Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Chennai: The Last Day for Some Team Chennai Members!

Today at the Rotary sponsored school in Ambattur we handed about 1040 bedkits - 30 of which were to the recently born babies. These layettes went to babies days old to 6 months. It was the last distribution day for 4 of the team members who will be heading back to Canada in the next few days. The other 6 will continue the journey to complete the 7000 Chennai distribution with the last 500 bedkits.

Once again this school, the staff and the senior students pulled through to make this such a success. They knew the routine and initiated it without any issue. The team was grateful for their support and accuracy in completing such a large task. We couldn’t have done it without them - yet again!

We feel so blessed to have met these wonderful children and to have been a part of the next step of their journey. Our continued thanks go to the SCAW donors.

Team Chennai 2019
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Chennai: Pondicherry

Today was a long day for both teams. For us, starting with a 3 1/2 hour drive to Pondicherry district.  We arrived to a lovely welcome by some of the schools already assembled.  At this distribution we had the opportunity to showcase the actual contents of the bed kit. All items were received with a hearty round of applause until the school supplies were displayed and the cheers and applause rose into a crescendo. Interesting. 

We made a couple of observations at this distribution.  There seemed to be an inordinate number of tiny malnourished children, and conversely, quite a few very large children who could not possibly fit into the XXL size uniform.  Finally we thought there were an above average number of children barefooted. 

Our team handed out 571 bedkits.  All went very well, smooth and orderly.

The other team gave out 534 bedkits and also had a very successful day, topped off with
incredible hospitality from the Ashram they visited and the MP  Reddy. 

Catherine Gayton for

Team Chennai 2019
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Monday, 28 January 2019

Chennai: Tiruvallur

Today we headed out 45 km (almost two hours in Indian traffic) to Tiruvallur where we handed out 700 bedkits 

We were enthusiastically greeted with ceremonial shawls from the local Rotarians and a lovely young lady doing a native dance. It was very impressive to see.

Again we distributed in a school and it was so good to note that so many children are now attending. The school is in a low income area and has 3500 students. We were overwhelmed by the number of volunteers both teacher and student. Today we met a teacher who has been actively involved with SCAW distributions here for the past 14 years. It was a boisterous and happy distribution with the children smiling and willing to play games.

As an added bonus today we were able to interview a mother and her daughter, who received a bedkit last year and told us it had really helped her to sleep better and succeed at school.

After the distribution drove to visit the homes of two students who received bedkits today and had been interviewed about their sleep habits. Neither home had electricity and both had thatched roofs that leak with every monsoon. One of the  mothers told us that the family couldn't currently sleep in their home because of snakes. Both families use wood fire smoke to clear their homes of mosquitos and so particularly valued the mosquito net. The children as always were happy and the family delighted to have a bedkit.

It was a satisfying and busy day.

Team Chennai 2019
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Chennai: Madurai

It was Republic Day in India. Republic Day honours the day in which the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950.

Today our distribution took place at a school in Madurai. We distributed 592 bedkits to some very spunky, smiling, deserving children. The difference today was the bedkit that was being distributed. This was something new; it was a sample kit that is being tested. These bedkits included an all in one mattress and pillow with a bamboo backing.

 It is slightly different from the other bedkits that feature a ground cover, bed sheet and pillow. I have participated in three distributions; this was my second one in India. It never ceases to amaze me how these children can touch your heart in so many ways, their smile, laugh and genuine appreciation reminds me why being a volunteer with SCAW is so very rewarding to me. 

A bedkit distribution requires many things to fall into place to ensure it runs smoothly. It was heartwarming to see how many Rotarians and volunteers showed up, despite the local holiday that was taking place, a true testament to how much this distribution meant to them.

Today my job was to work with another team member, Iain Spencer (AKA Gramps). Iain obtained this nickname from a little girl that we met in the temple the day before. Our job was to put happy faces on the children’s hands which is a check procedure before they can obtain their bedkits. 

The team is heading back to Chennai today and begins distributions in the local area tomorrow. Another successful day was had, 592 children will have a restful, comfortable sleep tonight on their new bed. Sleep well children!

Cheryl Warner for 
Team Chennai 2019
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Saturday, 26 January 2019

Chennai: Vendor Visits

The main reason that I chose to give my time and energy to SCAW as a volunteer is their commitment to ensuring that 100% of all donations go directly to the children intended.  However, another reason that I choose to support is SCAW is their support of local industry.

Computerized Loom

Today we had the opportunity to visit some of the places where items in the bedkits are manufactured.  These visits made it abundantly clear how much of an impact these bedkits make to the families of the area in terms of employment income.

