Welcome to the Web Log for the India Service Project in New Delhi, 2010!

This blog follows the progress of the group of young Australians and New Zealanders taking part in the India Service Project in New Delhi, January 2010.

Blogs will be updates regularly throughout the course of the project, so keep checking up for new blog entries, pictures and more!

Thanks again to all the people who have so kindly shown their support for this project with time, money and other donations - without you, we couldn't be where we are today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What others are saying about this trip...

"A not to be missed spectacle of cows, curry and cornflakes"
-Sydney Morning Herald

"An impressive blend of spice and rigour, complimented perfectly with a creamy undertone of cottage cheese and a twist of Special Thali. A must-see destination for every intrepid adventurer"
- Washington Post

"A nail-biting ride through the dark labyrinthine alleyways of Shahpur Jat"
- Huffington Post

"Scarves, scarves, and more scarves"
-The Times

"A whirlwind of tombs, sarees, ancient ruins, crooked streets and curry"
-The New Yorker

-Vanity Fair

"Nostril-flaring goodness"
-Punjabi Daily

- The Hindu

"Eye-opening and awe-inspiring"
- Cottage Cheese Chronicle

"A story with something for everyone - street kids that capture the heart, Delhi boys that charm, traffic rules that don't exist, and girls that save the world"
- New Zealand Herald

[Disclaimer - Note that all quotes are not necessarily the opinions of the afore-mentioned publications. Nor can we guarantee the confirmed existence of all of these newspapers. Thank you, Tamara & Nicole]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wu Tang Clan

Hello India. Weather cold. Curry hot. Meat none. Iron low. Lots of cottage cheese. Mmmm. Cool drivers. “Hello Mam.” “Yes Mam.” “No Mam.” “No problem Mam.” Traffic nuts. Zero rules. Family of five on one motorbike. Yikes. Heaps of markets. “Lowest price.” “Last price.” “50 rupees down from 1500.” Actual price = 10. Rats. Sidewalk = makeshift toilet. “I think I’ll wait.” Tourist spots: Tombs, mosques, tombs, mosques. Taj Mahal rad. Special Thali: Rosh’s fav. Slums incredible. Quote of the day: “Look - they are so poor that they don’t even have a broom.” “Oh but do they have a vacuum?” Good one Aica. But actually the poverty is real. And the things we worry about are kind of embarrassing in comparison. Random lady jumping on bus – “Hello, I am your official tourist guide sent from the government.” Umm, no your not. Nice try mate. McDonald’s not the same. Mc Aloo Tikki anyone? Project is sweet. Cheshire (disabled centre) awesome. People amazing. Schools fun. Kids cool. Kamalini painting good. (Note to self – do not mix paint stripper with paint unless you want a bubbling effect). Mean blog. Nice effort Tamara and Nicole. India experience priceless. Mastercard. Queue for net. Maz waiting. Glaring stares. Got to go. Peace out A town down.

- Claire and Leata

lessons from indian children of poor familes

really love the saying 'children are a great way to grow people'. the poor indian children have taught us great lessons :)

*they trust people who are kind and show them good examples
*they reciprocate their affections to people generously
*they work hard to make the people they care happy regardless if they keep making mistakes
*they keep trying to be better with optimism and cheerfulness without pride
*they live in the present and enjoy life to the maximal at all moment
*they absolutely take life seriously
*they sincerely love their friends for who they are
*they never judge others
*they are always grateful to everything that they received in life
*they enjoy sharing things with others
*they learn knowledge fast and they copy adults' behavior quickly
*they seldom stuck in their own ways
*they are hardly attached to earthly things

kids teach us how to be more human ;)

-Eve Duan

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sunday, 31 January - The TAJ MAHAL

Sunday = Taj Mahal!!

We started early, our big tourist bus trundling off into the 6:30am darkness. It was a jerky ride to say the least, four hours straight of aeroplane turbulence. Probably would have been a shorter trip if Indian vehicles ever exceeded speeds of 50kms per hour. Our driver made a few stops along the way - "coincidentally" right next to snake charmers, and monkeys and their handlers who held out their palms expectantly from below the bus windows. Of course there was the the compulsory McDonalds stop and so an opportunity to try the Maharajah Mac burger. But the best stop of all had to be just after we had entered Agra, having seen the Taj Mahal on the foggy horizon only minutes before. At this point, a rather obnoxious-looking woman jumped on board and proceeded to announce herself as our tour guide for the day. We made it clear that we weren't in need of her services, but she insisted that our "company" had hired her - "What company?" we asked, "We didn't come with any company!" - and then that we needed her to protect us from all the pickpockets out to get us. Talk about our daily dose of daytime TV drama. But finally she was forced to take the walk of shame and we continued on our way.

