Friday, 15 January 2010

Handwriting lessons

Wednesday and Thursday were fairly quiet days as I was not on the buses. On Wednesday I had to go to the Vision Rescue office first thing to type up my notes for the teacher training session later on in the day. I was preparing a session on handwriting and specifically helping those children who cannot form letters and number. I felt this was also important for the those working with the under 5's so I invited them along also. I wanted to make the session practical so when the afternoon came I grabbed the paints, crayons, chalks and pens that had been recently purchased. I really wanted the teachers to develop ways to help the children from letters rather that making them struggle to write on their own. We talked about fine motor skills, coordination and muscle development so got the teachers trying out different techniques using the paints, crayons and chalks. We also had some modelling clay so a couple of them decided to get their hands dirty. We also looked at support children who's handwriting was more advanced and looked at techniques to help them.

In the evening, my mum and I had dinner at Meena's house. Meena is one of the teachers and she cooks great chapatis. We were also joined by Rajesh and his wife so it was a great evening, despite the fact my mum and I broke one of the beds when we sat down on it - Oops!! I felt even worse when I found out it was hand made about 18 years ago!

On Thursday I was invited to a meeting with Biju and Dr Pinto. Dr Pinto runs about 200 Ryan International Schools in India. He wanted to hear about the phonics I was teaching to the teachers. He is a really nice guy and he donated the first bus to Vision Rescue when they started 5 years ago. He was obviously interested in what I had to say about phonics as I now have to meet up with all the curriculum managers from his schools and talk to them about the work I have been doing. Hope it will come across well. My mum went of the second bus today so she could see the other locations the bus goes to. She got to visit Deonar 'The dumping Ground' where the rubbish tip is home for so many people. This is a place which really makes you think about how fortunate we are in life but also gets you asking how can a government allow people to live like this. The only positive thing about the way they live is that it helps the recycling process as so many of them trawl through the garbage looking for plastic, metal, paper etc that they can sell to the recycling companies.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Vision Rescue

It has been great this week to have my Mum with me. She arrived in Mumbai on Sunday and yesterday was her first experience of life in the slums. It is always great to start the day visiting the Vision Rescue street kids in Mahim as they are such a friendly bunch. I played some football with the older boys whilst the younger children were having an English reading lesson on the bus. Manoj is now teaching all the English and he is doing a fab job considering the only training he has is with Vision Rescue. We also have Neethi back on the bus project full time and she is so enthusiastic and keen to learn. After an exhausting football session the kids they had their food and the bus then moved onto Bandra. I am a bit concerned over the hygiene levels of the kids at Mahim as many of them do not appeared to be washing. We will discuss this a one of the staff meetings and see if more can be done to promote this. At Bandra, I had the opportunity to introduce my mum to Salman, the boy in the wheelchair, and the little boy with Cerebral Palsy. I think she found this slum emotionally moving. It does almost have you in tears when you start to see the true reality of how these people and children are living. It was great to hear that the hospital has agreed to look at the two boys and decide what help and rehabilitation they can offer. I will keep you posted about this!

The under 5s have now been taken off the bus and are taught on carpets outside. They have simple drawing, painting, modelling and play activities that help them with their fine motor skills. It is so interesting to see the sheer lack of imagination and basic skills they have. Many of the children do not no what to do with a crayon and a piece of paper. They will sit there and just look at the paper. Once you interact with them they begin to pick up on what they need to do and they start to draw. As Salman can not get on the bus he joins this group and you can see his arm and leg movements starting to improve just by simple involvement in play activities. I am convinced that here will walk again after treatment from the hospital. It will be great to see if it happens. At the second Bandra stop we quickly learnt that the police had visited some of the slum houses and started to demolish them. Most of the slum housing is illegal and they always risk the police coming and sending them packing. Monday was one of those days. Of course if you pay the police then they might just be persuaded to let you stay. I decided to spend some time with Jaywanth at this location. He has the role of Community Coordinator which means he goes around talking to the people in the slums, finding out specific problem they may have and finding children who are not going to school. He was talking to one family who have a son who used to go to school but has stopped because he was always getting into trouble. The parents want to send him off to a boarding school but the boy does not want to go. The father was also saying that e is struggling to find work and so money is very tight. They have had to rent out their small slum house so they can buy food. This means the family now have no home and live outside on the ground. There is the possibility of Vision Rescue helping the father get onto a driving course which will allow him to start earning some money. Hopefully the family will then be able to get back in their house or into a better place. After establishing that the boy wants to be a doctor, we persuaded him to come on the bus and I sat with him and helped with his English. He seemed happy with this! The attitude of these people is often the hardest thing to change!
Wadola was the last stop where again Manoj was teaching English. The children here are brighter than some of the others so they are really starting to pick up the phonics and are able to read and write English words. It is so encouraging to see!

