Sunday, 31 January 2010

Chennai: The beginning

SCAW Chennai 2010 Travelling Team (Left to right)
Back: Janet Gayman, Doug Cunningham, Patsey Leamon,
Front: Tom Belton (Team Leader), Helen Brown, Bill Baker
From Chennai Photos 2010
Greetings from Chennai,

Hello to all of you who have an interest in our purpose and journey covering the next 2 1/2 weeks. We have a nice blend of volunteers on this trip. Each of them will be taking time during the trip to express their viewpoint on their experiences. The aim is to give all of you a "picture on our world," painted in the words of each of us. Of special interest to all is that this blog is being joined and used by Leo Bernabi School students and staff in Spencerport, New York, to follow the journey of the bedkit money they raised during their December Fund Raiser.

After twenty-one hours of flying, our team arrived in Chennai on time at 12:15 AM to be greeted by our loyal and gracious Rotary Club of Ambattur with welcoming garlands and warm greetings. After checking into our hotel in Chennai around 2 AM, we settled down to a well-needed and deserved rest ... thankfully.

Our first distribution of 541 bedkits began after a day of rest in a suburb of Chennai named Kilpauk. The temperature here was a balmy 34 degrees Celsius (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit). The sun beat down on many of us as we happily gave out bedkits and greetings and signs of love to the children. Here we met a number of mentally-challenged children. Needless to say, our hearts went out to these, the most needy and vulnerable. Their sweet innocent faces are etched in our memories.

Our trip will be a very demanding one, requiring a lot of travel, so if you don't see us each and every day, it is likely because we haven't had the time or facilities to sit down and send a report. Just to give you a glimpse of these demands: today we are in Vellore where 800 children will be receiveing the gift of a much needed bedkit. We arrived here at 8 PM last night, checked into our hotel, had a meal, and went to bed. Today we must rush to catch the 8:50 AM train to Sivikasi. We have to travel about four hours to catch the train again -- this all after the distribution. We do two distributions in Sivikasi and Sattur (located in the South of India some 100 KM from the tip) and then go back on the train to Chennai. Believe us when we say, this is a most hectic schedule and typical of many trips for Sleeping Children travelling volunteers. Considering we are in the sun and heat all day, it can get quite exhausting.

Well it is time for us to pack up and leave for today's distrbution.

It is our hope that everyone will find these blogs fitting our intentions. We want you to feel a part of what is actually happening.

Until our next contact, the team sends all our greetings and best wishes.

Tom Belton, Team Leader
Team Chennai 2010

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Kolkata: Our eighth distribution

From Kolkata Rotary Photos 2010
Our eighth distribution was on the Sundanbar North Delta of the Ganges in a place called Hingalgunj very close to the Bangledesh border.

To get there we had to take a ferry across to the island -- a very interesting process. Vehicles did not wait at the top, leaving a lane free for the off-loading vehicles. Instead, trucks lined up right down to the loading ramp, leaving maybe a half-lane for vehicles coming off the ferrry to get by. To make it even more difficult, the vehicles backed off the ferry and up the hill, unless they were a small vehicle and were able to turn around. One could also call it the shuffle, as the vehicles waiting to get on, shuffled a little to the left, a little to the right -- whatever it took for the off-loading vehichles to get back. I continue to be amazed by the driving talent here in India.

When we arrived at our destination, some of the children had arrived. Families left their home as early as 4 am to get to the island and receive their bedkit. When the children arrived, they were provided a hot meal. For some it was breakfast, for some an early lunch, but for many the only meal they would have that day. It was great to see the example of co-operation between the local, urban, and international groups to make sure the children were fed and that they received their bedkits.

Our visit was very timely because in the late fall this area was hit by a tornado and there was extensive flooding and damage. For most of the children the bedkits were desperately needed.

It was a great day! We had fun interacting with the kids, teaching them how to play frisbee, give high fives, and thumbs up!! By the time they had their picture taken, they were giving us the thumbs up!!

No matter how far the children travel, no matter how long they have to wait their turn -- they are well-behaved and patient -- and we are always guaranteed smiles from them.

Shelley Duggan
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Friday, 29 January 2010

Kolkata: The "Indi 500"

From Kolkata Rotary Photos 2010
You've seen the start of an Indy car race haven't you -- where all the cars acccelerate weaving in and out passing, braking, jockeying for position as they hurtle down the road at breakneck speed?

Add constantly honking cars, vehicles travelling in both directions, and you have an idea of the traffic here. There is a hierarchy of vehicles here: small gives way to large, people to bikes, bikes to pushcarsts ,pushcarts to scooters , scooters to 3 wheelers, 3 wheelers to motorbikes , motorbikes to cars, cars to vans, vans to buses, and buses to trucks. Trucks are the king of the road!

They all drive four-abreast on a two-lane road. Sometimes an impatient driver drives in the wrong direction against traffic to his destination. Oooops! Did I mention the cows? Out saunters a cow onto the road. Screeeech! Everything stops for the holy cow ... everything even the king of the road. Drivers patiently wait for the cow to move before the craziness of accelerating, braking, honking, swerving, and near-head-ons continues.

Our driver always gets us to our destination safe and somewhat of sound mind. I am glad he is driving and not me.

Warren Wagstaff
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Kolkata: Overnight in Kharakpur

Our group has just returned from an overnight trip to Kharakpur, a city about 150 km west of Kolkata. The SCAW teams have been there in past years, and again we were able to stay at the guest house of the Tata Bearing Works. Tata is a huge conglomerate in India, and makes cars, trucks, and much more. The distribution site was in front of the recreation complex in the compound for Tata Bearings executives. The little white houses, the flowers everywhere, and the lack of people, cars and general chaos that characterize the rest of the urban areas of India provided quite a contrast from our usual distribution sites.

