By Sile Byrne, Michelle Cannon and Zara Hennigan
As curtains fall on our experience in India, we reflect on the whirlwind of the last 4 weeks. Leaving home on the 10th of July this day felt so far away. Now it is upon us there is an element of disappointment to be leaving, satisfaction at having achieved so much, regret and sorrow at leaving all our wonderful new friends behind, and excitement at returning to our loved ones at home. The relationships we’ve built here are for a lifetime and we’ll carry the impact of them as we return to normal life in Ireland.
Coming to India as a volunteer triggers an array of emotions, from curiosity and wonder about the stories we would hear, to enthusiasm about beginning our work and anxiety that the contributions we make may not be as meaningful as we’d hope.
Although our roles in APD centered around teaching, early intervention and therapy, we all found ourselves becoming the students. Though we shared knowledge and experience through meaningful interactions with the staff and pupils, the sense of community, strength and love that we witnessed each day is by far the most valuable aspect of the experience we will carry home with us.
As we reflect on our final week in APD we are struck by the strength of the people we have met here, they exude a joyful vitality despite the challenges, disabilities and difficulties they must overcome. This was made very evident when we travelled to the community, to the schools, to clinics and on home visits. Although these families had very little for themselves, they stretched their arms in offering to us.
APD is a community that empowers people to build on their individual strengths and become the best version of themselves, regardless of the obstacles that may impair them. The satisfaction we got from being part of this community and sharing its ethos is immeasurable.
Just as each volunteer has their own unique set and strengths and abilities, so too does each person and child with whom we crossed paths in APD. We spent time with the older children and young adults in the training centre and were humbled by the trust they placed in us. We worked on the subject of Self esteem with them and the motto they seemed to take from this was ‘I can, I will, I must.’
We hold this message with us as our experience in Bangalore comes to a close. We can empower ourselves and others to think the best of themselves, we will overcome apprehensions and fears with the help of friends, we must work as one to promote the kind of positive, inclusive atmosphere APD has shown us where ever else we may go.
We came to India with expectations of challenging times, and while we were forced to think outside the box, what we found have been challenged most are our preconceptions. Those we have met have welcomed us with warm hearts and such sincere smiles, though we were many thousand kilometers away, somehow this made us feel closer to home.
By Jessica Farrelly
For many people in Ireland their wedding day is the most significant day of their lives, with months of planning and excitement leading up to it. For many of the Badjao people this is not the case, in traditional Badjao families women are only told that they are getting married a few days prior to their wedding. Often they only find out who they are marrying at the ceremony in front of all their family and friends. Arranged marriages (Buya) are organized by the parents of the couple and the elders of the Badjao community. Typically the man will go to his parents and tell them who he would like to marry, the parents will then discuss with the proposed women’s parents and the elders in the community whether they think the couple will be compatible together. This will be negotiated with a dowry which is offered as a token to the brides family from the grooms. The amount varies from family to family, if the woman is educated the dowry will increase in price as she is seen as a more desirable asset to the groom, a basic dowry is 10,000 peso (€180) and can exceed up to 50,000 peso (€900). The dowry can come in many forms such as rice,kitchen utensils, fishing nets and cash which is presented to the family prior to the wedding, the date of the wedding is also announced during this ceremony. The wedding ceremony is usually a few days after.
There is a stark contrast to the lead up of a Badjao wedding compared to an Irish wedding as the bride has little to no involvement in the ceremony planning, choosing her wedding dress or choice of husband. In the week prior to the wedding the bride must remain inside and cannot have any contact with the outside world. The wedding celebrations last three nights and two days consisting of tribal dancing and singing. The elders of the community organise the ceremony and guests at the wedding must only dance with their own families. The bride and groom must show no emotions throughout the ceremony until the last dance as a smile can suggest premarital sexual activities which is highly disapproved of. From my time with the Badjao I have heard many stories of women running away from the community with their desired husband to avoid an arranged marriage. From time to time women have been known to run away if they become pregnant before marriage as this is highly frowned apron, often returning to the community at a later stage to ask for forgiveness which is not always granted.