I will try and keep you updated on the hospital situation and we have arranged a new location for the Mahim boys to play football and get some coaching to help move their football on.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Emotional Day!

Salman in his wheelchair

On Friday, I made a horrific discovery! At one of the slums in Bandra where the bus goes, there is a young boy in a wheelchair. Salman, is 11 years old and he sits with his legs up in the chair rather than dangling down. I was curious to know what his condition was as he could move his legs,feet and upper body. I got one of the team to ask and translate for me. It turns out that he slipped on some steps about three years ago. He injured his leg and so his parents put him in a wheelchair but never took him to hospital to see a doctor. He has been in that wheelchair for THREE YEARS and never been examined. He can't walk as his legs are now too weak and it looks like there may be permanent damaged to his stomach from being hunched up in the wheelchair. He said he hopes he will walk again someday and wants to get rid of the wheelchair. Unfortunately, Salman's parents wont take him to a doctor, probably because they know it will cost lots of money to make him better. This neglect is abuse and so many people in the slums just wont seek medical help for fear of costs. It is excellent timing that a doctor has come to run the Vision Rescue medical bus for one month so I asked him to come and have a look at the boy to try and make a diagnosis.

On Saturday, I got on the bus as usual and met up with the kids in Mahim. Whilst I was there I met Karthik, who works as one of the main fundraisers for Greenpeace India. We had a good chat about India and the work I was doing. He was so encouraged and will hopefully try and help out with future ideas. We then moved onto Bandra. The doctor was not available till later but on of the other staff members, Louisa, had come along to find out more information about Salman. She established some more facts and we were able to speak to the mother. We told her about the doctor and she agreed to bring Salman back later for the doctor to look at him. Around 3pm we travelled back to Bandra and the doctor was able have a look at Salman's condition. The legs have basically deteriorated through lack of use but he thought there might also be a small amount of paralysis. The condition of his stomach was due to sitting in the wheelchair for three years. The good news is that the doctor says treatment is available that will help Salman to walk again but it may not be 100%. He needs injections and electronic stimulation of the muscles to get them working again. This treatment will cost money but it will change Salman's life as he will be able to walk again. I thought Salman's condition was bad but I then saw another boy which almost reduced me to tears. In another area of the same slum lives a family with lots of children when we visited them they produced this boy from a sack like hammock - Oh my!! This child had Cerebral Palsy and looked awful. There was no muscle on his arms and legs, very little moment, no control over his facial muscles and obvious in severe pain. He was tiny and I guessed he was about 4 years old. The shock came when they told me he was 12 years old. For 12 years he has been kept in this hammock with no medical care or treatment. He is so handicapped that the doctor was at a loss for what to suggest. At this point the parents were in tears. After long discussions we established that there was a hospital about 30 mins away specifically for physically handicapped children and adults. We decided to go and visit and it look in good condition and the patients seemed to be well cared for. This would be an ideal place for us to try and get both boys the help they need. On Monday we will go back to the Bandra and try to discuss the treatment available with the parents. It is so good to know that there is hope yet for these kids but I can't stop thinking about why this is allowed to happen. If medical help and support is available free of charge to these people then lives can be changed and these children would not need to suffer. I pray that the funding can be found for the two boys and that they can be give a future! I have added a picture of Salman but did not feel it appropriate to photograph the other boy without permission.

