Thursday, 31 January 2013

Kolkata: Chandannagar

Today we were off to Chandannagar. It was a French territory until 1950 and still retains a small bit of a French flavour. It is situated along the the Ganges river. Our distribution was held at the French Museum which was just across the street from the river.Although the grounds were beautifully kept with rosebeds, marigolds and lots of other flowers all encircled with short privet hedges, we were unable to use them as a backdrop due to the lack of space for laying out the bedkit. 

The children came from many small schools surrounding the town and within the the town.  Most of these children came without shoes and it was delightful to see their expressions as they left with shoes. 391 children will sleep well tonight and then enjoy their new shoes and book supplies at school tomorrow.

J. Hryniw for Team Kolkata 2013
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Chennai: Chenglepet

Wednesday we did a distribution of 450 bed kits in Chenglepet.  It was an early start at 6:00 am followed by a three hour drive to the distribution site.  Part of the drive was along a coastal highway and we had scenic views of the Bay of Bengal and seaside resorts.  We had hoped to stop on the way back to the hotel to see some saltwater crocodiles but ran out of time.

At Chenglepet we had a great view of the mountaintop temple that the town is named after.  Local history tells of two eagles that used to fly to the temple at 12:00 noon every day.  It was said that the locals could set their watches by the birds arrival.  Unfortunately, the last of the pair of eagles passed away about 6 years ago.

The distribution site was on a busy local roadway bordered by shops and was a bit congested, but with some shifting of tarps and roping to guide the children through the site, we made a tight but functional space.  Our local Indian residents helped enthusiastically as we moved bedkits from the main building to the area for handing them out with smiles and chuckles as the odd member got bopped with a bedkit that was being passed down the line. The women were generous and wanted to share their lunch with us.

The local Rotarian President acted as our assistant to our photographer (Susan) and used our puppet (Lambchops) to solicit smiles and giggles from the children.  He was great and we wanted to kidnap him and take him to our next distribution but he got away.  Many thanks to him and the other helpers.

The children arrived excited with waving and attempts at communication.  They were even more excited and relaxed as they loaded onto their buses with their bedkits.

Kim for Team Chennai 2013
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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Chennai: Vellore Part 2

We held a second distribution at the Kumaran Mahal, Sathuvacharry in Vellore today.  We had a short but interesting drive to the site as we drove against the majority of traffic on a roadway that was marginally wider than single lane.  Eventually after a detour down some dirt roadways we got into the traffic flow and to our site.

Our first youth were deaf and mute, but still managed to say thank you as best they could.  The distribution of 700 bedkits went well with lots of help from our driver who was awesome. He pitched in and helped wherever needed without being asked.

During the interviews, the youth and parents were thrilled with their bedkits and were very excited about making use of the supplies.  Both parents hope that their children will continue on to college.  One mother was so overwhelmed that she had tears in her eyes as we finished our interview.  It makes you appreciate the power of these bedkits to the recipients.

Dennis for Team Chennai 2013

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Kolkata distribution 9&10

Yesterday we drove about 100km from Kolkata to Krishnagar. The town is located beside the Jalangi river. It was a first time here for SCAW. The distribution was held in a sports stadium. The day went very well. We gave out 360 bed kits. The temperature was unusually low for this time of year so the locals were all bundled up.
After a quick lunch we boarded our bus to drive another 100km to Baharampur the site of our next distribution.
In the morning we started out early. It was a first for this town as well. Once we got going, it worked like a well oiled machine. It was a big day for the children. Some came on a 2hr bus ride, some in organized trucks that held many children. Still others came from just down the street. All 792 children seemed very happy.
Another great day for team Kokata….

J’aimerais saluer nos amis du Quebec ainsi que tout nos supporteurs au Canada.

 JC Tremblay for team Kolkata
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Monday, 28 January 2013

Chennai: Vellore

After an early 6am start to the day we drove 3 hours north of Chennai to our distribution site in Vellore.  As we drove the landscape became more mountainous.  Our distribution was at the Kumaran Mahal, Sathuvacharry.

Prior to starting the distribution Laurie-Beth, with the assistance of a very humourous college professor, had the chance to explain what was in the bedkits to the 1st group of children.  They became increasingly excited as each item was displayed.  The children in this distribution were from outlying areas and were transported in, mainly by bus.  We distributed a total of 718 bedkits.

