A day in the life...


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Asia » India » Gujarat » Mehsana
January 2nd 2018
Published: January 2nd 2018
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Here I will try to describe a "typical day" at Child Haven in Gujarat. I thought I would write about it sooner, but it took some time to figure out what a typical day is because there always seemed to be something special that changed the normal schedule.
Kids go to school Monday to Saturday. They wake up around 5:30, and in winter because it is cold (!), they don't exercise in the morning but they apparently do in thesummer. Then it's time for bathing until 6:30 when all the kids go to the dining hall and have a glass of soy milk produced on site with soy beans purchased from an external source. This ensures the kids have sufficient protein. Then it's time for homework until about 9ish, at least on the girls' side since boys and girls have to live in separate buildings, as per the local regulations. At 9 am the girls get their hair combed and braided, this is quite a ritual and even though I would love to help with it, I don't meet the standards of most girls. hey are quite fussy about it, but they do look nice with their red ribbons!
Then at 9:30 am it is time for a real breakfast: usually spicy rice or poha (one of my favourite, a kind of rice flake also spicy and with a few peanuts, chilis or veggies usually) and they get a glass of buffalo buttermilk produced in a nearby village. The first week or so, I was also drinking it, and it was awesome but then I realized it was mixed with local water, so I stopped drinking it because as Westerners, we don't usually do very well with local water. A sick volunteer would be a big concern for them and not very helpful to the home. They do take incredible good care of their volunteers!
Then the kids go to school, the home has a mini bus that would normally fit 8 people, but here it fits 20+. The school is in the next village, about 5 km away. They go to 3 different schools depending on their age but they are all close to one another. And it takes 3 trips for all children to go.
While the kids are in school, staff get busy cleaning, washing clothes and towels and preparing lunch boxes, then it's our lunchtime, followed by
one of the rooms, girls sideone of the rooms, girls sideone of the rooms, girls side

mattresses are stored in a corner during the day
a siesta. In the afternoon, lunch boxes are cleaned, and around 3:30 pm, it's chai time: all staff migrate at one point or another towards the kitchen and get a nice cup of VERY sweet milk tea, and people chat and laugh and relax. I love that time. The stress level here is wonderfully low.
The kids come back between 5 and 5:45 pm (again, 3 trips) and they get snacks and/or another glass of soy milk, or sometimes tofu made on site. Playtime is until 6:30, outside in the big yard. Then supper. Each kid has its own 2 metal plates (one big, one small) and a metal glass that they wash after use and put in the store room once done. Meals are taken in the communal hall, boys sitting on one side and girls on the other, 2 rows on each side and they all sit in two rows on a thin mat on the floor. They sing a prayer before each meal, and it goes from lovely to deafening, depending on the energy level. Staff serve the kids from huge metal buckets. Everyone can have as much as they want. We eat with our hands, something
the cooks busy making chapatisthe cooks busy making chapatisthe cooks busy making chapatis

they make at least 300, twice a day!
that I enjoy a lot.
Lunches are made of plain rice, chapatis, also called rotis (round, flat bread) and dal (soupy lentil dish) and often there is some additional treat: either some jaggery (palm sugar), pickles, radishes or a few raw veggies. Suppers are a combination of a cooked vegetable dish (usually made of potatoes, tomatoes and some other veggie like eggplant, beans, peas or cauliflower), chapatis and kichari (rice cooked with lentils and basic spices).
When there is a special event, we may get dessert, or candies when there is a birthday (which they call chocolate, even if it's not).
There are also different meals that are served once a week or once every 2 weeks for a change. Everything is very tasty.
On Thursday and Sunday we get a fruit: usually an apple and sometimes a banana, guava or we even had a slice of papaya once (my favourite).
After supper, it's time for homework again, the older kids may have tuition for one hour, and there is some time to relax until 9:30 pm, when everybody goes to bed.
On Saturdays, the schedule is a little different, school starts earlier so they have soy milk and breakfast all at once and are off to school around 7ish. They are back by 11am. The rest of the day is play time, homework and siesta. They wear a uniform, except on Wednesday and Saturday where they wear casual clothes. This allows for washing as they only have one uniform.
On Sundays, we sleep in until 5:45! Then it's special bathing as we all wash our hair. Breakfast is at 7:30 and I think we always get puri (fried bread) and a delicious spicy potato dish. Sometimes the kids go to the nearby temple, but otherwise they do homework, play, relax and at 4 pm we make rotlas, a thick flat bread cooked on some kind of clay plate on wood fires. This is one of my favourite times of the week! Once in a while it is movie night. Girls one night and boys another night, sitting on the floor in the dining hall.
My schedule follows more or less the kids' schedule. I get up at 5:30, do my bathing (bucket shower), and go to the dining hall where sometimes I get to serve the kids, but usually just watch and sit with staff. Staff members still see me as a guest so it can be difficult to convince them that I want to help! Plus, I don't always do things the right way, so they probably prefer to do everything themselves! At first I was eating with the kids, but now I only eat supper with them. Butthey do love it, and there is often a big discussion about where I will sit. I eat breakfast and lunch once the kids are done, with the staff. After breakfast, I spend time with the girls and try to help with homework and teach them some words in English, look at books, etc.
While the kids are in school, I have time to wash my clothes and room, do my own little things like writing emails and trying to learn a few words in Gujarati, etc. I also chat with the staff and help wherever I can, sometimes with computer issues. Around 3ish I love to go to the kitchen and sit on the floor with the cooks and cut vegetables. The cooks are extremely relaxed and always smiling, and even though they seemed a little hesitant at first, now they don't seem to mind if I come and "help". In fact, they know I will come.
When the kids are back, I play: volleyball, soccer, cricket (all modified versions) or just chat with kids and staff.
After supper, I go to the boys side and we do homework, discuss, make paper frogs, etc. The boys are very curious and not shy so I always come back from these visits very inspired. The staff is also very keen to learn some English and some boys are also pretty good at it, so we do have good, however basic, discussions, sometimes trying Hindi words when we fail to understand each other in Gujarati or English.
I usually retreat to my room around 9 pm and read for a few minutes before I easily fall asleep, thinking (despite the challenges) how privileged I am to live such an incredible experience and share the daily life of humble, kind and generous people in a very different culture.
This is a day at Child Haven.


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