THE INDIA FILES – 31/01/07

Time is still going very quickly! The inter students have exams at the moment so things have become a little less hectic. As well as all the normal teaching, here’s what else we’ve been up to…A few weeks ago Katie and I went to see Navanjeevan, another street children’s NGO (for more info google it – they have a website all about them). They also work with child labourers too. It’s quite a large, catholic organisation. They run different programs. They have boys and girls homes for street kids and for child labourers as well as bridge schools and camps. Child labour is a large problem in India, with no simple solution, as if children are taken out of jobs, the families’ economic difficulties force them into another job. NGOs like Care and Share sponsor these children by giving money to their families and then providing the child with education and meeting their other needs. Navajeevan (which means New Life in India’s ancient language, Sanscrit) works by putting the children into bridge school or homes. There are some European volunteers already working there. On saturday, we went with one of the Dutch volunteers to the government run Vijayawada boys Juvenile Home. I was suprised to find that it really was a home – just a house. Through the barred windows you could see into the house next door, the home of a regular Indian family. The boys (about 35, though last week it was 45) live in 2 small rooms. They complain of leg pain becasue they get no exercise and have to sit for most of the time. We played games with them for about 2 hours, and I was beaten several times at Chess and learnt an Uno type game. Katie taught some english. They were quite open and it was very interesting talking to them, in amix of telugu and english (mainly telugu – how exciting! I can say that now…) I couldnt have done it 5months ago because I wouldnt have been able to communicate with them. They are legally not supposed to be in there, awaiting trial, for more than 4 months. Many have been there for 5months. They are supposed to be between 13 and 19, though many confessed to being 12 or 20 (though they were very young-looking 12 year olds..) There is also a wide range of crimes, from stealing a bike to murder. Alex, the dutch volunteer, and his wife Marly are counsellors and are training (telugu) counsellors to work at Navajeevan and places like the Juvenile Centre. Most of the boys are re-offenders, which, when compared to juvenile centres in Bangalore and Visakhaptnam, where the boys are counselled and so most are first time offenders, shows the need for it. Occassionally I thought ‘I’m locked in a room overcrowded with boys, some of which are accused of murder and rape, shouldn’t I be scared?’ but I wasn’t at all; the boys are all very friendly. We saw no fighting, they all seemed to look after each other quite well, they’d become friends, and almost like brothers. We were of course completely safe; Alex is very tall, and so I don’t think any of them would have messed with him, and of course there were guards on the other side of the door, and often they came and sat in. Most of the time however the guards don’t come into the room, but delegate responsibility to the older boys. They are not supposed to do this. It creates a hierarchy. One game we played (Alex’s invention) was a ‘stand up, sit down’ game for which the winners got sweets. Its a good exercise for the legs and mind. On the 9th we saw ‘new shiny white people’ (very exciting…) at the SKCV girls centre opening, and again watched the kids dancing (including the amazing fire dnce we saw on Nov 5th)On the 15th and 16th we had a few days holiday at the college for Pongal (or Sankranthi), the Hindu harvest festival. Like most Hindu rituals, it serves a practical purpose. It is a way of ensuring a good income for farmers in the first week of the harvest. Typically, theres lots of eating involved. The first day is ‘Boghi’ and involves burning all the rubbish and leaves. A fire has to be kept burning the whole night outside every Hindu home (even on the road, which adds an extra thing for the cars to dodge). The result of this was that you could hardly breathe the next morning, the air was so thick with smoke, stinging your eyes. We were invited to a Hindu family’s celebration. They had got all the dolls in the house and made a shrine for them all, and ‘put them as gods’ and then the 3 youngest children were sat on chairs while everyone put a handful of flowers, coins and small fruits on their heads. The youngest didnt know what was happening and spent the whole time crying. On the 15th and 16th, Katie and I got a bus to Tiruvuru to visit another street childrens NGO in a village about 2 and a half hours away, called IDEAS. We met their German volunteer and their Indian organiser a few months ago at the college, and so we went to see the work that they’re doing. It was a fantasitc 2 days – the countryside is so beautiful. We had lots of motorbike rides (some a little scary – I’m going to start thinking very carefully about getting on the back of motorbikes with 3 people on, without helmets, with