Friday, 28 December 2012

Full Circle

This time last year, I was a ball of nerves. It was the night before my flight to India for the adventure of a lifetime.  Now I sit here, 365 days later, wondering how time can fly so quickly. It really feels like only a short while ago that I flew halfway around the world to embark on a grand adventure.

I have traveled many places before, and even taught in England for a year after university, but going as far away as India was a big leap for me, and I had a lot of uncertainties leading up to my departure date (particularly about food and health, and whether or not I'd be stranded in Mumbai when my flight arrived in the early morning hours two days later...)  Funnily enough, everything worked out just fine!

Most of my family was able to see me off at YVR...

 So, what can happen in a year? I would love to say that the adventures have just kept coming, and to some degree that is true, but it's pretty hard to top celebrating the New Year in a different country.

New Year's Eve in India! What a way to start.
 For the three months I lived at Sangam and worked in the nearby community I experienced so many amazing things. I tried new food (mmm...kulfi and dosas. Even the McSpicy Paneer burger is pretty great.), learned how to get on and off a moving city bus, practically perfected sari tying, got a taste of the Indian education system, rode a camel, drove a rickshaw, and safely crossed busy streets. Better than all of that, however, I gained a whole new group of friends.  Sure, most of us don't live anywhere near each other but the bonds of Guiding/Scouting (and Facebook) help keep us connected. Perhaps our paths will cross again one day soon.
Our welcoming ceremony at Sangam. 
Kim and I on our camels. They were SO huge!

Driving a rickshaw requires a fair bit of coordination -- you shift gears on the handles.
(Yes, this photo is staged. Krista's coffee would be in her lap if I was really driving.)

The rest of my year was just as busy, but definitely not as exciting as the first three months. I came home at the end of March to 5 degree weather and rain. Lot's of rain. I don't think I properly warmed up until the middle of July.  My spring was full of teaching and sharing about my time India with friends, family, and Guide units. I've lost track of how many units I visited -- and there are more still to come.  I also hosted an Indian afternoon which gave my sisters an excuse to wear their saris and my friends an opportunity to enjoy some home cooked Indian food. I put my Sangam cook book to good use that day!  I'll post about those events in greater detail soon -- there are some fun things to mention. I started writing about them but then got distracted, naturally.  (I only just finished putting together my second photo album yesterday. I have at least one more to go...)  In amongst all of that, I applied to Grad school and am now working on finishing my MEd, while pretty much working full time.  Yikes!

All in all, 2012 has been an amazing year.  I am forever changed by my experiences in India and very thankful for the community in which I live where it is very easy to continue experiencing so much of the wonderful Indian culture through food, music, festivals, and even my students.

My local Indian takeaway. Delish!

Here's to a new year, with new adventures!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Return

It's hard to sum up three months into just a few paragraphs… A year ago, I never would
have imagined myself embarking on an adventure to the other side of the globe and now here I sit, reflecting on my time as a Tare at Sangam. How thankful I am for this amazing and life changing experience!
For three months, I worked at Anand Gram School teaching English to the children who live on site as well as in the nearby village. This position was equal parts challenging and rewarding as learned to how teach within a different education system. Spending time with each class of
students from 3rd Standard all the way up to 7th Standard was always exciting and their enthusiasm for learning English made riding the bus to school each day completely worth it.
I feel that, even in the short time we had with them, I have helped to make a lasting impact on their understanding of the world beyond them, as well as the potential they have to go out and accomplish great things. Seeing their smiling faces each day as also reaffirmed that I have this potential too; they have taught me just as much, if not more, than I have taught them.
As a part of the Community Programme, you are able to immerse yourself in so many aspects of Indian culture all while living in the safe and supportive environment that Sangam naturally gives. Being a Tare, I gained more than just friends, I gained a family. The time I have shared with everyone here will be treasured forever. We have laughed together and cried together, sharing and supporting each other in our journeys. I am coming away from this experience with a better understanding of myself, a renewed passion for education, and a desire to promote awareness of global issues. This truly has been the most amazing time and it has been a privilege to share it with such wonderful people. I can't wait for our paths to cross again.

So now this chapter is closing and a new one is beginning. I'm not sure what it will hold, but I am confident that it's going to be great. Once I get used to a new, colder climate, that is. One thing is for certain, though, I see India in my future again.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Moving to India for 3 months required some forethought. Below, you see my things laid out, ready to be packed.
I managed to fit everything in this awesome bag borrowed from my friend Lisa. Woo hoo.
Now, with just under two weeks left, I'm starting to think about getting stuff home. I seem to have acquired quite a bit and I've had to go buy an additional suitcase. For the record, I'd like to point out that I am not the only one in this position! There have also been several trips to the post office recently...
The crazy thing is that the bag I bought today at Laxmi Road is actually bigger than the one I started with. It's pretty full already, after my trial run at packing, and I still have a few more things to squeeze in.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

I Heart Recycling

I love India and it is a great place to live. However, one thing that I have not been able to come to terms with is the amount of garbage I see everywhere.

But, rather than taint my viewpoint of this marvelous country, it has caused me to reflect upon my own environmental footprint. Back home in Canada I recycle quite a bit (I even compost!) but I will admit that there are far too many things I just simply throw away. Out of site, out of mind -- we have dumps away from the cities where all of our garbage goes. Do you?

Recycling is not a foreign concept in India, it just seems to be taking time to gain momentum in a way we are familiar with. Thankfully there are organizations, such as eCoexist - one of Sangam's community partners - that are making efforts to shift the practices of people here. One such way is by promoting the use of eco-friendly canvas bags instead of plastic carrier bags (which are everywhere). It's also worth mentioning that Mumbai's Dharavi slum (one of the largest in the world) has incorporated recycling waste from the city into its own self sufficient economy. I have seen evidence of this resourcefulness in areas of Pune as well.

