Friday, 15 February 2008

Philippines: Getting Ready for April

Sleeping Children Around the World has completed its first distributions of 2008 and has provided bedkits to 926,350 children since its founding by Murray and Margaret Dryden in 1970.

Teams are now returning from India to Canada but other teams are already preparing for trips later in the year. Our next trip is to the Philippines in April.

That team of travelling volunteers met at the beginning of February to make plans. The Philippines team is (from left to right) Brenda Porter-Lockhart, Wayne Witney, Ken Graham (Team leader), Andrea Tynan, Patti Jones, and Dennis Jones.

Click the photo for a larger version.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Mumbai: Distribution Complete

We have returned to Mumbai and yesterday the gentlemen in our crew finished distributing the last few bedkits while the ladies went, you guessed it, shopping. We had a grand time wandering around some of the shops in the business district. The trick was working the taxi system

As we exited the Y where we are staying, we were approached by a wonderful taxi driver who offered us a fixed rate of 150 rupees to take us exactly where we wanted to go. We thought that was a great deal at about $4.00 Cdn. so we hopped in and made it to the shops. On the way home we realized that we didn't have the address of the Y with us but had an idea where it was. We decided to go back into the last shop and have the man there explain to a taxi driver where we needed to go. The driver said, "Oh yes!" and we got in.

This time we were running the meter and he told us to just multiply by 13 and we would have the price. As we were driving through the rush hour streets of Mumbai (not an easy feat for any driver) we were watching the meter click upwards. As we finally approached the Y, the meter was climbing close to 40 and we envisioned paying over 500 rupees. Our hearts raced a little faster and we began to feel that we had been very fortunate that morning. When we finally stopped and the driver pointed to his little fare book, instead of being 41 x 13 rupees (533 rupees) it was only 72 rupees. We were so thrilled at the rate that we gave him a hundred and left him smiling broadly at the wonderful tip we had given. The trip cost us under $2.00 with the 25% tip included.

Cathy Gregory
for the SCAW 2008 Kolkata team

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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Chennai: Behind the Scenes

The Rotary Club of Ambattur is our OVO (Overseas Volunteer Organization) and the team behind the scenes for the Chennai, India distribution.

They are an impressive group who oversee three major projects:
  1. Their hospital,
  2. Their school for under-privileged children, and
  3. Sleeping Children Around the World distributions
The Rotary Club of Ambattur have a solid group of volunteers who work together to make these long term projects happen. All short term projects must fall within the scope of these three projects, including their fundraising events.

The hospital property was purchased and is run by a board of directors comprised of the Rotarians. A group of Rotarians are also onsite to volunteer their time to oversee it. The hospital offers service to the people of India for a small fee for services such as: eye care, rehabilitation, general medical issues, injuries, dentistry, etc. It is a fantastic hospital offering health care to the people of India.

The school for under=privileged children is where our last distribution occurred. It is 2500 sq feet and has about 530 students, both boys and girls. They have equipped classrooms including a video lab, computer lab, and library. The students must pay a fee of 250 rupees at the beginning of the school year to attend. If they cannot afford it the Rotarians find a sponsor to support their education. The students also have a chance to achieve a Murray Dryden Scholarship for academic achievement. This school is also overseen by a group of volunteers from the Rotary Club of Ambattur.

The third important project that this group is involved with is the Sleeping Children program. The Rotary Club of Ambattur does a fantastic job of making this project a success. They accomplish incredible background preparation work over the year.

They start by making presentations to various Rotary Clubs in the area to bring them on board for this project. If this partnership can be formed, the Rotary Club then invites them to see a distribution in progress. Areas are selected for distributions, then a whole process of selecting children and venues in these villages occur. A massive tracking system takes place. Items for the bedkits are ordered from the various manufacturers and, a month prior to the distribution, these items are packaged by the various volunteers and hired employees so that the bedkits are ready when the SCAW team arrives. A lot of work goes into the preparation and the Rotary Club of Ambattur does a fantastic job to make sure it is a smooth clean process.

The Canadian SCAW team of 2008 want to say thanks for a job well done to the Rotary Club of Ambattur, the many volunteers involved both in Canada and India, and the donors and sponsors who make this project happen.

Julie Coad
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Chennai: 923 Bedkits today

T. Nagar: 12 Feb 2008

Bedkit recipient and his mother with Gray.
From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
Our biggest distribution to-date ­ we gave out 923 bedkits today!

