A blog that I considered writing many times while at Sevalaya is one I’m finally sitting down to type out. While at the project it was common for the girls and women to tell us that we were beautiful, even the boys. We were flattered of course and would respond by saying how they were just as beautiful. Almost every time I would hear how they had black skin and black skin was dirty and ugly. I was appalled the first time I heard this. Why does this child think that their skin is ugly? That white skin is better. I would always try to tell them no and then I would hear it again. I heard it from women who worked at Sevalaya and it broke my heart to know that this idea was ingrained in their minds.
Another common thing I heard was how America was dirty and India was dirty. These kids had never seen America, never been there so it is clear to me someone is teaching them these things. Whether it’s their parents, the media or whatever; it’s disgusting. I hope in the future volunteers and people who surround these individuals reverses those thoughts and helps them to learn that they are beautiful and their skin color is something to be proud of.
It’s hard to travel nonstop. I always thought this was the life I would want but this summer has taught me how wonderful it is to be with your friends and family and just go on vacations for short times. It’s hard work to pack up and move your stuff daily. To also drag it all over the train stations and up tons of flights of stairs. It’s physically draining especially with the heat and lack of sleep. It has been worth it, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade this summer for the world, but it will be nice to go home and have a definite place to stay each night. A place to go home to and not having to worry about where to stow my luggage or what time my train is at. We have been fortunate to have the experience to travel a good deal around India and it’s a great place if your a student on a budget! Tayelor and I always take pride in how much we saved by buying something here in India. Today we bought leather shoes for 5 USD! And we get hotels for that same price per person, per night! I know when I go home I will have a hard time adjusting to fixed prices on things and paying more than twice as much for everything!
These past two weeks were a whirlwind adventure. We have been traveling nonstop and have been in a new place almost every other day. We have been to Varanasi, Delhi, Rishikesh, Agra, Jaipur and now Udaipur. We have experienced some of the best foods, views, and places. In Rishikesh we trekked up a mountain to this waterfall in the Himalayas and ate lunch up there. We ate at some restaurants right on the Ganges river bank.
We had some set backs of course; leaving Rishikesh our train was delayed by eight hours putting us at a 3 am departure time. When we finally were able to board the train we were exhausted. Then the next morning we arrived in Agra with around five hours to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. It was busy because we had a train at five that evening, but the Taj didn’t disappoint! It was incredible. In Jaipur we visited the Amber Fort which was also gorgeous and we rode there on elephants! This was easily my favorite part of the trip! Our second day there we both were pretty sick so we had to take it easy before packing up and leaving again. We are nearly at the end of our journey and although I’m sad to see it end it will be nice to get home to everyone.
This was our last week at Sevalaya and the beginning to our eighteen day adventure backpacking around India. We spent the last few days at our project going on a bike rides, having a picnic and enjoying the company of everyone. On Monday afternoon we rode some bikes through all the local villages where many of our English students lived. As we rode around we saw so many of them and they were all so excited to have us come to their village. They were out of school for the day because of a religious holiday so they were all riding around with friends. We also spent our days having wonderful conversations with some of the wonderful people we made such great relationships with. We had some really hard goodbyes when we left; one woman in particular had become like an adopted mom to me. We had been taking tea together daily and chatting until daily prayer. Leaving our friends from the U.K. who were fellow volunteers was also extremely hard. We had gotten really close in the short time we had at Sevalaya. It was an incredible experience. It may have been different to other people’s experiences being in a home stay, but living on the campus was almost better I think. We didn’t have a host family, but Sevalaya is a different kind of organization and we ended up getting one huge family instead. I will miss those beautiful children so much, they have impacted me in a great way.
We left Thursday to Varanasi. We left out of Chennai and as we were boarding our train (that we almost missed) my duffel bag strap broke in the middle of the platform… Then we traveled 42 hours and were fortunate enough to have the kindest Indian family adopt us for the trip. Feeding us every meal, talking and playing cards, it was such a treat. They were genuinely such wonderful people. After arriving in Varanasi we planned to meet up, but unfortunately our lack of wifi kept that from being possible. While in Varanasi we did some great shopping, and got some great deals of course! We also went for a morning boat ride on the Ganges River at sunrise. The view was unreal and the pictures we got were great. We were fortunate enough to be in the holy city during the Pooja Festival which honors the deceased and also witnessing the burning of the deceased at the burning ghat. We enjoyed the rich culture of the city. It was such a beautiful place. We are traveling to New Delhi next for a few days and will go to the Taj Mahal from there. I can’t wait for our upcoming adventures.