So, as I prepare to return to Canada, where just about anything I need or want is right at my finger tips (excess packaging included), I am now more conscious of my contribution to that big waste facility that I cannot see outside my door.

Have you thought about your footprint today?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Holy Moly Holi

My first introduction to the Holi festival was through an episode of the Amazing Race where the teams had to race through a crowd of people to find their clues, all while having coloured powder and water thrown in their faces. That's pretty much how it is, although much less staged and loads of fun!

Holi festival takes place at the end of the Winter, in Spring (aka the two days before it gets really hot) and is a celebration of colour, light coming out of dark, etc. Indians love celebration and have some sort of festival each month of the year; Holi is one of the big ones.

Our festivities kicked off with our Children's Camp, where some of the children came from each of our sites for a day of activities and a holi party. It was great to interact with them on a smallerscale and see them out of their school environment where they could just be free and excited. The camel rides were a highlight for them and I really enjoyed my ride with Vishl.

eCoexist provided the natural holi colours and the kids had a blast throwing the coloured powders at us and each other.

On Thursday we celebrated together with eCoexist at a big party on the Sangam campground -- this time with water. Imagine a giant water fight with crazy sized water guns. Or just massive buckets.
After going crazy with the natural colours we decided to venture beyond the gates of Sangam to the streets of our neighbourhood to see how the locals were celebrating. As you can see by the vibrant (and chemically altered) colours on our faces and clothing -- it was a party out there.

"Ranga pancha" is the fifth day of Holi and it just happened to fall on a school day. Our afternoon at Anand Gram involved absolutely no teaching. Instead the teachers started throwing colours at each other and naturally the students, Elly, and I joined in!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A Teacher in India

I love being a teacher; it is woven into every aspect of my being. I am deeply passionate about education and providing opportunities for students to recognize their potential, which is why I was eager to work at Anand Gram School.
Settling into the teaching here was a challenge initially, as it is so different to what I know and do in BC, but I feel that together Elly and I have made some good progress and it's hard to believe that our time here is nearly over. From the beginning we have focused on teaching essential English skills in a way that would hopefully make them excited to continue their language students. We were also hopeful that the teachers would see some new teaching strategies...

It has been a remarkable journey, learning to work within an almost entirely different system. We have bonded with our students for sure; there are some great personalities that will never be forgotten. 3rd Standard has some real gems. Harshal, who chased us down the lane last week to return my star pointer. We could hear in the distance "Madam! Nadia Madam! Elly Madam!" and turned around to see him running towards us with that ever-present beaming smile on his face. There is also Dipak, who we only taught a few times before he switched classes, but whom we argue over which one of us will take him home. Vishal and Sandeep, with their politeness and hard work -- they have learned so much!
Then in 6th there is Sonali, with her gentleness and infectious giggle, and Akshay, who is our comedic translator. Mahesh, the delightful keener, who is always trying to make sure his group is listening.

5th Standard is the lively group with a lot of kids that aren't yet aware they have the potential to succeed. Hopefully we've made some progress in this area... My fondest memory from this group is when Nikhil's father came up and spoke (in broken English) with us about us teaching English to his son. This was while we were waiting for our bus home on the main road!
Our singers and quick learners can be found in 4th Standard! Nagsh, who was so excited about his ABC notebook that he took it home to write in. Shamboh, Vijay, Ajay and Protiraj who share their ideas freely and with exuberance.
I could probably keep going, but with 50+ kids in 4 different classes (most of whose names I've learned!!) this would be a very long post. So, I will conclude with a favourite quote of mine:
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
~ Nelson Mandela
I hope we provided opportunities for positive change during our time at Anand Gram.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

World Thinking Day

Waaay back when I was a Brownie, I remember learning about the four World Centres as part of our Thinking Day activities. The memory is so clear, I can even picture us all sitting in a circle looking at the pictures in our Programme books! I don't think I ever really imagined that I would have the opportunity to be at a World Centre on Thinking Day itself, but when I was in the process of applying to become a Tare, that was one of the first things that crossed my mind.
I don't really have words to describe how it felt to be across the world, with my Guiding and Scouting sisters, celebrating the birthdays of our founders, Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. So, I write this blog with a caveat that it isn't likely to be very eloquent... ;)

In true Indian fashion, our morning began with a flag and welcome ceremony in the campground under the jazzed up stage tent with 250 or so members of the Bharat Scouts and Guides from the Pune area. Then the Guides and Scouts participated in crafts and games activities organized by the event participants. As as Tare, I was a floater and so able to see bits and pieces of everything.
Throughout the morning various groups came and made presentations to the dignitaries on the stage, which ranged from modern dances, drumming, and traditional dances. I even got to try twirling a giant baton thing with some of the girls.
Our regular Wednesday Tare activities followed...Hindi lessons and rest (this week!) The evening was the highlight of the day for me as the Sangam Family (and we are indeed a family now) joined together with event participants for our special Thinking Day Ceremony.
Carrying the flag in the procession and representing Canadian Girl Guides with Olivia was an honour -- I hope we have done our organization proud during our time at Sangam.
The poolside readings and songs were thought provoking and setting our tea lights afloat at the end added to the overall ambiance. Our ceremony concluded at the Thinking Day tree, adorned with cards and letters from Guides and Scouts around the world.
It was truly a remarkable, memorable day. One for the history books.