Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sports and Education Project, Chennai

Another hot and humid day in Chennai but we returned to the hotel room with a great feeling of satisfaction. Today we have met the most wonderful children who are overcoming adversity to dream some big dreams.

Rianna's Fund have been supporting the Sports and Education Project in Chennai and Bangalore for just over two years now. The projects works in five slum areas in Chennai and two in Bangalore and targets school drops outs in both cities. Slum children are bullied at school and find it impossible to keep up with work without electric lighting in their homes. They are often pushed in to menial jobs, begging or even litter picking. The aim is to find and engage with the drop outs and their families and encourage them back in to school. The carrot is the sports training programme which the children love and which gives them a sense of belonging and builds self esteem. The whole programme is rounded off with After School Clubs where they
are helped to keep up to date with their school work and where tutors can help them with subjects they find difficult. There is also training in life skills including health issues and some fun in the holidays with summer camps.

This is our fourth visit to the Chennai projects and so we can meet up with some of the children we have met before and find out about how well they are
now doing. The change is amazing.

Our day started in an area called SM Nagar. First we met Manimar whose progress we have been following over
the past two years. We heard that he is doing better at school and also involved in his local community Cricket team. His mother is a day labourer earning less than £1 per day and the family have other issues around poverty. Unfortunately Manimar is currently suffering from jaundice (a frequent problem for malnourished children) and so has had to take some time off school.

Our project partner has been working in SM Nagar for just over three years and so this is a well developed project. They have encouraged community involvement and are delighted that some of the parents have now become engaged and with help from the local Church they are now ready to take over the project themselves. Enabling communities to take ownership is the long term goal here, not easy when most of the parents are uneducated. SM Nagar is a great success story. Oasis will continue to monitor things and are able to drop in if help is needed.

Leaving SM Nagar we headed off for our review meeting at the office of our local partner. It is budget time for them and we were very distressed to hear that they have been really struggling for funding over the past 12 months and many of them have not been able to take salaries every month. We are hopeful that we may be able to find some additional funding for their incredibly worthwhile work.

After lunch we were off to visit a failing community school in the slum of Kanikapuram which Oasis are now working with to try and improve attendance, exam results and facilities. There is lots of work to do here!

Back to the office where we met some of the older boys who make up the first football team and have been having great success in the local league. Two of the boys have been selected to
play for the Chennai state teams. Mani the goalkeeper is pictured here with Terry (Mani is in the grey top) and has also recently had full training as a coach. One of the great things about this project is that the older boys volunteer their time as coaches to help the younger children. With training taking place at 0600 in the morning, this means many of these boys have to get up at 0430 to take training before heading off to work, college or school.

From here we visited one of the After School Clubs in Vyasapardy. This club has 50 children attending each day and we met with the teacher Sasikala and heard from her about the great progress they are all making.
Sasikala is an amazingly dedicatedleader of the club and gives us much of her spare time in the holidays to arrange extra activities for the children.

Off to our last stop of the day to meet some of the boys who attend football training. As this is exam time the morning football training is not running this week, so we arranged to meet the boys at the Skill Training Centre. The boys were very excited as we brought gift with us - sports shirts donated by Ashtead Running Club who have been great supporters of Rianna's Fund for many years and football shirts donated by residents of Ashtead

Our project visits are now over and we head off to Goa tomorrow for some chill out time before we go back to the UK. This has been another amazing trip to India for us and we are full of admiration for the work carried out by our partners in this country and the resilience of the amazing children we have met.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Melting in Chennai

36 degrees and very humid - not good conditions for an English rose!

We arrived in Chennai yesterday afternoon and checked in to our hotel. The hotel is very nice but is across the road from the main river running through Chennai which is horribly polluted and very smelly. Needless to say we are not heading out for walks along the river banks.

There are always a few surprises on these trips and this morning we expected to be spending in the office with our local partners Oasis going through budgets and plans for the coming year. Arriving at the office after a rather hairy drive through the chaos that is Chennai we had a quick chat and were told that we were invited to the opening of a Skill Centre close to the slums in Kanigapurum. This is an area we have visited on many occasions as it is one of the centres for the Sports and Education programme being supported by Rianna's Fund. We can never remember the name of this area, we refer to it as the slum next to the REALLY stinky river (see picture).

