Time Is The Greatest Gift You Can Give And Receive.
By Megan Roche
I begin writing this blog while sat on a plane high in the sky, half way through my journey from Bangalore to London. While I sit here I notice I am surrounded by strangers who like me have left Bangalore to travel to onward destinations. It makes me think about how we each have our own story to tell of our time in Bangalore, how our days were spent while there and who we gave our time to. So here’s a little insight into my story, of my time volunteering in Bangalore along with eight other volunteers with the Irish charity SERVE.
Before I began writing, I spent some of the return flight watching the film ‘Lion’. The film depicts (based on a true story) the life of a young Indian boy who was adopted by an Australian family after being found in an Indian Orphanage. After watching this film (I highly recommend watching it by the way) I sat beginning to write this blog and found it so hard to put my thoughts and emotions into words after what has been an amazing, insightful and inspiring time! Many of the scenes in this film were so vivid and I could relate to them, not by using my imagination but from my own real life experience of being in India. From the busy roads, to the unfortunate scenes of homelessness, poverty and slum dwellings which were all so fresh in my mind having witnessed similar scenarios in Bangalore. This may not surprise those of you reading this and this may be what you expect to hear of what you think it might be like there in poverty stricken areas if you’ve never been to India. I can assume this as for example when I tell people part of the volunteer work involves working in a boys orphanage, the most immediate response is one of ‘oh the poor children’. However, these are not the images I will remember India for. While yes there is poverty and yes there is struggles, let me give you a picture of the India I had become immersed in, it’s people who radiate happiness and it’s community spirit as being one of unity and loyalty to one another.
4.00am in Cork airport, I bid farewell to my parents and my brother. While this is my second overseas volunteer programme in 6 years, I have no idea what awaits our team in Bangalore. Will there really be rats? Will I get sun burnt? Will I be weak with the hunger? What will the accommodation be like? Will I fulfil my role ok as a volunteer? What will the work be like? Will I make the best use of my time there? All of these questions were unanswered at that stage but more than anything I had a great sense of excitement and pride as I knew we are the lucky few to be given this privilege to bring our skills and knowledge to another country, a new community and to work in partnership with three community services. Having completed three training days, the meet and greets aren’t a bit daunting! Among the group we have two leaders, Sarah G who works as a Youth Resilience Project Coordinator and Sarah D who works as a Special Needs Assistant. I am a Social Care Worker and my fellow volunteers include: Elaine a Physiotherapy Student and Aoife a Speech and Language Student (we three are based in APD), Edel a Child Care Worker and Ellie a Social Care Student (based in Morning Star), Kate a Bio Medical Engineer and Daniel a Medical Student (both based in Sumanahalli). So as you can see the group is to be divided up into the three different services, each of us with varied skills and different professions. When in Bangalore we regroup each week on Friday afternoons until early on a Monday morning. In addition to our volunteer work, a lot of our time is spent on Development Education. This year’s focus is on Global Goal Number 5: Gender Equality. We work together on a video presentation and also completed tasks and identified challenging perspectives on a weekly basis along with talking to people within the community and services about Gender Equality. Again, as I reflect while writing this blog, I recall how we were constantly using our time to further educate ourselves and others during our time there.
Upon arriving in Bangalore, we quickly get a glimpse into everyday life on the roads… Loud beeping, Rik Shaws everywhere, people walking dodging traffic, different smells, lots of dogs lying on the streets and cows roaming the roads. We are all taking it in and I notice how relaxed the people appear going about their day in the busy traffic! As we get closer to NSK (our accommodation) we pass a slum area on the road side and this is when it really dawns on me.. We are here, we are in Bangalore, this is what all the months of training, preparing and fundraising has been for.. Far from home and far from all that are familiar to us! Similar to the ‘Lion’ this is what I had expected to see but what I didn’t realise at this stage was: It wasn’t about the seeing but it would be the time spent meeting and the time spent doing that would shape this experience and give me the greatest insight into community life. The litter and the slums doesn’t define it, the chaos of the roads doesn’t define it but rather spending time getting to know the individuals whether it’s service users, parents or professionals, this is what will come to define this whole experience.
Sumanahalli HIV Aids and Leprosy Services: It began with a presentation and tour of each service within Sumanahalli. This included meeting the oldest female resident who has resided there for 40 years in contrast to the newest resident who had only just arrived. We visit many services including the candle making unit, leather workshop, knitting workshop, garment making factory and school, speaking to different professionals and workers along our way. The dedication to their work is so admirable and the time and effort put into each product ensuring perfection whilst also ensuring further funds for on-going production and service! Upon meeting with the Service Director it is evident to me just how much the involvement of SERVE is appreciated and how much SERVE has contributed by working in partnership over the years.
Morning Star Orphanage: I visited the Boys Orphanage twice during my time in Bangalore. These visits are something I could never have imagined or prepared myself for despite having previously volunteered and lived in a Community House in Zambia with teenage orphan boys or the nature of my current work in Ireland as I work in a boys Mainstream Residential Unit, nothing could prepare me for this experience! The young boys greeted us reaching their hands out to take our hands and walk side by side with us, eagerly showing us around their home. In doing so, they are full of pride showing us their different birds and animals such as rabbits and hens, their clean and tidy bedrooms which consist of rows of bunk beds, the area where they study, their library full of books, where they complete their homework and of course the courtyard. Everyone congregates in the courtyard where we share great entertainment in music, dancing, hula hooping, playing instruments, ball games and use of the trampoline. One thing that struck me is how well behaved the boys are as they wait patiently for use of the trampoline as its just one at a time. Yet there is no rushing or impatience, everyone gets a turn to jump and dance along! At the back of the orphanage there is a large open area for playing ball games and also a basketball court. None of us wanted to leave the orphanage on any of our visits there. Not because we felt sorry for the young people but rather the opposite. These children are the happiest I have ever met and their fun loving attitudes are contagious, you just want to be part of it and not heading back out into the busy roads and hustle and bustle yet instead staying to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this care filled, loving home. I am pleasantly surprised and relieved at how well the boys are cared for and how well the orphanage is maintained. I think to myself as we wave our goodbyes, how lovely it would be to know where these boys go in their lives and while they live simple lives they are among the richest as the little they have makes them so happy and they do not seek for material objects or money but instead the company and time of each other is what appears to be of most importance and of most value to them. I think back and reflect on my previous experience in Zambia and the outcome is the same, happy fun loving young people who adore education and spending their time being creative!
APD: The Association for People with Disabilities. I cannot begin to describe how much I enjoyed being part of the APD community! My volunteer experience there was much more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined it to be. From being given the curriculum to teach young adults with disabilities (class sizes of approx. 35 students between the ages of 19 to 26), to being asked to present and lead a presentation to parents of children with disabilities on Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Delay along with Elaine and Aoife whereby my input and role was in relation to the basic needs of the child.
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching, I had two groups one a retail class and the other a call centre class. I led the classes by working alongside my fellow volunteers, a sign language assistant and translator to fulfil the topics of the class on any given day. Topics that I taught included Learning to Keep Emotions Under Control, Study Skills, Employability Skills, Interview Skills, Common Interview Questions, Email Correspondence and Customer Service Skills. The eagerness of the students to gain an education for future employment was awe inspiring. The manners they portrayed to us was like nothing I have ever witnessed from seeking permission to enter the classroom to ensuring we had eaten breakfast and lunch, while they would spend time throughout lunchtime chatting with us and offering us their own food before themselves was just a remarkable sign of how thoughtful these students are!