So many of the children for their ages were undersized from their look -- lacking adequate nutrition, in need of dental and medical attention which they could not afford, physically-challenged with deformed hands and deformed feet, barefoot - some by choice and some not owning sandals, many as we know from our visits to their humble homes with only reed mats to sleep on.

After the long patient line-up in the humid heat, the arranging of groups this day sometimes as large as twelve, the check-in at the count table to ink their thumbnail and verify their identity, and finally their move to the secure area reserved for handing out the BedKits, their young faces displayed such a gamut of emotions.

Some at first look apprehensive yet eager, the youngest at times are just a little scared, the older youngsters who grasp the procedure usually exude anticipation and a certain aura of excitement, some look excessively tired because they had to arise very early for the long trek to the bedkit site.

Once presented with their bedkit by a member of the SCAW Team, they broke out in smiles and their attempts at English to say "Thankyou," even though they only speak Tamil. Our initial greeting to put the children at ease is often "Vanakam," which means "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon," depending on the time of day

Indian bedkit donor family and some of the SCAW team.
From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
It is this moment when the efforts of thousands of donors and hundreds of volunteers come into fulfillment.

It is this moment that makes all the incredible hard work and careful organization of the local Rotarians in Chennai and outlying districts so worthwhile.

It is this moment which provides the emotional elation which warms the hearts of the SCAW Overseas Volunteers and the Administrative Staff at the SCAW headquarters.

It is for this moment and the photograph of the impoverished child they helped that thousands of donors made a sacrifice in their own way to make life better for someone in great need.

Gray Cavanagh
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Monday, 11 February 2008

Mumbai: One Distribution to Go

Once again we have had a tough time connecting to the Internet and here we are on our last day of distribution finally online. Today will be the last 300 bedkits and we don't start until the afternoon. Everyone enjoyed sleeping in a bit and we will eat breakfast later.

Although we haven't been able to send photos to this blog site because of the technical difficulties, we have been hanging from the car windows and clicking children's faces getting the sights of India into our cameras at a rapid pace. I must admit most of the photography is being done by the first-timers, those being the women in the group.

Yesterday we distributed 850 bdkits in Hubli. Dave says it was done in a very unique way for him. The site was on the courtyard within the walls of a private Rotary school. Typically parents wait outisde the walls but in this instance they were invited in with their children and followed them through the process. This meant that there were at least 1500 people involved.

Normally we have a pattern of flow that ensures that children don't crisscross or run back for their clothing, etc. In this case there were far more of these random adventures by the children as they ran through the site, into the background to pick up their left items. There was such a sense of trust amongst the parents, chidlren, SCAW team and Rotary team that it all worked out beautifully. When we stopped to count bedkits and labels near the end there were 20 children, 20 bedkits and 20 labels.

Everyone is well rested, healthy and well fed. The Rotarians often take care of that part. Yesterday they treated us to a late lunch and an even later dinner. We like having them order the food because it forces us to become much more adventurous in our eating. For them we are eating "bland" food but for us the spice is just right.

Dave and Cathy
Signing off for Ted, Doug, Dave, Donna and Marsha

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Sunday, 10 February 2008

Chennai: Srivilliputtur, Feb. 10

One might question why India, a country which is considered one of the four great world powers, would qualify as an undeveloped country for a SCAW distribution. The answer lies in the teaming masses of people living in poverty.

However, if a child is born into poverty, he cannot climb out of this situation without help.

Today our SCAW team travelled through rural areas of rice fields and sugar cane to arrive at a small rural village to distribute 259 bedkits. Our welcome was truly joyful with children singing and, much to their delight, our team leader helped them through “Old MacDonald had a Farm” with original animal sounds –- even with the trumpeting of an attacking elephant! They screamed with delight.

Interviews were carried out with children and parents with the help of an interpreter to see what items are of most use and which would be of least value. These questionnaires help the Rotarians plan the bedkit for next year.

From Chennai 2008
Photo Album
We followed a bedkit home and saw where it was placed on the floor, and we accepted the hundreds of thank yous and handshakes today on your behalf.

Tonight we head back to Chennai by overnight train –- tired, dirty, but satisfied that Sleeping Children was well-represented today.