This week we started two new assignments at Sevalaya. One of them is called the Functional English Program. Before and after school a group of fifteen students from 8-11th standard come and practice reading, writing, and speaking English for an hour. For the hour in the morning students read a column of the paper and pick out unfamiliar words. They then define the words and construct sentences with the words. In the hour after school they are to write 500 words in English on any topic they choose. I’ve been working with the 9th standard students and they have trouble sounding out words. Apparently children learn to memorize answers for test while learning English in secondary school and this really handicaps the when they go to university. I think the idea behind this program is great, but I also think that the students aren’t necessarily at the levels that they are supposed to be yet.
Another assignment Tayelor and I have started helping with is getting the girls at the hostile ready for school in the morning. We have to wake up at 6 am but it is worth it when you walk through the gates and you see their smiling faces and hear all their excited screams saying, “Hi sister!” It’s a great way to start our morning and the sun coming in our windows wakes us up an hour later as it is.
Now that we have switched our classes from four to one it’s nice to have new responsibilities although I do miss all the other classes and whenever they see us they ask when we are coming back to their class. Since we can’t teach all of the kids were want we have decided to start a drama club after school for anyone who wants to join. It is clear that the kids are extremely interested in this form of art and use it quite frequently. I think it will be a great tool for them to express themselves and it can also give us the opportunity to connect with more kids. There were a lot of kids who wanted us to come do a drama with their class that I hadn’t even met before.
This past weekend Tayelor and I booked our train tickets to travel up North for the last two weeks of our trip. I’m beyond excited to go to Varanasi, New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur! There is so much to do and see in two weeks!!! We have four weeks left here and before that we to finish our project at the old age home by getting the pictures printed of the elderly and translating the information into Tamil so that it can be displayed in both languages. We are hoping to be finished either next week or the week after.
This second week has been a ton of fun and also very productive. We have been working on a performance with our four classes to present to the school next week. Each class is doing something different from a drama about endangered animals to a showcase of their art work. It’s been so exciting to watch the kids use express themselves creatively and to see them grow. I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time at the school and hope that after these two weeks we can be assigned to a new position that can still take part in the secondary school.
The past couple of days we have also made great progress on our project with at the old age home. We have a bunch of kids and some young adults that are interested in the project and helping us communicate with some of the elderly that don’t speak English. It’s been fantastic to see the way the kids interact with the elderly and vice versa.
This past weekend all the interns went to Mamalapuram which is a little beach town a few ours from Chennai and our village in Kassuva. We had great Northern Indian food and got to do some shopping and site-seeing. It was nice to get out and relax for the weekend. We saw the Shore Temples and enjoyed the beach while we were there. We had a tv in the guest house we were staying in, and bought tons of snacks to watch the world cup at 3:30 am!
Today (Monday) our classes performed for the school in an assembly and everyone really enjoyed it. All day the other students were saying how “super” our drama was and wanted to know if their class could do one next. I’m so proud of all of our kids for working so hard on this project with the short amount of time we were given to make it happen. Tayelor and I are hoping to teach some art and English classes starting next week with the same classes if possible.
After spending a week here at Sevalaya we are finally starting to get the hang of things. The heat and lack of air conditioning is still something my body is adjusting to, but things are getting better. I haven’t been feeling very well and have had some trouble eating, but I’m hoping that passes as well. Our weeks have started to become a little more structured other than the inevitable interruptions (like when we had to go to the police station two days in a row in order to register with our tourist visas). In the mornings we are teaching four social science classes and after lunch we have some free time while the kids finish their school day. In the afternoons we go and play with all of the hostile children or spend time talking to the seniors and trying to work on our research. This week we are also planning on painting a mural in the boys hostile with the help of the other international volunteers.
Everyone at Sevalaya is fantastic! There are five other international volunteers living here and it has been fun to get to know them and experience this journey with others. Two of the girls from The United Kingdom have been teaching English all year here. The other three volunteers are from Utah and are siblings who have come to run an eyeglass clinic. It is so fascinating to see all the different interests brought together on this one campus, and the willingness between the volunteers to help one another.
This past weekend all the volunteers took a day trip into Chennai and went to a couple of the really big malls. We ate Pizza Hut, Subway, and KFC and did some much needed shopping! Riding the trains all over was an adventure and we had of fun! We also got to enjoy some air-conditioning while we shopped.
I’m looking forward to starting some more projects this week and hopefully some cooler weather now that monsoon season has started.