Hello whoever is reading this! Right now I am sitting in a dormitory style room two hours from Chennai, India, and am rationing out my large bag of peanut butter M&M’s (they need to last me two weeks, but at this rate I fear it’s only a few more days until I run out). I started this blog three years ago, when, at a crossroads in my life, I quit my job and within the same month moved here to volunteer for an organization called Rising Star Outreach (www.risingstaroutreach.org). I ended up staying for eight months, and while the heat was brutal, the cravings for American food were constant, and the bucket showers were well, bucket showers, the time I spent here changed my life. I have been wanting to come back and visit my Indian friends for a long time, and am so glad it worked out for me to visit this summer!
Our first “work” day was on Monday. We only had about three hours of sleep the night before after our 30 hour journey, so it was a pretty exhausting day. The day started at 8:00am with a morning conclave to go over the day’s activities. I was in the group going to one of the leprosy colonies with the mobile medical unit. We got in the van and headed in the heat (it was already scorching at 9am!) to drive to Chettipunyam, which is a fairly small leprosy colony about 45 min away from campus.
My duty at the colony was to wash the leprosy patient’s feet, to clean out their ulcers and wounds. Others in my group checked blood pressure, administered eye drops, and rubbed oil on their feet and legs (those with leprosy tend to have dry skin). Helping these people is a very humbling experience, and I never tire of going to the colonies to get the chance to interact with them. The people in the Chettipunyam were very kind and welcoming, and were grateful for our help. The medical team has done a great job at improving the visits to the colonies. They show a video to the patients on how to do self care before we even get to cleaning their wounds. This was great to see because that is the most important thing, to make sure they take care of their own wounds so they don’t get bad infections. One of the highlights for me was to see Navamani, who is the head nurse that goes to all of the colonies. She is wonderful, and I am so grateful that I was able to see her again. I'll try to get a better photo of her later in the week, but she is the one below in a yellow sari (just her back).
After the colony we visited a small Hindu temple that happens to be next to an old closed down brewery. It was super hot up there, but still cool to see it! A man in the Hindu temple blessed us and put chalk on our foreheads.
One of the highlights of my day was coming back to campus while some of the kids were outside in their PE class, and having them yell across the field “Julieeee, Julieee, Julieeee!!”. They remembered me!! I had no idea if most of the kids would remember me, and I was worried I would have forgotten a lot of their names. Turns out most of them do remember me, and I remembered their names too! (well, like 85% of their names, but that’s not bad after three years).
Hari, one of the boys I sponsor came and tracked me down when I was in my orientation class with the rest of the volunteers. He was grinning ear to ear when he saw me. I think in three years he has only grown an inch! It’s hard to explain how fun this kid is, but take my word for it, he is hilarious and sweet and smart. I am so happy to be sponsoring him, and am happy to have such a fun buddy to welcome me on my visit.
I also saw the other kid I sponsor, Arun. He’s an older boy, in 10th Standard (grade), and has a smile that would make anyone melt. He was just as happy to see me as I was to see him. He looks so grown up and studious, wearing glasses and all.
A few nights ago at the kids play time, I played volleyball with the bigger kids and my team was facing the sun so I could barely see when the ball came our way. I also went to watch Hari and some other kids play cricket. As most of you already saw from the picture I posted on Facebook, I got hit in the nose by a foul cricket ball. The kids came to my rescue though! They were very worried and kept saying “Auntie, drink water!”(which they filled up for me. Also, they call every girl here auntie). My nose is ok, nothing is broken on this shnoz, but I swear the impact of the hit triggered something in my body because now I’ve come down with a nasty cold. So that’s fun.
Yesterday I stayed on campus and tutored, mostly the UKG (kindergarten), and 1st Standard kids. They are so tiny and cute! One little boy I was sitting next to kept readjusting his belt because his shorts were wayyyy too big. It was adorable, he was doing that for like 40 minutes. He must have been worried his shorts were going to fall off. Don’t worry, most of the kids here are dressed in clothes that fit them. Maybe he’s just new. While tutoring, some of them misbehaved, but that’s to be expected.
Oh, and I forgot to say that when I got hit in the nose, Dr. Susan who is basically the Indian person that keeps this place running, and quite possibly the best person I know, stopped by my room to make sure I was ok. We both laughed that this is not how she thought she would first see me here, but was glad to see me nonetheless. She told me that normally with a swollen body part, you elevate it, but we were both stumped on what that meant for my nose?! Do I just stay standing? Is that elevating it?! She’s a funny one and someone I missed a lot.
Now, time to enjoy some photos!