the knee and go down to their ankle, it's obvious that they weren't able to recieve stitches or proper care. Some days a few of the children seem tired or sad, being present but not actually present in the moment with the group. Learning about their potential and their individuality is a huge part of our project, but at times when I see how happy they are to be with us I would gladly drop the rest to be with them for longer. Such a short amount of days here left, I just hope that I can fit them all in my suitcase.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Golden Temple

As our weekend trips continue and I see more of India with larger groups of interns, I realize that this country will always keep you wondering. We decided to take the lowest class of indian train on a nine hour journey towards a city called Amritsar which is close to the Pakistan border. The train ride was one of the biggest adventures I have ever been on. The windows were simply a hole in the side of the train with rusty bars to keep people in. The seats were set in a style of booths without the table in the middle and had us sore from head to toe unless we walked around. Dirt, dirt, dirt was everywhere. On the way there eight of us were squeezed into our booth. Fans were nailed to the ceiling in a pattern to act as our air conditioning. All of the doors of the train were left open and as we slowly squeaked down the railway track people would jump on and off while moving. Some people were sitting on the roof of the train just to make things more dangerous in my view. The most interesting part was the amount of people who squeezed into each corner or hung out of the doors while we moved. I guess many peolpe don't actually pay for tickets either, they just get on wherever they can. At one point on our travels an elderly woman was resting her back on my arm while another had her feet nearly on my lap. Another elderly lady sat on the floor with her head between the knees of my friends, not saying a word the entire ride. Men selling chips and drinks, chai and steaming pakora wandered through the train yelling for purchases to be made. Blind men, cross-dressers, and kids with drums had their hands out for payment every few moments. When stopped, houseless people hung their arms through the window bars to make an earning.
Our plan was to visit the temple at 3 or 4am which is supposed to be the best time to visit it's magnificience. They didn't lie to us. The temple was about half a kilometre long and one hundred metres wide. Lights were draped over it's entire surface. It's a fact that people are allowed to sleep at the temple and when entering it's gates, after being awe-struck by the structure, you realize that you have to watch where you step because people layer the marble ground or sit cross-legged to pray. The Golden Temple is actually a smaller structure in the middle of a rectangular man-made lake that people are seen bathing in the water. It's hard to imagine the amount of devotion these people have to stay here throughout the night, some awake and lively. Our lack of sleep was getting to us, but the main event consisted of a two-hour long wait in a line that led to the middle of the lake where the Golden Temple sat. The line was a struggle, just like India. Everyone is pressed against eachother and when the line lurches forwards men are pushing men, men are pushing women, elderly women are pushing us, and some of us lost the motivation to keep going. The sun began to rise while in this line. Speakers throughout the vicinity conveyed the voice of a man from inside the Golden Temple praying loudly without stopping.
Many of the people inside the walls of the Temple are followers of Sikhism. These men grow beards and long hair, then wrap their hair tightly in turbans. From what I've learnt, the religion encompasses many different threads and has many rules or guidelines to follow. The interns' close friend is a Sikh and he is a truly kind person, Ashmeet Singh, you're great! Finally arriving at the doors, you must bend down and touch the ground at each entrance, while people push and shove to get their turn. The same kind of seemingly chaotic need to reach the ground before the centre of the temple happened, and we were pushed aside. A man in the middle sat in front of the Holy Book with a choir of men to the left who seemed to be singing a chorus of prayers. The temple was small but had winding stairs throughout it leading to different levels where people sat in corners or watched the acts from above. At the top of the temple a man read from another Holy Book and people would bow in front of him as we watched them touch their foreheads or noses to the ground, some more then once.
By 6:30am we had rid ourselves of all energy. I heard one last prayer before leaving, and during this prayer half of the people sat and the other half lined themselves along the edges of the water in prayer. This sight kept me wondering. Religion may always be a mystery to me, but experiencing places such as these where a struggling country can find salvation, takes away my words. Although the city of Amritsar was covered in dust, and had us coughing at the exhaust from the cars and the pollution that created an unwelcoming smell, the temple kept their history in place. Everyday in India I learn something new, about religion, about patience, compassion, pain, sorrow, joy, and love. India, keep me wondering.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Children of the Slums