The Skill Centre is a partnership between Oasis and Blue Dart (DHL in India) and is for older children (14 - 16) from very poor slum families who have not completed their education.
The centre takes in two groups of 25 at a time and teaches them English and IT, essential skills if
they are to get work in any of the offices in this City - known as the IT capital of India. The new IT training
room was opened by the local Councillor and head of Police, and this was followed by some very long speeches. The English teaching class is not yet finished and Terry took the opportunity to give the workmen some painting tips!

The heat today was unbearable and we were pleased of the
chance to head back to the hotel for a cold shower before we were back in the car and off to meet with Steria.

Rianna's Fund first hooked up with Steria in India after being introduced by Daryl Young, an Ashtead resident. Daryl has worked for Steria in the UK for many years and when he heard we were coming to India to look at projects he introduced us to Steria's award winning Corporate Social Responsibility team. Through them we were told about Annai Fathima Children's Home in Chennai which has been running for 30 years but has had big problems with their funding. From the first time we visited and met the 160 orphans who live here we
were enchanted by these happy souls who lived in such poor conditions. With Steria's help we identified that the greatest need here was for proper sanitation (the sewer pipes were broken and leaking), new toilets and wash area, levelling of the ground on the site to avoid stagnant pools of water and rain water collection to take that water off the site.

The work at Annai Fathima started in 2010 and was completed earlier this year. We had seen pictures but were very excited about coming back to the Home and seeing the difference this has made to the children's lives.

After a meeting at Steria's office to review the plans of the work and discuss any snagging we were back in the car and heading off to Annai Fathima. Today is a national holiday as it is the Telegu New Year so we arrived to find the children enjoying a day off school and very excited about our visit.
We drove up the wonderful new driveway and were then shown around the site to see all areas of completed work. The last time we were here we were trying to avoid the pools of stagnant water, the smell was dreadful, there were flies everywhere and frogs jumping all over the site. The difference was amazing and the children kept running up to us saying "thank you". We enjoyed some time with the children and caught up with Mrs Rani Krishna who runs the home and is mother to all of these delightful children.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Rescue and Restore and Cricket

Saturday 2nd April 2011, what a great day to be in India. All the talk was about the Cricket World Cup Final verses Sri Lanka and whether India could win. The last time they won the World Cup was 28 years ago and it is great that Cricket fever seems to have united all elements of society.

We left Mumbai on an early flight to Hyderabad, taking off over the huge slum area that sits alongside the runway of Mumbai Airport. After dropping our bags at the hotel we gave our driver the address of Rescue and Restore Home which is about one and a half hours outside Hyderabad. Whilst assuring us he knew where this was the head wobble was an indication that this was probably not the case and so our journey was broken by regular stops to ask directions from street sellers and rickshaw drivers.

We arrived at Rescue and Restore around 1130 and were greeted by the ever smiling Bhaskar who set up and runs the home for 47 street children from the Hyderabad area. Bhaskar was a street child himself, surviving for 13 years living rough on the streets. In 2005 he realised his dream and, supported by a Church in the Netherlands, he built and opened a children's home to offer help to children who were living in the same conditions he had endured. His own experience gave him a unique hindsight in to their problems and his wife and two adopted daughters live in a small room in the home. Rianna's Fund started supporting Rescue and Restore in 2008 after meeting Bhaskar and hearing about his funding problems. We have been happy to increase the level of funding each year since then.

When we arrived the children were still at Saturday morning school but were due back around lunchtime. We took the opportunity to get an update from Bhaskar and heard that four boys were taking their final exams for Batchelor of Social Work (degree level). Two of these boys,
Raju (pictured below right) and Basha (pictured below left), are hoping to continue
studying for another two years to achieve a Masters of Social Work. Having missed out on a formal education himself, Bhaskar's pride in these
boys is wonderful to see, especially as both boys were among the group of original street children that joined the home in 2005. Bhaskar told us about his dream that in 2016 he would be able to get support to start another home in a very troubled area of Andhra Pradesh and that Raju and Basha could run the new home. As well as studying Basha has taken over running the office for Bhaskar, looking after the accounts and all administration. This saves on staffing costs and at the moment there are two volunteers who have joined through the YWAM network.