I also spent time designing a Student Feedback and Evaluation Form for the students as I was requested to do so and I currently await feedback on this as it is hoped the form would be implemented for future use in the Education and Training Centre. In addition to work based in APD, I also got involved in the outreach service which included Community Work in a nearby Community Hospital and in a nearby Community Learning Centre. As part of the community visits I also experienced three home visits. This was a huge honour being invited into people’s homes and listening to their stories. One of the many memories that will stay with me forever is the positive attitudes of the parents we met. One father of twin boys one of whom suffered from a disability while the other was healthy and involved in education will in particular always remain in my thoughts as he spoke so well and affectionately about his love for his family and having a happy home being more important than having money or a big house. I think we all often take things for granted and forget the simple things in life are the most important and not to ever overlook them. Moreover, his thanks to us for giving up our time to volunteer in Bangalore was very appreciative among us all and his acknowledgement of our presence was personally emotional and heartfelt.
I will fondly remember my last day in APD whereby I taught both classes and we had our usual banter too. We laughed and shared in some fun while watching videos about Ireland which included introducing the students to hurling, rugby, the Wild Atlantic Way, Irish singers and bands and even some Irish dancing too which they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy. The students themselves entertained us with dancing and drama.
While we gave our time to some of the community services in Bangalore, it is so important for everyone to know how the local people gave their time to us too. Be it from being greeted on a daily basis at the entrance and reception of APD, to being given biscuits at the Orphanage, from professionals within APD always ensuring we were enjoying our time there and asking us about our plans and preparations. To on my last day, whereby the head Physio and some of her colleagues took time out of their busy day to show their appreciation to me by presenting me gifts of Indian earrings and bangles, a floral headpiece and a bindi for my forehead a true sign of the kind nature and community spirit of APD. What’s more it was lovely to witness how ability and not disability is highlighted throughout the service. For example so many of the professionals within APD have themselves disabilities and they always sought to help others and enhance ability among the service users whether it was time in the Prosthetics Unit transforming lives of people with mobility issues or spending time with younger children in the Physiotherapy and Early Intervention departments.
Pause for Thought
One evening after passing a wedding outside the local church we returned to NSK for dinner. We spent time chatting and reflecting on the people we had met so far and our expectations before coming here. One thing we all agreed on is how much we take things for granted at home. I am so aware even writing this that it is such a cliché thing to refer to but the thing is I really do mean it! I know I have to return home and be aware that no amount of talking will ever describe the actual experiences we have encountered but we can only hope to share and instil in people some of the values and learning’s we have been privileged to have gained.
The happy smiling faces of people, the eagerness for education, the appreciation for our time and the never ending gratitude for our voluntary work is what I will remember India for. Tears were shed as I said goodbye to the fantastic group and said goodbye to Bangalore and reflected on all the memories that I had created in such a short time. I am so proud to be a member of Team India 2017. I only wish I could have stayed longer to do more of the same because more of the same was proving to be so worthwhile and beneficial! I know this from the feedback from the professionals we assisted and worked alongside and from the appreciation shown to me by parents and service users. A simple thank you meant so very much to me, as one day one student thanked me and stated how I had a clear teaching style. I realised this was of great benefit for him and for him to point it out was heart-warming!
The young adults with disabilities whom I taught were the most amazing of groups. It reminds me that we all have a chance to succeed, nothing should stop us from achieving our life goals, what does success mean to you and I? Are our ideals and values different, do we expect too much from each other or from ourselves at times? Is there too much time spent feeling pressure to conform to society? Remember Life really is what you make it; put the time and effort in to achieve your goals. These young people were clear examples of this as regardless of their disabilities whether it’s mobility issues, physical, hearing or speech impairments! India 2017 has shaped me as an individual to be a better person and not to waste time but to use it productively to benefit others in society. To those I had the pleasure of meeting and working with in Bangalore, they’ll never know what it means to me to have been a beneficial part of their lives and their community if only for a couple of weeks but it’s made a lifelong impact on me.
I’ll end this blog by saying you really ‘don’t know what you have ‘til it’s gone’…
Appreciate home and family life, health and education. These are only words but it really is so true! Love of family, love of friends, love of community and the giving and receiving of our time to one another is what matters most and it really does make a difference!
Thank You to each and every person who supported me in any way through your time, donations and support over this last year. Through raising funds we are able to enhance the services in Bangalore. Some examples of where money has already been spent include: New scooters for the boys in Morning Star Orphanage and Educational Toys for the children within the Early Intervention and Physiotherapy Departments of APD.
Thank You also to my fellow Team India 2017 volunteers for your friendships, what a wonderful life changing experience we have shared together!
Megan Roche SERVE Volunteer
Zambia Africa 2011, Bangalore India 2017.
Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality
By Sarah Gallagher (SERVE India Leader 2017)
Gender equality is a very interesting term to discuss, there are many opinions, debates and sides to this topic but gender equality is not just a topic up for discussion- it is real, it affects real people-men, women and children every day globally.
While being here in India for the past month, I have engaged and interacted with many men, women and children. It is only in the past week upon reflection of these interactions that I have realised and become aware of situations concerning men and women and what is culturally acceptable and not. I remember one incident where I was playing basketball with a group of young lads and I wondered for the entire time why nobody would play defence on me properly when I had the ball. I thought they were afraid of me or they were “taking it easy”- but I was wrong. I was recently told that a man being that close to a girl wasn’t the acceptable way to be even if was just for the purpose of the sport. If a male was to play proper defence on me it would mean a certain amount of physical contact which is not culturally acceptable between the two genders here in India. I found this very interesting as this was something that would have never crossed my western mindset. It definitely challenged my perspective. Men having one mosque to pray in while women have another- why is there a need for divide?
I also had the pleasure of meeting a smart young woman who has studied medicine and therefore has many opportunities for herself in the present world to be an independent woman. Only through further discussion I realised that this wasn’t her plan. She had recently agreed to an arranged marriage where the soon to be husband has told her that he wants her to quit work and studies and stay at home to care for the family they will soon have. He is the breadwinner and therefore he gets to make these decisions, a lot of importance is put on what the man says and it doesn’t seem to matter what a woman says. This woman thought this was perfectly fine and she was happy to do so. Even though she was more qualified and more highly educated than the man and could potentially earn more money than the husband also. This didn’t sit well with me in terms of equality and more specifically- gender equality. This particular story challenges my mind because she seems very happy with this decision and is comfortable to drop her education for their life together.
However, it must be said that while I have experienced the divide and distance between men and women here in India predominantly, I have also seen another side. At the end of our volunteer experience, we as a group decided to spend one night away in a hotel. Here, I found life to be very modern and the interactions between men and women were more natural and free without a sense of fear or dominance- it was an environment I could totally relate to from my own life in Ireland. There was music, casual drinks, dancing and people being sociable. This challenged my perspectives completely because up until then, I thought gender equality in India was simply the observation that men were more powerful than women., which is the case a lot of the time. While this is the experience in one hotel, it’s crucial to remember that everyday life on the streets of Bangalore seems difficult for a woman in India as there is a lack of independence and self worth, at least from my interactions, conversations and observations with local people.
While there are organisations in India trying to empower women, like Asha Deep, which is a home for girls. It will be a long time to achieve gender equality here in India as a whole in my opinion, simply because it is embedded in the Indian culture for the woman to look after the children, cook and maintain a home while the man is the provider out making money.
The issue of the dowry also puts a lot of emphasis on the inequality that is experienced by women in India today. India has the highest number of reported dowry deaths worldwide. In 2012 for example there were 18,233 dowry deaths reported in India. However, there is legislation in place under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 which prohibits the asking or accepting of a dowry and failure to comply with this result in fines and/or imprisonment. Despite this law that is in place, it is clear to see that it is ineffective and very poorly enforced by Indian officials and the government. The fact that this is still allowed to happen in spite of a law in place puts more emphasis on the lack of respect for women and the lack of statutorily efforts in creating a more equal society in India in terms of gender.
