brief report of the first day in India.
We had a trouble free and smooth journey from Heathrow, we were met at Chennai Airport by Isaac, and arrived at our accommodation at 5.30 in the morning on Thursday. After a brief rest, and far too little sleep, we started with our team meeting before venturing out for food.
With most of the team tired and a little bewildered we took a 10 minute walk to the Hotel Raaj Bhavan. This sounds simple enough, but it is hard to describe to the unaware just how different it is walking by a road in India. When it came to crossing the road it was a task similar to trying to cross a motorway, although everything was moving lot slower. The six volunteers on their first trip all opted (were told) to have the mini tiffin, a dish which gave a little sample of a few South Indian favourites such as Idly, Dosa and Vadai. Lauren was a certain fan of the sweet Kesari.
We met with the General Secretary and CEO of Madras YMCA, Mr Asir Pandian, who warmly welcomed the team and explained the work of the YMCA in Chennai.
A quick trip to exchange money was swiftly followed by a trip to visit some of the YMCA projects in the city. First Stop was Fort School. We were very warmly welcomed by the Head Mistress, who told us about the school. Currently with 1000 students on roll the school offers free education to local slum children up to the age of 15. Students also receive lunch each day, which always has an egg (important for protein). As a group we then proceeded to (unintentionally) disrupt all the lessons as we looked around the school, each class turning to look and say hello with varying degrees of enthusiasm and volume. That is apart from the boys playing Kabbadi, but that is understandable when you are involved in a game. The team were taken back by the humbleness of the school environment, which was accentuated by the fact the school has had a 100% pass rate for 12 years.
We left just as school was finishing, meaning that we were mobbed by school children wanting to say hello and shake hands. It sort of gives you the feeling that you are some sort of rockstar. We managed to get away and set off for the community centres.
At Sathmuanagar we could see the benefit of work we had previously completed, the small building was much better with it’s roof raised, and a new canopy installed to turn the outside space in a cool area to be in, rather than some more akin to a furnace. Again we were warmly welcomed with many of the community coming to say hello. We were heartened by stories of the community centre, such as the teachers who volunteer to teach evening classes there, or people who have benefiting from the centre as children returning to then help the next generation. The whole place had the real feel of community, a sense of vitality, and the clear impact of Chennai Challenge’s previous work could be seen.
Next stop was Tondiarpet, another community centre where we could see our previous work. A door to the community centre had been installed, allowing for direct access to the hall so that the side room could be used as an office. Yoga and Karate programs run daily, although we were unfortunately at the wrong time to see these happening.
Our last stop for the day was Egmore community centre. We had not visited for a number of years, but were amazed by what we found. A very well kept centre which houses a church. Holding weekly services and youth groups in the week, as well as special clubs in the summer holidays and Christmas time. We sat outside for a while, but as there was a group of children singing inside it wasn’t long before we were drawn in and sang along with ‘Making melodies in my heart’. It only seemed fair that we led a song, so we did a quick ‘Our God is a great big God’.
We left and returned to Vepery, had a quick wash and a change, then had dinner. By this point everyone was really quite tired, so we went straight to bed afterwards, all tucked up at 9.30!
A really busy first day, but one that left the team with more of an insight in to the projects happening and Chennai itself having travelled and seen it. Another busy day lies ahead, but that story waits for another day.
Thanks for reading,