It was a short walk from the carpark to the venue, made longer by the numerous young men and boys harassing us to buy their wares and visit their shops. So persistent! "Remember me, okay ma'am?" over and over. Finally, having purchased tickets and found a licensed guide, we made it in and feasted our eyes on the Taj Mahal.

How do you describe an indescribable place? Magnificent, stunning, majestic...the list goes on and on. Commissioned in 1631 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife, it was completed 22 years and 20,000 labourers later. The symmetry of the Taj was the most important feature, and ironically the only thing to throw out the its symmetry is the fact that the emperor was buried next to his wife instead of in a black tomb opposite as had been originally planned - whether a respectful move on the part of his daughter or a spiteful one by his son is up to speculation. And rumour has it that the workers had their hands chopped off so that they could never build such a building again.

After too many photos we headed off to see another moseleum nearby, which had beautiful architecture and an array of wildlife including gazelles, peacocks and squirrels in the surrounding grounds. Leaving here we got back into the bus for a bumpy ride home - with only a slight detour by the drivers to a restaurant we had not requested - and then more Maccas for dinner before collapsing into bed.


Days 8, 10, 11, 12 - Monday 25th, Wednesday-Friday 27-29 January

Here we are able to condense our daily accounts a bit, as Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the second week saw us settle into daily routine of Deepalaya or Cheshire in the mornings, and Kamalini in the afternoons. The teaching was improving with every lesson as we got to know the kids better (and they got to know us better too), the patients at Cheshire were showing remarkable improvements in their conditions with several people walking and standing who hadn't been able to in the first visits, and the sanding, scraping and painting at the two Kamalini centres had almost turned into a well-oiled machine. Several of us swapped between centres over these days, so were able to experience the rewarding fruits of our work so far.

Lunch and dinner also fell into routine with vegetarian variations on curry, and even breakfast saw the arrival of curry with an interesting South Indian dish consisting of round white rice-breads, peanutty crusty donuts and a curried coconut sauce. But despite the routine, the days were as varied as the students we were teaching and the patients we were helping. Every evening would see the emergence of a fresh batch of stories from the day's work, and every bus ride or walk through the slums would stir new emotions and provoke new thoughts.

The evenings, however, brought variation of their own. We visited India Gate on Wednesday evening - a remarkable monument to the men of the Indian Army. In the distance, the lights of the Presidential Palace glittered against the night sky, while crowds milled down the long avenue running in a straight line between the two.

Thursday night saw an interesting dash through the streets by a few group members to the Defense Colony market to make some lucrative purchases, while others went to MacDonalds Indian style to try a vegetarian or chicken burger from the very different-looking menu.

By Friday we were tired from the week's work, but exhilarated all the same by the fast-approaching and long-anticipated day-trip to one of the 7 Wonders of the World.


Day 7 - Sunday 24 January

Sunday was a day of sightseeing. We visited the Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb, two truly amazing examples of architectural design. The Qutb Minar is an astronomical tower stretching 72.5 metres into the sky (the world's tallest brick minaret) and surrounded by green parkland and crumbling ruins. We found an excellent guide at the gates, and took many, many, many photos as we Humayun’s tomb is the final resting place of one of the Mughal Emperors. It took us a while to reach the actual tomb as a result of being side-tracked by another mausoleum and a couple of old arched gateways leading up to it – each of which being impressive enough to be the main spectacle.

We walked barefooted through a Hindu Temple in the ever-deepening dusk, then made our way back to our Vasant Kunj home through the anarchy of the Delhi traffic. One cannot help but feel that a ‘Rally of Delhi’ could quite easily become the number one adventure sport in the world. Overall, a memorable day full of fantastic sights, and a weekend of time very well spent.


Day 6 - Saturday 23 January

The weekend began with Mass at Vatsalya Study Centre, in the Hauz Khas area of Delhi. The area itself is really nice - clean streets, beautiful houses, men walking small swarms of fluffy domestic dogs down the street and the loud cries of fruit and vegetable cart drivers filling the air at odd intervals. Arriving at the centre, we admired its beautiful exterior before being welcomed into the cool stone-floored entrance hall and into the chapel for morning Mass. Behind the altar, a painting of St Joseph handing baby Jesus to Mary. Folding screen doors with Archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael; painted Stations of the Cross circling the wooden pews; a beautiful altar; and a portrait of St Josemaria Escriva on the wall.

Following Mass, we went downstairs and played a couple of ice-breaker games with some of the girls from the centre (the name game and an epic 30-player human knot). Margie gave us an inspiring talk on service, and after lunch in the rooftop garden we were treated to a traditional Indian dance and talks on Indian culture, history and the region of Assam.