In conclusion, gender equality seems to be some way apparent for Indian people who come from a more affluent background as seen in the hotel. However this is a minority – at least in my experience. For the poor, the homeless and the families living in slums which account for a large number here in Bangalore- women don’t have a choice or an option. Their marriage is arranged and the man is then in charge. It’s not like in Ireland where the norm is that people split up and break up if it doesn’t work out. Here in India, it is common to fear being beaten, burned and or killed. I know this may seem a bit bleak and people may say every country has some extent of these problems and that is very true, however in saying that, a lot of women in India are seriously deprived of independent thought and choice because of fear, culture, severe poverty and religion.
Reflecting on all of my experiences and observations, I now wonder is there a global responsibility here to highlight and intervene to help promote gender equality. I know there are many organisations trying to highlight this issue and help empower women in India but is it enough? What more can we do to have more of an effective change? If the government are not enforcing their own laws on dowries to stop women being killed, do we have a global responsibility, a moral obligation and if so who is it that should make the first move in developing a partnership to help improve the area of gender equality in India? These are the questions that need to be asked, discussed and answered as a global citizen.
APD: Week 4
By Aoife O’Connell, Kate Griffin and Elaine Houlihan
Our last week in APD, we can’t believe it has come around so fast. This experience has been full of both highs and lows and we know that we have both given and taken something from it.
Community work has by far been one of the highlights of this whole experience. It was made extra special by the people we met out in the community, their hospitality, love and attitude is something to be greatly admired. We feel as though we have learned as much from them as they have from us. Aoife got extra lucky as she had the opportunity to go out to the community at least once per week. Here she was able to directly interact and assist in giving speech and language therapy to children with a different variety of needs in the local community hospital. This early intervention set up consists of a corner of a hospital ward, with limited space and toys. However, the staff involved in the early intervention programme work hard to ensure that every child gets the best chance and access to the services provided by APD.
Although this experience of working in solidarity with APD has given many good memories it is important to future volunteers to know that things don’t always go to plan but in this culture adaptability is priceless. Aoife learned this when she went to an Early Intervention training camp two hours from APD for mothers and their children. She had prepared a presentation to give to the mothers. However, she quickly realised that it was not suitable due to the language barrier and the presence of the children so instead of a presentation, she worked with the speech and language therapist to deliver a practical training session full of activities for the mother’s to carry out with their children.
It is so important to be able to adapt to the situation presented to you, especially if it doesn’t go to plan. This was also apparent on Monday and Tuesday when religious and national feast days surprised us and altered the plan we had for the day. Volunteers need to be prepared for the unexpected and see the benefit to the work they CAN do instead of worrying about deviating from a plan. Instead of visiting the community as planned on Tuesday, we got to work on development education and meet another volunteer from Germany who is a social worker and has been working in the school since January. She told us that she would love to do social work here and so we connected her with some of the people we have met here who also have the need for a social worker to continue and develop on some of the work we started.
We also very excited to be back in the training centre after the students break from studies last week. This week we focused on computer skills required in business. They understood that this would benefit them in their future jobs, and as they are such a focused and driven bunch in spite of all life has thrown their way, they were wonderfully excited about learning these skills. Starting with basics, internet connections, email, creating files and finding files, time flew as they asked questions and demonstrated their understanding, many fighting for the opportunity to show what they had learned. This continued when Kate took on Microsoft word, PowerPoint and excel where no amount of time would have been enough for them. She was really taken aback by such an eager attitude and thirst for knowledge. It was noticeable throughout our time teaching that there is a gender gap. The men were loud and confident full of questions and scrambling over one another to be the first to answer. However, it was not the same for the women, who shy away and are embarrassed to speak up, even though women outnumbered men in the room. It was disheartening to see such a lack of confidence in very intelligent women. Luckily we can see times are changing. We also spent time in the primary school and even just nearby during our other activities on the APD campus where young girls had bountiful self confidence. Times are changing and as these girls grow to be women, I am sure they will be ready to learn, answer and challenge themselves.
The focus of Kate’s short time here has been APDs prosthetics development unit. While it is hard to have such an impact having her time split between Sumanahalli and APD there has been a silver lining. Having the chance to get to know and work on the rehabilitation of patients affected by leprosy allowed her to develop relationships with amputees. One in particular, Hyder 24, lost his leg two years ago after being cured of leprosy. Hyder was the only young man staying all day long in the facility, and all the others were over 40. When Kate met him he felt so restricted and victimized by his circumstance. Having met and worked with APD prosthetics unit, Kate realized that there is potential for two of SERVE’s Indian partnerships to form a partnership of their own. Initiating the contact with the two separate organisations was a challenge, but driven by the hope that Hyder might walk again, kept her determined. With agreement from both organisations to attempt to work together, Hyder came to visit APD. It was a special moment to see Kate reunite with a friend and to see his enthusiasm to meet the prosthetics team. After extensive assessments of his amputated leg, and brainstorming how to design such a unique prosthetic Kate was honoured to be able to give Hyder the good news, his case had been accepted, and with his commitment he may soon walk again.
The request for commitment from Hyder towards his progress was a confusing concept. Many of his experiences with charities in the past have been as a recipient and nothing further. With both SERVE’s and APDs commitment to solidarity we knew we needed to work with him and not for him. This was an opportunity to teach some of life’s most valuable lessons with the potential to walk again as motivation. With APDs encouragement, Hyder has started his first job. Upon showing commitment to his job and commitment to his new responsibilities, he will prove to the APDs prosthetics team that he will also be committed to his recovery, physiotherapy and will take responsibility for the care of his prosthetic. Once he has proven these things work can begin on development and manufacture of his prosthetic. This experience should show him that a prosthetic is only a tool and that happiness in life and progress can be found without it.
Technology will never replace nature and all its beauty so a physiotherapist is needed to show someone how to adapt to a life they have never known, not just finding their old feet but adapting to new ones. Elaine has been focusing on providing training and passing on knowledge to some of the parents and staff here in APD and the community. Elaine’s focus continued this week as she worked on creating a protocol for people who are getting prosthetic legs which will be a very valuable document for years to come here in APD both in the prosthetic unit and the physiotherapy unit. In the document Elaine provided information in relation to how patients can maintain the strength in their leg, skin care, bandaging their limbs and how to fall safely with a prosthetic. Even thought Elaine was busy doing this for majority of the week she still made time to help Amala who is one of the physiotherapists here to come up with a suitable rehabilitation for a lady who hasn’t walked in 17 years and was just after receiving her prosthetic leg. Elaine also provided information on bandaging joints correctly which will be used in the training centre for the young adults training to be physiotherapy assistants. She also got the opportunity to spend some time in the community doing physiotherapy thorough play. Ball games, simple puzzles and some dancing games encouraged them to develop muscles that otherwise may have been difficult. Dancing and ball games involve arm raises and movements that some of the children have difficulty with while the puzzles develop their pick and place accuracy and co-ordination.
Farewells are never easy, but these weeks have flown and now, on week four, it is time to say goodbye. It was a beautiful moment when the people we have met and worked with gathered to see us off. It was plain to see that we were no longer volunteers in their eyes, we had become friends. We were gifted with flowers and traditional bangles followed by a photo shoot where there were enough selfies taken to capture every second.
Morning Star: Week 4
By Edel Quinn and Ellie Brennan
Who would have known that four weeks could have turned out to be the most amazing weeks of our lives! It feels like it was only yesterday when we were stepping off the plane to start our journey here in Bengaluru. A part of us wishes that we could do it all over again tomorrow to and go back to day one in the incredible Morning Star.