But the children who received our SCAW bedkits were not the children of Tata executives. They came -- almost a thousand of them - from many villages in the surrounding countryside. At least one group had come from 100 kilometers away. Most of them were in school groups, often wearing their school "colours" before getting to change into a dress or shirt/shorts from the bedkit. I was kept busy for over four hours in the hot sun lining up children, alternating boys and girls, checking for too much height contrast, conflicting dress colours in the same photograph, and so on.

Then on our return trip to Kolkata we had car trouble! Our van came to a halt with a shredded fan belt. It took over an hour and a half at the side of the road before our incredibly capable driver could fix the trouble and related problems (mostly in the dark). Fortunately a car with Rotarians also returning from helping at the distribution was behind us. They stopped and gave at least moral support. During our wait we went into a nearby restaurant and got chatting with some high school students. We sang "O Canada" for them and they in turn sang the Indian National Anthem for us.

Yesterday on the way to Kharakpur we had a smaller distribution in a village in the Howrah district. This is the first time a SCAW team has been there. We had to make our way along a very narrow road from the paved road, past the houses of the village, and around a couple of very tight corners. In fact, our van had to remain at the road, as did the trucks carrying the bedkits. These were brought in small numbers the kilometer or so to the actual distribution site.

NOTE: The power just went out. I've got only about half of what I'd written back from draft, but will send this now in case I lose it all again. I, or someone else, will tell more next time about the village in the Howrah region.

Bill Weldon
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Monday, 25 January 2010

Kolkata: A significant difference

Over the past few days I have witnessed genuine appreciation and gratitude for the simplest of things in life - things the majority of us take for granted.

The donations of the Sleeping Children bedkits have made a significant difference in the lives of the children and families receiving them. The bedkit to them seems equivalent to our winning the lottery. For many it means their first pair of shoes, first jacket, first blanket, and, yes, their first bed.

One father told me they had no beds, no blankets and that they currently sleep on tree leaves they have gathered to make a mat for the floor and they use whatever clothes they have to make a blanket. He was overwhelmed by the generosity of items in the bedkit, and grateful that his two young daughters could share the mattress and be off the cold floor.

The mother of a disabled child was so grateful for the bedkit that she cried and hugged Irene and me. While the people here are very poor and don't even have the necessities that we take for granted every day, they are so grateful for what they do have. They don't seem to look at themselves as poor, rather they look at themselves as fortunate or rich for what they have because they see others who have less than them.

We can learn so much from those with so little.

Shelley Duggan
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Kolkata: Lots of help

Received by email from Kolkata after several attempts.

I have been very impressed with the huge amount of help we are receiving at each distribution site from the teenaged or slightly older volunteers.

Today I was mostly at the end of the line handing the bedkit to each child, usually wth the words, "This is a gift for you -- from Canada." Then I would hand off the child to one of our volunteer helpers who were usually taking the day away from their studies. The volunteer would take the child by one hand, hoist the heavy bedkit over his shoulder, and lead the child to where their parents were anxiously waiting. This makes it seem easy, of course.

In reality, there were mobs of parents to contend with, the usual adults who had pushed their way past our rope barrier, children whose parents didn't seem to be there, and so on.

Bill Weldon
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Friday, 22 January 2010

Kolkata: 550 bedkits in Chow Danga

Report received this morning by telephone from India.

Our distribution today was at Chow Danga, a small village a two-hour drive from Kolkata. Our goal was to deliver 550 bedkits which we did. The bedkits were received with great enthusiasm by bright, beautiful children.

Afterwards we were given a tour of the village by our partners in the local service club. They have several projects for the people there. One is sewing which involves teaching the use of several machines and patterns. The other is a horticultural project in which they try out various plants to see which would be beneficial for the area.

We visited a small farm with chickens, goats, pigeons, mustard (the main source of cooking oil in the area), and rice.

A wonderful lunch was provided for all the volunteers by the ladies of the village.

Even though the countryside was well-populated, it was a great contrast to the teeming millions we encountered on our return journey at rush hour to the inner city of Kolkata.

Jill Adams
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Kolkata: 700 bedkits delivered

From Kolkata Photos 2010
Report received this afternoon by telephone from India.

The Kolkata 2010 team comprising (Left to right) Peter Adams, Shelley Duggan, Irene Harrison (Team Leader), Jill Adams, Warren Wagstaff, and Bill Weldon has arrived safely in India.

It is my first trip to India and first impressions are important. Even though our flight was delayed, we were greeted by local Rotarians and their families despite the hour. We received a hearfelt welcome from people who have been working with Sleeping Children Around the World for more than a decade.

My second first impression was the dynamism of this huge city which has half the population of Canada. It struggles with a range of challenges that would depress anyone else. On the one hand, there is terrible poverty, aging infrastructure, and families living out their lives on the streets. On the other hand there are huge construction projects, road, subways, and a huge new residential area. We soon got the feeling that Kolkata is making progress.

My third first impression was the children. We completed a distribution of 700 bedkits today. SCAW teams always talk about the children at the bedkit -- about their complete optimism in the face of profound poverty. We were fortunate to see another side of this.

Our first day was a school holiday in recognition of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. All the students dressed in their best and strolled the streets decorating statues of the goddess, even in the poorest neighbourhoods.

This showed us that India is a country of the young.

Its optimism is theirs.

Peter Adams
for Team Kolkata 2010

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Kolkata: Leave your comments here

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