Being back in Mumbai again has certainly turned up the pace. New years day was a great day! About 15 of the Vision Rescue team (including myself) travel by boat to Elephanta Island. The boat journey takes about 1 hour and it was a beautiful day which made it more enjoyable. We reached the Island at about 1.00 there is one path that leads up to a museum and a set of caves. All the way along the path are people selling lots of food, jewellery, clothes, wooden boxes, pots etc. Being a tourist means that their attention is very much drawn towards you. We stopped half way for lunch at one of the cafes and then continue on till we reached the museum and the caves. The Island became inhabited around AD 600 and huge carvings can been found on the walls of the caves. Apart from the tourists and visited, you will also find lots of monkeys. They live on the food of the visitors and have developed the ability to unscrew the lids off bottles. Unfortunately, they do other things in public which it is probably best not to mention. Let just say it spoils the view some what! After admiring the amazing carvings in the caves it was time for a well earn cup of Indian Tea. Indian Tea is made milk rather than water and has ginger in it. I have really developed the taste for it since being out in Indian and it will be difficult to go back to regular Tetley Tea. It was then back down the path and a very restful boat journey back to Mumbai.

After the weekend, it was back to the teacher training on Monday. I spent the day in the office preparing on body language and voice control. I am trying to develop the teachers confidence and this was a great way to get them experimenting with voice and thinking about gaining control through their body language. They all seemed very positive at the end of the session so I hope it helped! In the evening, Pradeep, Manoj, Nick, Mang and myself visited the cinema to see 'Avatar - 3D'. WOW! What a film! It is the first time I have watched a movie in 3D and the effects were amazing. There are three small differences to a cinema visit in India to a cinema visit in UK. Every film plays the Indian National Anthem at the beginning, you get an interval half way through, and people bring their babies with them (Highly annoying when it starts crying!)

Tuesday and Wednesday was back on the bus and then on Thursday a small group of us visited a school in the middle of a slum in Mankhurd. The school is run by OM (an international charity) and they have 300 children who attend. It is run just for the slum children and has changed the lives of so many kids. All the lessons are taught in English and they have full time qualified teachers. It would be great if more schools like this could be set up in other slum areas. It has been a busy week and I am back on the buses this weekend.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

More from Goa!

After the Christmas festivities, I had four more days in Goa, and as the school was shut for the holidays I was able to spend some time with the children in the homes. It was great being able to spend some quality time with them, helping them with their studies and playing games with them. I decided to buy some games equipment for the homes as there is little equipment. They are now stocked with cricket bats, balls, frisbees, carom boards and chess sets. One of the older boys, shivraj, is great at chess as I discovered when I allowed him to play the chess game on my computer after school one day. I also found out that he has an amazing talent for climbing trees. When I was at the boy's home one day, they asked me if I would like some coconut. I said 'Yes' but did not realise that one of them would have to go up the tree and get it. There are about 4 coconut trees in the garden and Shivraj chose the tallest one to climb up - no safety ropes!
I am hoping that the equipment that I have bought will be put to good use and that the children will learn to look after it properly. The Older boys are getting to be expert four square players. We have played it most days since I introduced it to them and they are getting much quicker. For those of you who do not know about four square it is a great ball game. I have taken a video of the boys playing it so I will try posting it on the blog.
On Monday, I met up with the Robjohn family from Weybridge who were in Goa on holiday. They were staying at the Hyatt hotel about 30mins from where I was staying. The hotel was stunning and was right on the beach. We walked along the beach to one of the small restaurants and had a lovely meal. We almost ended up in the sea as we were sat on a table very close to the water and the tide was coming in. The waiter decided to move us which was probably a good decision. I have really enjoyed my time in Goa and although the circumstances are very different to that of Mumbai, there is still a lot need. I want to come back and spend more time with the teachers developing the school curriculum. It would also be great to try and help support and fund vocational training for some of the older girls and boys in the homes.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas in Goa

