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.

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).