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Archive for December, 2012


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A Bittersweet Day

By Xilo

Throughout the trip I’ve been working on several projects:  taking pictures of the orphanages themselves, having the children fill out post cards, interviewing some of the older children so we could introduce them to our sponsors, and taking videos of the children stating what they want to be when they grow up.

The last project in particular has been difficult to complete and I was on a mission on this last day to get it done.  One of the older children at each home helped me rustle up the younger children and we went to the field beside each orphanage to do the videos.

Even in a field it was hard to get to find a quiet spot.  Workers cutting down palm fronds seemed to be following us, tractors passed by every once in a while and of course we had the cars, bicycles and tuk-tuks speeding through.  Having a sense of humour definitely helped and the children and I would burst out laughing with each new distraction.

In the end I think we got some good videos and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished project.  It ended up being a bittersweet day since I was happy to be finishing most of my projects (also got all the post cards written), but I had to say goodbye to the children just when I was finally starting to develop relationships with them (the boys had just started warming up to me).

Meeting the children and seeing some of our projects getting underway (at Sunway the bricklayers have started building the girls’ new bathroom) have definitely been highlights of the trip.  I think it will take a while to absorb all the new experiences and the things I’ve learned.  I’ll be posting a final blog after I get home on my reflections from this trip.  Now I’m off to catch my plane home.

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Merry Christmas!

By Xilo

Tarik and I had a very busy Christmas day.  In the morning we visited Jeanamitabh where I took videos of the welcome ceremony for Tarik.  This is his third year visiting Jeanamitabh so he has made friends with some of the children and everyone was eager to say hi to him.  As I imagined, most of the boys feel more comfortable talking with him and it was heart warming to see them crowding around him, welcoming him back.

However, not all the boys are quite so shy with me.  I have had interesting conversations with some of the older boys.  For example, yesterday Ramsey and I spoke about at length about the dowry system, the caste system, and my impressions of India while we waited for the Christmas lunch to be served.  (Lunch was delicious, although a bit too spicy for Tarik’s liking, which meant more food for me!)

After lunch we mingled a little more with the children and then headed out to meet with Ravi, one of the managers from Sunway.  He wanted to finalize the purchase of building materials for some construction work that Paper Kite is sponsoring this year.  Ravi is eager to begin the construction work because he knows that Tarik wants to see that everything is finished before he leaves. (This is very important as we do not like to leave money behind when we return to Canada.  This ensures that all the money goes to the projects and purchases that have been vetted and approved by the Paper Kite board of directors.)

In Bodhgaya you can’t go to a Home Depot type store and order all the building supplies you need.  You must to go to each shop, which specializes in things like making nails, making bricks, making cement, and so forth to get the materials.  I took pictures of all the transactions so that we can show what is being purchased as Paper Kite wants to be as transparent as possible about what we do with the money that is donated to us every year.

After finishing the purchases we decided to go back to Jeanamitabh so that I could take advantage of the children’s free day and conduct interviews with some of the older ones.  I was impressed by the level of English of the children I met and look forward to sharing the stories of the children I spoke with so that people who can’t meet them in person can learn about their history and their dreams for the future.

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One of the Girls

By Xilo

I began my day by visiting Sunway.  All of the children were inside huddled around the T.V. as today there was no school and it was still too cold to go outside to play.  The bigger girls were in their room and I was invited inside for some chai tea.  As usual, they peppered me with questions about my marriage status, my plans for the future, and what I’m doing here in India.  The morning flew by in between answering questions and learning traditional Indian dance.

In the afternoon I began working on one of my projects, which is taking videos of the kids telling me what they want to do when they grow up.  However, trying to find a quiet place with good lighting in a home with 75 children is impossible and outside the noise of a tractor drowned everything out.  I will try again tomorrow with hopefully a little more luck.

In the afternoon I went to Jeanamitabh and was disappointed to learn that the boys weren’t playing cricket today.  However, I did get to watch the girls’ dance class and played games with the little girls until the big girls could take me to their regularly scheduled computer class.

Holding hands they escorted me through the streets to the building where they have computer classes.  The boys and girls take turns so once I got there with the girls the boys all left.  Since there are only a couple of computers the girls also take turns using the computers. The girls who were waiting their turn asked me why I was always taking so many pictures and videos.  I explained to them that I want people in Canada to learn about how Jeanamitabh and Sunway help the children and that a picture is worth a thousand words. They understood quickly and offered to help organize the children so that next time I visit them I can be extremely productive as I only have two more days in India.