Jean Hutton
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Friday, 8 February 2008

Chennai: Vellore Distribution

From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
There were two memorable highlights for our enthusiastic SCAW team on Thursday:
  • the distribution of 712 bedkits and
  • our visit arranged by the Rotarians to the Golden Temple in Vellore, a new Hindu spiritual haven that opened six months ago.
Since August of 2008, 10 million visitor and devotees have filed through this gloriously-designed “Spiritual Palace.” Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring our cameras into the immense 100-acre grounds the temple and its star-shaped pathway cover so very artistically.

The distribution at Vellore went wonderfully well. The children with their new bedkits finally in their arms, after waiting so patiently, expressed their shy “thanks” with beaming smiles and sparkling eyes -- our greatest reward for all our strenuous efforts on behalf of SCAW donors back home.

The mission of SCAW is to serve children, to bring impoverished children some happiness and hope, to help them feel valued as individuals and loved by others, including children like themselves from Canada and other countries.
Likewise at the Sri Sakthi Narayani Amma Golden Temple, the message represented by the palatial gold structure is captured in the many profound sayings set out every 30-40 feet along the meditation pathway to the heart of the Temple. These reflections present a philosophy of taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves. Early along the pathway this “Universal truth” is asserted: “Who is a good person? Someone who creates happiness for others,” and “The purpose of this birth is to serve others.”

The Golden Temple is an architectural marvel. The phenomenal super structure with its marble floors is covered with copper and nine layers of gold leaf that glows in the sunlight and, in the descending darkness of twilight when the floodlights are turned on, gleams against the night sky. Initially, the visitor is attracted by the gleaming gold façade. But during the walk exceeding a mile along the star-shaped meditation pathway, the visitor is caught up in the rich and meaningful spiritual truths featured on the signs.

Sayings like “Kindness is when we make other people happy without expecting anything in return,” and “Every human being experiences happiness in two different ways: by giving and by receiving. It is in giving that we experience permanent happiness.” The spirit of giving is reinforced by the sign that says: “Giving and the desire to give should come from the heart.”

There are meaningful parallels between the work SCAW Volunteers do to help poor children amidst their poverty and the Hindu religious concepts that inspire the Indian Rotarians to work so hard to improve the living and learning conditions of their children from poor families. Likewise, there are significant parallels between the Christian precepts that underlie the culture of Canada and the sayings displayed on the meditation signs at the Golden Temple.

There are moments as a SCAW Overseas Volunteer when you behold the impoverished children of India and you have to fight back the tears. In contrast, there are moments when your heart fills with wonder as you watch the children’s smiles of happiness and delight at the gift of an eye-catching bedkit and its promise of a better night and day tomorrow. After all, it is a bedkit, not a high-end toy or computer game.

If our western children of affluence could only walk in the shoes of these poor children for a day or a week or a month, and learn again how to find delight in the simple things of life we take for granted: a secure comfortable bed, a good night’s sleep unmolested by mosquitos, good food whenever you want it rather than a hungry stomach and a body damaged by malnutrition, or clean water to drink rather than water you can’t drink safely from the tap! We who were born and raised in Canada easily lose our appreciation of how well our basic needs are met in our affluent society.

The main religion in India is Hinduism, but the inspired 31-year old guru who founded the Golden Temple, Sri Sakthi Narayani Amma, granted our SCAW team a special audience without a long wait and had this to say: “Regardless of the religion or the spiritual path, spiritual seekers everywhere share the same path and goal, to reach God.”

We were especially honoured by the preferential treatment, for behind us the surging crowd frantically had to line up for the long patient wait it would take to see this remarkable young religious leader. The Guru Amma spoke to each team member individually and blessed them, and spoke to our team leader, Tom Belton, for fully ten minutes, blessing him and the SCAW mission, and personally tying a symbolic red cord around his wrist to signify that this blessing was special.

Thus our distribution day at Vellore had two wonderful highlights: The gift of beautiful bedkits in their practicality captured the universal spirit of love in action, and reflected the pathway of universal thoughts about the nature of love embodied in the spiritual sayings at the Golden Temple, as well as the admonition “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Murray Dryden through his love and compassion and personal experience made it all happen, and his Mission is now carried on by those who revere Murray and the great truth he articulated representing love in action on so many occasions: “The comfort of a bed is the basic right of every child.”

Gray Cavanagh
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Mumbai: News from the Team

We have been having a difficult time getting on the Internet in this country of millions and millions of computer users. Two nights in a row we found an internet café only to have the electricity go out on us before we could send the messages. Electricity is a valued commodity here and there are scheduled, rotating power shut-downs in many places. For example, the work week for factories in Pune is Friday to Wednesday because on Thursdays there is no power. It is an accepted way of life. We are beginning to get used to it.

