After 14 countries this Summer, it’s back to INDIA and NGO Work ~

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Ok Ok Ok Ok~

It has been a while since I posted an update. Sometimes, when I am moving so fast from place to place, there isn’t really much time to reflect. I have learned more and more to live in the present and experience the days fully. Only now do I really have some time to give an update on the past and what is happening now.

Some have requested a new post and to keep blogging, so here it is and thanks as always for the support through reading and commenting, whether online or in person.

When I posted last, I was in India and it was the month of May.

Now 5 months later, I am back in India in the the city of Kolkata. My last post highlighted my experience with this Mother Teresa figure I have been friends with for 10 years. His name is Francis and shortly after I posted on his life, he sent me an email requesting me to come fill in for him while he is gone in Europe for the Fall.

Well, can one say no to Mother Teresa if she asks you to help? Haha, after some short reflection, I felt it was time for me to do some volunteer work again. It had been years since I last was involved in such work, yet it felt right to do it. So here I am.

But before I go into the details of this work, I will quickly update on what just happened for the past 5 months.

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After Darjeeling in May, I flew to Israel for a month. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the land, and it was one of the more amazing experiences I have had. I loved Israel and the Israeli people. I was welcomed with open arms everywhere I went and made some amazing friendships. I was also there when the tension began with the unfortunate killings of the teenagers, and I left right before the Israeli Defense Forces were mobilized. Many I met did not want conflict at all, but what would you do if your home country was attacked? Conflicts aside, Israel has a special place in my heart and I will continue to go back as the years go on…I recommend everyone to visit and have a good time there. Let me know if you want contacts to meet.

Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel
Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel
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MidBurn

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After Israel, I flew to the Balkans and traveled around Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. In the month of July, this region is beautiful. I had visited Romania in 2000, and now 14 years later, I visited friends I had made back then. The same family that hosted me back then, hosted me again. I love how with the help of social networks today, I can keep in touch with my friends from all over the world.

Then after the Balkans, came that thing in the desert and this year was nothing short of spectacular again. I was there in the Black Rock Desert for two weeks and had a nice time there.

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Then it was off to prepare for India and this is where our story continues….

Francis works with the children and youth that have grown up in the massive train station called Sealdah in Kolkata. It is one of the busiest train stations in India and indeed the world, with hundreds of thousands of people in and out everyday. It is bustling with porters, people going to work, street merchants, and from 6am-11pm, there is a sea of people that take some keen navigation to move through and along. Being back in India, one always has to be aware of where you walk.

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The boys of the Railway station are a tight crew. They look out for each other and some do little jobs to make some money, such as carrying luggage or goods. They sleep at the station, just on the ground, some live with their families, some have no family. Some are married (because it is common to get married at a young age) and some are fathers at age 18. Some have a wife that is expecting and some have mental and physical disabilities.

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The list goes on. But like any boy, they like to have fun, and they like to have freedom. Most of their lives, they have had no formal education and the local government has not been able to assist their lives in any relevant way. This is where Francis and his Pilgrims of Charity Friends Organization comes in.

The work of Francis’ work involves just being present like a big brother or father to the boys. He provides them food, his smile and is there to help with any problem that they may encounter. For instance, one of the boys fathers had passed away and the mother had no where to go. Francis was able to arrange accommodation for her and a place to work.

Besides, being with the boys and giving them education twice a week, Francis also has a host slum where he provides basic first aid to the occupants of the slum. Most of the people who live in this slum are Bangladeshi and don’t have the same type of opportunities in Kolkata. They are slightly discriminated but the situation for them in Bangladesh isn’t much better, so they live there near a river (picture the water black) and the train station.

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So, I have been here for a week already and I have been the new “Big Brother” to the boys. They all met me in May, and were all happy to see me again. They enjoy having an American as a friend and are curious about all sorts of things. I also have visited the slum and have been addressing the medical needs. There is everything from common lacerations and abrasions, to skin, eye and ear problems. For more serious matters, I bring the person to the local hospital and with my NGO card, I can get them in right away for treatment. I have seen some pretty bad skin issues, because the fact is that the people don’t take as much showers as they should. Common hygiene is not really practiced or known, and with the treatment I administer, I also educate as best I can.

