“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Mark Twain

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chennai, India - Friday, March 12, 2010

My second day in Chennai will be spent in a very different way. I was a trip leader for a group of 10 students going to a Disabled Children’s Home (Andra Mahila Sabha). I was originally scheduled to be on a different service visit – one that may have been ‘easier’ but a trip leader was needed so I signed up. Now I was a little bit nervous about how this trip would be, what conditions I would encounter, how would I feel, how would the students and I both react to what we saw. Well I must start by saying that though the standards of the home would in no way meet American standards the accommodations were pretty good and what I noticed the most was that every one we came in contact with seemed extremely happy, well looked after and in a very positive space.
This is the physical therapy room:
I am under the impression that in India (in the recent past anyone) having a disability automatically rejects you from society and I did not get the feeling that those in this home were being treated this way. The home is fully funded by donations and on a plaque commemorating big donors Semester at Sea was mentioned.

We started out our day by getting a tour of the facilities and learned that it was part of a larger complex that included other medical facilities. We first saw where the disabled adults and older students were taught and learned about how to be self sufficient and also learn a trade. We met students who were learning to sew, use a printing press and making paper cups. They were very excited to show us what they had created and the work that they were doing. We then got a tour of the children’s facility – there are about 80 children that attend this school and all but maybe 10 live there. The children are mostly from the villages outside of Chennai and the ones who live close by are not allowed to live at the facility. After our tour we were put to work; painting murals inside. We thought it was exciting that there were murals from past Semester at Sea voyages throughout the facility and it really was so wonderful to see the continual mark that this program makes on this home.
Most of the teachers understood our program and were excited to have us there again. So we spent most of our morning painting and we were lucky to have a few artists in the group or else I would have been useless!! As we were painting we would have children popping in and out and the completed pieces would be in the space that they eat their meals. What a great feeling we had after we finished our paintings. Here is what these 2 other students and I completed:
Then it was off to a vegetarian lunch that we ate in the Nurses dining area. And these were nurses from the surrounding medical complex. Here I am again eating with my hands:
Here are some of the local volunteers at the home:
After lunch the time we had been anticipating had arrived, it was time to play with the children. Because they ranged in their needs some wanted to sing, others to color, some to play patty cake and others just wanted to sit and hold hands. Those of you reading this are thinking hmm…I am pretty sure Stacey is not that big a fan of kids and you would be right. But, something about this space and the moment allowed me to ‘Just Be’ in this environment, in a space that was not necessarily comfortable yet I felt totally at ease and in the moment. The overwhelming gratitude I felt from the teachers and staff at the home was incredible and all I could do was thank them for letting us into their world.
These are a group of young hearing impaired children:
Without any planning, one of our students who was hearing impaired was on this trip and got the opportunity to work with these students.  I know that this day will forever be something that she remembers.
The children were very eager to have their picture taken and we could have not played anything with them and just took pictures all day and they would have been content.
I brought stickers from home that were a huge success.  This guy always wanted his photo taken:
Here are a couple of shots with some of our students:
I had the opportunity to speak with one woman who had been living at the home for 29 years because she was suffering from Muscular Dystrophy and needed to be there to receive treatment. She told me about the continual pain that she was in. She was one of the people who greeted when you walked in. I actually went to speak to a woman who was sitting beside her to ask a question and she responded to me in near perfect English. I was slightly ashamed for assuming just because she was in a wheel chair at this home for the disabled that she would not be able to assist me . After talking for a bit we parted ways and she asked me, “Please pray for us.” Though I am not a person who really prays I walked away thinking I would and also passed the word on to people I know who do. So if you are a person who prays to someone or something I would ask you say a little prayer for the children and others who are part of this Disabled Home’s community.
Here is the women I was speaking with, it is a shame she did not smile for this picture because she did have a lovely smile:
Here is the front of the home:
Here is our group along with the director of the home:
After 2 ½ hours of spending time with the younger (5-10years) we headed back to the ship with a group of older students (probably late teens and 20s) to give them a tour of the ship. The teachers were probably as if not more grateful then the students for the time we spent with them walking around the ship. We have a strict rule on the ship about walking around bare foot – it is prohibited. Well some of these men showed up without shoes on their feet and I figured if anyone question my response would be then give them a pair of shoes. It was a great little tour and they all made sure to thank us and shake our hands.
Though this service trip was not for me but for the people we were serving I believe that this was a day that will stay with me for a very long time and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to meet the children as well as the amazing teachers who work with them. It was truly an honor to have been part of this opportunity.

After the students from the home left I went into embarkation mode and assisted counting to make sure we had the correct number of people sailing with us.  Unfortunately 2 students did not make it to the ship on time but we were able to get in touch with their families and they were safe and will meet up with us in Cochin.  This definately created a very stressful situation for a few hours until they were located but the evening ended up well.

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