Hand loom

SCAW is so incredibly lucky to have the Rotary as their Overseas Partner in India.  Our Rotary contact in Chennai, Ravi, explained to us that while the pricing, quality, and reliability are very important factors in selecting vendors, that Rotary also considers the vendor's business practices, ethics and moral values.  For the vendors selected, supplying bedkit items is more about supporting the charity and providing local employment than it is about profits.
Hand loom up close
Today we saw all levels of manufacturing, from women weaving the groundsheet on an entirely manually operated hand loom, to the computerized mechanical looms that weave intricately patterned blankets.  The vendor who supplies the bedsheets has over 100 weavers who work out of their homes.  We visited one home with two mechanical looms where the patterning is set by hand.  The home owner owns the machines, although the supplier assists them with financing on the machines. Supplies are delivered and the finished product is picked up daily.

Women on the hand loom

Today I saw first hand the impact that SCAW has in this area.  It is impressive and heart warming.

Home loom

Jennifer O'Donnell
Team Chennai 2019
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Friday, 25 January 2019

Chennai: Magical Yercaud

The team woke this morning to a brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine. The high-country morning air was crisp, clean, and full of the sound of birdcalls. At nearly 8000 feet above sea level, it is much cooler here than Chennai and most team members elected to wear a fleece pullover as they left their warm beds and headed to the dining building. A hearty breakfast was shared with our travelling Rotarian partners. Having scouted the distribution site the day before, the team felt well prepared for the site setup. At 8:45am, we loaded into our vans and headed to the school. We did expect some children to be present, but what a surprise, the multiple balconies of the school were lined with students, repeatedly yelling “HELLO”!

Another surprise was that our local Rotarian partners had arrived at 6:00am and organized the distribution site into various stations. Each station had a sign marking its purpose: Registration and Uniform Distribution area, Girls Change Room, Boys Change Room, Photo Area, and Bedkit Distribution Area. In addition, the local Rotarians had erected large canvas awnings over each station to protect us for the hot sun. The objective for today was to distribute 609 bedkits. To truly understand the full impact of this distribution, one needs to appreciate that today’s bedkit recipients came from 55 schools servicing 68 tribal mountain villages ranging as far away as 40 km. As the students changed into their new clothes, the SCAW team organized themselves into two photo teams and the distribution was underway. The photo shoot and bedkit distribution went extremely well and this could not have happened without the support of a local group of high school seniors.

I should mention, this is my first trip with SCAW and my first time in India. Today, it was my job to hand-out bedkits and to provide exit security. This gave me the opportunity to have close interactions with both students and their parents. It is a heartwarming experience to watch a small child nervously approach you, wondering what will happen next, and then leave with a bedkit in hand, a big smile, and a softly whispered “Thank You”. It is equally touching to watch the child deliver the bedkit to their mother, watch her smile and hug her child, and then have her turn to you and thank you personally for such a wonderful gift. After the distribution, the team joined the Rotarians for a wonderful lunch at a beautiful local inn. 

This was followed by a walking tour of the “Colony of Homes” and a visit to two homes that were recipients of today’s distribution. The colony of homes is a cluster of connected concrete homes with corrugated steel roofs built on a mountain slope. Each home is not much larger than a one-car garage, comprised of 3 or 4 rooms, in which an entire family lives. In the colony, communal drinking water and toilet facilities are the norm.

As many of us remarked after the tour, the homes of these children are such a contrast from what one would envision for them. This is real poverty!! But yet, they arrive at school, uniforms clean, wonderfully groomed and smiling. One last very important note:  SCAW has been doing a distribution in Yercaud off-and-on over the last 13 years and in that time, school attendance and retention has increased by 20%. The local Rotarians directly attribute this incredible statistic to our bedkit distributions. Great work everyone!!!

Trevor Ryan
Team Chennai 2019
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Thursday, 24 January 2019

Kolkata: A Sacred Visitor At Today's Distribution!

What a surprise when the cows came through the gates to the school and charged down the stairs past between the rows of children lined up to have their picture taken. (luckily) Everyone was set in motion

He really did pose for Nancy to take this photo

Team Kolkata 2019
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Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Kolkata: Haringhata

Driving north from the city this morning we enjoyed views of the rural countryside. Banana plantations, fields of mustard plants, market gardens and more cows and goats than we have seen up to now. It was a pleasant change from the crowded streets of Kolkata...

The distribution was in the courtyard of a school with grass instead of the usual dirt. However the ground was very rough and we had to be careful not to twist an ankle. The barefoot children were given a full meal of rice and curried vegetables before changing into their bedkit clothing - dresses for girls and shorts with t-shirts for the boys.