The children started arriving back from school at 1300. This is exam season in India so many had spent the morning in exams, however, all the talk was of the World Cup Cricket due to
start at 1430. Bhaskar took the opportunity to show us his new income generation project. Having had concerns over funding for the past two years, he has rented 8 acres of land close to the home to grow crops that he hopes can generate some additional income. He is growing onions, corn and ladies fingers. There are also a number of Mango trees on the site which were heavy with fruit.
Back at the home and the TV had been plugged in ready for the start of the Cricket and everyone gathered around to watch including Terry wearing his India Cricket shirt. Sitting with the children you get such a wonderful sense of being amongst one big happy family and it is easy to forget that each of these children has their own story of a very difficult start in life. As we watched the first hour of the match Bhaskar's youngest daughter Blessy (4 years old) was bossing the boys around as usual, calling them out one at a time to take their bath. Bhaskar positioned himself by the side of the TV to give it a frequent bash as the picture kept flickering.

At the end of of 2010 Bhaskar attended the wedding of one of the children from the home, a day of great pride for him. He was delighted to tell us that this boy and his wife were now expecting their first child. We were very tired from our early start and suffering from the heat, so we took one last group photo with a cry of "come on India" before they rushed back to the TV and we headed back to Hyderabad.
Back in Hyderabad we enjoyed dinner with Dr Sujay and Dr Lavanya who we met 2 years ago. This couple run a clinic for HIV / AIDS infected people from the community, including a research centre looking in to early detection of HIV. We talked about the big HIV problem in India which has the highest number of infected people of any country in the world. They were pleased to report that the increase of reported cases seems to have been stabilised thanks to many projects around HIV awareness. They also updated us on their community work around TB prevention in the 124 slums around Hyderabad and how they hope to do something in the future to support some of the large number of slum children who have dropped out of school. These two Doctors are the most amazing and dedicated couple and spending time with them is so inspiring. They headed off in the latter stages of the Cricket, hoping to get back home before the city erupted in celebrations (hopefully). Sure enough Dhoni hit a 6 to take India to a win, the fireworks started and this country of 1.2 billion began to party. We headed off to bed!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Mumbai and Way True Life

What a day .... I always forget how tiring and emotionally draining these project visits are.

We arrived at Mumbai domestic airport yesterday afternoon just ahead of the Indian Cricket team arriving for the World Cup Final tomorrow. It was bedlam as India is gripped by cricket fever. We met with Pastor Raju and his wife Shilpa last night to catch up with all the news about their charity Way True Life who have been supported by Rianna's Fund now for about 18 months. It was great to see them and hear the news that they are expecting their second baby in September as well as catching up on all the many things that have been happening with Way True Life.

Raju has been fully supported by Rianna's Fund since May 2010 and this has enabled him to expand on the work he does with street children in the area of Kalyan in the suburbs of Mumbai. Recently he has formed a relationship with the rag pickers who work at the rubbish dump in Kalyan and that was our first visit of the morning. We knew it would not be possible for us to leave the car as this is a dangerous area, but seeing the conditions and the children working from the confines of our vehicle was horrifying enough. There is a bizzare hierachy on the rubbish dump, those who have been there the longest can get first pick of the rubbish coming from the upper class homes, newer people have to work "middle class" rubbish. The children are literally the very bottom of the pile, they are only allowed to collect the lowest value items (plastic bags is one thing) and we were told they are also paid a lower price for their bags of rubbish. To watch so many children pawing through heaps of stinking rubbish was heartbreaking. We opened the window to briefly talk to some of them and the stench and flies was awful. Not suprisingly they suffer from skin conditions, eye infections and get many cuts which can become infected. Many also have dog bites as they fight with hungry stray dogs for the best pickings. What broke my heart was hearing about the death of a boy who was buried alive in rubbish being dropped at the tip. Taking pictures of such human misery felt completely inappropriate but I am attaching a few we received from Raju in January this year. The children were delighted to see Raju and it is obvious he is in the process of establishing a good relationship with them. I was very emotional and unable to discuss what we had seen until much later in the day - I can not imagine any child living in worse conditions than this.