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Besides, the slum and Train station work, I also visit the local government hospital a couple times a week and it is still is as difficult to see as it was for me 10 years prior when I came as a student. Yet even though the conditions are difficult to see, the simple human to human connection is still needed. And the very simple action of going to an old man, who is looking dazed and to hold his hand and look him in the eyes with a smile and respect can bring even him to some grateful tears. It is sometimes the most simplest actions such as these, that can spur life into the temporarily broken bodies and spirits in the hospital.

I am grateful to be here, but it is also another one of the most difficult experiences in my waking life I have ever experienced. To see so many on the street, disabled, hurt, diseased. After so many people, it sort of becomes commonplace and one can just accept that everyone in this environment is struggling to eat but that somehow no one is really starving. The Bengali people do look out for each other, but can only give so much of their own resources.

Now for these boys, they can live in the train station their entire life. And to be honest, some of them probably will. They love the station, it is their home, their identity and family. Yet, it is not the best place to raise a baby or a family, and of course there can be exploitation or even kidnappings, as it happened to one of the little babies of a young man we know.

When I visited the boys earlier this year, I got an idea to bring more education resources to them through the use of laptops and technology. I felt they were more than capable to interact and learn programs, and that with the right initial directions, they could self teach themselves and add to their own livelihoods.

Now, 5 months later, this idea has transformed into raising $5,000 seed money and acquiring 8 laptops to kickstart the classroom/computer lab project (link here). The simple mention of my decision to help these boys has inspired 4 of my friends to come volunteer alongside and contribute collectively to make the classroom a reality for them.

Just a couple weeks ago I proposed the project to the boys and asked if it was something they wanted and they all raised their hands enthusiastically. When I asked them a good location for them so they can all walk there easily, they gave me the best location and district.

Next week, my friends arrive and soon the classroom (titled Avasar Shala) will begin in addition to the existing work of the Pilgrims of Charity. I am writing from an internet cafe now where I pay 15 cents an hour and listening to some deep house music. It is the weekend, and I will definitely take some needed rest after my first week here.

Thanks for reading, for the continued support at this time. I launched a small campaign for the project and if you want to contribute financially, you can. Or if you want to visit me while I am here, come. I will stay till Dec 20.

Cheerio and Connect with me on FB if you ever want to chat more deeply.

CIAO!

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10502390_10154809883165717_5626502655377406327_nAll photos used with permission by Tara Beth Currah

 

2014 Travel~Living Update

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Well, I have been getting some periodic requests to post an update as now some friends and followers know I am traveling abroad again. To me though, it’s just living. I have this dance with life, and the floor I dance on isn’t limited to the corner~
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There has been a whirlwind of movement this past month, and it’s not normally how I have moved in the past. These years, I enjoy finding a special beautiful place and setting up shop there for a month, where I can enjoy community, do my work and eat new exotic foods. Well, for the Month of May, my travel has been~ USA-Netherlands-Belgium-Qatar-India and now Nepal. Tomorrow it’s Jordan and Israel.
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I’m used to it, and can manage and adapt myself at the drop of a mango. Yet, it does take some energy. Currently, I am writing from the town of Nagarkot, Nepal. From this mountain village, one can see 360 degrees of Himalayas. I am in the “Ganesh Cottage,” my little house for a few days. It has nice views from the cottage, and has some prayer flags sprinkled through it along with fabrics. My hotel is called “Hotel at the End of The Universe.” With a name as such, I had to stay there ~ It’s owned by a Nepali / Dutch couple and it’s a tranquil place.
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Some friends have asked me, “Why India?” And, the simple answer is, I felt the pull of my spirit to go there again. I had gone there ten years ago in 2004 serving with as a volunteer for 3 months. That time was life changing for me, and I was curious to see how this vibrant and massive country called India has changed and continue my experience with it.