Our last three days in Morning Star couldn’t have been more amazing or special. On Monday we got the chance to dance in the monsoon rain with the older boys. This was the kind of rain you were able to enjoy as it wasn’t like the cold Irish rain we all know. But even though it wasn’t cold it still reminded us of home, and also how important the rain is here in India. It isn’t taken for granted like back in Ireland, and is celebrated when it finally arrives. With the boys, we lost ourselves in the rain splashing each other, dancing, and enjoyed every minute. Even though we were soaked it didn’t matter, as we had so much fun with these boys we have grown to love.
While here we learned about the excitement that the little things in life can give someone, such as blowing bubbles to playing serious games of Thumb War. The smiles it put on the children’s faces was amazing and heart-warming. These smiles only got larger when the scooters that were ordered arrived. The thankfulness that we received was incredible, and the younger boys took turns having scooter races.
Tuesday was another great day, awaking to the customary “Good morning Auntie!”. You can’t help but smile and feel incredibly welcomed each morning. This is something that we are going to miss when we go back to Ireland. That day was filled with more serious games of Jenga and painting, were we used all different colours, sponges, brushes to paint and stamp leaves on paper. Here we were able to see them as individuals, and could guess who did each drawing or painting as they are all so wonderfully different. Before bed on our last night, we both got our t-shirt’s and got everyone to sign them. At the beginning we thought that it would be something cute, but along the way we saw how excited the children were to put their mark on our t-shirts. They wanted to show us that we really mattered to them.
To be honest, we couldn’t have had a better last day to end this amazing life time experience in Morning Star. As it was the last day we really appreciated every moment of it. Even when feeding the boys by hand, we didn’t really think about how such a simple task is so important until our last day. Our final painting activity with the boys started with drawing transport vehicles, and then led to drawing horses, elephants and cheetahs. These amazing drawings had been done the older boys, which really surprised us as we had no idea that they could draw so well! It was a great discovery on our last day as we were able to encourage them to use their talent to do activities with everyone when we were gone. No matter what we did or gave to these boys they were happy to do it, as we were spending our time with them and wanted to work with them.
The best thing about this day was that it was played out like any other day. From basketball and soccer, to dinner and prayer, everything went the way it usually did. It was when evening came to a close that we slowly started to say our goodbyes. We got photos with anyone that we had missed and making sure that we spoke to everyone one last time. When it came to the end it was all very special as music was played and we danced altogether with our boys one last time. To finish they sat us down in front of everyone and firstly they thanked us for coming and giving our time, then we received a traditional Indian necklace and the cutest personalised card. This all really hit home because it wasn’t about what they were giving us, what mattered was the love and thought behind what we received. Just before we left we got our last supper. For this we were treated like Queen’s as they served each of us our dinner for the last time. When our taxi arrived we then realised ‘oh wait we are really leaving,’ it was the most beautiful and hardest goodbye as they all walked us to the gate receiving hugs, kisses and more goodbyes. It was that moment when we said our last goodbye and sat into the taxi that they begin the whistles that we had grown to love each week. In that final moment as the taxi drove away we couldn’t help but smile because we were the lucky ones that these fabulous people welcomed in to their home, shared their life stories and showed us that happiness starts within.
Dignity in the face of stigma
By Kate Griffin
Indian culture is deeply rooted in family, faith, and stories passed through the generations. This brings with it a beautiful respect for elders and their teachings and a wonderfully pure trust in their faiths (that brings far more joy and peace than my ever curious scientific mind can expect to achieve). However, this beautifully pure trust has been taken advantage of through the years. Misconceptions have been shared and heard as truths and over generations become considered fact.
Most lessons passed down are harmless, they help guide us and keep us safe. The tortoise and the hare is the story that taught us patience. The boy who cried wolf teaches us not to lie. All valuable lessons, but we know they are stories. Some stories we forget are fiction, some stories are taught as truths. And here the danger lies.
Leprosy is a harmful infection that through the years we have been taught to fear through stories with misconceptions taught as truths. In India where the culture thrives on the teaching of elders, this misconception has been taught and believed and has become a stigma.
There are several false beliefs about leprosy. The oldest is the belief that the illness is hereditary. This has led to whole families being shunned or worse, a family shunning an individual. Another is the belief that the illness is a punishment from a higher power that the sufferer and their family deserve the suffering they receive. The most problematic is the belief that the sufferer is incurable and forever contagious. This is the belief that has developed into a stigma.
While the infection can be healed, the illness leaves its mark in the form of physical deformities, such as facial plaques, facial palsy, claw hand deformity or foot drop. With a stigma that the illness is permanently contagious and easily recognizable symptoms, those who have undergone treatment still struggle to return to their lives and struggle to regain social acceptance.
Every day the reputation of science grows and stories, in particular misconceived stories are taking a back seat. This is a slow process. These stigmas will take as many years to break as they took to form. How, in the mean time, can we assist a cured sufferer hide from the stigma they face? How can we not only cure the body but also the life? The answer: cosmetics!
I was guilty of harboring my own opinions and stigmas. When I heard cosmetics I really heard vanity. I thought of enhancing beauty or trying to be something you’re not. I learnt how wrong I was. With progressive, ingenious new cosmetic operations comes the opportunity for those marked by the physical deformities of leprosy to return to society in spite of the existing stigma.
One of the most common side effects of Leprosy is the claw hand deformity. As leprosy effects and desensitizes the nerves in the outer extremities, it often removes sensation in the hands and feet. When the ulnar nerve in the forearm is effected the fingers begin to bend inwards and stiffen. This tightens over time. It makes daily activities, the type we take for granted, very difficult. And to add to this already difficult life change, it is easily recognized. This means anyone with this deformity is immediately subject to the social isolation caused by the stigma of leprosy. Another side effect is hair loss.
As the bacteria like extremities the eyebrows are lost. Our eyebrows are the most expressive features of our faces. It allows us show the subtlest of emotions and communicate throughout the world In spite of any language barriers. Babies who have yet so say their first words express happiness, surprise, confusion, anger….all with a simple and natural move of an eyebrow. The loss of this facial feature costs the sufferer the ability to express themselves in a way we all take for granted. It changes their face so much that one woman told me she did not recognize who she saw in the mirror.
However, there is a resolution with cosmetic surgery.
To correct claw hand, the unnecessary palmaris tendon in the fore arm is removed, divided and relocated into the effected hand. The added length to the tendons in the hand allows the fingers more room to stretch out. While the nerves cannot be repaired the hand is once again useful and the marker of the stigma is removed. With the eyebrows, the bacteria do not reside in the scalp as there is a lack of blood flow. Therefore the hair is not lost here. A simple skin graft from the head to the brow arch returns the face to its original state, returning both expression and a sense of self while also preventing the stigma of leprosy.
While great efforts are being made to cure the illness, and while efforts are also being made to remove the stigma, the most progressive and effective solution to this illness has been cosmetic surgery. Dignity is being returned in the face of stigma.
When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises – Angela Merkel
Week 3: APD
By Elaine Houlihan and Aoife O’Connell
At the end of last week we had to say goodbye to a member of our team, Megan. We have been the three amigos since day one. We have experienced so much together and done it all with smiles and laughter, it was like we had known each other for years. Working with Megan in APD was an absolute pleasure. We got the opportunity to teach with Megan and learn a lot from her. Although Megan was only with us in APD for a short period of time, she made a huge impact with student’s, whose gratitude was shown on Friday during class when they all decided to put on a show to make sure she left the way she does everything, in style. Although Megan is only gone back to Ireland she is dearly missed by us all here in Bangalore.