The week leading up to Christmas seemed to fly past. I spent most mornings in the school and did some training with the staff and their have be various Christmas activities going on for the children in the school. I have been doing some football training with the older boys although they are so used to just playing in the park that the idea of a training session was a difficult concept for some of them. On Christmas eve there was a party at the school for children where they played games, had food and each received a small gift.
Christmas Day was great! The day started with a short church service at 9,30am that lots of people attended and then I was invited to a Christmas lunch with Beena and Martin at a brand new hotel complex in Panjim. We were joined by Angela and Nita, who are friends of Martin and Beena from London. At the hotel, we were greeted by a rather scary looking Santa Claus who I think might have frightened more children than made them smile! We were offered a glass of fruit punch and then shown to our table. The meal was a large buffet which included starters, main course and dessert. Although it wasn't all a traditional Christmas meal there was roast turkey, bacon and some veg. The rest of the selections were very much Indian. It was very all very delicious but not quite as good as the real Christmas roast I would have back at home. They did keep us well supplied with drinks throughout the meal and we even got to sample a brand new Indian wine.
After the meal, Martin, Angela, Nita and I visited the three children's homes to give them their Christmas day gifts. This was definitely the highlight of the day and the atmosphere in the homes was one of excitement and happiness. When we arrived at the girls home, they were all patiently sitting and waiting for our arrival. One by one the girls came out to receive their gifts and then they all opened them together. Inside they had a note book, a pen and a purse. It was amazing to see how such simple gifts brought such joy to them. Nita had bought some Indian sweets for the children so once they received their presents, they all had a sweet. Before we left they all prayed to say thank you for the gifts that they had received. Next we went onto the smaller boys home where again there was much excitement as we pulled up in the car. The boys were not waiting quite as patiently as the girls but were quickly ushered into the dining hall where they all sat down, eager to receive their gift. Martin spoke to the boys about how it was important to look after their gift and the fact it had come all the way form England. The boys then received their gifts one at a time but were told to not open it. Once each boy had a present they then opened them together. WOW! Their faces were a picture and there was real excitement when they took off the wrapping paper to find a football shirt inside. They looked great when they all tried them on. Thanks to pupils at Cleves School who donated the shirts! Martin told them how to look after their shirts and they were then put away in their cupboards. We were then treated to a excellent display of dancing by one of the boys (I will try and post the video) and we then moved onto the older boys home. Although the excitement was not quite as evident here you could still feel the anticipation as they sat and waited for their gifts. They had all been bought a bottle of aftershave so there was quite an aroma in the air once they had opened their gifts. It had been fantastic to be with all the children when they were opening their gifts. It means a lot more to these kids than to children that receive gifts all the time. It will certainly be a Christmas day that I will never forget!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Baga Beach!

It has been a great week in Goa! Last Saturday Charlie and I visited Baga Beach and expected to spend most of the day Sunbathing. However, the activities of the day changed slightly when we were approach by some begging children, a small boy and his sister. The girl was playing a small Indian drum and the boy was dancing. It is always best not to give these children money as you don't know where it ends up so we bought them both an ice-cream which they seemed to enjoy much more than a few rupees. Looking around, I could see another boy who was begging and we invited him over to give him some food. We had just ordered lunch which we were eating on the beach so we were able to give him a selection on rice, curry and naan bread to eat. It was very difficult to get him to say anything and even one of the waiters who spoke Hindi to him didn't get a response. He was then joined by his sister who was a little more talkative. She also had some food and then we all had an ice-cream. It was amazing to start to see the transformation from begging desperate children to happy children. It only seemed right that as we were at the beach we should get them to go for a swim in the sea so Charlie and I took it in turns to take the kids into the sea whilst the other stayed to guard the bags and valuables. It only took a few splashes in the sea for the laughter to erupt and for words to start flowing. They were now looking and acting more like children and they had seemed to have forgotten what they came onto the beach for in the first place. They spent the next hour with us building a sandcastle, drawing and one British lady next to us asked them if they wanted their nails painted. Unfortunately these children have been brainwashed into begging and eventually the requests for money started up again. It was then that they had to leave and return back to their home. It was a shame to see them leave the same way they started the day but at least they had a few hours of being real children.