In the evening, we went to 'Dilli Haat', a market with stalls from many different regions of India. We lost ourselves amongst the piles of scarves, sarees, shoes, bags, cushion covers, marble-work and sweets (notably the saucer-sized wheels of peanut brittle). We tried 'momos' from Tibet (something like a chicken dumpling, and very, very nice), and watched a traditional dance and music show. A great experience, and one which all of us are looking forward to repeating!

Here I must mention a difficult situation we are regularly faced with. As we were lining up for our tickets, a few scruffy little boys with dirty faces came up to us, begging for money. "Please ma'am, no mother no father..." though the impulse is to give, many of the beggars work for someone else, and by giving one is only encouraging what they are doing. Then again, what if one of them was sincerely in need of money? It is impossible to tell, impossible to trust, a truly tragic situation. At traffic lights too, kids with moustaches drawn across their faces dance and flip and slip through impossibly small hoops, then crowd the windows of our van begging for money. We can't give money, so we give food. "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day..." - the tendency is to feel as though it is just a small drop in the ocean. However, seeing the faces of some street children opening one of our 'Special Thali's' on the side of the road one night and finding a Gulab Juman (dessert) inside gives hope that more good than just a few full stomachs may come of such small charities as these. A resounding 'theme' of this service project is, I believe, that by small degrees, great things may be done.

- Nicole

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 5 - Friday 22nd January

Friday, and the end of our first week in India. But no time for reflective contemplation - we were up early and off to our various activities for the day. The same groups went to Cheshire Home for Physio, the two Deepalaya schools, and Education on Wheels. At midday, we were herded into buses at our respective locations, and enjoyed a Chinese variation in our 'Special Thali' lunchbox on our way to the Kamalini centres.

Sanding and plastering continued at a faster pace at the Sharpur Jat centre, so that by the time we left one room had been completed, one room needed only a final coat of paint, and the last room was all ready for painting on Monday morning.

In the evening we went to St Alphonsa's for Mass, and said a beautiful Novena to the Sacred Heart. The words and hymns of the Novena were amplified by the incredible acoustics of the Church, making it a beautiful and stirring devotion to Our Lord. After Mass, we came home to a deliciously mild chicken curry before collapsing into our beds (no exaggeration there). All over, it was a week of many new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences; a week of markets, schools, slums, and curry.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 4 - Thursday 21st January

Following yesterday's schedule, we were starting to get used to the routine we'd be keeping for the rest of the week. 6:30am Mass, followed by 7:30am breakfast, and at 8am we were off.

The Deepalaya School group continued with their classes, some at the small Ohkla school, the others at the larger school 10 minutes away (this school building won an architectural award for clever use of space in a limited area). The girls at Education on Wheels continued as well, surprised to learn that their kids remembered the songs from the day before. The other group returned to Cheshire, finding the residents very efficient in their craft work and generally connecting with them.

Painting continued at the two Kamalini centres in the afternoon, and saw the completion of the kitchen area and significant progress in the two downstairs rooms (despite issues with dampness).

Despite our salivating palates anticipating the curry hit for dinner, we were met instead with an assortment of pastas and beer to celebrate Marian's birthday. The girls from the Opus Dei Centre came around, and joined us for various party games and an Indian Princess makeover for the birthday girl. With Chocolate birthday cake to compliment the beer, we were somewhat rowdier than usual that night and slept like babies once again.

Day 3 - Wednesday 20th January

We awoke to a very foggy morning. We could hardly see 10 metres in front of us, except for the hazy bursts of orange from the streetlamps as we walked to Mass. St Alphonsa's Parish is a beautiful white stone Church - a 15-minute walk past the residences of the High Commissioners for Kenya, Algeria, and every other corrupt African nation you can think of.

After Mass we returned home to a breakfast of cornflakes and curry, before departure at 8am to our various destinations. One busload headed into the slum area of Okhla to visit one of the branches of Deepalaya School. We found ourselves welcomed/shoved into of a class of expectant faces, and asked what we were going to be teaching them. We started with introductions, then tried a couple of games, but language proved to be a significant barrier. It was challenging, and definitely an incentive to prepare well for our future classes - but we left a roomful of smiling faces so it wasn't all bad!

The second group made their way to Education on Wheels, also a Deepalaya School programme. This basically consisted of a bus-turned-classroom to reach the kids living in slum areas who can't make it to school any other way. Walking briskly, we followed one of the Deepalaya volunteers through the twists and turns of slum alleyways to the bus, already on location.