Following a late lunch with the Rotarians, we visited 2 local temples.  The first temple was the Vellore Fort and Temple.  We finally got some photos of monkeys Alan.  We were given special garments and led around the temple as VIP’s escorted by a 2 man band.  Locals were taking photos of us as we made quite a spectacle. The second temple we visited was constructed out of 18 carrot gold adorned with chandeliers and surrounded by water and fountains. It was night time by now and the temple was lit and shone for many miles around. Cameras and cell phones were not allowed and we almost got turned away for wearing capri length pants but our Rotarian friends convinced them to let us carry on. There were many plaques along the journey up to the temple with important life lessons written on them. Our feet were black from the barefoot temple trodding and we were exhausted but ate a late supper and prepared for bed for another big distribution tomorrow.

Kim for Team Chennai 2013

Kolkata: Bonhooghly

 Today’s distribution was 382 kits in nearby Bonhooghla, in slums of the Kolkata area taking only about 20 minutes to get there. The children were patient and orderly and the parents were kind and gentle to their children. Winter and Monsoon seasons are the hardest for these families. Winter: not enough warm clothing and poorly insulated roofs. Monsoon: flooding of homes (most sleep on the floor, and many have to be evacuated to shelters). We also ran into a snag because the children’s food was very late arriving. Everything recovered and we got down to the end when one child had lost her “ticket”. All the tickets were recounted and Richard double checked everything to sort out the kit numbers. Of course, the child got her kit and we finished happy. We returned to our Hotel early and are preparing for a two day outing and an overnight in Baharampur.

Wayne Cooper for Team Kolkata
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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Chennai: Kilpauk

Today is Sunday January 27,2013 and today we went to the Kilpauk distribution site in Chennai. We gave out 681 bedkits to the lovely children of this area. Several of these children were special needs once again. We had many helpers from the veterinary medicine college to help us with the extra tasks involved with these children. It was very touching and rewarding to present these children with a bedkit. Their smiles and waves warmed our hearts. Their teachers were extremely sensitive to their needs and protective of them. The weather continues to be hot and sunny but we encountered some clouds and shade to help us through the day. Water was a must. Following the distribution we were treated to a lovely lunch in the home of Jyoti and Dhaulet our host Rotarians.

Susan for Team Chennai 2013

Kolkata: Anatomy of a Distribution

Upon arriving at a distribution site, the first order of business is to review the path the children will follow to the various pit stops. The goal is to make the route as efficient as possible and have every pit stop in the line of sight of the next. This way the SCAW team can see if one pit stop is experiencing any difficulty and go help out if necessary. Distributing between 350 – 800 bed kits per day, definitely is easier when the flow is just right. The children are sometimes a little nervous of the whole procedure so local volunteers are spread throughout the process to help direct the kids in their language and give a reassuring hug to those who need it.

The various stops:

1.       The child and their guardian/parent each eat a hot meal that is usually prepared on site or brought in Lunch Box style.
2.       The children receive their knapsack which includes an entire set of clothing which they change into for the photo.
3.       They line up for their photo and “Haso” (smile in Hindi).
4.       They then go and meet their parent to pick up the bed kit containing various basic and useful items, which is too big for the kids to carry alone.

An important decision for the SCAW team is to choose the location of the photo so it is representative of the area, conveniently located, allows for the sun movement in the sky throughout the 4 – 6 hour shoot, and most importantly, is interesting for the donors to look at so it showcases the stars of our show: the beautiful children.

The days that go extremely smoothly are usually the result of a distribution site that is tried and true while others, like today, are more challenging due to the first time use of the site. But, every time we return to a site it gets better and better as the SCAW and Rotarians learn how to maximize the space.

The pictures, in fact, tell the whole story!

Kathy for Kolkata Team 2013
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Saturday, 26 January 2013

Kolkata: Day of Rest

January 25 was a much needed day of rest. The team got to sleep in a bit and then after breakfast, we completed some tasks regarding label resorting. With this completed the team was then able to visit a modern shopping complex complete with McDonalds and Pizza Hut on the edge of the city. This is a complete antithesis to the small vendors that line the streets throughout most of Kolkata.  The evening was spent aboard a small vessel cruising the grand and holy Ganges River. This cultural experience had been arranged by our Rotarian hosts. 

