Rotary Polio Trip to India

The day before last we boarded a houseboat around noon at Alleppey in the district of Kerala on the west coast of India for an afternoon and overnight exploration of the backwaters of Kerala. The backwaters of Kerala is a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets formed by more than 900 km of waterways.  There is a thriving community living along the river most of whom work in the rice fields that back on to the river and are fed by a unique system of canals.  (you can see more about the area by goggling houseboat tours Alleppeny India).

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We left the houseboat and Alleppey on Tuesday morning and headed north to further explore Kerala.  With fertile soils and warm, wet climate Kerala is one of the world’s premier spice-producing regions.  We toured a spice plantation, learned a lot about the health benefits from various spices, tasted them fresh off the tree and ended up buying some from the third generation owner of the plantation.

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From there we checked into our hotel and then headed out for an evening elephant ride.  All in all it was a great two day.

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Today was amazing touring the tea plantations owned by the Tala Corporations and visiting a school for the “Differently Able” – it was great to back into a school.  I will tell you all about it tomorrow but it is after midnight and I have an early morning tomorrow.  We are off to Cochin for the final two days.

Thanks for your patience with me.  I will see if I can improve my postings once I get home.  I will try to write again tomorrow as we will have internet.

Night for now

Day 12

Day 12

We spent the next three days at a remarkable school, Akshay Pratishthan, being run by some truly amazing educators.  Akshay was set up as a small school in tents in 1988 as a unique experiment in inclusion and inclusive education.  It has expanded to become a rehabilitation center providing support and education to more than 450 children.  It has become well known for its vocational training, medical care, and employment opportunities for children who are underprivileged and “differently abled”.  Their dream is to give the disabled and backward sections of society an education and a platform to prove themselves and show that the sky is the limit.  Even though the school receives support from a number of service organizations – to name a few, The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, The Rotary Clubs of Delhi & Regency, The Embassies of Switzerland & Italy, and The British High Commission – because of the incredible need, it struggles to find funds to achieve their dreams.

Our three days at the school were very successful.  For the first two days, we taught stick loom weaving to what started out as a small group but numbers quickly tripled within an hour with more and more teachers and students wanting to learn how to weave.  Sahara had brought a suitcase full of materials needed to teach the children weaving and drawing.  She is an artist herself and has been a Professor of Art for the past 37 years.  She came well prepared and started the children off with a simple project that most were able to achieve while others caught on quickly and took it to another level.  To the astonishment of the teachers, some of the students became skilled enough to produce personal items such as wrist bands, necklaces, cell phone carriers, and small purses.  It was both a challenge and a joy to work with the children and see the smiles and sense of achievement when they were able to make it work.ImageImage

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On the third day, we changed tasks.  Sarah comes from cowboy country in Nevada.   She has been involved with the cowboy culture most of her life and has great admiration for their way of life.   She talked to the students about the similarities between the cow herders in India and the cowboys in the American West.  Then she walked them through a process where they were able to draw a picture of  cowboy: the results were amazing.   Some of the children have wonderful talent.

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We are finished now and are moving south; we have left the school with the tools and knowledge to carry on and expand the projects Sarah started.  The teachers and Mrs. Aruna, founder and Chairperson, were excited about what we were able to achieve and gave up both parting gifts and requests to think about returning for a longer period of time.  It was a heartwarming experience.

Day 9 – February 23, 2013

I am finding it very difficult to keep abreast with these postings.  Our days have been very full up until now.  The group has left and Sarah and I are now on our own.  We have moved to a guesthouse close to the school for handicapped children, Aksahay Pratishthan, where we will be volunteering for the next four days.  The accommodations are quite a step down from what we have had for the past two weeks and it will take a bit of time to adjust.    Unfortunately, there is no Internet so we will attempt to find an Internet café after school.

I want to catch up on our last days with the Rotary group because they were probably the best of the trip.  We participated in NID, National Immunization Day.  All over India for four days, health care workers participate in an effort to inoculate every child five years of age and under with the polio vaccine – a herculean task.

On day 9, we visited an incredible school in the Kusumpur Pahari Slums. The inhabitants of the Kusumpur Pahari region are migrants from all over India.  There are between five and six thousand hutments with a population of 40-50 thousand belonging to all castes and creeds living in Kusumpar.  The majority of the settlers are daily wage earners and infrastructures like schools and health centres are non-existent.  In 1989 the Rotary Club of Delhi South, along with a team of committed philanthropists, set up a non-profit Integrated Community Service Institution.  The goal of the project was to provide vocational training to the poor women in the community.  Today, the project is meeting the needs of the women and all the young people in the community through a variety of programs aimed at helping them to maximize their potential leading to socioeconomic independence, self- sustainability and better health.    The staff working at this school are amazing and they are definitely making a difference to the lives of many in the community.

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After visiting the school, we had an opportunity to walk through the village on the way back to our bus.  It was difficult to see the condition that some of residents are living in: narrow lane ways lined with temporary shelters some built with bricks and tin roofs, inside are dark soot covered walls little or no furniture.

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2013-02-23 15.39.54From the slums, the tour bus took us to an exclusive shopping center where jewelry was being sold at prices far above what most of even wanted to consider particularly after what we had just come from.  When enough of us resisted and came out after five minutes, it was decided to take us to another shopping area where there were a larger variety of items to purchase but still very much a shop geared for tourists.  It was evident that the guide was getting a cut from the sales – shades of Bangkok.  I was not impressed.

We returned to the hotel in the midst of Delhi rush hour, which continues to amaze me.  I can’t understand why we don’t see more accidents: it is interesting to see small motorcycles with as many as four passengers, mom, dad and two children, the male the only one wearing a helmet.  Lines on the road mean very little and it is not unusual to see cars, trucks, motorcycles, tuck tucks, push carts, and bicycles weaving back and forth inches from each other seven and eight vehicles across on a roadway that at home would be three to four lanes wide.

We were hosted that night by the Rotary Club of Delhi Chanakyapuri .  They rented a large banquet hall set up a free bar, henna hand painting for the women, and a wonderful buffet dinner.  It was great to meet and get to know better the people who are involved with so many wonderful projects in this city.