Megan left big shoes to fill (four pairs to be exact) but Kate from the Sumanahalli team was up for the challenge since they wrapped up their work last week. Luckily we had a surprise up our sleeves for Kate. When we met Kate at the first training day in Cork, we discovered her background was Biomedical Engineering with a personal passion for prosthetics, and guess what? APD had a unit completely dedicated to making and fitting prosthetics for the clients that attend the clinic. Which was exactly what Kate was looking for; her dream was to work directly with the people she makes the devices and equipment for. Upon introducing Kate to the prosthetics specialists she would be working with for the next 2 weeks her surprise, excitement and overwhelming passion touched each and every one of us. We knew from that moment that she would fit right in with us in APD and have a huge role to play in our work here. Although she only has a short time here, we are certain that she will make her mark and leave APD better than when she came.
After introductions were made relationships formed immediately, as people with matching passions often do. With Kate’s engineering background and Elaine’s physiotherapy knowledge we developed a plan to work with the prosthetics team and their advancing work. Meeting Joyce, the supervisor for the manufacturing team, was a highlight for us. We got the opportunity to make splints for some of the children in the school here in APD. It made it even more special for us knowing the children they were being made for. Every splint is made by hand with love and care and we enjoyed every minute of learning about the process. After a bit of coaching we both had the opportunity get our hands dirty and make some of the devices our selves. Having practiced the process ourselves we had some suggestions to make the process easier and the team were wonderfully open minded, positive and have incorporated these suggestions into the process already.
On the back of the huge success of the training last week that was given to the parents of children with Cerebral Palsy and Developmental delay in APD last week, we were invited and given the opportunity to ensure that this education would be shared with more parents and would be sustainable for the future: by training the district trainers. By adjusting the training pack for our new audience we had our first attempt on Tuesday morning. We were glad to have this opportunity because it gives us experience in how to tailor a training presentation to professionals. We got the pleasure of training 10 physiotherapists from different districts adjoined to APD. They seemed to appreciate and understand the training programme. They were all very happy with the two presentations that Elaine and Aoife did on the day.
Elaine and Kate got the opportunity to work with young children in the sensory garden here in APD. A sensory garden is a tool used to assist young children with slow development or disabilities to explore their senses. They experience different textures, sounds, temperatures and colours all through the medium of play. This is a new facility here in APD and has been a huge benefit to all the children that use it. One moment that will stay in our memories and hearts forever was the moment when a young girl Elaine was working with who has severe cerebral palsy and was unable to move her legs while she was on the swing. With Elaine’s gentle encouragement and determination the girl began to swing her own legs. This progress shocked the physiotherapist we were with, as they tried everything to get the girl to kick her legs but with the technique Elaine used it worked for the young girl.
Due to the success of both training days, Aoife has gotten the opportunity to go to another district in the north of Bangalore to take part in a training camp for parents and children this Friday. There Aoife will give a presentation to both parents and their children regarding the importance of communication and Early Intervention for children with a variety of disabilities. It’s an honour and wonderful that she has been recognised for the hard work she has put in here in APD and they are passionate about having her personally deliver this training in other areas.
Aoife also got the pleasure of attending the early intervention unit in the community hospital with the speech and language therapist. While she attended last week also and learnt a lot, this week was very different. After arriving and meeting the community workers there, she noticed the number of families waiting for attention. With only one therapist available the time he could dedicate to each was limited. She stepped up and suggested she give children some 1:1 speech and language therapy allowing them both spend more time with each child. Following a morning of assessment and intervention in the hospital, Aoife accompanied the speech therapist and community worker on two home visits where this work continued for people who could not make it to the hospital unit.
Week 3: Morning Star
By Ellie Brennan and Edel Quinn
Who would have thought that on the Monday of our third week that we would have walked onto a movie set! When we arrived, an Indian movie called ‘My Lovely Angel’ was being shot on the grounds of Morning Star. The boys got the day off school because of this, as they were going to be part of the movie. We were lucky enough to be invited to have lunch with the main actress, and it was surprising to see how down to earth she was. She was telling us about her filming and actress career, and at the end gave us her number to call her if we were ever in North India! After lunch it was time to shoot the scene with the boys in it. It was bizarre to see the boys being directed on how to dance and play, but they still had fun. We were also told that we were in a scene. As the filming went on all day though, the boys and ourselves found it to be boring towards the end as we couldn’t do any games with them. Even if parts of the day were boring, it was exciting to see how a movie is shot, despite the fact that Morning Star did not feel like Morning Star while they were there.
On Tuesday, when the film crew was gone, we were able to paint fish and planes with the children. Each had different patterns, which the children loved as they got to pick their favourite pattern. We cut them out afterwards and stuck them up on the walls. For lunch that day, two of John’s friends that used to regularly help out in the orphanage came to visit and brought us out for lunch. One of the women was a part time teacher in an autistic school, and we were lucky enough to go and see it. We were surprised at the fact that India had a school specifically for autistic children, and the facilities were of top quality. It was also strange to see that they used PEG to tell the children the activities for the day, just like in Ireland.
The next day our leaders Sarah G and Sarah D came to stay the night. We were all playing a game of cannonball (an Indian board game that will wreck your fingernails!), when a new boy arrived. He was crying and speaking in Khanada, and it was only later that we found out that he was saying that he wanted his mother. One of the older boys told us that the new boys that come always cry for the first few days. It was heart breaking to watch, but we couldn’t do anything to help but to hold him and try to play games with him. The language was also a barrier in trying to help him. That night at around eleven o’ clock, we got a knock on our door. When Edel opened it, the two Sarah’s ran in and declared that they were spending the night in our room. Turns out that while they were getting ready for bed, they saw a baby lizard on the wall. When they tried to get that lizard out of the room, the mommy lizard came out of nowhere and “looked like an alligator”. It was hilarious to hear about it, but not so funny when we had to share our bed with them!
On Thursday we all went to the farm that Morning Star runs. On the way Joy, one of the men who heads Morning Star, told us about the hard life that Indian farmers have. As crops depend on water, if there isn’t enough rainfall during the season the crops will either come out very badly or fail. Because of this, many Indian farmers will commit suicide as they would have borrowed money off their neighbours and cannot pay them back. An amazing thing that Joy is doing though with the farm is that he is only employing local women as the area where the farm is situated is very poor. Because he has employed these women, their children are now going to school too. Then the men that work on the farm are special sourced depending on the job that needs to be done. So this place is not just a farm it has led to ripple effect on the peoples families that work here. They are now able to educate their children and they receive little extras like school supplies. The crazy thing is that Morning Star also need so much too, but at the end of the day it will always be a place that people in need can go for help and support and will not be turned away. We have found that this seems to be a common theme in India from all our experiences.
When we arrived back after the farm and we were outside playing with the young boys we noticed that Pavan the new boy was nowhere to be seen. Before prayer that evening I asked one of the older boys where he was and they said that he has ran away and that this also usually happens in the earlier stages when someone new arrives. This really broke our hearts to know that this poor boy was out there on his own. They also told us that within a week they find them or someone else brings them back. So we are hoping for the best on his return. Following that we did friendship bracelets with the boys that night, where we gave them the Irish colours and they had to plait them and put in their first initial in the middle of it. It was such a cute thing as they wanted to make us some and for others but then also they wanted to do full names, so we had to try see if we had enough letters. The fact that it was something that was theirs they were so excited and proud of it. This made the evening so rewarding.
Today was a national holiday so the school boys and college boys had the day off. So to start the day they had some house hold jobs to do, some were washing their clothes and sorting out the green beans for dinner later on. After that we told them that we would do face painting and the excitement to get the work done was great. It was so much fun from spider man, dogs to war paint. They loved every bit of it and the paint was everywhere and they were doing themselves and others which was so lovely because everyone was involved. What a week!
Less is More
By Aoife O’Connell
Since coming to Bangalore, India, I have realised that the relationship between wealth and happiness isn’t what society perceives it to be. Society in Ireland leads us to believe that the more material wealth you have the happier you are i.e. a nice house, filled with nice things, a good car, the latest iPhone, the newest branded clothing and shoes, the list goes on.
