Monday, May 24, 2010

Our Trip Thus Far...

We’re both recovered now, after a whole week hampered by a travel bug. We arrived in Manali today, where skiing, zorbing and fruit ciders await. Below is where we’ve been so far:-

- Arriving 5am, enjoyed sunrise over the Ganges watching pilgrims and locals bathing & performing puja – whilst eating Aloo Paratha
- Lots of flies – really, lots of flies
- Watching a religious ceremony in the evening – along with thousands of others

  • Striking Ganges valley
  • Miriam sick – flowing almost as fast as the Ganges itself

- Miriam still sick – Brad in sympathy joins her
- Antibiotics taken – recovery follows
- Great Tibetan meals consumed – minus chilli
- Relaxed tourist town – great walks & views

  • Something out of the twilight zone – stayed in Sector 22
  • Most western shopping mall we’ve seen in India
  • Fast food fix – McDonalds & KFC
  • The Rock Garden – a recycled wonderland
- Relaxed tourist hill station – former summer capital of British India
- Buzzing night life
- Thighs of steel required – lots of walking, steps & inclines

Top 5 conversations
  • Indian student attacks in Australia (many discussions) – one drunk guy even called us murderers
  • Gender bias & female infanticide in India
  • India’s Civil Service exam: on three separate occasions met people undergoing this exam in Shimla
  • Round Australia trip planning for an Indian-British national
  • Australia losing T20 World Cup to England (actually least favourite conversation)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Travelling India

Travelling in India can be a rich and rewarding experience, full of interesting people, culture and adventures. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten to that part yet. Miriam has been hit by a milder form of the bug that we picked up in Malaysia. Our travel experiences has been limited to sitting around in stifling hotel rooms, bouncing around in stifling buses, Miriam spending an inordinate amount of time on the loo and me fetching supplies.

But we feel the tide turning…We’re in Musoorie, a much cooler hill station town with a more relaxed and scenic vibe. Miriam seems to be getting better but until she’s fully recovered she has a great view out our hotel window of the Himalayan foothills. We might just hang around here for a while…stay tuned.

Comings and goings….

Miriam and I have left the farm now but just before we left 2 new arrivals to the orphanage came to distract everyone so we could sneak off…

Shavani & Saloni are two 6 week old twin girls that were brought here by their mother about a week ago. The first we heard about them was when they were 6 days old and the family came with a terrible story of hardship – here’s a paraphrased version (the original was in Hindi):

A husband and wife had 6 children when the mother died, the father remarried and produced another 4 girls and recently a set of twin girls. The father passed away whilst the (step) mother was pregnant, leaving her with 12 girls, 6 of them not her own and a set of brand new girls. She couldn’t afford to feed or look after the arrivals and was desperate for the orphanage to take them.

Some of the staff here went to the family to check out the story and it didn’t appear quite correct and as a result the girls were refused. After about a month however the family came back and the situation looked a little more desperate. When the family came to be admitted, the (miraculously alive) father, mother and surprisingly, a son came with them. The 2 girls were quite small (double whammy since both Indian babies and twins are naturally smaller) so at 6 weeks they were 2kg & 2.5kg.

Everyone has gone crazy, baby mad at “The Farm” – I’ve never seen so many gooey-eyed females almost fighting to hold the babies – including Miriam! (don’t get any ideas people) It’s been great to see how a community like this one pulls together to support these tiny tots. They are a bit malnourished and ill (probably the change of diet from cows milk to baby formula) but seem to be making the transition reasonably well.

Since being here we’ve also seen the arrival of Rena, a 5 year old girl brought 6 months ago. She came with a shaved head and seemed such a sad little girl. I think one parent had died and while the other parent was out begging, she was left alone to wander about on her own with no hope of an education. She had suffered some abuse and when she arrived she was very scared of all adult males, including me.

After a few months it was amazing to see the difference in her – she is a happy, bright and somewhat cheeky girl, having no respect for me whatsoever! Always greeting me with a big smile and then usually teasing me just so I’ll chase after her. Her English (the main language spoken amongst the girls) is amazing for such a short period of time (I’ve been there longer and my Hindi is terrible).

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Sorry for the absence of blogs lately but killer storms (52 dead) had cut power and phone lines over here for the past 3 days making it impossible for us to blog...

Today we leave “Strong Farm” and it will be sad to leave this place and the people here who made it so special for us. 10 months ago we arrived with the intention of spending 1 month to “check” the place out and we found a Brad & Miriam size gap that fortunately, being Brad & Miriam, we were able to fill! We are very thankful for our generous hosts, the Shipways, who made our stay here very comfortable and were the “go to” people that we needed to often “go to”.

