Early sunrise, boating on the Backwaters, having fun with kids & dogs!

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April 30th 2013
Published: April 30th 2013
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Land's EndLand's EndLand's End

India's most southerly point
On our first morning we got up at 3.30am (getting used to these early starts now!) in order to travel the two hour journey to Land's End (India's most southerly point) to watch the sunrise.

After a sleepy (and bumpy) ride we finally made it at 6.00am - just in time to catch the sun rising over the sea. It was surprisingly busy with people from the local villages, again a really lovely 'community' feel here.

We spent a very tranquil, peaceful hour sat on a rock watching the sun rise over the sea and listening to the sounds of the waves combined with people singing from the temple behind us in their early morning prayer. Very atmospheric.

The village itself is a sleepy, fisherman's town. Again a very laid back pace of life, the locals stare at us (as usual) and the children always seem very friendly. Plenty of "Hello Ma'am...Hello!!" and hand shakes.

<br style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" />After exploring the village we caught a boat over to a Hindu temple and the attention there was manic. We had family after family running in to take photos, touch our hands, hair... we try to take it in our stride and laugh about it with them, but actually it can become quite draining after a while (at one point we considered making a run for it after twenty five minutes of people lining up to take more photos...)

The faith (and commitment) these people have in their religion is astonishing... and to be quite admired. For this temple in particular, people queued for hours and hours in the scorching heat (the queues went back for literally, miles). They wait patiently all day just so they can pray in one of the holiest temples. Fortunately for us, having the (guilty) privilege of white skin we were ushered immediately to the front (with a bribe from our driver I'm sure!) and avoided the momentous queues.

After a few more temples in the absolutely scorching heat, we were feeling pretty 'dead' so grabbed a boat on Kerala's backwaters. Relaxing and incredibly refreshing, it really was what we needed. We also stopped at a floating shop to buy a coconut and watched the man crack open the coconut with a mahoosive knife. Quite envious actually at the simplicity/stress free lives some of the locals lead here.

Our boat driver was a lovely young boy who was incredibly enthusiastic and wanted us to take pictures of every duck, bird and heron we came across. But he was very difficult to understand... With such broken English, after a while I must admit I simply nodded, smiled and repeated "ohhh yes, lovely" to everything he said. On one occasion he pointed excitedly to yet another bird and said something I (yet again) couldn't quite understand... In my sleepy, dehydrated state I smiled, nodded and said "ohhh yes, lovely" then I thought he was saying something about the bird being "sacred" so I did my obligatory nod and "ohh... Sacred, really? Wow.., sacred bird, how lovely" - at this point Jen's shoulders were bobbing up and down, she was stifling a fit of giggles. The boy looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face... It was only afterwards Jen informed me he was actually saying that the bird was a "crane" and nothing at all to do with it being sacred... Doh. Another thing we keep laughing at is the fact I keep getting people's names wrong. Chhotu (our lovely man from Jodphur) I kept referring to as 'Chopuck' for the whole time and Raul (our lovely elephant man) I kept calling 'Raaju'! The lady at Ark is Avis, in my eye's she's 'Mavis'. Oops... Thank god the head teacher we're working with at the school is simply known as 'George'... (hopefully won't mispronounce that one).

On that note, today we went into the SISP centre (Sebastian Indian Social Project) to meet George and some of the kids we'll be working with tomorrow and possibly for the rest of the week (combined with Ark). I have to say, despite SISP working with some of the poorest people in India, we're happy to say it was one of the most uplifting, inspiring, hopeful, positive places we've visited yet.

In India (similar to Africa) most education has to be paid for, so there are many poor children wondering about with little to do. Although there are some government run schools, which apparently don't provide 'good' education due to the large class numbers. Consequently there are a lot of 'drop outs'. SISP workers (including Teachers and Social Workers) go out to the local villages and fields and take in these children to provide them with a free education and free daily meals.

They also take in children who are "drop outs" from regular schools - George described most of these children as 'mental' or with 'low intellect'. At home, we call this 'special needs' or 'learning disabilities'. Here though they refer to these particular children as 'the care group', which is a quite nice term actually. We met some of these children today and they were so enthusiastic and lovely (some very shy), it's exactly the same client group I work with back home, so fortunately felt immediately comfortable and very at ease, despite the language barrier (and wrong name calling... Oops!).

If they didn't have this place, these children in particular would have very little in their lives - we thought back to some of the residents at the Mother Theresa Home in Jaipur and thought how lucky these children were to be living out of the cities and integrated with SISP and the mainstream kids.

Similar to the Sisters, they really do admirable work here at SISP, taking in and teaching those who would otherwise be rejected by society. The care group is the class we're running workshops for - will explain a bit more about that later.