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at Deenbandhu School from 9:00am until 2:30pm. Five-hundred and fifty kids from the ages of three or four to seventeen greeted us.
A group of us interns travelled accross town to one of the poorest parts of Delhi, India. We piled onto five bicycle rickshaws, after long metro and auto rides, which took us into the streets of a very shocking sight. The roads composed of mud, water, broken bricks, and flies. Dogs, cows, and goats walked around with visible bones as if they were skeletons. The smell was the worst, a mixture of feces, urine, rotten food, and decay. The houses were nothing more then shacks or bricks compiled in odd shapes that ressembled a shelter. I could sense the disease and the pain that laid itself over the people of the town.
At the school gates, everyone was anxious to meet the children. We could hear the laughter and screaming or yelling of children as several AIESECers brought them joy with simple high-fives or a shout of greeting. The students of AIESEC in Delhi University who are involved in Project Udaan are the most generous and passionate people I have ever met. They have an energy that fills their surroundings. They speak of the project with so much love that I hope I care for it in the same way. When I see them working from morning to night on this project, never seeming to tire it gives me more hope that inspiration will lead to change.
The school was no more then thirty metres squared with a mud yard mostly filled with water and a few metal bars as their play area. The walls of the school were rotting and the heat pulled us down at each movement we made. The windows were made with bars and some classrooms had the children all sitting on the floor without desks for the long day of learning. The fans of the classrooms were only turned on as we arrived, which I hated to notice, while the kids wore long sleeve shirts and pants as uniform. Their clothes were covered in dirt as squatting or sitting in the dirt playground was their mode of assembling or doing school work at times.
This day was beautiful in my eyes. The younger children were shy but we could still see a small smile as we failed to communicate with words but gave each child paper and pencil crayons to make a work of art. The older ones ran to our hands to shake them saying HIIIIIII as loud as they could. Some of our guys would have five children jumping on their backs and holding onto their legs. The kids showed the most energy I have ever seen, dancing and jumping around to the music we played, banging the walls in excitement, yelling as they climbed the window bars. A simple game of throwing a plastic ball at a waterball to knock it over had thirty children scrambling to get in line for the simple gratification of knowing they could do it. Later that day, I was sad to see that hitting was still amongst the school system here, the younger boys who recieved slaps to their faces reacted as if this was a regular routine.
They loved to be in our pictures as much as they loved to use our cameras to take pictures. Technology is rarely seen in this part of town and they jumped at the chance to have a glimpse of their own masterpiece. As soon as I started playing hand-clapping games with the little girls they would not let go of my hands. A few girls pulled at my hands and tried to bring me to their classrooms, only letting go when a teacher scolded their actions. Another couple little girls wanted my phone number so badly even though speaking to them was barely accomplished. I think they just wanted a piece of us to bring back with them to remember this one day amazing day.
After feeding them all as much food as we could, the heat clung to our weary bodies. The AIESECers here have an amazing point of view towards the work they do, they believe in giving everything they have for the time that they are working towards a goal of changing lives and at the end of working for as long as necessary despite exhaustion they get together and enjoy eachothers company. I thought this would mean sitting an relaxing, but not really for them, they were jumping around in unison doing AIESEC dances and pulled at our arms to join.
A beautiful day.
Wednesday, July 20th, 2011. We meet with the forty children who we will be working with :)