Our team has bonded well and we have a great time on and between distributions. We have two vehicles to take us places and the women have taken over one of them, leaving the men to discuss business (or whatever) in theirs. In the evenings when there is not a Rotary function we all go out for Indian food. Everyone is committed to trying different dishes and we generally order different foods and them split them among us (like with Chinese food). We have developed our own spicy-ness scale based on how long it takes our mouths to cool off. So far 10 has been the hottest. That means that it took 10 minutes to cool the mouth. Dave says that he is going for a "20" on the last night. (Can you believe this, Sandra?)

The distributions are going very well. We left the Mumbai area, having given out 4000 bedkits. Next stop was the Pune area. We travelled up and down the windy mountain roads to small rural schools to which children came from even farther away to collect a bedkit. The Rotarians in Pune were efficient, friendly, and helpful and we gave out 1500 bedkits in two days. Every time we look at the children we become even more committed to our job. There is such a need in these poor families and the need for even more bedkits is validated each and every day. We thank all the donors from the bottoms of our hearts as we look into the children's eyes and give them this gift which will change their lives.

From Pune we have come to Belgaum where we distributed 850 bedkits today. Another great group of Rotarians from Belgaum had the bedkits packed and ready as the children came from up to 45 kilometers away. One school group left at 6:00 a.m. to get here. Children are packed into anything that moves to come from far away to get this special gift. As one group left, Donna peeked under a tarp into the back of a truck and saw rows of children sitting crosslegged with their bedkits ready for the trip home which would take up to 3 hours.

This is a different world here and we feel out of touch with any other, particularly with the lack of the Internet. The pace, the people, the noise, the food, the smells, and the dusty red soil are becoming familiar. We have become very immersed in our work and time is going by very quickly. It is hard to believe that our distribution days are winding down. Everyone is well and we are enjoing each day.

Cathy Signing off for Ted, Doug, Dave, Donna and Marsha

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Thursday, 7 February 2008

Chennai: Through a Child's Eyes

I am six years old and I live in a village about two hours away from Vellore, India. Last night when I went to sleep, my mother told me that the day had finally arrived when we would go on a long trip to get a very special gift.

She woke me early so that we could walk to my school where the bus was waiting. Many of my friends and their mothers and my teacher were there too. The ride was fun and we saw lots of trucks, and motorcycles, and bicycles, and animals. The bus took us to a big building called a marriage hall and there were lots and lots of people all around.

A nice lady gave us a biscuit and a drink and we got to put on a new shirt and pants. They were really nice! But then they told my mother that she had to go away to another place. I didn’t like that! There were too many people and it was very noisy. We had to sit in a big hall, with lots and lots of other girls and boys. It was cool in there.

Some strange people came to tell us about a thing called SCAW and what we were going to do. I wished my mother was there!

Then we had to go to a big table where some ladies put a yellow piece of paper in our pockets and helped us line up. I was still with my friends! Then the ladies with funny white skin came to take us across the courtyard. They were smiling and saying “Come, Come” - but I was scared. Then I looked up and saw my mother standing at the gate. I was so glad to see her. I ran to her as fast as I could, but everyone was calling “No, No, No” and then I felt someone quickly pick me up and carry me back to have my picture taken.

Then someone took the yellow paper out of my pocket and then he took me over to a really, really, tall man, who said, “This is for you. It is a gift from SCAW!” It was so big my arms would not go around it and someone had to help me carry it over to my mother who was still waiting by the gate.

All of our ‘gifts’ were tied to the top of the bus and we started for home. I am glad to be back with my mother. I am tired. My mother is very happy now, but I think that I see tears in her eyes.

Leslie Field
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Chennai: A Train Trip

On Wednesday, February 6th we awoke in Yercuad to a beautiful day. The valley was hazy but the sun would take that away soon. A few of us had a massage in the morning before our departure ... mine lasted for 1 1/4 hours. Awh...the feel of it was wonderful.

We made our way back down the twisting mountain road by bus to the railway station at Salem Station from which we had arrived only two days before. The station is a hub of activity at most times of the day, particularly when a train arrives or is about to depart. Literally throngs of people use this method of travel, finding it convenient, inexpensive, and a quick way to reach distances too far to drive by car or bus. The stations are similar to those in England -- wide open and long.