SISP also provides work for rejected women: we went into the workhouse to have a look at some of the work they do. They're all incredibly skilful, in one room they were making jewellery and ornaments out of coconuts, in another they were making bags out of newspaper and in another they were making sanitary pads. They deliver these to the women in the local villages (I remember from Africa that sanitary pads are very difficult to come by). What was really inspiring about this workplace though was that all these women were previous students at SISP and were now all working for the centre. SISP provides them with good jobs and a paid salary, which is amazing here. All the students and workers get three square meals at the centre daily too. Some of the cooks are ex students themselves too. So again, it has a very strong 'community/family' feel to it - thus we feel very privileged to be able to work alongside them.

Interestingly enough on the note of work.. I've had a fair few people (since being in India) tell me that there is a lot of paid work for therapists 'like me' out here, working with various NGOs. Which seems so strange to hear, when thinking of how incredibly difficult it is to get work back at home. Honestly? If I didn't have commitments, I'd love the opportunity to work out here for a few months. But with lovely, (very lovely) commitments waiting for me back home 😊 I'm more than happy to pass for the present time. But in the long term future, who knows. It's good to keep options open.

We've also taken a tuk tuk ride out to Ark, to meet the dogs and again get a feel for the place. We'll be working there for the rest of the week until I leave for Singapore and Jen returns home (nooo!). Ahh where to begin with Ark, again such a positive organisation taking in all the dogs and providing them with the medical care some of them so desperately need. But it's sad too. I won't go into any overly emotive descriptions - just know they're in the best possible place, being looked after and cared for.

It's interesting to note how strong the pack mentality is there... so each dog belongs to a pack in separate compartments throughout the centre. If another dog escapes into another section (which happened this afternoon, yikes) the other dogs become incredibly dominant and go in for the attack. Interesting to witness such strong pack mentalities here compared to home. I suppose they're 'wild' here and certainly less domesticated. In general, despite their individual hardships they're very balanced dogs here though. Generally very submissive with humans and very responsive too. A lot of them just want attention and fuss and consequently it can be difficult to say goodbye. There's a pen with two beautiful shepherds (booonie!!) and a Doberman, we wondered in quite happily (you generally sense which dogs to give space to) - they were so attentive and affectionate, reminded me very much of home. 😞 For the rest of the week we'll be walking them and playing with them. Genuinely want to take them all home though - arrrgh.

We worked with the care group this morning, which went so well! Both so pleased! We had to consider the language barrier, but also the fact they had learning disabilities too. The other teachers informed us that the kids could be quite difficult and/or challenging, but we welcomed them all of course and stressed that those who didn't want to participate, didn't have to. (Empowering them to make their own decision in whether or not to take part worked well, any initial resistance decreased slightly!) We started off simply, in a circle and passed the ball around the circle, careful to sustain eye contact with the person we were passing it to (contact!). As they relaxed and energy levels increased, we quickened the pace and got them to pass it round as quickly as possible. Lots of laughter and excitable giggles! After the little ice breaker we said our name, then threw the ball across the circle. Again raising the energy by getting faster and faster as we did so. All good fun and the children seemed to really enjoy it. The main aims we were focusing on was 'connection' and 'contact' (regardless of language barriers) and getting the kids to work together. We also did vocal warm ups: crunching our bodies into a tight tight ball singing a note quietly, as we stretched our bodies fully out, our vocals got louder and louder until we were all singing at the tops of our voices. Great fun!

Then we worked more with our bodies, making movements to our favourite activities and producing sound effects (I.e Jen chose 'running' - so we all ran on the spot making sounds to the movement and repeating). We had 'prayer', 'dancing', 'singing', 'drawing'... The kids were so receptive and absolutely threw themselves into it - will teach me never to underestimate these kids again! Then we started accessing our imagination (which we were informed they may have difficulty doing so... our job I suppose then to help facilitate this idea of 'make believe' and 'play'😉. We started off simply by asking the children to pretend the ball was a very hot potato (classic!) and passed it around the circle - they were fantastic!! They took to it immediately... We jumped around on the spot, making loud "ARGH" noises and blew our hands continuously - lots of laughter. We also wanted to help with their English, so did the obligatory 'heads - shoulders - knees and toes' getting faster and faster, which was great. We then played around with movement and voices before finally getting the balloons out and doing various team development games. Interesting to note the levels of excitement now were off the scale(!) So we had to bring it back down to some sort of calm, the kids were very good, they did listen and eventually started working together with the balloons as opposed to against each other. We did a group juggle, eye contact and focus exercises with the large balloons and 'keepy uppy' ...of course! Then closed down, and gave them free time with the balloons and balls (got some nice snapshots of this). Both enjoyed it so, so much. Loved the kids so much, such overwhelming enthusiasm and a willingness to give it a go. Even the initial resistant kid joined in from the sidelines and shook our hands at the end. Yay! They all lined up at the end to say thank you. It's the little things that matter. 😊 Highlight of the trip so far, most definitely. We thought afterwards, they responded so well... you really could do so much more in-depth work with these kids given more time.

Anyway, just a little taster of our antics over the past couple of days here in Kerala - we'll update with more of the work (and photo's) later on in the week and with our overall 'India' reflections too before we leave.

Have a good week, lots of love for now.

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