Every year when we visit Chennai we challenge our team to think about what the new things that they have experienced. Whilst in India over August 2012 we even had a “first times” board on the wall in our meeting room. As people did something for the first time they wrote it up on the wall so that we had a list of first time experiences as long as your arm at the end of the project.
As a project leader I have now been to India with Chennai Challenge 6 times. In total I have visited Chennai 9 times. One would maybe think that my contribution to the first time board was therefore lacking. I can tell you this is far from true.
One of the amazing things about visiting India with Chennai Challenge has been the vast number of new experiences that I have had. Yes, we do a lot of the same things year on year. Every year since 2008 we have visited Yellagiri campsite and run an activity holiday. Every year we have gone to the Independence Day celebrations run by the YMCA around the city. Every year we eat at many of the same restaurants. And yet, every year I find myself amazed by the number of new things I have done and by how different each project is from the year before.
But what really makes each project special and different is the people we take on team. It is a wonderful privilege, and one of my favourite things about being project leader to be able to take people out to Chennai. People who have never been before. One of my most vivid memories of India was when I first walked up Purasavalkam High Road. This road is the route to many of the restaurants that we eat in and is the main road in the area that we stay in. I remember it’s dustiness. I remember the old man with leprosy sitting on the corner of the street. I remember the sounds of honking horns of autorickshaws and motorbikes. I remember the smells of petrol, rotten food and spices from freshly cooked food. I remember the sense of feeling comfortable in spite of how alien it all was.
I can never have that experience again. Not for the first time. But what I have had the honour of doing in the last 6 years is taking new people up that road for breakfast. Every year is a slightly different team, and therein lies the real first time for me each year. I so enjoy watching people react for the first time to the city I love. When we get to move on to visiting Oasis football projects; Blue Edge English Lessons; and of course the YMCA Boy’s Town it becomes even more special.
Each project we run is so enormously different because each team we take is made up of different constituents. Of course, this does mean that when we come home each year we know that that project will never happen again. That combination of personalities and relationships will never be repeated. It can be sad, but mostly I find it exciting. Our shared experience will remain in our memories, and next year perhaps we can share another experience. A new one, with new relationships and new memories.
This goes for the relationships out in India as well. The people who access Oasis’s services and who live at the Boy’s Town. The workers at both charities. Sometimes we get to see old friends, and sometimes they have moved on. The building of new relationships is at the centre of what we do and what we believe, and it is one of the things that makes Chennai Challenge so special.
So thank you to everyone who has ever come on a project with us. You are one of the major reasons that I love this charity. Anyone want to come again?