The station platform was filled with people when we arrived: vendors, a few beggars, and the railway police. A quiet female voice came over the PA system announcing the arrival of our train at about 5:00 PM. We boarded what we thought was our car only to find out a mistake in our reservations had been made. As soon as you board an Indian train, no time is wasted before it starts to trundle down the tracks. Therefore, we had to transfer through the throngs in each car back three cars to the only available seats in the economy sections. This car had only open windows covered with bars. There were emergency exit windows that could be opened in case of need. The seats were bland straight-back types with limited padding. The air conditioning was non-existent -- except for the breezes coming from all directions through the open windows.

It was exciting to say the least.

When we sat down we looked around our surroundings. The seats were mostly full with ordinary Indian people gong on their way. We lucked out as we were able to find seats together. At the ends of each car were the washrooms. One was a typical Indian one where you did your business through a slot in the floor. Another was a more western type that one could sit down on. Each contained a water tap where you could wash your hands. No soap or towels -- no matter. Inside each car was another wash station with a mirror and small faucet to simply clean up at.

The ride was a terrific experience. The wind coming in kept us cool on this sweltering day -- much better, I think, than if we had been in the A/C cars. The countryside ran past us as we rode through the farm lands of that area. We passed farmers busy in their fields -- both women and men. Small fields were the norm. No large tracts could be seen. They grow a variety of cotton, rice, coconut palms, sugar cane, papaya, and row upon row of sun flowers all with their backs to the setting sun. It was a beautiful panorama of crops and activities. Most of the toil was by hand although we saw more and more tractors being used. Roads crossed the landscape that allowed the farmers to get to market. Farm homes raged from the very primitive thatched-roof huts to solid and painted masonry buildings.

As darkness descended, lights began to appear at some homes. The light consisted of a strip of fluorescent tubes suspended from a pole. Where there was a light, there was only one to show the way for the inhabitants.

It was close to 8:30 PM when our train rolled into (now get this) "Card Party," a smaller junction town, where we disembarked to our waiting mini-bus. Ahhhh. A night's rest once again so we could recharge for tomorrow's adventure.

Tom Belton
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Chennai: Yercaud, Feb. 5

Bedkit recipients at
Government Higher Secondary School
From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
Breakfast was typically Indian at our mountainside hotel featuring Idly (rice cake), Vadai (a vegetarian donut), Dosai (rice rolls), Pongal (rice pudding), Poori (wheat), Sambar and Chutney spicy sauce, sweet lime and an Indian spicy omelette. Well fortified and raring to go, our SCAW team accompanied our Rotarian hosts to Government Higher Secondary School near Emerald Lake in the heart of Yercaud.

Our day's objective was to distribute 760 bedkits to children age 6 to 10, half girls and half boys, whose parents' income did not exceed twenty-four thousand Rupees, or about six hundred and fifty dollars per year. The Yercaud Rotary Club had done a great job of screening the children, and of recruiting 30 volunteers to assist SCAW team members with the challenging logistics of helping the children to put on a new SCAW outfit, line up in an orderly fashion for their photos, walk to the table where a SCAW member noted their attendance on the preprinted check sheets, and proceed to the storage area where a SCAW member presented them with their new bedkit.

The Yercaud Rotary Club provides remarkable leadership in organizing projects to improve the lives of children and adults in the region. SCAW could not do its amazing work without their cooperation and assistance. In addition, the Yercaud Rotarians organize medical camps in an area covering 150 sq. km, have established a Polio Program, and arranged for the immunization of more than 4000 children annually in the 67 villages situated in the vicinity. They have stationed an ambulance in the area, and adopted selected schools in which they work to improve the infrastructure and facilities for the welfare of the children.

The happy look on the faces of the children when they receive their bedkits, and the sparkle in their eyes, make all our efforts on behalf of the many SCAW donors back home so very worthwhile. The cooler weather of the mountain setting in which we were distributing bedkits made for less fatiguing and more comfortable work conditions. Around 4 pm, we finished and made our way as guests of the Rotary Club to a hotel owned by a Rotary member for lunch.

Visiting Sister Louis
Click to see more photos
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Yercaud Social Service Centre where Sister Louis of the Order of St. Joseph of Cluny, an Irish Roman Catholic nun, has worked devotedly for 58 years to improve the lives of citizens and children of Yercaud. She was delightful to talk to, and appreciative of Jean Hutton's and Leslie Field's offer of school supplies they had brought with them from Canada to give where needed, as well as two hand-made shawls to keep some needy souls warm.