Tarik arrived this afternoon so tomorrow is a special day as many of the children in both homes have developed a special relationship with him and were excited when I told him he would be there for Christmas.  Now I’m off to bed to recharge for the excitement of tomorrow!

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“Another one Miss!”

By Xilo

Sundays at Jeanamitabh are filled with treats for the children.  It’s their only free day of the week so they can play or watch T.V. in what are normally the classrooms.  (Some of the older kids use the free time to study for college exams, which are coming up in February and March.)

I, of course, was a new toy with which the children amused themselves.  They marvelled at my skipping abilities, taught me to sing the welcome song that they learn for visitors and hammed it up for the camera.  They especially loved posing for me in front of the Christmas tree and kept asking me for “Another one Miss!”  The Christmas decorations were still going up today and I’ve never seen so many acrobatic feats performed just to hang up a huge 3-D paper star in the middle of a room.

In the afternoon I toured the home, which is divided into many small class rooms that double as sleeping quarters for the children in the evening.  The boys are separated from the girls and there’s a common area on the same floor as the kitchen were the children can take their meals.  Since I spent the entire day there today I also got a treat:  my first authentic Indian meal since arriving to India.  (Airport food court meals don’t count!)  It was spicy, delicious, and eaten very quickly.

I had an amazing time trying to keep up with the seemingly inexhaustible energy of the smaller children and answering questions from the inquisitive older children.  Tomorrow I’m heading back to observe them during their afterschool workshops and I may even get watch my first ever cricket game!

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Getting into the Swing of Things

By: Xilo

Bodhgaya woke up this morning with a thick cold blanket of fog covering it.  I had to dig out my warmest scarf to meet with Derek and Vinyse for breakfast at our headquarters (Be Happy Café).  It was an early morning as we planned to go to Jeanamitahb so that I could be introduced to the children and Mummy Jee before Vinyse and Derek left for Canada this afternoon.

We arrived at Jeanamitahb in time for the daily morning prayers and singing.  They prepared a welcome/farewell ceremony that involved the children singing to us and a blessing complete with flower garlands.  A huge smile was plastered on my face throughout the entire visit as I experienced the beautiful ceremony and warm hospitality at Jeanamitahb.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay very long, but I’m excited to go back tomorrow to visit with the children who stared curiously at all the visitors.

In the afternoon, I was on my own for the first time.  I decided to go back to Sunway and continue working on some of the projects on my “to do” list.  A project the children helped me with today was writing notes on post-cards that some of our supporters back home purchased before our trip.  I was in total paparazzi mode today and had quite a lot of fun taking pictures of the children as they worked on this.

Many of the children at Sunway know my name now and the bigger girls are more comfortable with me and invite me to sit with them.  The bigger boys are still quite reserved, but this seems to be cultural and I’m quite curious to see how the dynamics change once Tarik arrives on Monday.  Time is flying and every day here has been quite an experience.  I’m looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Starting the Journey Home

By Derek and Vinyse

After three weeks away, including the past eight days volunteering in Bodh Gaya, we are starting our journey home. This afternoon we fly to Delhi to spend one evening there, then to London for another evening, and on Monday we’ll be making the final flight home…just in time for Christmas with family and friends.

We leave India with wonderful memories and new friendships. We have been inspired by the passion and dedication of staff from Jeanamitabh and Sunway, and will never forget the smiles and giggles shared with the children.

We are certain that we’ll be back to India again, to explore new places, to meet new people, to reunite with our new found friends, and to give our time, skills, and love to both the children and the four-legged friends in this beautiful country.

Vitamin C…Does the Body Good!

By Derek and Vinyse

To try to prevent the end of the world (plus cold and flu season) from reaching the orphanage, one of the Danish volunteers living at Sunway mentioned that fruit for the kids would be nice. So, today, we bought a bunch of oranges to bring to the orphanage.

I was surprising how excited the kids were to have fruit. If given the choice between cookies and fruit, they’d choose the latter.  Too bad this isn’t the way with most North American kids. The oranges went super quickly! Some of the children called out to the boys playing in the adjacent field, and in the blink of an eye, a bunch of them came bounding up the stairs.

