Saturday, March 21, 2015

Quick visit to Kolkata and reflections on the trip

It was a sobering experience to pack up and leave India today.  The experience of working with the orphans has changed - and impacted - each of us.  This trip puts every minor complaint into such perspective.  There were tears and somber hearts as we drove to the airport. As our teens wrote in their posts:
"This trip has changed me. My life has been opened to a new world. A new life. Even if I tried, I couldn't forget the things I've experienced. The people I've met. The horrors and the beauty of India. Oh my god, the beauty. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.... here, the beauty and love balance out the horror and hate." (Xavier)

"I am so blessed and ecstatic that I was able to experience this country with such amazing people!! And am so excited to have met the amazing people I did! ... This a life changing experience!" (Gabi)

I could not say it better myself. Plus we got to meet Caroline Boudreaux - the founder of the Miracle Foundation - and spend a few days with her and hear about the incredible work this group is doing to change lives.  If that is not inspiring, I don't know what is.

On our way home, we had a 12 hour lay-over in Kolkata.  So we arranged a "show-us-everything-interesting-to-see-in-this-city-in-just-a-few-hours" tour.

Kolkata is an interesting mix of old British colonial architecture and overcrowded-Indian-city squalor.

Plus we did some last minute souvenir shopping in the market, until literally everyone ran out of money.

We started at the Jain Temple and learned about Jainism.  This temple is made from stained glass inlaid into a limestone mortar.

I could not resist posting a photo with this little girl who crawled all around Xavier's feet while we were at the Jain temple.

Next stop was Mother Teresa's home. We got to see the Missionaries of Charity house, where Mother Teresa lived and is now buried

They have left the room she lived (and died) in intact.  It is smaller than a prison cell, with a simple twin bed and a desk.  She lived above the kitchen and even though it is was stiflingly hot, Mother Teresa never even had a fan.

Then on to Victoria Memorial which makes you think that you have been transported from India to Great Britain in the blink of an eye.

Lush gardens, tranquil setting, marble building

The teens - of course - mixed it up for our final set of photos from he trip:

Goodbye India.  What a fantastic experience we have had here. Nameste and much love !!!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Saris and sadness... saying goodbye to the kids

Today was our last day with the children at Anwesha.  So we got up early and met them right after breakfast.  A mayhem of craft projects followed. I headed up the “make yourself an elephant out of a kit” project: a truly funny experience in light of the complete language barrier.

Plus many of these of kids still hoard (a very common trait in orphans) and they sneak and hide extra craft pieces.  When we turned up short two elephant ears, the house mom immediately pulled up the shirts of all the little boys .... and lo and behold… there they were … tucked into the back of one of the kids’ pants. He already had two ears for his paper-plate elephant, he just hoarded up two extra ones for later (why? for what?). The elephants were a hit and kids carried them around for the rest of the day, talking and playing with them.

The beauty parlor craft station was super popular…. With lots of customers for sparkly nail polish and hair bows. Since the kids never get to chose anything for themselves (they are just given whatever little they have), choosing nail polish color was an almost insurmountable obstacle. Several ended up choosing to get each nail painted a different color so they could enjoy the full experience. 

We also did some card making and paper airplane competitions

Then it was time for the ceremony.  Today, this home gets out of the “incubation” period - where it has been partially supported by the Miracle Foundation - and into full partnership.  Because of how rough the conditions were, it has taken two years to get to this point.  For the occasion, we dressed in traditional clothes: men in dhotis and the women in saris.  Our guys looked great.

And the girls in saris were breathtaking

The saris are literally just one long piece of cloth which has to be pleated and tucked and folded around you in a special way and the whole thing is held up by two pins (if you are a westerner) and just by the correct folding (if you are Indian).  The house mothers had to come help us all get dressed.

The kids even got into full ceremonial garb… the girls back into their beautiful red and cream saris from the first day ...

And the boys got brand new white and hot pink dhoti outfits (such excitement about new clothes out of a package).  The dhotis had to be carefully tied onto each wiggly boy as the line of boys pushed and jumped and jostled on a bed.  

Then sash and head tie.

Look at that smile.....!!!!

The ceremony was long, boring and hot.  And in English because we were there. Those kids literally had to sit still in their seats for almost 2 hours of speeches that they could not understand.  They were wonderfully behaved. I kept waiting for a melt-down that never came. But when the music went on at the end… the dance, dance, dance party really started.

One of the TAFS' moms donated dozens and dozens of teddy bears for us to bring to the kids.  We stayed as long as we could at the home and finally gave them out - as a final surprise - after dark. The kids were shrieking with joy and excitement.

It is impossible to describe how hard it was to say goodbye to these kids. There was lots of tears (on both sides) and many of our group were shell-shocked at having to drive away in our Tuk-Tuks and leave the kids behind.  One of my boys from Team Hartee - Ruman, the little boy in the middle of the photo below - said to me as we were leaving, "Didi (the word they use for "Aunty"), I never forget you."  How does that not just rip your heart out?

So rather than focus on that part, I'm just going to leave you with some photos that say it all....

Labor of love at Anwesha home

On our second day at the Anwesha home, we arrived early and did some crafts with the kids before they even left for school. Stickers were a HUGE favorite.  And they stuck them everywhere... on the craft paper, on their hands, on us

We then sent the kids off to school with lots of hugs...

And were immediately put to work.  The home is turning an unused area into a tutoring classroom and wanted us to paint decorative murals and educational scenes on the walls. Our group truly labored for love. Even though it was VERY hot - and we were all sweating up a storm - we created some awesome paintings.

First, there was the whole "mixing of colors" project, an enterprise unto itself.

Then we started on the walls. I chose to pair with Alex – our resident artist – and she drew an amazing and intricate flower on one wall. It took us all day to complete, but turned out great.

Jackie did an entire village of children below a tree... and got some help from the house mothers

Eileen went with a rabbit motif because the kids LOVE their pet rabbits.

Jessica, Will and Gabi did a huge tree and then painted the kids' hands and made their hand-prints into the leaves and flowers

This is my main man... Dharuba Das with a bright green hand. (Many of the kids have the last name "Das," which is a common surname in this area, and is what the home assigns when the kids' real name is unknown).

Xavier rocked the pink elephant

We also painted educational stuff inside the classroom, including an entire ecosystem, a diagram of photosynthesis and a full wall of planets

Not to brag, but we rocked it. The kids summed it up best - when they first saw the building - with a collective “WOW!!”

Mid-afternoon we set off to the kids’ school to escort them home.  We were a HUGE hit at the school and every kid wanted to show us their classroom and their desk.  Not a textbook or notepad in sight. Only a chalkboard at the front of the classroom.

When we got to the school to pick up the little ones (who get off earlier than the teenagers), the older ones were now eating lunch. They get the exact same thing - every day - rice with vegetable curry sauce. And obviously no utensils... hands only. They eat every grain of rice.

The kids were besides themselves that they got visitors to take them home.  It's about a mile each way so the orphanage gave us umbrellas to shield us from the sun. Naturally every child had to take a turn holding the umbrella or sharing the shade with us.

They were seriously cracking me up with their umbrella fascination

Once the kids were all home, and uniforms were off, serious play started.  There was an intensely competitive cricket match plus henna time (when the kids drew all over us with henna).

We did not leave the home until after dark.... And we'll be back again tomorrow ... for our last day with the kids. I'm anticipating some crying to leave this place. 

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