Eat, eat and eat again…

I write this blog in my bedroom in Peckham, for we have returned now to the UK and have almost finished Chennai Challenge 2010. I say almost because we will be meeting to debrief the team in a couple of weeks, summing up, evaluating and tying up loose ends of this years project. As well as setting 2011 in motion!

The last blog told of our Sunday, and that only leaves Monday to fill you in on. It was, as you can probably imagine, a busy day.

We decided that we should have breakfast out on this final day, and those of us who were feeling strong stomached ventured out to Doveton to sample traditional Masala Dosai, or Poori. For Emma, this meant her first Pista Milkshake of the trip. Let me tell you they are good.

After breakfast we had our daily team meeting in which we addressed the challenge of trying to understand a Christian perspective on Poverty and Giving. Mostly asking what exactly that means. A fasinating and thoughtful debate.

The next thing on Rob, Cathy and Isaac’s list was to try to get a meeting with Bernard Rajkumar. It was vital that we confirm final payments for projects, and give him the cash to complete works that we had already agreed to! Can you imagine if we had just left without paying? That would be rubbish. Unfortunately he is not the easiest man to get hold of, and there was much to-ing and fro-ing before eventually we were whisked away to Esplanade branch to meet with the General Secretary. It turned out that he was in court in the morning dealing with a difficult legal issue. We found out later in the day that the YMCA won the case. Which is excellent news. To have been told this information is a great encouragement to us, as it demonstrates once again the increasing level of trust and partnership between the YMCA and Chennai Challenge.

Well, we sat and ate more food in this meeting (samosa, and a very sweet sweet) whilst confirming that we would like to donate towards the high protein meal for the boys in the coming year once more. This means that each boy at Kottivakkam will receive 1 additional non-veg meal per week for the rest of the year! Excellent news that we had the money to pay this additional cost!

Bernard, Mr Williams (President of the YMCA) and Mr Jonathan Williams (Treasurer) were all present in the meeting. An excellent opportunity to thank them for their hospitality and generosity in welcoming us to Chennai and accomodating us for free!
From here, we had to immediately get back to YMCA Vepery, as we had a dinner appointment with Becky and the Oasis team booked in (that’s more food then). A buffet lunch at the swanky Marina Towers. It was quite special, especially the puddings! Again, this was a lovely opportunity to say goodbye and thank you to Oasis for allowing us to be involved in their incredible work. Becky at this point also gave us a copy of the letter about working with the YMCA in Egmore Community Centre and also at Kottivakkam that she had written to Bernard and the board. If this relationship blossoms as we hope it will, it will be a great success for Chennai Challenge, as it will show our ability to facilitate and mediate the partnering of NGO’s in Chennai.

From here then, most of the team went back to Vepery to finalise arrangements for our very special final night with the boys. An English Party! As for the leadership team, well having not had enough food today(!) we were then taken by Bernard to his home to see his wife Charlotte (and his daughter who had just flown in from America!), and to eat some afternoon snacks! By this point, we were all feeling rather stuffed with food, however, we felt that it was only right for us to eat at least something, as they had made this effort to welcome us at short notice! It was great to see Charlotte again, as it is 2 years since we have been able to see her.

So, back to the YMCA, where by this point the party had begun. That’s right, we had arranged for the boys to leave Kottivakkam and be brought to Vepery YMCA where the team had decorated the room in hom made bunting, UK flags, and had Western music playing! As we arrived it seemed that the team and the boys were having an amazing time. What an honour to give joy to these most incredible boys. We also bought in masses of Pizza for the boys to try some western food. More to eat for the leadership team!

As the evening drew to a close the boys wished to thank the team (including Team A) with some short messages in English. They also gave each of us a small gift bought with their own pocket money. And so, the time had come to say goodbye. This is probably the most difficult time of the project. For me, it was certainly extremely hard. Many of the boys that I have now known for 5 or 6 years are not going to be at the Boys Town when I next visit. Particularly a young boy called Vignesh. He was very distressed, making it even more difficult to say goodbye for what is probably the last time. We hope though, that this time is a time that they will always remember. That it is a time that they will look back on with great fondness. It certainly is for us. In spite of the work that we donated money towards, I think that it is these relationships that are the most important part of what we do. By going out to Chennai and spending time with the boys, we are showing them how worth it they are. They live in a world that tells them they’re not important. Hopefully what we do counters that.

And so, we packed and went to bed for a couple of hours before beginning the long and arduous journey back to England. A delayed plane, and sickness from many team members made this an uncomfortable affair, but we made it. All reports are that people are recovering. The adjustment of arriving back in the UK is tricky, so if you are welcoming the team back, please bear this in mind.

Thank you for following this years blog. Do keep looking as well, as we will be blogging more regularly throughout the year on what we’re doing. The end of one year means the beginning of the next, and applications for 2011 have already started arriving!

With love and thanks from Chennai Challenge Team 2010.

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