Around 10:30am, the first of about 20 kids began to arrive - tiny tots carrying plastic bags with their single exercise book. The two regular female teachers led the kids in a song of prayer before moving to the front of the bus and leaving us to it. We spent the next two hours teaching 'Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes', revising 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' (which they already knew) with all the actions, and a game of 'Follow the Leader' to teach them new English words. It's more tiring than it sounds, but the continuous stream of giggles made it all worth it.

Group 3 went back to Cheshire Home for the Disabled to continue their physio and craft work. They told us many stories over dinner that night, such as about two brothers with good minds but who are constrained by Muscular Dystrophy, and an 8-year old who was the size of a 1-year old child. Their stories all seemed to convey the sense that their work had brought a ray of sunshine to the patients' day.

Tired out by a hard day's work and crazy car rides through peak-hour traffic, we all hit the sack early (after a delicious curry for dinner, just for a spot of variety in the menu).

Day 2 - Tuesday 19th January

Day 2 started early, with 6:30am Mass at the convent down the road. It was held in a small chapel not really designed for 27 odd people and so the majority of us took our seats on the floor. Hearing a lot of noise on our way out, we sneaked a peek through an open doorway to find 18 kids waiting for breakfast. Talking to the nuns we found it was an orphanage for mentally handicapped children, most of whom had either been left at their door or found and brought in by the police. They were so excited to see us, holding out their hands to grasp ours and telling us their names in Hindi. We spent quite a while with them, and walking back to the house afterwards we couldn't help but feel uplifted by their cheerfulness.

Following a breakfast of cornflakes in warm milk and lumps of sugar, the group split up to visit the various places that we would be working in. Some went to the Cheshire Home for the disabled, others went shopping for craft activities, and the rest of us went to see one of the Deepalaya schools where we'd be teaching. This particular school had 500 kids from the surrounding slum area, ranging in age from 4 to 16 years. As we walked into each classroom we were greeted with an enthusiastic "Good morning ma'am!" from kids in their clean maroon jumpers. And we ended the visit with a cup of steaming chai tea.

We headed to Deepalaya Headquarters after this - for a video and short talk about the history and purpose of the organisation - before hitting the road again to teach at Kamalini Vocational School at Sharpur Jat, a different branch to the one we had visited the previous day. Some of us taught a computer class that we had prepared earlier, focusing on revision of basic applications and advanced Microsoft Excel. We started with 3 young women but had 6 students by the end, who gained a lot from the lesson despite their lack of English.

Four of us went to visit homes of former Kamalini students in the local area to carry out surveys on their experience at the school. All homes were one-roomed "apartments" with minimal comforts - a bed and TV. Compared to what we saw around Deepalaya however it was fairly well-off. Everyone we spoke to (through translators) was very complimentary about the centre and seemed to have gained a lot by going there.

Back at Kamalini the kitchen had been sanded down in preparation for painting, and Leata, Veronica, Georgia, Marian, Angie and Marie-Claire were covered in white sawdust after a hard day's work. Then it was curry for supper, lukewarm showers, and a round of charades before we collapsed into bed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

First Day - Monday January 18th


We started the day in style with a four-course breakfast on the house's front lawn. It was laid on white tablecloths with silver platters, and smiling and bowing waiters. The anticipated spicyness made its first appearance in the green chilli omelette and heart-shaped potato cutlets, followed up with chai tea and mango nectar juice.

After this promising start we got ready to hit the markets in search of materials for our craft activities at Cheshire Home for the disabled and Kamalini Vocational School. Once in our big white tourist vans however, we found things slightly different from the inside of our high-walled house. What we thought was early morning fog did not clear to reveal blue skies. The beeping that we thought was localised congestion continued as we moved between suburbs. Stopping at a traffuc light we were startled to find a pair of horns greeting us at the window - and this was just to be the first of many free-range cows throughout the city streets.

After edging past some men dishing out curried breakfast on the sidewalk, we dodged scooters and rickshaws to enter the markets. This dusty "promenade" was home to long rows of narrow openings which we soon realised must be the shops. Clutching our bags tightly, we browsed tables and racks - clothing, jewellery, shoes, belts, bags, beads etc - while constantly being stared down by curious men. After trying out our bargaining skills we walked out with our purchases and headed home for a lunch of chicken soup, red carrots, cottage cheese and rice.

That afternoon we trundled through the crowded streets of Delhi to visit Kamalini Vocational School. Expecting a large comunity hall we were led instead to a small three-roomed building in which classes were in progress. Afterwards it was home through the traffic and to our beautiful white table, in the middle of our green lawn, with our smiling waiters, and our steaming silver pots of curry. And of course the adventure of working out how to turn on the hot water and hoping it didn't run out.

A crazy first day which shattered any preconceived ideas we may have had - especially about the heat (which is non-existent, to say the least).