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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Orphanage Visits

I think my favorite experience so far has been visiting an orphanage here in Hyderabad. We went during summer holidays, so half of the children were off visiting other family(in order to be considered an orphan you have to have one or no parent). There were about 50 children there, boys and girls, all adorable.
They sang us songs and recited poems. They wanted us to sing for them, so we sang twinkle twinkle little star and they knew it so they sang along. They asked us each what we did in the US, so we told them what we study. I love telling kids I study film - it makes them think I'm famous. 

The orphanage is run by an amazing woman and her husband. We didn't get to talk with her much beyond hearing what the needs of the orphanage were. We got to know her husband, Dileep, much better. He used to play pro cricket for Hyderabad! He's such a nice man. He always says "God is great!" When talking about the kids in the orphanage. The people who run and work in the orphanage love the children so much. It's wonderful to see children who come from such difficult backgrounds find a happy and loving place to be. 

The children themselves are just beautiful, wonderful people. Two children in particular stood out to me - Malesh and Lakita.

Malesh is about 10 years old and was the first kid to have enough guts to stand up and talk to us when we arrived at the orphanage. The kids were all sitting in neat rows, and we asked them if they had any questions for us. Malesh was brave and raised his hand. He asked where we were from and what we were studying in English (a little broken English, but still impressive). He then proceeded to sing a couple of songs for us, at first solo. The other children usually joined in. He and his friend asked us if we would come back and teach them English. He wants to be so good. 

Lakita is a tiny adorable girl, about five years old. She was recently rescued from the red light district where her mother was a prostitute. When we visited the hostel where the orphanage houses the girls, we discovered she has two older sisters who were also rescued. They are all beautiful and so sweet. Many of the children are in the orphanage with their siblings. It's nice to know they have each other. 

One of the most impactful elements of our visit was realizing that our country director, Ben, was once an orphan in a place like this. He and his twin brother were adopted at 15 months from an orphanage in Goa (an Indian state). Knowing his background turned every little boy in the orphanage into a little Ben. And now Ben gets to return to India and serve children like himself. So wonderful. One of the boys drew a portrait of Ben - they call him Ben 10 because of the TV show (it's very popular here).

 These kids are amazing.

Our visit to the girls hostel also included dancing, singing, and henna - a woman who works there is also a
professional henna artist for weddings. On our palms she drew an Arabic design, and on our forearms and the back of our hands she drew and Indian design. She is quite the artist. 

They fed us lunch, they danced with us, they kissed our cheeks, and they did more for us than they will ever know. We visited to assess the needs of the orphanage, and we came away with a few things we could do. I hope we can help them like they have helped us. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Final Week of Summer Camp and GLOW Wave 1

We have come to the end of our summer camp and first group of GLOW girls. It's definitely a mixed bag of emotions. This week was rather difficult in some ways. First, on Tuesday very few children showed up to summer camp and GLOW had to be cancelled entirely. This is due to a number of reasons, the first being that it is wedding season. There is a season for weddings? Why yes there is! The auspicious time for a marriage in India is determined by the position of the sun and the moon. So all of the weddings happen in that prescribed time, which means there is a lot of traveling and family gatherings and such. This eventually translates into poor attendance at summer camp.

The other reason we had less kids in attendance is that they plain forgot. We last me with them on Thursday of last week, and it's hard to get them to remember to come back. There should have been more kids on Wednesday but our partner organization SAPID threw an environmental rally in our summer camp slum so everything was pushed to an hour later. Anytime the time is changed with something in India, that means a good amount of people won't show. We had a few kids but not as many as last week. It ended up being actually very good - the kids received more attention and more instruction. We went over English words for parts of the body (head, shoulders, knees, and toes etc.) and colors, numbers, and fruit. The kids had fun and so did we. GLOW was cancelled on Wednesday too because of the time change. On top of the time change the government schools started their new school year this week and neither SAPID nor our group knew about it, so a good chunk of kids were missing because of that. I was really sad that my project, GLOW, though scheduled for 6 days and 6 lessons only ended up having 3 days and 3 lessons, not due to anything that I did but mostly due to cultural issues and scheduling conflicts. Still, it was rather discouraging.

But we still had Thursday. And Thursday ended up being our best GLOW meeting. We taught the girls about menstruation, and our translator from SAPID, Urmi (the coolest woman you'll ever meet and our adopted Indian mom), was fantastic at explaining things where we fell short. I've never taught about menstruation before. I had to have Ben, our country director and resident health teacher, teach me how to teach it. That was an awkward but informative experience ha ha. I think Eric, who sat through Ben teaching us how to teach it, probably felt more awkward. It was pretty funny. But it went well with the girls, I think.

