Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Today we [almost] met a woman with no clothes

This morning I woke up to the sounds of our country director Brook shuffling through some extra clothes left behind by a previous volunteer. She'd just recieved a call from our other country director on her morning walk telling us she'd just seen a woman without clothes, trying to wrap herself in plastic bags on the street.

So she invited Kyle and I to come with her to find this woman and give her a few clothes. It was kind of surreal. Maybe because I just woke up, but I think mostly because it's hard to imagine someone who doesn't even have clothes.

We walked for a while trying to find her, but we weren't having any luck. Brook asked the question, "Where would I go if I had no clothes?" It resounded in my mind - Where would I go if I had no clothes? I've never had to come close to anything like that.

It made me think of Matthew 25:36:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

At least, we tried to clothe her, but after a while of searching we decided she had hidden herself somewhere. I was so sad we were unable to find her. I keep thinking about her and wondering if she's found something to wear or found her way home to some clothes.

Tonight I'm keeping this woman in my prayers. And everyone who is naked or hungry - physically or emotionally or spiritually. I hope that I can always be ready to feed and clothe and visit strangers in need. And I hope I don't take for granted my own clothes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

on life and death

yesterday i headed out to the slums for what i thought would be a day of teaching health classes. i guess i should have remembered that the number one rule in india is that things never go as planned. but i guess that's not the point here either.

after our first very successful alcohol and tobacco class with a great group of men and women, we headed to a second slum to hold another class. when we got there, something was different. it was lacking it's normal feeling of vibrancy - of life. no one was outside, no one was greeting us.

shortly, we found out that a man in the community had passed away within the last half hour. and it wasn't any man - it was the beneficiary of our first soilet this year, and whose wife we'd helped plant a garden with. we were so sad to hear of his loss.

the health workers we were with - our translators and friends - invited us to come with them and give our condolences. as we approached, we could hear the wife's cries. arriving at the house, we each hugged her as she continued her heartfelt mourning. i felt her sadness and teared up, but i know i can't begin to understand it. so many years of living with someone, living for someone.

but on our way to the bus (having forgone the class), our friends pointed out to us some gardens we'd helped to plant. they were sprouting, sprouting with the vibrant green of new life. and so soon after they were planted. it's strange, but it brought me a little hope and a little happiness. it was just such an interesting contrast, and it made me think about life and death and why we're here and how things keep on living, but other things expire.

i guess don't have any major insights to share with this, but the experience pricked me. i just know that life is beautiful and precious, and it's the same everywhere.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Evaluator's Experience - Part 2

One of the families I've had the pleasure of interviewing touched me in a particularly special way. I'll leave their names confidential, but share a photo they gave permission for me to have for personal use. But first, the back-story.

Water availability has come up this year over and over again as the number one concern of most families in the slums surrounding Hyderabad. The delayed monsoon has amplified the difficulty of the situation. Women spend hours every day waiting in lines and carrying water on their shoulders home - only to find it's not quite enough and that they have to use the same water they cooked with for cleaning those dishes. They only have the time and energy to get enough water to bathe once a week. And the water isn't clean enough to drink anyways, so they have to spend a big chunk of their income on safe water that comes only every-other day in big water trucks.

Hopefully that gives you a brief sketch of the picture here. Usually the challenge of getting water is such a fiasco, and the water is so heavy, that families reserve this chore for adults. Kids can't really handle it. At least, for most families, besides this particular one. There's four girls - a Mom with three daughters. The mother happens to have some physical and mental handicaps that make it near impossible for her to fetch the water. The task has fallen to her three adolescent daughters. They're the bravest girls I've met here.

Every day after school they start the trek to find the water. For a long time they had to beg others in neighboring slums for permission to use their pump wells. When they finally get permission to use the water, they start pumping (which is no easy task for a child when the water has to be coerced from 400 feet below ground). By the time they carry the water home, they are already late into their homework and hopefully finish before the sun's down (since there's no reliable power for light in their little shanty for light). 

Their mom does what she can, and relies on her daughters to do what they can. The best part is that they smile and laugh (except in photos... the get real serious!), and then the way they worked together to help answer my questions... You could see they're close, and that they're a trusting team. Being with them made me grateful for many things. For family, for what I have, and mostly for being here to do what I can for them.

Evaluators don't get to build new borewells. That's the other hard part about my responsibilities here. But, hopefully HELP will get four borewells drilled nearby this family's little home this summer. That's the plan, and we find out if it gets funded next week. Either way, I'll have no physical hand in the drillilng but perhaps the lessons I'm learning will benefit those who do. Until then, families like these will just keep holding on. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Evaluator's Experiences - Part 1

Evaluation. Assessment. Loaded words, even outside of India... People automatically feel threatened, judged, and, well, evaluated. No one likes that, and no one likes having their lifelong, personally invested programs and projects looked at by someone else... So sometimes out here, despite my best efforts, I'm the unwanted outsider. That's the challenging, albeit sometimes necessary, part of my job. I want to talk about the beautiful part: the people! I've spent the last couple weeks working with the locals of India, learning about their perspective of the work that's been done for them in past months. It's been a pleasure in more ways than I anticipated.

A group discussion with women in a Hyderabadi slum
For instance, this last Wednesday I sat down with a group of seven Lombardi women of rural, tribal, impoverished India. They live in a quaint hamlet of only nine homes some two hours outside of Hyderabad, and they have been forgotten by government and exploited by everyone else for years. CARPED and HELP International have been trying to empower and assist them in a variety of ways. I went to find out more.

I spent the first two hours just being with them. I was there as they pumped water out of well and carried it around to their homes. They laughed when I tried to help. Apparently, this is not the man's job around here... They also showed me inside their houses, with beautifully painted doorframes, thatched roofs, and the like. Then we sat on a woven mat under the trees, and just talked. As much as possible anyways. This old lady even cracked a lot of jokes about me and laughed and laughed. Apparently my mustache, Indian outfit, and white skin clash a little. :)

The evaluation part of things has been successful in many ways, and I'm learning a lot about the work, about the people, and about myself. But the best part has certainly been meeting these individuals that give meaning to the months of preparation, the literature reviewed, the proposals prepared, the interviews practiced. It's the people that indeed are the pleasure of this practice. Thanks India.

Monday, July 2, 2012

These cuties!

So our cook Jaya not only makes the BEST food, but she also has the CUTEST daughters! We get to play with them every day (at least when we're home in time and they come with their mom), and I am going to miss them sooo much when we go. They are the most well-behaved and beautiful girls.

Here, now you can fall in love with them too.

 Ruchita - we call her Ruchi for short. It means "taste" - like good taste.

 Poojitha - we call her Pooji. She is a-dorable.