young drivers without liscenses….lots of praying involved and I have vowed not to be so stupid in the future!) through the most amazing countryside; miles and miles of green paddy fields, glistening in the sun. Can’t describe it. Rural indian life is so relaxed and lovely. We went to a reservoir with the boys (in a customised auto, the organsiation isnt big enough to have a vehicle). There were only about 10 boys because many had gone to see their families for the holidays, but usually there are about 50 boys. It was a much smaller organisation, and was really just like a family. Shouri (the head of the organisation) lives there and so does the cook, and the boys were very happy. Playing marbles with coins on a dirt track at 6am wouldn’t have been to appealing a year ago! There was a tortoise in a bucket, who now lives in a big tank, thats my bit for saving the animals… It was just a lovely chilled out few days messing about with the kids and talking.We now have a friend who works in Vijayawada’s first (and only) call centre. She is stuggling with the Birtish and American accent, and has been shouted at by a woman who couldnt understand her. She is working throughout the night in the call centre and then studying during the day, and going to lectures on sundays, for her degree. I will now, I hope, be more understanding towards those Indians I get through to when I call my bank or insurance company! (while in Mysore I had to call my bank and when I called the english number I found I was speaking to someone in Bombay…) We went to her house for lunch on saturday and were fed sooo much. Its a Hindu thing, they keep putting more food on your plate and no amount of ‘chaleau’s (enough) make any difference! I don’t think I have ever been so full in my life – you can’t leave anything, because waste is really frowned upon, but once its been on your plate, a Hindu won’t touch it. When Hindu’s drink, the bottle or cup never touches their mouth.Katy (from the Srikakalum project) has gone home to England. She left on thursday, after having been very unhappy in India. We will miss her lots, but we’re also glad that she is now happy. She didn’t like India, but most of all she missed home. I don’t think any of us fully understood how long a year is. I’m really glad I’m still here, it would have been very easy to have gone home at the start when it was all so miserable but I’m so glad I’m here! I’m looking forward to being home and seeing everyone, and having my old bathroom and bed back (which my brother is sleeping in! ) but right now I just keep thinking how lucky I am to be here! I’m happy and I just can’t get over how amazing this is! In Tiruvuru I was in awe that somewhere like this exists on the same planet as my world back in England and I’d just been completely unaware of it for 18years! So now Hannah is on her own in Srikakalum but she’s being very brave and coping really well! My parents are comming on monday and we’re taking them to Visakhapatnam for 5 days, near the coast. And I’ll be 19 on tueday…I’m getting old! I’d quite like to stay 18, I like it. Well, it’s another sign that things are going really quickly!My friend, who manages an organsiation in Vijayawada, is setting up a home for girls. She’s a brilliant, modern lady and she does the work she does out of love for her community. Despite being a Brahmin, she reaches out to anyone who needs help. Vijaaywada is in need of organisations for girls. SKCV and Navanjeevan help some girls, but have more fascilities for boys. Care and Share sponsor girls, but have no home for them. No other organisation helps girls. So there is a huge need for it, and so my friend, with her experience at her current organisation, is setting up a home for girls. I have no doubt that it’s going to be a great project, and meet a need. It will be called ‘Girls India’. She is not afraid to ask other people for advice and the girls will have a good education and all the councelling and love they need after their traumatic starts in life. So…if anyone (perhaps people at school?) is doing a charity event, perhaps a cake stall or whatever and you are looking for something to support, can I ask you to consider this project? So many people have supported me in comming here, and I am very very greatful to you, and many people already support great charities. I am mentioning this here to raise awareness of this particular organisation, should anyone be looking for something to support (when I was at school we were always being asked what charity we wanted to support in class fundraising things). We don’t always know how money we give is spent and from my (limited) experience I have found that smaller organisations tend to make the money go further, and here I know that the money would directly benefit those who need it. They need 2500pounds to set it up and 720pounds per month to cover rent, bills, staff wages and to maintain the 20 girls it will start with. If you would like more info please ask, otherwise, I won’t mention it again. I really hope this does not offend anyone.

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