Sister Louis devoted service for 58 years underlines a great religious truth central to all major world religions:
  • Hinduism teaches: "This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you."
  • Islam teaches: "Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself."
  • Buddhism teaches: "Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
  • Confucianism teaches: "One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct and loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself."
  • Christianity teaches: "Love your neighbour as yourself," and "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Back at our hotel, we prepared our reports although lack of high speed internet service in the town prevented our sending them. Then we checked our gear and plans for our journey to Vellore on Wednesday, and relaxed. Some members of the Team even took advantage of the spa services to tone up their bodies and tune up their energy levels for the challenging days ahead in a much hotter part of India.

On Wednesday, we departed by train to Vellore in southern India for the distribution of 720 bedkits.

Gray Cavanagh for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Monday, 4 February 2008

Chennai: Yercaud, Feb. 4

From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
The overnight train to Salem Junction en route to Yercaud provided the SCAW Team with a challenge and excitement. The jam-packed station in Chennai with down- and up-stairs under the tracks and no escalators abundantly underlined our wisdom in repacking only carry-on luggage and backpacks, and leaving our large suitcases in the home of a leading Rotarian for safe keeping until our return to Chennai in 8 days.

Narrow double-decked berths in a smaller-than-Canadian passenger car that had seen better days, and a train that swayed and growled clickety-clack along the uneven tracks, added up to a new travel experience. Fortunately, no one on the team is seasick-prone. We were stuffed and stacked in our short berths, with only curtains for doors to our compact compartments. With one compartment for four and one for two, sleeping proved intermittent with the background noise of some snoring fellow travellers.

The Salem train station at 5:30 am was already a beehive of activity. With speed we collected our luggage and made it off the train in the 5-minute window before the train again disappeared into the night. With haste we found our bus, guided by the three gallant Rotarians accompanying us on this part of our distribution tour. In the twilight of dawn, we set off for Yercaud up the mountains, our driver taking the switchback climb with its hairpin bends at breakneck speed. Our bus with its manual transmission seems to have only one gear: "Go!" Yercaud, as a mountain town 4700 feet above sea level, is a prosperous tourist site in the hot season but much poverty becomes evident as one explores the villages in the vicinity.

The lengthy train and bus trip meant that after arrival the rest of the day was free, but our dauntless bunch eagerly embraced the Rotarians invitation to visit several local attractions. The president of the Yercaud Rotary Club runs a coffee plantation of 1800 acres with 1000 coffee plants per acre and is expanding into growing pepper, oranges, cloves, mangos, vanilla beans, and gorgeous Anthuriums and Birds of Paradise flowers. We visited the building where over 700 bedkits were stored in preparation for the next day's distribution. In the beautiful gardens surrounding the owner's estate home, we enjoyed a sumptuous and authentic East Indian lunch.

In the afternoon, the Rotarians escorted us to Semanatham Elementary School of just over eighty students who greeted us with increasing enthusiasm in response to our warm-hearted interaction with them. Some of the students were going to be receiving bedkits the next day and some had benefited from this experience the year before.

From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
The Rotarians took us to visit two village homes where children had received bedkits the previous year. The incredibly small homes -- only 10 feet by 16 feet -- were clean and well-kept with the mothers obviously taking real pride in the family's very few possession, especially the bedkit. Canadian children would be appalled to live in the dwellings and villages we visited, but having never known anything else, we found most of the village children, though seriously deprived, good-natured and surprisingly happy-go-lucky.

Astonishingly, the Rotarians informed us that the SCAW bedkit program has led to a 15 percent increase in attendance. Parents of students highly treasure what to them is an enormous God-sent gift and have learned that the bedkits are only given to children who are going to school.

Our Rotarian guided tour next took us to a Hindu cave shrine at the Shevarayan Temple, and then to the Agathier Herbarium, a Aromatherapy Shop, where the women in our group indulged in some cosmetic and health purchases. Tired, but elated by our day's adventures, we reached our hotel for a two-night stay. We actually saw several monkeys, but more entrancing was the spectacular view from the mountainside resort of distant Salem Junction and the road winding upwards.