Monday, 18 July 2011

Magic in the Mountains

The past weekend was spent exploring the magical village of Dharamsala. The home of the Dalai Lama's temple. If you are looking for a place that will enrich your memory with unforgettable and unimaginable sights of the world, the Himalayas is where you will find that piece of magic.
The trip started on a coach bus that would take us on a 12 hour journey up windy roads and slippery terrain. I should warn you that if you are afraid of experiencing life-threatening situations, a night bus towards the Himalayan mountains is not for you. We skidded through the monsoon season's wet roads, as our tredless tires screeched and flew the people in the back of the bus into the air. There was not a silent moment on this bus, the breaks seemed to only slow the bus down before a cliff or another car. After half an hour into the mountains a loud bang awoke us. The old and weary tire had exploded. Similar to many people in India who treat their country without care, this bus was yearning to be taken care of. This is just an extension to the dangerous driving in India. Arriving in the morning brought a sigh of relief along with looks of awe at the mountains that surrounded the village and the small, crammed streets that encompassed the village.
Our first journey brought us along the side of a mountain to an even smaller village based around a temple. One hundred steps up along the side of a mountain led us to a waterfall where locals swam in the clearest of water. A few of us decided to keep heading up into the mountains alongside the waterfalls heightening path. Small cafes and snack shops are found all throughout the mountains where you might find a tourist with a similar journey in mind. We jumped from rock to rock at a flat level on top of the waterfall and when the rocks became too difficult for our hands and feet we continued to another side of a mountain. Going up the mountains you may come accross piles of rocks organized in a pyramid where travellers have set down a rock as a sign of good luck. Each chance I had I would set down my own rock and appreciate in fullness the view that I was privileged to share with everyone who made their way just as I had.
Dalai Lama's temple later that day is like venturing into a distant world of past and present. While walking through the town you will see monks with shaven heads and long burgandy gowns wrapped around their bodies. At the Dalai Lama's temple, which is set to display a view of the town as well as a layer of mountains along it's balcony, monks are seen praying in unison cross-legged on the floor or chatting to tourists. The temple itself was small in comparison to other's I have seen in India. But the quiantness of this place, along with it's simplicity yet magical feeling reflects the town's layout as well as the Bhuddist nature. On our way back from the temple we were blessed with a pink and blue sky after the day's rainfall which had us climbing onto a stranger's rooftop to open our eyes towards the tips of snowy mountains with a rainbow stretching accross their curves.
The next day was another opportunity to venture into mountains which teased our senses. But before this journey started we made our way to another temple down below the village at 6:30am. The monks of this temple eat here, learn here, and grow together here. At 6:30 a couple younger boys blew through shells in unison to begin the morning. We sat inside the temple along the wall as the monks of all ages prayed for over an hour. Each person seemed to be speaking at a different speed or tone. The prayer created an aura in the room, as if a deeper presence lingered. Insence filled the air and food was brought to each of the monks after the prayer. Only peace and love would pass through these temple gates.
At 9am we began to climb paths along a mountainside. Alongside the path, our silence allowed a family of monkeys to swing through tiny branches and sit in eachother's arms. The mountains kept giving us more to explore. Strung and weaved accross high tree tops, pieces of blue, yellow, red, and white cloth are attatched to rope or string with prayers faded on their surfaces. These prayers are said to be sent closer to their Gods when placed in this manner.
In search for a waterfall that arrows written in paint on rocks told us we would find, we also found ourselves hiking through shoulder-width mud pathways. Climbing with on all-fours at times, after three hours of travel around the side of a mountain, the sound of a waterfall greeted us. Between two green mountains that touched the sky the water crashed against huge rocks and came down towards us. Our time at this place of serenity was short-lived as the monsoon rain hit us once again and we were forced to turn around along the slippery slopes. The journey back was a little easier as we knew what to expect, but we had to be extra careful that our feet wouldn't lose grip on the corner of a rock, or the mud wouldn't give way and crash down the cliff.
I spent my time along these walks memorizing the views that have imprinted themselves in my memory. This was an opportunity that I will never forget and I hope one day to return to these spots that held me up and showed me beauty.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Times of India

The traffic of India reflects the culture in which they live. You can learn to move with the traffic, jump into the sea of cars and become a part of the chaos and the uncertainty. Once in the traffic you must stay completely aware of your surroundings, but everyone else knows your there too so even if you take your time you won't get hit.
It's difficult at times being a foreigner in New Delhi. People in the streets will try to take advantage of the fact that our money is worth more and we may not know the usual price of an auto to a certain point or a skirt at a shop. I have probably been taken advantage of so far in about 75 percent of the things I have done. It is easy to become frustrasted with the idea that we don't know exactly who to trust or how far they are pushing our limits.. but when one attempts to go more deeply into understanding, your perception changes.
Throughout the past four days 22 interns along with an AIESECer and a few tour guides travelled to western india throughout Rajasthan. The towns differed in various ways from the people and culture of Delhi.
       We started in a city called Jaipur or The Pink City. After missing our train ride, which is a a normal thing if you're following "Indian Time" we loaded on a bus that took us about 350km away which was a 6 hour travel time. The city attracted more beggers and attention than I had seen before. Children would follow us for 100 metres putting their hands to their mouths to signal that they needed money for food. If you look them in the eyes they might hold on to your arm to get you to pay more attention and not let go. Saying No is hard, but so many people need help that you feel helpless in yourself. A man stood beside our group of interns with his child in a wheelburrow in rags and dirt and continued to say hello and try to find our eyes for half an hour.
The tourist attractions were amazing. Amber Fort was set in the mountains, we took a jeep through small brick streets to get there and were amazed by the views. That night we were taken to an indian restaurant in a large tent with available acts to be watched outside, like a circus. The only problem was that the performers were children or very poor locals. A boy who seemed about 4 was made to do a dance that was simple yet seemed to tire him out without food in his reach for probably the entire day. Between his dances, where he was also made to spin his head while his hat spun a little string in circles, he sat looking in the distance with the most hurt look on his face. Another teenage boy stood on a rope high in the air with only a dirt ground to catch him as he showed us dangerous movements. When another 7 year old boy was made to burn his arms and put liquid in his mouth so when he blew at a torch fire filled the air, I walked away.
       The next city was Udaipur.. we arrived after a 9 hour busride overnight. The hotel we stayed in had a rooftop view of the city, several houses in sight had people sleeping on the rooftops which is common in India. The city has several lakes, we took a boatride on one and made our way to a small getaway in the middle of the lake. On the edge of the lake people are bathe in the polluted water, unlike Delhi in which you can see people bathing on the sidewalks where some might live. This city was peaceful. We weren't haggled when walking down the streets and we didn't hear the constant horns of Delhi. Our last day in Udaipur 6 of us decided to continue our trip that night to Jodhpur, another 6 hour ride instead of the 12 hrs back to Delhi. We made our own arrangements at a beautiful budget hotel that held the traditions of the city and treated us with delight.
Jodhpur stole my heart in a day. This is called The Blue City, so laiden with tradition and peace that you can't help but smile and yearn to see more of it. Our expectations of India's small, busy streets and spiritual getaways were fulfilled in this city. The hotel was entirely blue, with several rooftops and an open area in the middle of the hotel that had no roof. We made our first visit to Merhrangarh fort, which left us all speechless. The walls of this fort covered the outskirts of the Old City of Jodhpur which is surrounded by mountains and desert. A audio tour of the Fort spoke of this majestic building that was designed with layers of terraces and balconies. From the balconies you can see the entirety of the Old City, all shades of blue covered the houses. A garden to the left of the Fort is a depiction of every image that peace creates. We then travelled to a Crematorium. The entire building was made of detailed marble and stones. There was a separate shrine made for each King's ashes which overlooked the city once again. Leaving this city to come back to the chaos of Delhi was hard, but each city has it's own magic to be discovered.
The interns became extremely close during this trip, we travel together, eat together, sleep on couches, in busses, on floors, all we are trying to do is understand eachother. One intern told me something that really made me appreciate the moment I was in, she told me how amazing it was that all these people who have different lives to share all eventually end up in the same place at the same time to experience the same life.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

