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First Day in Bodh Gaya- Field Blog # 1

16 December 2012

By Derek and Vinyse

Bodh Gaya…a city where people around the world come to visit beautiful Buddhist temples and to meditate around the bodhi tree. We’ve planned this volunteer trip for many months now, and as a Canadians who truly appreciate how fortunate we are to live in such a rich country, we’re happy to have the opportunity to volunteer our time and skills to help others.

Back home, I (Derek) spent my career thus far in finance and strategy roles in the financial services industry. I (Vinyse) started my career in auditing and finance, but changed careers to follow my heart and now work in the not-for-profit sector, recruiting, training and engaging volunteers. We both actively volunteer in the community for causes that include animals, the environment, and children.

Today is our first day volunteering in Bodh Gaya, and it was a great day. After a delicious breakfast at our honorary home base, Be Happy Cafe, we started at 10am, meeting the Director of Jeanamitabh Welfare Trust, Dr. Jeanne Pere. Everyone affectionately calls her Mummy Jee and we quickly saw why – Mummy Jee is immediately warm, friendly and caring.

Along with her always smiling staff member Munna, we visited the large piece of land that Jeanamitabh owns. Here they’ve built one of three wings of a building so far, and this first wing houses one of Jeanamitabh’s schools for children in the village. When they have more funds to construct the second and third wings of the building, they’ll be able to move the children from their nearby orphanage here onto a combined site. Currently, the building and land for the orphanage is rented, so moving to the new site will save the cost of monthly rent.

The new wing sits in peaceful surroundings, with a beautiful garden and building that make it very conducive to learning. The children range from nursery to grade five. When we stopped by each of the classes, the children stood up in unison and gave an enthusiastic “Namaste!” They all seemed happy and healthy, and we were happy to see the benches and desks that Paper Kite had previously purchased being used as an integral part of their classrooms. Above the classrooms are the future boys’ bedrooms, and a second wing will include more classrooms and the girls’ bedrooms. They’ll also need a kitchen where they can cook healthy meals for the kids. Their garden has some fruit trees and vegetables which are used in the kids’ meals.

We also visited Jeanamitabh’s computer lab and administrative office, which gave us a better insight on the organization of their five schools and their orphanage.

We spent the afternoon at Sunway Children Home. Approximately 75 children live here with managers Ravi and his wife. Sunway originally had two homes, but they were able to move to a larger building this past February so that all the kids can live together. The children were playing together when we arrived, and were all happy and welcoming. They all attend nearby schools and Sunway drives them to school when they are young.

Sunway is waiting to finalize the purchase of a piece of land so that they can also stop renting and build their own larger home instead – which will enable them to support additional children.

All in all, we had a great overview of Jeanamitabh’s new school (home of the future orphanage) and Sunway’s orphanage. We also were able to see and photograph the ongoing usage of previous Paper Kite purchases and to evaluate the need for each new item that they have thus far requested. We’re looking forward to additional visits over the next week to conduct more research with the purposes of assessing how we can continue to make a sustainable, meaningful impact to the children of Bodh Gaya.

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