Gray Cavanagh for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Sunday, 3 February 2008

Chennai: A Day in the Life of Pradeb

From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
Every day is special when doing a SCAW distribution but today we all agreed as Canadians that it was extra rewarding. Pradeb, a young 9-year-old boy from the village of Anjugam Nagar, Ramafuram received a bedkit at the distribution of Thiruvallur. Pradeb and his mother walked 6 kms through the fields to reach our SCAW distribution. Afterwards we had the pleasure of returning to their home.

Pradeb comes from a family of four children, with two older sisters and an older brother. His father works 15-18 days a month and earns on average about 100 Indian rupees a day. His mother stays at home to raise her children and works hard to ensure they are receiving an education. The oldest daughter is already at level nine, and both girls are involved in sports. Pradeb will also be receiving an education.

Their home is 18 x 10 feet and is made of bricks with a thatched roof. The floor inside is like concrete. The mother prepares food such as chili peppers outside, and has her kitchen inside the house. Their washroom facilities are in a separate building adjacent to the house.

The government of India has given every family in this village one light bulb, a fan, and one full tank of fuel. Fuel costs about 240 Indian rupees for one tank. Each family will also be receiving a television for education.

It was a pleasure to visit with Pradeb and his family. He is a sweet boy with a huge smile and has a lovely family. It is very rewarding for our team to visit with this family, to better understand how a bedkit is used, and the purpose it serves inside one of the homes. Although this family thank us for the gift of a bedkit it was the SCAW team who felt very much that we had received something special today.

Julie Coad
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Mumbai: The Bedkit

A common question seems to be, “What is in the bedkit?” The following is a list of the items that we set out each day. We put down a white plastic ground cover first to make sure the bedkit stays clean and then proceed to lay it out for the photo.
  • A thick colourful, striped woven, fringed, washable ground cover.
  • A summer and a winter blanket
  • Pillow with a cover
  • towel
  • 2 sets of clothing
  • underwear
  • sweater
  • raincoat
  • knapsack
  • 6 erasers, 2 pens, crayons, pencils, compass set, clipboard, 6 exercise books
  • a tiffin - type of lunch box
  • water bottle
  • large white packing bag made out of a plastic tarp material

This bedkit has been designed for this area of India. Another county's bedkit may vary in some ways. The intent is to provide a bedkit that suits the children's culture and needs, not one based on Western expectations. Opinions are sought from parents, children, and local Rotarians regarding future changes. Two bedkits return home with us and are compared to the previous years kits with the intent of monitoring quality.

On behalf of the team,
Cathy and Donna

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Chennai: Photo Album

Photos from the Chennai 2008 Photo Album
Click a photo to see larger versions in album.
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Saturday, 2 February 2008

Mumbai: Day 3 & 4 Report

Day 3: Sunrise over the sea was our beginning to another warm Indian day. The front page of the newspaper told of these being the coldest days on record in 10 years but we find the 25° C to be perfect. Our trip today was to the country, a 2 ½ hour trip by van from Mumbai. We were practically hanging out of the windows trying to photograph all the wonderful scenes of India, including the people as they went about their normal lives working the rice fields or making clay bricks. There were lots of oxen teams working the fields and pulling loaded carts along the roads.

Should I mention the traffic? It is hard to believe people drive at any speed at all since the roads are crowded with all types of vehicles, people, and even oxen. The roads are marked for 2 or 3 lanes but in reality there are closer to 5 lanes all vying for the front on most major roads. The country road was a paved curving road that may, in places, have been 2-lane but certainly appeared to be one lane most of the time. Vehicles use their horns to indicate their presence and then speed up and pass. I think this requires great faith that there is not an oxen cart, bicycle, person or car coming the other way.

We did two distributions in the area of Karjat since the villages were not too far apart. The children were awaiting us dressed in their new outfits and sitting on tarps on the ground in cramped quarters. The area was quickly assessed for possible flow for distribution and then we laid out a bedkit for the photos. The school personnel and the Rotarians are invaluable as they assist in the lining up of the children and generally moving them forward for the photos. They translate our needs to the children and parents and we smile and gesture a lot and it all moves along with some degree of smoothness. Our first twenty children today were physically disabled from a nearby orphanage. Even with their tough lives they showed a determination to get about.

Many of the children we meet are physically tiny but are giants in their good behaviour and alertness to their surroundings.

The Rotarians took us for lunch at a private weekend home of Bipin Barot and his wife. What a spectacular site for their retreat, on a bank overlooking a rocky river side. Then we were off again. After our afternoon distribution we were entertained by some of the children who sang and danced a traditional dance for us. The performance was very touching and had obviously been practiced carefully and was presented with pride.