One the Worlds largest Banyan tree, India 2004
One the Worlds largest Banyan tree, India 2004

As an American citizen, I was able to obtain a 5 year multiple entry visa, and so I can move in and out of this vast and rich land as much as I want for the next few years, so this trip was not about “seeing it all.” I sort of used to move that way when I was 18-20, but now I just like picking a few spots and “soaking” it. So I flew to Mumbai, stayed a few days there. Flew to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and stayed there a couple days too. Then it a train up to Siliguri, there I caught a land rover to Darjeeling, the mountainous town famous the world over for its tea.
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It was a diverse town, with a mix of Tibetans, Gorkhas, Nepalis and Indians. The entire town is built on a steep incline of a mountain, and my guesthouse sat right on the top. I worked on my writings there, and took a 5 day trek through the Singalila National Park/Ridge. I hired a Sherpa named Tsering and together we hiked about 10-11 miles a day, stopping in very little Himalayan villages for tea and meals. The highlight for me was the opportunity to see with my own eyes the highest mountain in the world: Mount Everest.

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Another highlight so far for me has been to reconnect in person with a friend I made ten years ago in Calcutta. His name is Brother Francois, and he is a Franciscan priest serving the poor in the city. Most of his work revolves around addressing the needs of orphans living in the train station and also visiting those in the hospital who need support of any kind.
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When I volunteered with him ten years ago, it became the most intense day of my life as I saw the reality of a broken hospital system. I saw people who could have survived with available care, die and witnessed also the reality of young boys living on their own in a harsh environment.

Since then, Brother Francois has been doing this work EVERYDAY. To me, he is one of the most courageous and kindest humans I have met on this planet. When I surprised him, he was overjoyed to see me. And I came to a realization that I had not been aware of. As I talked with Francois, he made it clear to me that one of the main reasons he continued with his work in Calcutta in 2004, was because of my willingness to go volunteer with him when he asked me in the Mother House (Where the sisters of Mother Teresas order, Missionaries of Charity, live). At that time, he was still exploring the idea, since he was from France. The funny thing is, is on that particular day in 2004, I felt a strong pull in my spirit to go the Mother House. I was serving in an orphanage far away, and even though all the international volunteers met there each morning for breakfast before volunteering, I would not go because I needed to ride the bus for 45 minutes to get to the orphanage I was serving at. Nonetheless, I felt a pull early that morning to go. And that morning I met Brother Francois.

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I knew then I would have a friend for life, and through these past ten years my family and I have sent clothes to the children he serves. And, for the short couple days I had to spend with him in Hot Calcutta a couple weeks ago, I was blessed and also reminded of realities. I was reminded, because I went back to a hospital with him where he serves. There, I had flashbacks of the lack of cleanliness and care available. The elevator had dried blood in all the corners, the casualty ward had used gauze, urine and dust on the floors. The beds were simple and each patient, was just sitting up, basically getting what care they could from their family members, and an occasional checkup from a physician. I actually didn’t see any there, but it was towards the evening. What I did see, was a young man named Sambath. He was extremely thin and only had his Mother to offer what little care she could. Sambath had rectal cancer, and it was terminal. For a man who was 22 years old and was just in med school the year before, it was a difficult site to see. This is something a normal citizen of my home country just doesn’t get to see. Untreated cancer in your face.

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I was stronger to accept the reality than my last time ten years ago, but it reminded me of the fragility of life and how life is valued in other places. I gave Sambath a postcard from Hawaii that had a couple Hibiscus flowers on it. I hoped he would find peace until he moves on..

While the hospital visits were still melancholy, the next day Francois invited me to speak to the boys from the station. He gathered them together and for a couple hours I shared with them lessons of geography, and showed them photos of my travels around the world on my laptop. They were fascinated to see images of massive Redwood trees, European architecture and scenes from the movie “Samsara,” a movie that travels around the world. My intention was to expand their horizons a bit, and by all the smiles and affection after, I think I succeeded.

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There of course, are other highlights, such as traveling in the Netherlands with my Mom, who is Dutch and had not been back for 39 years, and visiting a tea factory in Darjeeling but for now I will sign off. A new adventure awaits, and another dream will be fulfilled: To pilgrimage to Israel.

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Thanks for your encouragement and thoughts, prayers through the journey~ Some more photos below… IMG_0788 IMG_0867 IMG_0756 IMG_0952