Blending in.

Harmony. This is the term I would use to describe what I feel about India.

It has been only 3 weeks since I’ve arrived, but I’ve already been conquered by this country which has the power to take your hand and lead you through the magic of its culture and at the same time slap your face with the striking poverty affecting the majority of the population.

Harmony, when my mind gets anaesthetised by the cars around me and leaves me the space to enjoy the moment, or as Eckhardt Tolle would say, the power of now.

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Harmony, because I can easily blend in and get mistaken for an Indian. I have to say that India has reconfirmed my theory that I look halfway normal wherever I go (at least in Southern countries) – in Northern Africa I was suddenly Moroccan, in Spain people would speak to me in Spanish and in India I can easily pass for Nepali or from the Assam region. Now that I know a couple of sentences in Hindi, I always take the chance to pretend I’m Indian till I run out off words and people notice.

Harmony, because I can find many similarities with the Philippines, my mother’s home country, to which I feel very close. I remember having a big shock visiting the Philippines, but this prepared me for India and gave me the chance to enjoy the Indian adventure right from the first moment.

After a couple of days spent in the Delhi, a 14h train trip brought me far away from the city chaos to Tirmasahun, United for Hope’s adopted village. I deeply enjoy the life in the village. Days are controlled by the sun, they start at 6am at sunrise and end around 6pm with sunset. Electricity is quite unreliable and with no light the only thing we can do is go to bed early. Something impossible in Europe, where TV, light and other electronic devices keep us busy till late night.

On the contrary to what the majority of you would expect from a remote rural village in Uttar Pradesh, days are quite packed and I’m always amazed by the many thing you can get done without all the facilities we are used in Europe. The part of the day which I enjoy the most is the evening when I lay on my bed. I feel as if the air could move through me like a colourful sari fluttering on the clothes line. A mixture of peace, accomplishment and freedom.

I think that all of us, here at the community centre share the same feeling, and that’s the reason why we started the evening tradition to share, over dinner, what made us happy during the day.

I will now share the top two activities that for some reason or  other reward me every day and make my heart sing.

Being a Teacher

Together with Alex and Payal, I’m responsible for our education programme. We teach 5 days a week both at the local government school and at the community centre.

At the school there are many children of different ages, also toddlers among them who just go to school to get a warm meal. At the beginning I found it quite challenging to find a way to involve all the children in the same way. Day by day, we found a good system which is a combination of classroom teaching, music, songs and games. Children love singing songs, I have to admit I also enjoy as I can sing freely too even if I’m not really in tune!

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The best part is when they try to teach me Hindi during the classes. It’s a mutual learning experience. After two weeks I’ve learned how to count till ten, how to say sit down, water, milk…

In the afternoon we have our community centre classes. We teach 10 children, 5 girls and five boys.

I find it fascinating to discover  their personalities and characters. Each and every one has something special. Mintu is the talkative one and the leader, Bandana is the gentle one, Sarbaj is the rebellious adolescent, Anshu the entertainer, Guddi is the extrovert one, Pinkie the introvert, Deepak the one who always asks questions, Salander the charming one, Pooja the vocal one and finally Chinky who always has a radiant smile.

We provide an innovative educational programme. Our goal is to endeavour to come away from the traditional rote learning and encourage children to express their opinions, ask questions and present ideas and concepts. Children are making progress very fast.

Being the Water Lady 

The past week I started joining our water delivery team in the mornings. Our goal is to extend our customer base and raise awareness about drinking clean water.

Normally Payal and I walk after the water van and distribute flyers. Some of the villagers started calling us the water ladies. It’s quite unusual for people to see two young women (of marriage age) walking freely around the village. I have to say that we are quite successful. The water walk gives me the chance to get in direct contact with many different people from different castes, being invited for a chat. I especially enjoy the chats with the women. They all wonder why I’m wearing Indian clothes, and they tell me how girls are getting modern in Goa and wear bras, short pants and so on. Especially the old women ask me if they can join me to Europe. Men are mostly interested to know on how Italy looks like and my family and so on.

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Awareness work together with the close contact to people also brings a number of challenges. You always have to be open to all kind of questions. For example, last week, one of our new customers was comparing the mineral water we are selling to RO water by the weight. He was arguing that our water weighs less than the other water. The discussion lasted for a while and was a mixture of Hindi, English and Bhojpuri (the local dialect). We made him understand that weight is not the ideal parameter to assess the quality of water. Two days after he purchased other 20l of our water!

Mission accomplished!

Some people say, that you will recognise your own path when you come upon it. Because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need. That’s what’s happening to me right now…

Evelyn for United for Hope

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Getting started – My first weeks in India

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The first days in India were simply overwhelming. The sounds, the smells and the people all combine to completely overpower your senses, at least they did with me. This happened to me in Delhi, where I was driven through the most insane traffic I have ever seen while driving past people yelling, the most colourful of buildings and a hand-full of cows standing in the middle of the road.

In contrast to all that, the village is a peaceful corner with happy people and playing children. In all honesty I didn’t know what to expect when I got here.

I arrived at the community centre, after a never ending train ride, feeling completely exhausted due to the lack of sleep and the humid and hot air.I got sorted, comfortable and started getting ready for the first classes with the kids.

I believe I can help teach the kids some english and some sense of music with my guitar and the songs we sing with them, each of which is thematically similar to the topic we are handling in class. So far the kids are responding astonishingly well to all the songs (and my singing, to my surprise), remembering the words of the songs and using them in the conversations we have with them.During the most classes I try to support Evelyn, who is doing just a fantastic job, in helping the kids with their pronunciation, checking their work books to see if they’re doing it right and if they’ve finished yet and answering any questions they have.

We have also come up with a weekly teaching plan together in which we set our goals for the children and ourselves, hoping to get the children speaking semi fluent english as soon as possible. All of this can be quite demanding but on the other side, can be so much more rewarding when I can hear them using the new words we just learned in a conversation with them. In any case the children have just so much energy and are so willing to learn that it’s barely believable but also makes our jobs a little bit easier.

We have also started to teach in the government school, just around the corner, in addition to the normal classes in our community centre. The classes are different because we have some more children in these classes of which a good part isn’t in the education programme. These classes can be a bit tougher, but in combination with some games and songs can also be very fruitful.

I have also started going on the morning water runs with our little van, during which I see so much of the village, its surroundings and of the people who make every run into a great experience. It also feels good to give the people access to clean mineral water, opposed to the close-to-poisonous hand pump water which they would be drinking otherwise.

fd96bbaf-1da5-4b31-b2e2-5f277dcef8b4All in all my first two weeks have been demanding, rewarding, colourful and full of wonderful people.

At this part i want to thank Tara, Evelyn, Sonia, Pyle and Bijender, Krishna and Vischal who are all part of the team here in Tirmasahun, for making these two months here in India so pleasurable for me.

Alex for United for Hope