Many women live in fear of being married off as it has a major effect on their education and childhood. Women are deemed ready for marriage when they start menstruating, once a women is married she is expected to forfeit her education and to start a family with her husband. Due to the influence of Nano Nagle school and the importance that it puts on education, the Badjao are encouraged to wait until they are over eighteen to get married and have children. Contraception isn’t utilized by traditional Badjao people as it goes against their beliefs. Women have very little rights as the male decides when and how many children the couple will have.
The Badjao are not exposed to sexual education and they lack knowledge of the menstrual cycle as it is a taboo topic in their culture, as a result of this there is a lack of family planning. Due to extensive family sizes the eldest child is often deprived of their childhood as they regularly have to take care of their younger siblings and help provide for them. I have found it very hard to comprehend the idea of girls as young as five carrying their younger siblings around with them all day while they try to play with their friends. The emotional attachment I have witnessed between the baby and the child is uncanny to that of a mother and child, when the elder sibling puts down the baby for even a second it cries out to be held. This results in the older child missing out on vital childhood development as they are forced to take on responsibilities an Irish child would never dream of.
During my time here I have found it very upsetting to meet many amazing openly gay people within the Badjao community who will be expected to marry someone of the opposite sex as gay marriage isn’t accepted. I was pleasantly surprised by how accepting the Badjao are of gay people but was deeply saddened when I asked will they be allowed marry someone of the same sex and I was told they could never dream of it.
I have found it hard at times to understand the traditions of the traditional Badjao people, at twenty two and just having completed my final year in college my life is very different to a Badjao women of my age. Most Badjao women my age are married into an arranged marriage with on or two children and they have very rights within their relationship. I really admire the Badjao women they are strong, determined and resilient. I was lucky enough to get the chance to run an embroidery workshop for the women. I was blown away by their creativity and their eagerness to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute that I have spent with these amazing people, the wealth of love and support that they have for each other is incredibly admirable.
The Badjao are a plethora of amazing things, strong, caring, smart. They also happen to be exceptionally skilled Fishermen and boatmakers. Once a nomadic sea tribe they settled in Cebu in the 1960s and have since remained on land. However they have not forgotten their roots and still rely heavily on the sea as a source of income and food.
One of the Fishermen and boatmakers, Mohammadjani sat down with me and explained the boat building process. A buyer approaches him and they decide on the size and price of the boat depending on its uses. Then a ritual called Janji is preformed by one of the elders, usually Mohammajani’s mother. The buyer of the boat will bring a downpayment of 3000 peso. The money is blessed and handed over. The boatmaker is also blessed and a piece of thread is placed on his wrist to ensure he will be safe and healthy while building the boat.
Next the materials which are usually just plywood, wood and nails are bought from the local market. It begins with the bottom or hull. The shape is carved out of the plywood usually with some sort of wood planer. It’s then cleaned polished and sanded. Following that step is Giyak. This consists of thin wooden strips being placed perpendicular to the hull and spaced out evenly along it. This is the foundation of the sides of the boat and is what will support the plywood on the port and starboard sides. Subsequent to that is Rerhyan or raghan. These a big wooden connectors placed on the inside of the boat which will be nailed to the plywood to ensure it stays in place. There is a lower and upper strip which run parallel to the bottom of the boat.
The last basic part to the process is Palomar. This involves the construction of the head and foot of the boat which can be as plain and embellished as the boatmaker decides. A camonote is also assembled. This is a little engine room which covers the engine keeping it dry and can store equipment and fuel. The barsan or propeller is usually sat about three quarters of the way back in the boat. The whole process usually takes about half a month if you are building everyday.
The boat owner, who is someone within the Badjao will paint it themselves. Sometimes there can be a ritual performed that will bless the boat and ensure secure fishing trips. The boat is tied to the house of the owner as the ritual takes place. If you the boat is well maintained it can last about 3 years.
As well as a talented boatmaker Mohammadjani is an accomplished Fishermen. The Badjao are exceptional pana(spear) fishers. They dive with flippers and spear guns. The can go up to 30 feet under water and can go an impressive five minutes holding their breath. They dive for a type of fish called Tanigue and sometimes, depending on the fisherman you will pray that the dive will go well.