We were then off to Kalyan station which is a major railway intersection and home to a lot of runaway street children. Raju has been working here for many years councilling the children who come looking for the riches of the big city and end up collecting litter off the railway tracks. Raju tries to reconcile them with families if they have them. Some of the older children have lived in the streets around the station for many years and many are now addicted to glue or other drugs.

The next visit was thankfully more cheerful as we visited the Nursery School in the slums of Kalyan. Rianna's Fund have been supporting the Nursery School for 18 months and were delighted to see the children there looking fit and well and enjoying their first steps in education. Without the nursery many would be left sitting in the alleyways of the slums all day while their mothers go to work so the Nursery is a real haven. We enjoyed their singing and shared their snacks of bananas and biscuits before they headed home. Raju and Shilpa are pictured here singing with the children.

We drove then to the outskirts of Kalyan to meet the ten children who are now permanently living in Raju's home. Rianna's Fund have been supporting these children for the past year and so we have heard lots about them. We were very excited to be meeting them at last. They all looked very nervous when we arrived but soon relaxed as we showed them pictures from home as well as photos of many people who raise money for Rianna's Fund. We had picked up a cake on the way as one of them was celebrating his birthday today and were pleased that "Happy Birthday to You" is international language. We had heard the children's personal stories and it was great to see how well they had all settled in to their new home and how happy they are. We shared a special treat of Mutton Biryani with them and were amazed at how much they could eat.

The last item on our packed agenda was to present Diploma Certificates to the 12 girls who were graduating from the tailoring course run by Way True Life. Many girls from poor families in India will drop out of formal education for a variety of reasons. Way True Life offer these girls the opportunity to acquire a skill in tailoring and these young ladies had just finished their 16 month course which they had really enjoyed. Nine of the girls finishing the course have also been donated a free sewing machine which they can then use to establish themselves quickly as outworkers and help support themselves and their families.

We left Kalyan late in the afternoon singing the praises of Raju and Shilpa and the amazing work they are doing with the very poorest children. We endured two hours in the heaving Mumbai traffic to arrive at our hotel near the airport ready for our early flight to Hyderabad tomorrow.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Rahab project & Nakulabye School, Kampala

Friday 25th March 2011

A short drive for us diehards - only 14km! - took us out of Kampala on the Guyaza Road to visit Rahab, a project rescuing and rehabilitating young girls living in the poor slum areas of the city and involved in prostitution. It was good to meet up with Annette Kiribiri again (see photo), she is married to Bernard and travelled to Buvuma island with us last year to visit the school.
Annette and a group of women wanted to help the vulnerable girls and began to enter the slum areas to visit and make contact with them in 2005. In 2006 they rented a house and began to invite girls they'd got to know to come and live in a safe environment where they would be cared for by a "mother" and receive counselling and the opportunity to go back to school. Annette makes contact with their families so that the girls can be re-settled wherever possible. There are now 30 girls living in a rented home located in a quiet neighbourhood outside the city; the youngest is only ten years old.

Annette told us of her heart-rending experiences in the slums trying to be-friend the girls and build their trust. Sadly, things don't always end happily as the girls are earning well from the trade and some are tempted to return to their old life. During our visit we spent some time with some of the girls - two of whom recently finished secondary school and hope to go on to university, fees permitting. They proudly showed us some crafts they were making to sell - paper bags, baskets and attractive paper jewellery - and it turned into a bit of a buying session!

Afterwards Annette took us to see the chicken sheds - another way the project is trying to acheive some sustainability. Despite this we learned that Rahab has a constant shortfall in funding. The whole visit was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for us all, but we also realised that this would not halt Annette's incredible determination and vision to help change the lives of as many vulnerable young girls as possible.

We drove back into the city to make a final stop-off for this trip - at Nakulabye Junior School. When we visited last year a highlight was a football match featuring Rianna's Fund versus the Nakjus boys. However, the weather this morning was stifflingly hot and I didn't detect too much disappointment when we saw a tag rugby match in full swing as we arrived! The mixed boy/girl team were practicing for a 'friendly' on Monday against another school.
We met with Moses the Headmaster for a catch-up chat in his office and afterwards asked to say hello to the children Rianna's Fund sponsors at the school, who appeared content and are reportedly progressing well. It was a short, but relaxed visit and a timely reminder at the end of our trip of how projects like Nakulabye can bring hope and help to transform the lives of children living in poverty.