However, here in India this is not the case at all. Two of my co-volunteers and I had the pleasure of going out into the community and visit three different homes.These houses are not big, nor do they have a lot of material wealth, but the happiness of the people living in them is infectious and inspiring. It made me question the way we live in Ireland and our appreciation for the “little things” in life. The people we met have children with disabilities, living in very small homes and work day and night for a fraction of what an Irish worker would make on minimum wage. These people live without things we consider as a given; hot water, a bathroom, shower, electricity,a bed each, bedrooms the list goes on. In Ireland we do not realise the amount of things we take for granted or take as a given. Many people of Bangalore carry on without all of them, with smiles on their faces and without complaints.
One family we had the pleasure of meeting had a child with a severe disability, a small house and no proper facilities. Yet the father taught me a lesson in life that I will never forget, “I may not have a lot of money or a big house but I have a happy family and a big heart” and that truly is all that matters. The smiles, laughter and welcome of his family for us showed us all that there is far more to life than money and material wealth. This man goes to work from 4am to 3pm 6 days a week to provide for his family. He does this happily and without complaints as he is happy. This made me ask myself, do we really need all those materials? Or are we the unlucky ones living in Ireland with all this stuff and opportunity because honestly I have not met people in Ireland genuinely as happy as the people I have met here.
This brings me on to my next point, regarding disabilities and the services provided here. This may be biased as I am currently volunteering in the Association for People with Disabilities (APD) here in Bangalore. However I have found that although the services are not as plentiful nor are they as specialised, these children are the happiest, kindest and most independent children I have ever met. My experience in APD has made me challenge my beliefs regarding disabilities as I am studying to become a speech and language therapist and have completed placement in Ireland in a disability service.
I believed that children with disabilities needed the upmost care and needed constant support and supervision. That they must be helped in every aspect of their lives and given special treatment as they have a disability. Following this experience, I still believe that it is very important that people with disabilities get the care and support they need but also the opportunity to become independent and self sufficient.
In APD it is a community of people with disabilities helping each other to be independent. The facilities offered in APD include but are not limited to: physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, special education, education for children and people with hearing impairments, a prosthetics unit, an early intervention unit, a youth training programme for trade, business and retail, training for teachers, therapists, engineers and facilitators in various areas, the list goes on.
While working in solidarity in the school in particular, I have noticed young children with disabilities helping one another in the kindest most independent manner. One example of this is a boy with leg splints pushing another boy in a wheelchair, another is of a young girl walking with a frame and a young boy in a wheelchair steering himself out of the way to let her pass. The most amazing thing about these examples is that this is completely normal in this school and every child is thought to help one another when and where they can. These children are also thought the importance of education and encouraged everyday to follow the career path they want to follow. This ethos is followed through up to adulthood in APD as the same is observed in the youth training programmes, and all of the employees of APD.
To conclude, this experience of working in solidarity in APD has really has challenged my perspective regarding wealth and disability and I can honestly say that less is really more.
By Edel Quinn
Who thought when I signed up to go to Benguluru India over six months ago that it would have turned out to be the most heart warming and touching experience of my life. It has touched every emotion I have so far and I’d say there will be much more to come in the next few day here .
From day one in Morning Star it has been the most wonderful and heart warming place, making you smile from the minute you wake each morning until the minute you go to bed. From the boys laughing and crying, the emotions are always running. As each day comes more people open up to you with their stories of how they came to find themselves in Morning Star and how they have proudly worked hard in their own personal growth and getting the best out of their education.
These boys are pure gentlemen, as the kindness pours out of them daily. All they want to do is be there for you and do whatever they can to see us smile. Once you show them the love and kindness there deserve and want, they are so happy and grateful to have you in their lives even if it is sadly not forever. The best thing I have witnessed is they do not allow their situation and background hold them back. Each and every one are there for a reason some more shocking and sad than others but every story and person matters. The boys of Morning Star make the most out of what they have now be it repairing old school bags that are broken or getting the wood for the fire and making their food from scratch. They all have met in Morning Star and many for the same reasons, and as a result they have become each other’s support groups and teachers to the younger boys and new boys who arrive. It is okay to show your emotions, to cry or be angry sometimes because they have all gone through so much and have become this huge amazing and inspiring family. They do not hold on to their self pity, they only use it to push themselves further to become better people in the future.
This has all made me take a second look at the life I have and acknowledge how lucky I am. I have learned not to ever take life or anyone in it for granted.
India: Week 2
Sumanahalli: Week 2
By Kate Griffin and Daniel Fenton
We said our goodbyes to the rest of the SERVE team bright and early on Monday morning. We wanted to ensure we returned to Sumanahalli before the patients began their day.
Monday as with all mornings in Sumanahalli, the day starts with patient care; cleaning and dressing ulcers and wounds. Patients need daily care to ensure that they do not become worse. Getting hands on with the patients during these intimate moments is more important than we could have expected. There is a common misconception throughout the world that people affected by leprosy are to be avoided as it is so contagious. However these patients are not contagious anymore. By showing solidarity with them, showing them we are not afraid and that they are worth all the care that they are receiving heals a greater mental wound than any foot ulcer.
We also worked with the physiotherapist throughout the week. This week we focused on the work that can be done to reduce the impact of the physical side effects of leprosy. A common side effect of leprosy is contracture in the feet or hands. This is caused by nerve damage and results in the fingers or toes becoming stiff and bent inward leading to the common name claw hand / foot. This is the most recognisable symptom of leprosy and does not go away once the disease has been cured so could lead to further isolation needlessly. Luckily there are now cosmetic surgical operations that can be done to correct the ‘claw’. The idea of cosmetic surgery suggests beauty or vanity, but our eyes were opened to see how much dignity can be returned to a victim of this terrible disease by such a simple procedure.
A secondary side effect we were taught about was hair loss. The doctor spoke passionately about the loss of eyebrow hair leading to insecurity and loss of identity for patients as they stop recognising themselves. Luckily the scalp is not effected so a simple skin graft from the head to the eyebrows can give easily give back a patients facial expressions and ability to express themselves. Something which we have been taking for granted and now we know it is priceless.
We were lucky enough to accompany the nurses and a volunteer doctor to Kengeri Village Free Clinic. It was fascinating to see the manner in which the doctor treated and the patients ailments and how willing they all were to assist those less fortunate with the few resources they had.
Outside of our clinical work we continued to work in solidarity with Sumanahalli. We continued to get to know and play games with patients and children throughout the complex, doing what we can to make them smile.
We felt particularly moved by the energy in the girls’ orphanage. This compelled us to prepare a surprise for them by painting a large colourful mural in their garden. It was indeed a surprise and their screams and giggles when coming home from school to see it made it more than worth it. The work was only completed when all the girls’ hand prints were added as leaves to the tree.
After an all too short week we began to say goodbye to the many friends we have made. Our last two days were full of music and dance and hand holding and friendship bracelet making and hugs and more hugs. It’s a sad truth of life that we don’t often realise what we have until it is gone and it wasn’t until we had to say not goodbye, but ‘Until I see you again’ that we knew what great friends we had made.
APD: Week 2
By Megan Roche, Aoife O’Connell and Elaine Houlihan
The focus of this week has been to educate others and to further immerse ourselves in the community within APD. To begin with all nine of us regrouped on Friday evening whereby we discussed our learning and experiences thus far on our various placements here in Bangalore. The following is an account of our week and our learning throughout it.
On Saturday morning we dedicated much of our time to development education as this is one of the biggest parts of SERVE’s ethos, not only to volunteer but to critically assess and reflect on the experiences and challenging perspectives we are identifying throughout our time here. The topic for this year is Gender Equality which is Global Goal Number 5 for Sustainable Development. It is our role and responsibility to engage in active practices to contribute to a video presentation which will be presented in October to reflect on Gender Equality in Bangalore, India.