Before Fishermen could stay near Cebu and catch many fish. Unfortunately due to water pollution the men can’t dive beneath the plastic to catch the fish and there is no fish left in Cebu as waters are so uninhabitable. As a result Fishermen have to travel further out to sea to reap their rewards. The nearest fishing spot is now located in between Cebu and Bahal, another island. Each journey uses approximately fifteen litres of petrol. They are gone for at least a day and possibly will have to sleep on the boat in order to catch enough fish to reap a profit. Usually they catch on average two to three fish in one trip. The fish are then sold at a a local market called Pasil.
From my time in the Badjao I’ve learned so many things about myself and the people in this wonderful community. Even though fishing and sea life is such a huge part of their culture it does not define them. They are some of the most amazing, strong and intelligent characters I’ve ever met and I feel very privileged that I was welcomed into the beautiful community.
By Zara Hennigan
The journey began on July 10th as I set off for Bangalore, India, with seven other Serve volunteers. Our minds filled with curiosity of the Indian adventure that awaited us. We all have preconceived notions about places we’ve never visited before. Ever since studying India in Leaving Cert geography, I’ve been completely fascinated by this immensely populated, exquisite land. Travelling such a distance undoubtedly evokes some nerves and apprehension, but this is when you need to remind yourself to be grateful for getting the amazing opportunity to volunteer overseas.
The first few days in Bangalore can only be described as utterly chaotic as we grappled with the cultural shock. Yet before long, the pungent smells and bombastic commotion of the streets started to become less daunting and more familiar. The funny thing about travelling is that no matter how foreign new surroundings seem at first, you can surprise yourself at how quickly you acclimatise yourself to the environment.
By the time Monday came around, we were more than ready to get stuck into our work placements at Morning Star and the Association of People with Disability (ADP), respectively. Two of the girls set off for Morning Star, an orphanage for boys 30 minutes away, where they would stay during the week before returning to our accommodation again on Friday. Meanwhile, the remaining three of us were working nearby at APD. The Association of People with Disabilities is an NGO based in Bangalore that was set up in 1959 with the aim of transforming the lives of those living with a disability or from impoverished backgrounds. ADP run extensive programs in rural and urban Karnataka to enable, equip and empower children and adults with a range of disabilities. Types of disabilities catered for in ADP include spinal cord injury, locomotor, speech and hearing, cerebral palsy and mental health issues. On site in APD is an integrated primary school, early intervention unit, physiotherapy, speech and language, occupational therapy and a training centre for adults with disabilities. There is also a horticulture centre as well as workshops for modifying wheelchairs and making ankle-foot orthotics.
Having studied Primary Teaching in college, I was eager to develop my knowledge and experience in teaching children with disabilities, while also gaining an insight into the Indian education system. It didn’t take long to realise that it’s difficult to draw any fair comparisons between an Irish and Indian classroom. While children diagnosed with certain disabilities in Ireland are likely to be entitled to a Special Needs Assistant (SNA), teachers in APD may have one teaching assistant for a class of 30+ children with disabilities ranging from mild to severe. Thus, it’s no surprise that the classroom organisation, behaviour management strategies and teaching methods used are markedly different to those used in Irish primary schools. Despite the lack of sufficient support and resources, the teaching and learning I observed during those first few days did not fail to absolutely inspire me. Written across the top of the blackboard in one classroom is ‘where there is a will, there is a way’. The resilience and motivation to succeed among the children with such debilitating conditions is evidence that this phrase permeates the school. Seeing a physically disabled child manoeuvre himself across the classroom floor to his chair independent of any help is a sign of mental strength and utter determination. An underlying sense of tenacity and empowerment in APD makes it clear that the extraordinary abilities of these children are so much stronger than the severity of their disabilities.
By Sile Byrne
In the lead up to departure my mind danced with expectations of what my placement in APD would entail. I was experiencing a cocktail of emotions, from nervousness and doubt, to eagerness, inadequately and excitement. I wondered what I could bring to APD, what expertise I could offer to enhance the educational experience of those belonging to the community.