And then we taught them about self esteem. Julia took an apple and compared it to self esteem - when you think negative things, it's like dropping your apple and you get bruises. However, inside of every apple there is a star (then she cut the apple and showed them how the seeds made a star pattern). The girls loved it - they kept calling themselves super stars. And then we had them write in their journals things they liked about themselves. Annie asked if she could read what they wrote and many of them wrote that they wanted to help poor people. This was eye opening - they ARE poor, and they want to help others in their situation. I think I learn more from these girls than they will ever learn from me.

I hope what we taught them sticks with them. I think it was a wonderful way to wrap up our first wave of GLOW girls. We are going to try to get a new group each month to work with so we can help as many girls as possible.

Monday, June 3, 2013


We just got back form our first excursion outside of Hyderabad to Bangalore, and it was lovely! This was a strictly touristy trip, no humanitarian work this time (though on some of our tourist excursions we will be delivering hygiene kits and stuff). It began with us waiting for a bus, and a tiny van pretending to be a bus pulling up. They told us to get on, so we did, and by the time we thought it would be a REALLY long bus ride, they dropped us off at our real bus - a big, travel bus with reclining seats and a TV and everything. It was quite amusing. We rode the bus all night long to get there, and they showed us a Bollywood movie! I'm not sure what the movie was called, and it wasn't my favorite, but it was definitely enjoyable. After the movie we were left to try and sleep in the seats, which was rather difficult but I managed 4 or 5 hours of sleep. And when I woke up I was in Bangalore!

Bangalore is about 30 degrees cooler and more green than Hyderabad. It's all jungle-like. Well, compared to anything I've ever seen. It's also a bigger city. People were wearing more Western-looking clothes. It had rained the night before so the air was clean and everything smelled good.

After breakfast we stopped by the Bangalore Mission Office - it was so great to be somewhere that my brother Danny had been when he served his mission. I think about that all the time in Hyderabad too. My brother was here! It's a very happy thought.

Then we went shopping! I bought a ring and earrings and a churidar top and some of those awesome baggy genie pants. I'm going to be broke when I get home... :/ but I love the stuff I bought.

And the hotel...was palatial! Well, actually, it was across the street from Leela Palace (view from our window - amazing!), so it was almost palatial. But it really was so nice. I took a shower. Oh my goodness. There were six faucets spraying all different parts of my body. I was almost laughing - it was the best shower ever. And we had wifi! So I talked to my loved ones back in the states and emailed and stuff. So nice. The beds were super fluffy and lovely. We decided to take a dip in the pool which was fun until we discovered first one then around 11 guys creepily watching us swim from the building across the street. Creepers. One of them even had binoculars. So we left.

Later in the evening we went to dinner at TGI Fridays for a taste of America. It started raining so we walked there underneath the freeway flyover. There are no pedestrian rules here. You just walk slowly enough so the cars and autos can drive you but fast enough that you don't get hit. It's always an adventure.

The real adventure, though, was the next day - Mysore Palace! We hired a cab driver to take us there. It took about 4.5 hours to get there because we got a flat. Our driver was great and changed it quite quickly, and then a nice lady brought him water to wash his hands in - there's a great sense of community here. Everyone helps everyone else out.

Mysore Palace was BEAUTIFUL. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the palace, so google it if you want to see it. It's so pretty. The tiles and the wood and the walls - it was like Indian Versailles.

And behind the palace I might have gone on an ELEPHANT RIDE!!! First we ran into the elephant while it was giving rides to other people and I got to touch it's trunk! It was hairy! And rough! Surprising but so so cool. And then we rode the elephant. Julia was kind enough to take pictures while we rode. Elephants may well be one of my new favorite animals. I want one. They let each of us sit in the driver's seat/spot. And it was amazing. We also went on a camel ride - I couldn't help but sing "Prince Ali" from Aladdin while I rode the camel. It just had to be that way. It was wonderful.

We had to hurry back to Bangalore to catch our bus, but apparently our driver didn't catch the memo because he stopped to get his flat tire repaired. And by the time we got back to Bangalore we had 30 minutes to get to our bus that was 45 minutes away. We called and told them to hold the bus for us, but they informed us that they cancelled our bus and we would just have to hurry to get a spot on another. Yikes. So our driver was awesome and sped to get us there (as safely as possible, of course). And he did! We made it! And then there was the bus ride - long, no Bollywood movie, and still rather uncomfortable. But in the morning we were back in Hyderabad - and it felt like home. I live in India. What a wonderful weekend!