Postscript: 4 trustees, 1 bus, 2,200kilometres, 11 projects, 9 days.....it's been great

Riannas Fund

Friday, 25 March 2011

Buvuma Island school

Thursday 24th March 2011

The ACET team picked us up early on Thursday morning to make the hour and half drive to the lake shore where we met up with Bernard Kiribiri who began the Buvuma school with his wife, Annette. We learned our lesson from last year's trip in the open boat, and whilst watching the fishermen mend their nets, we slapped on suncream by the bucket-load!

Being carried out to the boat went without a hitch, and an hour or so later just after 11am we landed on Buvuma and were making the short walk through the bush to the murram road leading to the school. Lessons were still going on as we arrived, so the Headmaster, John Bosco, and his deputy, Robert, accompanied us into each class to exchange greetings with the children. They certainly seemed very excited to see us and also fell about laughing at the novelty of being greeted in luganda by a muzungu when Tanya tried out her smattering of the language!

As we walked around it was great to see the work going on on the new classroom block being supported by Rianna's Fund. As Jon and Steve inspected the building site, JK was very taken by a large impressive-looking building a short distance away....before realising it was the recently completed new girl's dormitory! Bernard invited us inside where around 60 of the parents had gathered for a formal welcome. The school is growing - there are 280 children attending this year. Bernard explained that the dorm will allow more girls to attend from the outlying islands. It is impressive on the inside, too, with bunkbeds for 70, a solar panel to run the electricity, and glass windows protected by decorative iron grills. Bernard told us it will be in use as soon as a perimeter fence is put up around the school site. Afterwards one of the parents spoke of the community's appreciation for the new facilities and Bernard made the formal request that the dorm might be named after Rianna, to which Steve agreed.

Afterwards we spent time mingling with children, all vying to have their photo taken. They were particularly delighted when we presented the headmaster with some colourful posters for the classrooms, and other learning materials and skipping ropes. As we said our goodbyes and headed back to the boat, a stream of giggling children walked along side us and waved us off. It was a really enjoyable day for us all, although the hundreds of kilometres we've travelled this week are finally taking their toll....and for the first time all four of us fell asleep on the long drive to Kampala, our base for the remainder of this trip.

Rianna's Fund

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Namaira village school & Mawagala

Wednesday 23rd March 2011

On Wednesday morning we headed north of Iganga in the opposite direction to Malongo. After a journey lasting one and a hlf hours we arrived at Namaira village in Kamuli district. The area has a rural peasant population who live by simple cultivation of the land, selling their excess produce to get by.

We were greeted by Pastor William along with other local pastors in the CFE network. William began a church here in 1997, first renting and then building on church land. He found there were many disadvantaged children in poor dysfunctional families and began to encourage proper care, nurturing them via a Sunday School. This led to a child development programme where children could come for pastoral care and life skills each fortnight. The existing school grew out of this and now has 60 children in nursery and primary one and two classes.

We toured the site with Pastor Paul and William and discussed their plans to grow the school in future. They are particularly keen to provide a high quality of education for the many children within a 2km radius.

We were delighted to receive the typical warm welcome from the children themselves, who sang for us in the welcome shade of a tree at the end of their school day. We left were left with much to chew over as we headed south again, pausing at Mawagala to catch up with members of the child-headed families that Rianna's Fund has been supporting for a number of years.

As we got out of the bus a group of the local mothers, mostly widows greeted us in colourful traditional dress, again in song! Pastor Paul spoke of their appreciation for the support from ACET and Rianna's Fund and JK made a sterling answering speech on our behalf. Later we were able to speak with the 'child-heads' who are now 17 and 18. We were delighted to learn that Mukama Afan has achieved his independence and is now a primary school teacher at the Mawagala school. Another of the boys, Bamutaze Saad has just finished his 'o' levels and cares for his siblings by selling milk from 6 cows he has now owns, grown from an initial donation of one!

It was great to hear from the boys first-hand the difference Rianna's Fund support has made in their lives.

Riannas Fund