We were all exhausted when we piled out of the cramped van at the end of another busy day, ready for a quick supper and bed.

The current date/time in Mumbai, India:
Day 4: I can no longer go day by day because our lives are so busy we can’t write every day. Our distributions are running one into the other so we will do some overviews. We are consistently impressed by the patience, discipline, and anticipation of the children who are always sitting crosslegged on the hard ground waiting for us. Some days their wait is over 2 hours as we get delayed in traffic jams and accidents. (Note: They are served a healthy snack while they are waiting.) The children’s need is visual in their faces, their tiny bodies, and their bare feet. They are lined up for their photos and often appear timid and fearful of this event. This quickly gives way to amazement and delight as they discover the bedkit that we give out after the photos. For them, the photo would be gift enough.

When people are living in survival conditions, a mirror would be a frivolous extra. So for many the photos that we take of them are the first images of themselves that they have seen. We are finding that the people we are meeting, particularly in the rural areas, are delighted to have their photos taken. They poke their faces in front of you as you take out your camera. If we have time, we quickly show the digital photo to them and their reaction shows that they seem to be honoured by what we have done. Their behaviour is extremely respectful as they bless us by bowing to us, hands clasped together and saying “Namaste.”

Cathy and Donna,
On behalf of the SCAW 2008 Mumbai Team

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Chennai: Kilpauk

We had a busy and successful distribution of bedkits to 765 children from schools in and around the Kilpauk area today. As it was Saturday and not a school day, we had a number of volunteer helpers, notably from area Girl Guides. We estimate that there were one or two people who came with each child and many of the children’s teachers who also came to see the goings on.

Organizing that number of children is no small task and we marveled at the efficiency of the many volunteers. A special mention has to be made of the young people, most in the range of 11-14 years old, who helped us out. The girls kept the children filing from the entrance waiting area to the photography waiting area and helped us to organize them into smaller groups there. Once the children had their photograph taken and were moved to the area to receive their bedkit, the boys and girls who had previously brought the bedkits to the area in a long bucket-brigade line, then helped the children bring the
bedkits to the area where the parents were waiting for them. And then there were the local adult volunteers, many affiliated with the Rotary Clubs, helping with myriad other functions. It was a beautiful demonstration of the local commitment to the SCAW cause.

Beyond the on-site help, our hosts have certainly seen to it that we have been well fed! They held a lovely informal dinner at a local club last evening and a fine luncheon at one of their homes after today’s distribution. We were also invited to sample many sweet treats made by the Girl Guides after the distribution. We are all enjoying the great Indian cuisine and any hope of weight loss on this trip seems fairly unlikely at this juncture!

Cindy Harris
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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Friday, 1 February 2008

Chennai: Avadi

Some of our Overseas partners
From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
Click on a photo to see a larger version.)
Maya Angelou, a well-known poet, has written that, "Hope is born again in the faces of our children." We saw this hope and joy shine in the faces of 524 children today, as well as in the faces of their mothers, when we distributed the SCAW bedkits in a school yard in the town of Avadi outside of Chennai.

Chennai is a teeming city of almost 7 million people in the southeast of India. The weather is hot and muggy, the roads are dusty and congested with buses, scooters, cars, trucks, bicycles, and cattle, which sometimes lie or walk down the sides or even in the middle of the road. We rely on the Chennai Rotarians to get us safely to the Distribution site through the heavy traffic.

The Rotarians are a dedicated and extremely well organized service group who have prepared six thousand SCAW bedkits to be distributed by the SCAW travelling volunteer team during the next two weeks.

The 2008 Chennai bedkit
From Chennai 2008 Photo Album
The bedkit contains 21 items:
  • a cotton rug,
  • foam mattress,
  • pillow,
  • pillowcase,
  • two bed sheets,
  • a blanket,
  • a mosquito net,
  • a shirt,
  • a skirt or shorts,
  • a T-shirt,
  • a sweater,
  • two towels,
  • a school bag,
  • a writing pad,
  • a geometry box,
  • pencils,
  • a ruler, and
  • a lunch box.
Your $30 donation for a bedkit goes a long way in India. Because the children see that someone cares for them enough to help them get a decent night's sleep, their world has become better.

Jean Hutton
for the SCAW 2008 Chennai Team

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