On Saturday afternoon we went back as a group to visit the boys in Morning Star. The afternoon was spent playing games and dancing surrounded by smiling faces. It reminded us of just how happy these boys are in their simple yet effective lifestyle and surroundings. We saw this as they greeted us and held our hands talking to us about their home. On Monday morning we started our second week in APD. Aoife and Megan taught the group of retail students about the common interview questions. This was a thoroughly enjoyable class with lots of student participation. We learned from this class that these young students are very ambitious and do not let their disabilities affect their desire to achieve their employment goals. Elaine spent the majority of the day preparing a presentation on Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Delay in Children. On Tuesday we had the privilege of leading this presentation to the parents of the younger classes here in APD. Elaine had the main role in this presentation due to its physiotherapy basis. This included speaking about normal development in children, the importance of early identification of Cerebral Palsy and developmental delay in children. In addition to this, the causes, signs and associated problems with children that have Cerebral Palsy and Developmental delay. Elaine gave simple exercises to the parents that they could do at home with their children. Aoife spoke about the importance of early identification of communication problems in children with CP and developmental delay and simple strategies that can be used at home to encourage speech and language development. Megan led a group discussion on what being a parent means to them individually. This proved to be so insightful! As one woman shared her experience of having a child with cerebral palsy and the difficulties this can incur. For example, at times how she feels guilty such as when her child cries loudly it might interfere with others but she chooses to focus positively and engage in her community with her child by her side, not allowing the disability to disable them from enjoying a good family life within their community.
Following on from this, Megan explored the basic needs of a child. Namely, physical, mental and emotional, social, health and educational needs. Again this was group focused, each parent took time to reflect by writing down and sharing how best they meet these needs on a daily basis. After the presentation it was lovely to meet with the parents and we also answered all the questions they had for us about all the topics we spoke about throughout the training day. We spent time in the evening wandering through the busy streets of Bangalore enjoying the sights of all the stalls and speaking to locals working in the area.
On Wednesday, Aoife spent the day out in the community were she got the pleasure of actively participating in two different early intervention groups in two different hospitals in Bangalore. She worked with the Speech and Language Therapist to provide assessment and intervention for parents and their children who attended. Aoife found this thoroughly insightful and felt as though she contributed to the community in some small way by applying her expertise and knowledge. Megan prepared a Student Feedback and Evaluation Form for the Students in the Educational Training Centre. The aim is that this will be implemented for future use within the Education and Training Centre. Elaine and Megan spent much of the day planning and preparing for the remainder of the week including lesson planning and gathering further information to contribute to our Development Education video presentation, Megan and Elaine also spent time talking and meeting with the students here in APD getting to know them better as they were also very inquisitive about Ireland and what it is like to live and work there, which was a nice break from our usually busy schedule.
On Thursday Aoife spent time in the school in APD assisting the Speech and Language Therapist conduct sessions with young students who have hearing difficulties. Aoife learned the importance of speech and language therapy for children with hearing impairments. Elaine and Megan taught more classes to both the retail and call centre groups including Customer Service Skills. Each and every class we teach impresses us more and more at how enthusiastic and interested the individual students are. Their manners as they greet us when they come to class and their appreciation for education is something we will remember always.
The three of us feel so grateful to have shared in their journey to be educated.
Morning Star: Week 2
By Ellie Brennan and Edel Quinn
Week two of Morning Star and it only gets better! It was a week of visits, learning and dark nights. On Monday we decided to do play dough with the children, but as its India the flour was not what we thought. We ended up making a gloopy slime which actually worked out great for the children that didn’t have the best fine motor skills. They were able to play and really enjoy the texture. In the end, we got the right flour and there were snakes, pigs, houses and all sorts, with flowers and leaves for decoration. With this activity the children got a change from using paints and got to feel and experience with their hands, while understanding the texture of the play dough. The feeling of delight from the children as they learned about the texture of the play dough was amazing and to also see their little faces light up. That night before bedtime we played different games such as What Time is it Mr. Wolf and Simon Says. The children loved What Time is it Mr. Wolf as they are such an excited and lively group. This game really worked because they were able to move fast, but they also had to listen to each other and work together. This helped us bond with the children more and more that day. After this, we read a book called “A Bit Lost” to the children and some even sat down to go through the book and read it themselves. It was adorable to see the children work together and to understand the new words in the book.
Tuesday was a bit of a different day. After making butterfly prints we went to the local town with three of the boys, where they showed us their school and different buildings. It felt strange to have the three boys with us, as at home it is second nature to walk around town by ourselves. It was good to have them with us though, as they were able to answer our questions about the local buildings and show us the temples. We then went to the market where they buy their food weekly. This was amazing to see as the vegetables were so vibrant and fresh right in front of our eyes. When we arrived home, the kitchen was after getting its weekly deep clean with everyone helping with it to make it go faster.
Wednesday we put our own hand to some of the work, helping with the preparation of rice roti. This is made from flour, onion and herbs, and was delicious! It was brilliant to be hands on and to make the food ourselves. All of this was done outside over a huge BBQ, and we were able to talk and get to know the older boys while doing this. That night we experienced what it was like to have no power, with the electricity continuously coming and going until late Thursday. This was a bit disorientating, especially when going to the bathroom in the middle of the night! But the lack of power didn’t stop everyone in Morning Star. That night instead of praying, the young boys sat and told each other stories and sang songs. There was something magical about hearing all the boys sing together in the dark, especially when some started to dance along to the songs.
During the day on Thursday we got a treat of having dinner in a nearby pastor’s house. One of the boys accompanied us and we received a lovely welcome and fabulous food from the whole house. That night to continue with the home cooking, we made chapatti which was delicious! This whole week was an amazing experience, filling our hearts with joy and made us understand how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be in India this year, and to do work that we wouldn’t even call work, as it is always so fun and rewarding.
Hidden Wisdom at Morning Star
By Sarah Gallagher
Goal 16- “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development..”
It has been 1 week in India and I have learnt so much as an individual. Being a leader for an international volunteer group is much different to being a volunteer- there are different expectations, different responsibilities and different experiences. Bearing all this in mind, I had the honour of speaking with Father John, a man who set up the Morning Star orphanage for 105 boys (at present) almost 30 years ago in Bangalore, India. Representing SERVE as a leader in this global partnership has allowed me the opportunities to have such amazing conversations with our partners. One of the global goals for sustainable development is to promote Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Goal 16). The following account of my experience in Morning star encapsulates this goal through the meaning of a peaceful and inclusive environment. While sustainable development may seem like a business term, sustainable development has occurred here in Morning Star through ways of human compassion, capacity building, international partnership, solidarity, love, family and desire. At Morning Star you are always greeted with a smile, a hug and everyone wants to dance, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. I have learned the value of the riches that come free in life – love, laughter and time. The wonderful young people at Morning Star have taught me this!
The discussion I had today with John really brought my attention back to awareness. He spoke about desire and the power that has on our mental state every day. Desire may seem like just a word but when applied to human nature, it has a special meaning. I realised that through desire, we find happiness and appreciation which is really lacking in the so-called ‘developed world’, I can see this to be the case in Ireland. The boys in Morning Star have all the necessities of life, they live basic but they are happy. They desire sleep as they get up at 5am every day to make their beds, clean, prepare breakfast and go to school. They desire food because they don’t get a lot of it. They desire an education because of the lack of opportunities available to them. It is through this desire that these boys are grateful to be able to have a bed to sleep in, they are grateful for school, homework and an education and they are grateful for every bit of food they receive.
In Ireland, the same desires do not exist. We desire wealth, material objects, the best car and the best house because the desire for basic needs for the most part are so readily available- sleep, food, shelter and education. We have these opportunities in abundance and they can therefore be taken for granted very often. I know in Ireland it is a struggle to motivate a high percentage of young people for school and education- we spend a lot of time trying to get people to engage and participate, I have yet to see this be the case for any child in Bangalore.