On the Job

As time passes in India and we become more subjected to the uniqueness of this culture, I am beginning to realize the immense responsibility that the interns of our project are going to have. We are given a challenge unlike any other project that I have seen here. Our managers, Raghav Bagai and Adhiraj Singh, continually express their excitement and love for the project we are about to take on. They have very high expectations for us, as our goal is doubted by many other people of India. They have told us that people don't believe we can make the change that we seek, I have also encountered a few people from India in Canada who didn't have any sort of faith in what we are doing. The idea here is that things have been the same for so long and no one can see the impact that local NGOs make or that people like ourselves make, so nothing can produce a large enough change. The garbage will keep piling up and the people will continue to beg for money, the children will stay hungry in their rags and the elderly will pass away on street corners. But we have faith. Many people making little differences day after day, convincing others to do the same can only equal a larger impact.
Project UDAAN
Our project expands over 6 weeks, in this time we will be taking sessions with 40 underpriviledged children from a place called Nizamuddin. The children of this school are subjected to violence involving children from other schools who target them, as well as drug abuse at the age of only 11, 12 or 13. They have been working with a local NGO for about a year so the potential is there but their troubled backgrounds and lack of many necessities lowers their confidence, their self-worth, and their overall view of the opportunities and situation in society. We are stepping in to empower these children. We want them to realize their strengths and provide them with hope and confidence in their skills and potentials. Everyday from Monday to Friday for 6 weeks we will meet with the children after thier schooling to firstly get to know them and become a source of reliance and friendship. After establishing relationships with the children we will focus on topics to be covered during each session. The topics will include civic sense, education, confidence, problem solving etc.
Growing up in Canada we were constantly shown the fundamentals of acting appropriately in society, we were strengthened by our elders and provided with confidence and skills to use for the rest of our lives. We were given structure and support. Children are the most influential people.
A big challenge for us is the fact that they have very poor english. We'll be using translators to help us show the children the topics we will be covering. In order to keep the children engaged and involved we will be using interactive and visual ways of teaching. This may include a skit about civic sense, such as a blind man walking across the street who needs help and the children will need to come in and act out what to do. Or we may show them a situation involving confrontation and the problem being solved and they should pick out what is going wrong or what they should do instead.
Each day we must focus completely on the children and getting to know the best way to produce this change. Six weeks is a short time and people doubt that at the end there will be a noticeable or any kind of change. There will be interns staying here to follow up on the lives on the children. We believe it is possible, and in the long run these children can act as examples to spread the effect to others. Failure is not an option.