The morning of January 26 found us once again on the road to a distribution, but with a special twist. This is the day, all of India celebrates their independence day in 1947. We were able to witness a very pleasant ceremony at one of the local schools. At the completion of the program, we commenced our photography and by mid afternoon had distributed  480 bedkits.  It seemed appropriate that we should be providing children the opportunity to experience safe and comfortable nights of sleep on this special day when they are  going to enjoy a form of independence from poor sleeping conditions.:)

Richard for the Kolkata Team

Chennai: Republic Day!

We had today off for a national holiday in India (Republic Day) celebrating 64 years of Indian independence.  We watched some of the Republic Day parade from our room.  It was a major event with military equipment, marching troops and bands followed by lots and lots of elaborate floats and bands.  We then met up with Jyoti and Dhalat, a local Rotarian couple that the other SCAW team members had met previously.  They kindly took us for a driving tour of Chennai to show us areas of the city that we hadn't been to before.  We toured areas with cottage industries that were arranged in a street by street fashion; one street for textiles, another for car parts, etc. followed by areas of the old City that had lots of historic buildings with some magnificent architecture.  We had a short stop at the Marina Beach.  It's a huge beach with some small fishing boats nestled in the sand overlooking the Bay of Bengal and the large freighter ships plying it's waters.  There were not many people on the beach and we were told that it is used more in the early morning and evening when it is not so hot.  Also, the sea floor drops off quite quickly and there are undertows that make swimming here risky.
We were treated to a fantastic meal at the Cosmopolitan Club by our lovely Rotarian friends.  We started with some Indian appetizers and a tasty fruit drink and just when we thought the meal was finished another round of food showed up.  Great eats.

Our final stop was a modern new shopping mall that had 4 floors of stores with a 5 screen movie theatre.  Lots of people here, browsing the stores and escaping the heat.  Unlike, home the parking garage was manned by parking attendants to guide cars to vacant parking spots and direct you to the exit.  In typical Indian fashion, someone made a wrong turn and got all the way to the exit before they discovered it.  The attendants stopped the exit lines, shifted some cars around and had the errant driver reverse out of line and back into the garage.  Traffic then started flowing through the exit again.  There's always something to talk about when it comes to travelling the roadways in India.

We had a nice day off and are planning our next distribution tomorrow, it'll be back to work in the morning.
Dennis for Team Chennai 2013

Friday, 25 January 2013

Chennai: Madurai

We completed the distribution of 630 bed kits at a medical building in the heart of Madurai. We had some excellent help from local Rotarians and several students from a nearby college. John had a great chat with 4 young ladies from the college that were excellent helpers about their schooling and their future aspirations. Laurie-Beth conducted some very informative bedkit surveys thoroughly enjoying the conversations with some local families. It was Susan's first day taking photos of the children and she did a fabulous job. The children as always were beautiful. The distribution went quite smoothly with some delays toward the end with the late arrival of youth from 150 km away. It was very hot and we kept the children indoors and in the shade as much as possible. Everyone drank lots of water and although exhausted remained up-beat and healthy.
We saw some interesting versions of ambulances parked on the main street next to the distribution site. While in Madurai, we visited the Gandhi museum, the Sri Meenakshi Temple, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace and a textile factory. All have been fascinated with the Indian history learned and the life of an amazing person being Gandhi. We were required to be barefoot in the temple which caused a little discomfort for some but it was well worth it to feel the spiritual presence of the people praying and the awesome visit with the real live sacred elephant. We experienced a light show at night in the palace augmenting a story of the life of one of the Madurai Kings accompanied by many mosquitoes and our lovely Rotarian hosts who came to the rescue with repellant. We capped the evening off with a lovely dinner on the rooftop terrace of our hotel overlooking the City. We will be visiting the textile factory later today before flying back to Chennai.

Doug for Team Chennai 2013
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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Team Kolkata Bashirat

Team Kolkata  was delighted to attend a wedding last night . The bride was the daughter of a Rotarian.  What a treat for us to participate in this fine occasion. We all felt blessed.
Today’s distribution was at Bashirat about a 2 ½ hour drive east from Kolkata towards Bangladesh. The distribution  was hosted at a Boys Mission school. The 13-15 year old boys were so keen to help in the whole process,  our jobs were very easy. The food preparation for hundreds of people  still amazes me. Rice is cooked in cauldrons rather than in pots. It was a great day here in India and 364 children are having a comfortable sleep tonight.

Marg Garrett for Team Kolkata
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