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Second Update from India

7 March 2010

I’ve now been in Bihar for a month and have gained a better feel for it. My fellow Paper Kiters who have been here before prepared me for what to expect, and Bihar delivered. It’s a striking contrast to life in Canada. Everyday life in Bihar struggles against corruption, overpopulation, poverty, premature death, armed conflict, hunger, disease, lawlessness and prejudice. The challenges are complex and intertwined and will require a huge amount of effort to even mitigate, let alone solve.

These conditions have caused me to have my own challenges while volunteering here. The most unpleasant was being sick for 5 days, but, as one long-term traveller told me, “You don’t come to India for hygiene.” True. Health issues are frequent conversation topics for foreigners. In this land of malaria and tuberculosis, food-related illnesses are usually relatively benign.

Another frustration is spending much time ruling out facilities that I’ve been told are orphanages, but turn out to be schools. I’m not sure of the reason for this, whether the person wants the school to succeed or if there is some sort of kick-back scheme for people who bring donors to the school.

I was thinking the latter earlier today while I was on the back of a motorbike thinking we were going to an orphanage in a remote village. Partway there we suddenly detoured off the main road and ended up at a school as my driver explained the orphanage was too far away to go today. We pulled up and parked alongside two full size tourist buses. Without exaggeration I noted that the tourists outnumbered the students. My driver acted surprised and offended when I declined meeting a school official.

Bihar has one of the lowest education rates in India, meaning language can also be a barrier. English speaking people can be at a premium outside of the larger towns and I do not understand even basic Hindi, let alone Urdu. I’ve had many slooow conversations that involve writing things down or miming. I smile when I imagine how I must look rubbing my stomach so the head of the orphanage knows I’m asking something about food.

I have found some organizations that I believe are good prospects for our programs. I’ve also met many interesting characters and had some fun adventures in the wild lands of Bihar. I’ll write about these in my next posts.

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