We also want to thank those who supported our work here by helping out financially – it’s been amazing over the past few days as we’ve been compiling a list of items paid for by our church, friends, family and ourselves to see how much of a difference your donations have made in the lives of the children. Since arriving, over $20,000 has been raised and gone into projects that directly affect the children’s lives for the better. Some of the money has gone into “fun” items that excite the kids and brighten their day but our special desire is in providing infrastructure items that will have a more lasting impact on their lives. Some of the projects such as the new school are longer term projects that will see fruition in 1-2 years but mostly we’ve focused on things that could be done immediately.

Below is a list of things we have compiled that wouldn’t have happened without your help, and in addition to these items, $5000 was donated towards general administration, $500 towards new textbooks for the school and a further $3850 towards the new school building project.
Farm items
4 x tyres + overhaul for farm vehicle
Trolley Jack
Repair of generator
High pressure water sprayer (cleaning/stripping paint)
Kitchen items
Refrigerator + voltage stabilizer
Food processor
100 x Steel plates
100 x Steel cups
Pressure cooker
Large cooking pot
Water purification unit for kitchen
School items
18 x dictionaries, maths sets, stationary items for class 10’s
12 x school bags
20 x Sports day prizes
4 x Computer UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supplies)
18 x Computer stools
2 x Metal library cupboards
3 x Rugs for nursery school
4 x Ceiling Fans
Bathroom renovation for the older boys hostel
100 x kites (yes 100!)
DVD Player for older girls
3000 x Shampoo packets (single use)
Filing cabinet
Laundry iron
Sporting equipment
Cricket, Soccer, and volleyballs
Cricket gloves
2 badminton sets
Table tennis table & equipment
Tug-Of-War rope
10 x Almiras (Metal Cupboards)
12 x Winter Jackets
3 x Chicken meals (for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Farewell)
250 x serves of ice-cream
1 x Child-safe paper cutter
30 x child-safe scissors
9 months supply of fruit
2 x Inverter systems (Guest-house, Nursery)
Hot Water System for older boys
4 x Backup lighting units
In Progress (funds fully provided)
Kullah (grain drying, basketball)
Playground for boys
Courtyard refurbishment for the girls
Painting of nursery

Once again, thanks to those who supported this fantastic place during our stay, it is very much appreciated. We're off on a short (1 month) trip around the hilly parts of India (cooler also) before heading to SE Asia where we will be looking for some organisations to drop in on. We plan on being back in the land of Oz late October. Depending on Internet availability, blogs might be a bit intermittent for the next few weeks but be patient, we haven't forgotten y'all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yay…. Exams are over !!!

Exams are over now, the last one – Computer practical was held 4th May. For the computer practical, the students had to type a 300 word passage, make a table in Word, and prepare an application letter. As we only have 7 computers, but 18
and have been averaging around 4 hours of electricity per day, we started the year 10’s on doing their pracs as soon as their previous exam was over. Still, we only just had all the pracs finalized and printed in time for the exam, as the day before the exam we only had around 2 hours of electricity.

The Home Science practical was held on Thursday. The students
had to prepare 6 cooked items, and make 6 first aid kits (of which 2 were kept by the invigilators, and we expect will probably be sold off for a profit). So we split the year 10’s into groups of 3, each headed up by a gal with cooking abilities. They then spent the morning whipping up chocolate cake, donuts, biscuits, coffee & coconut slice, aloo paratha (potato crepes), paneer (cheese) and bread. We even got to enjoy some of the baking – which wasn’t bad. It was nice to see them having so much fun.

Now that it’s over we can reflect on the highs and lows of teaching. Things that definitely frustrated our attempts were the poor education background of the students, with low reading, comprehension and maths skills it was difficult to teach at the class 10 level when we should have been sometimes teaching at 2nd or 3rd grade level. My biggest disappointment though was reserved for the examination procedure – because they are doing a correspondence course, they are required to sit their exams elsewhere and the tales brought back by our students of cheating and corruption were pretty horrific – we’ve already told of the mother being allowed to
sit the exam for her sick daughter but students were able to talk during the exam, many brought notes, textbooks and mobile phones or just asked the invigilators for help. The worst thing however was when one of our teachers was clarifying what was required for the home science practical exam, he was told “not to worry”, just “bring 50 Rupees per student” and they would pass. Of course our kids did no such thing and were the only ones to bring the required items, everyone else brought the money.

Eventually this won’t be an issue as the plan is to have their own senior high school. This, however, will be a long term goal as accreditation will take many years and unless a miracle happens, will require plenty of bribes to just have the government departments simply do their job…