Part way through the distribution we had to stop to allow for the delivery by cart of large bags of rice. All government schools are mandated to provide a hot lunch for the students.
Rice, a vegetable and an egg every day encourages the children to attend regularly. The bonus for the family is that money isn’t needed for that daily lunch. Our Rotary friends said that even the cows benefit as they get the leftovers!

Team Kolkata 2019
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Chennai: Yarcaud

Today was a restful day for the SCAW volunteers and visited our next distribution site in preparation for tomorrow's distribution. Yarcaud is a beautiful place with its peaceful atmosphere overlooking the lake on a hill station surrounded by abundance of forest.  It's well known for its cool weather and the scenic stations. The school kids we met were fantastic. The Rotarians are ever so grateful to the Canadians for the wonderful gifts they bring to the children. The Rotarians advised us that the number of children attending school has increased as a result of the bedkits given to the children at the school. Most of the children walk to the school and enjoy it. There is a big plantation of about 750 hectares nearby owned by one of the Rotarians who was more than willing to take the SCAW volunteers around his plantation briefing us on the history of the plant and thereafter hosted lunch for the Rotarians and SCAW volunteers which was great. It was time for SCAW volunteers and Rotarians to fellowship away from the busy schedule.

We took another trip to Shevaroy Temple, the highest point of the Yercaud mountain which is 5,500ft and went into the temple using a small cave. Each member had to ring a bell on the way in as is the custom and back at the hotel in time for dinner.

Team Chennai 2019
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Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Chennai: Vellore

Today was our first distribution out of Chennai. We were out of the hotel by 6 am for a 3 hour drive to Vellore.  As always 70 percent of the bedkit was devoted to sleep needs but the major purpose of a good nights sleep is to do well in school. This year's school bag has a motto encouraging girls to stay in school plus a Tamil to English dictionary, pencils, erasers, books and a package of colour pencils. 

The first group of enthusiastic children that we met were from an orphanage school and it seems very fitting that a large number of them received a bedkit from students at a Toronto school. The children, as always, were a delight and even when they were confused or uncertain they were unfailingly polite and quick to smile and say thank you. After bringing a smile to 225 children we moved to a new site.

We tried an experiment running 2 sites at a time for the second distribution  which was both interesting and a challenge but a satisfying way to give another 639 children bedkits and a happy way to end the distribution day.

Many thanks to the Rotarians who very kindly provided lunch for both the children and ourselves. After our delicious lunch, which was much appreciated, we headed out for a long drive drive to our next hotel in the mountains.

Team Chennai 2019
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Monday, 21 January 2019

Kolkata: Sonamukhi

We visited Sonamukhi which is a very poor rural area 4 hours outside of Kolkata. We had several cows visit during this distribution of 640 new SCAW children.

We were able to interview 3 new SCAW children whose ages were 6,9 and 10. One boy and 2 girls. Each child was accompanied by a parent. All of these children lived in homes with their siblings and other relatives as well. All families interviewed slept on a raised wooden slat bed and usually all slept together as a family unit. 

All of the families had a mosquito net and understood how to use one but the one they had was old and had holes in it. All of the families were thrilled to see their new mosquito net in the bed kit.

The parents and children were thrilled with all the items in the bed kit. It is wonderful to see the expression on the parents faces as each item of the bed kit is explained. 

We discussed sleep with the parents and stressed that all the items in the kit were meant to help the children get a good night sleep and stay in school.

Team Kolkata 2019
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Sunday, 20 January 2019

Chennai: Happy Faces!

This is my second distributionthe first time was in Pune and now Chennai. Its good to be back.  Yesterday, the first distribution day, I got to look at every one of the 474 children in the eye, while I drew a happy face on their hand.  It was such a touching and rewarding experience, to see the excitement in those eyes.  They are happy little people, despite their lot in life.

Today, my assignment was to send the children out to get their picture taken. There were a group of children who stood out somewhat, in that they were severely deaf and required a cumbersome device behind their ears. This did not dampen their spirits at all. They were just as excited and waved goodbye to me as fervently as all the rest. We gave out 480 kits today.  The young teenagers who assist us are an integral part of the team and the Rotary helpers are formidable.

Tonight was a very special night. Ravi, our Rotory leader, invited us, as honoured guests, to his Daughter’s engagement ceremony.  It was a traditional Hindu ceremony followed by a traditional South India meal, served on a banana leaf. We felt very special.What would we do without Ravi.

Catherine Gayton for
Team Chennai 2019
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