So I then ask myself and wonder who is better off- the people here in India who desire a basic life and are very happy and appreciative for the small things, or are we better off having a high percentage of basic necessities but always having a desire for more where nothing is ever really enough. Does this desire enable greed and unappreciative behaviours within us? Do we become shallow as a result? Do we judge people based on what they have and don’t have? Does this all relate back to bullying, mental health, pressure and self harm? Is our lack of desire making us mentally weaker because from my experience I have never witnessed mentally stronger and happier people than I have in India.
Through sponsorship and donations, John and Joy in Morning Star have created, with the help of people a self-sufficient and sustainable orphanage which has been running for 30 years and has been built on the foundation of peace, love, happiness and inclusion- no child is ever turned away in need of a home. Boys living with disabilities are also taken in and they too are empowered to help in the orphanage with their abilities and are empowered to become self-sufficient and independent young men. Being able to achieve sustainable development, peace and inclusion for a place you can call home to over 100 young boys is one example to show the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number 16.
Challenging Perspectives: India
To encourage SERVE’s 2017 volunteers to think critically about common perceptions and misconceptions relating to developing countries, they have been given the task of taking photos that we think will challenge the perspectives of people in Ireland. These photos are coming from our volunteers working in India during July and August 2017.
While so much has changed, developing countries continue to be described through a series of lacks and absences, failings and problems, plagues and catastrophes. The challenge we set our volunteers was to be open to seeing things differently, to fight the stereotypes and exhibit the reality.
The photos featured here aim to challenge perspectives around such things as consumerism, gender stereotypes, wealth and nature, which may not necessarily be the common images we associate with India.
At all times the volunteers will be keeping in mind the Dochas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages.
Click on the photos below to get an explanation of the context of the photo.
Week 1 in Bangalore: Morning Star
By Ellie Brennan and Edel Quinn
I never thought I’d experience something so special in my life as I did this first week in Morning Star and much more, from the get go everyone was so welcoming, helpful and made us feel part of their wonderful home. Ranging from the ages of five up, in Morning Star there are over 100 boys. Despite the difference in ages and how large the group is, it is amazing to see how they all lookout for each other and working together to improve each other’s qualities and skills as a big family. Be it studying or homework, playing soccer, volleyball, basketball or cricket, praying, eating and sleeping. If anyone of them needs help with anything there is always someone around to help them and offer support. From the offset we have seen how proud every one of these boys are of their education, they want to push each other to be the best that they can be. We can see their eagerness to learn in how they ask us to help them read through their English books.
As a whole, Morning Star is very independent because each morning the boys get up at six and clean the whole house together which includes sweeping with a bundle of branches tied together to make the sweeping brush, washing the floors and wiping it dry with large cloths and also preparing and getting the food for dinner. From coming here, it has really opened our eyes to how much we take for granted and we concentrate more on technology and not enough on our own happiness and one on one interaction. All this has allowed us to appreciate our families, education and freedom that we easily take for granted in our everyday lives. It has taught us that we must be happy in ourselves before we can make others happy, because happiness comes from within. In Morning Star this happiness blossoms everyday throughout all.
Week 1 in Bangalore: APD
By Megan Roche, Elaine Houlihan, Aoife O’Connell,
APD, we never realised how much these three letters would mean to us! No amount of conversation or training could possibly compare to the real life experiences we have shared while working in solidarity with APD this week. The people and the professionals we have met and the places we have been to throughout this week, have been among the most inspiring and insightful!
A School for Children with Disabilities, Physiotherapy, Early Intervention, A Prosthetics and Mobility Unit and An Education and Training Centre for Young Adults with Disabilities. APD also provides walk in services and services within the community such as school projects and hospital groups.
The three of us Elaine (Physiotherapy Student), Megan (Social Care Worker) and Aoife (Speech and Language Therapy Student) are based here at APD.
On our first day we were invited to observe the day to day running of the services available in APD. From this we have already built strong working relationships with professionals in a variety of fields. We have taught classes to young adults who will seek employment opportunities in retail and call centres. This proved to be challenging but rewarding at the same time. The appreciation shown to us by the students was overwhelming from the start to the finish of the classes. Hands reaching out to thank us and beaming faces, highlighted their eagerness for education and willingness to learn. Topics that we covered in these classes included email correspondence and learning to control emotions.
Community work has been the highlight of this week! To begin with, we visited a community hospital where we met and took part in an early intervention group with mothers and their children. We have also volunteered at a local community learning centre working with young children with disabilities. The aim is to successfully integrate these young fun loving children into mainstream school. We have worked in partnership with APD professionals such as the physiotherapists that have accompanied us on these outings. As part of our community work thus far, it has been a privilege to be part of three home visits. Words cannot describe the experiences we have had with these families! Sitting in these families homes and sharing in their stories has been the true reflection of the community we are now part of here in Bangalore. The thing that stood out the most to the three of us during the home visits had to be the unlimited love and appreciation the families displayed to both us and their children. All of these families are experiencing difficult circumstances, with children who for example have serious heart and health problems and severe disability such as cerebral palsy. These families live in very small homes with little money but as one father expressed to us “I may not have a lot of money but I have a big heart and a happy home” he also made the point that love is the most important thing in life and we all agree with him.
Week 1 in Bangalore: Sumanahalli
By Kate Griffin and Daniel Fenton
Sumanahalli directly translates to the Village of People of Good Heart, and when we arrived there our welcome made it clear that this title couldn’t be more appropriate.
We first met the director Fr Lindo who took time to get to know us so he could better advise us in our activities. We were then shown our accommodation and the rest of the facility. ‘Support’, the home for HIV patients were particularly touching and held a prayer service to welcome us and offered gifts of sunflowers.
Volunteers in Sumanahalli need to have initiative, be self motivated and get stuck in. On day one we struggled a little bit to find our feet and determine where in such a vast busy facility we would be most useful. We met the directors again and their input helped us develop a plan and schedule for the following weeks.
Every morning we work hands on with the patients. This usually involves cleaning and re-dressing ulcers and wounds of leprosy patients in the clinic. The clinic is also open to the public; however staff can only be there for a few hours of the morning so few attend. The sisters working there are happy to have an extra pair of hands during these hours as long as volunteers step forward and express an interest.
Some mornings instead of working in the clinic we accompanied the physiotherapist who volunteers 3 days of the week visiting patients in their homes who cannot make it to the clinic. The communities we visited were densely populated; many of the homes we visited had 1-2 rooms being shared by an entire family. We felt very overwhelmed by how welcoming they were and how much they wanted to share what little they had with complete strangers.
We met a young girl there with Polio. She was thrilled to see the physiotherapist and it was clear they had developed a wonderful relationship. She was lively, bubbly and even sassy, her energy was completely infectious. Her positive attitude made it clear that her disability would never define her or bring her down.
We spend our afternoons between Sumanahalli’s many facilities. In Ave Maria Leprosy Home; cards and bowling are very popular, but only after the men finish their daily work and activities as they are very dedicated to their jobs. The younger patients enjoy arts and crafts and were excited to paint – especially the Indian flag!
We spent one evening in the girl’s orphanage. They are full of energy and love to dance. Another evening we were encouraged to teach some English in St. Josephs primary school where singing is a fan favourite.
The time that we spent in the Support centre for HIV taught us that they are a tight knit bunch and consider themselves a family. They join in with any and all activities and make sure their family members come along.
One of the things we really enjoyed was discussing Global Goal #5: Gender Equality with members of the community. It is a conversation that is often met with hesitation but people soon opened up and shared incredible personal stories of their experiences.