We brought the iPad out again and they immediately started playing Ludo. They were teaching us numbers in Hindi with each of the virtual dice (too bad we only know how to count to 6!).

A couple of the children took an interest in our SLR camera so Vinyse went around the terrace with them taking pics. The blog photo of one of the Danish volunteers was taken by one of the boys. They had a great eye!

The photo of us walking on the road was taken by Xilo, as we saw the kids walking home from school with the Danish volunteer. They were excited to see us, waving from a far and running to hold our hands. Though we won’t see them again before we leave Bodh Gaya, the children of Sunway have definitely left us with warm hearts and we look forward to getting updates on their lives.

Big Dreams

By Xilo Lopez

On my way through town today I noticed some children playing on a dirt hill.  They were using sacks to slide to down the hill and their laughter and smiles sharply contrasted with the dirt caked into their hair, faces and clothes.  This state of cleanliness was not due simply to their game.  In Bodhgaya you’ll see many orphans and children from poor families dirty from head to toe.  They wander and play in the streets and in garbage piles.  Many of the babies and smaller children don’t wear bottoms.  While many tourists will stop to take pictures of these children, they are not the only ones who notice that these kids don’t have the opportunity to get an education and are at high risk of getting seriously sick and injured.

Today I had a conversation with one of the older boys from Sunway, Bunil, who spoke eloquently about his desire to someday be able to help other children who do not have access to the same opportunities he has had.  Thanks to Sunway he’s able to grow up in a safe environment with access to health services and education.  He greatly appreciates this and wants to give back to his community by building schools and hospitals.  The dreams and maturity of this 15 year old boy were impressive and humbling.  My conversation with Bunil and the happiness on the children’s faces as we surprised them with tangerines this afternoon were the highlights of my day.

Old School vs. New School

By Derek and Vinyse

Yesterday was a quiet day, spent typing up notes and welcoming another volunteer, Xilo, to Bodh Gaya. Read her blog posts to see how she’s feeling in this amazingly beautiful and chaotic country!

Today we had a great day at Sunway. Vinyse stayed at the orphanage with Xilo to play with the kids. Once our iPad came out, the kids asked to see photos and play games. After a few tries at Fruit Ninja, they played a couple of rounds of Ludo on the iPad. They’ve all played Ludo before, but there was definitely the novelty of playing it ‘new school’…on a touch screen. They were great at helping each other, and were chatty throughout.

Derek went with the orphanage manager to start the process of having metal bars made for Sunway’s windows. The metal bars are one of the items that Paper Kite is purchasing this year for Sunway. These bars will allow light to shine into the building while providing security from intruders.  The metal bars are made ‘old school’…by manually cutting long metal rods to size and then welding them together.

Our experience of old ways (metalwork) and new ways (technology) is another great example of the many contradictions that India holds.

Smiles Lighting up Rooms

By Xilo Lopez

Today was my first full day in Bodhgaya. We decided that today we would visit Sunway, which is a 45 minute walk from where we are staying in Bodhgaya. We got there just in time to see the children eat lunch (it’s amazing how much rice these small kids consume!) It was comforting to hear from the Danish volunteers who are live there that the children are able to get second helpings if they are still hungry. Unfortunately, they also mentioned that there are rarely any fresh fruit or vegetables with their meals.

After the children finished their lunch Vinyse took me for a tour of the orphanage and started introducing me to some of the children while Derek went out to order supplies for construction work that Paper Kite is sponsoring. (We will be replacing the bricks covering the “windows” with wrought iron grills. This will allow more light to shine through and increase the overall safety of the rooms where the children sleep.)

It ended up being a fun afternoon since there’s nothing like sharing in an activity to break the ice. I played a board game with the little ones and infiltrated a group of the bigger children who were huddled around watching a Bollywood movie on the only TV in the home. They seemed amused that I wanted to sit among them and that I often laughed during the movie. (You don’t need to understand the language to understand the comic absurdity of some situations.) I was asked, “Miss, do you speak Hindi?” I confessed I did not and by the end of the afternoon I was getting lessons on how to introduce myself in Hindi.

One of the main things that struck me on this first visit was that seeing pictures of the orphanage is nothing like experiencing how dark and small the rooms are without a camera flash. However, I quickly saw that the children’s smiles are also able to light up a room and the knowledge that we are helping keep these smiles on their faces has already made this trip one of the best decisions in my life.

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