Saturday, December 28, 2013

It's time for some change.... redecorating

I've decided I need my blog to look different, and I want to add in a new focus this year. So over the next few days I'm hoping to make these changes and be ready for a new start in the new year.

Stay in touch - I'll be back soon.

All the best for your new year celebrations and holiday season.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What's Special about teaching English?

A student's gift to me - it should read 'My Best Friend is Tamara'

This one reads ' my friend Tamara, your my friend, N.Rahi.... bye bye.

Just some of the girls as our school in India, happy as they wave to you their Diwali Wishes!
I have returned home to Australia, to my family and my work, my hobbies and my garden. But the memories that have been built up in the past two months will stay with me forever.

My friend and I support this school and the Barathi Girls Hostel in Tamil Nadu. When we are not in India, we're involved in fundraising here in Australia. When we are in India (generally each 2 years) we volunteer as conversational English teachers to help build the girls confidence with English.

This past trip we saw much change, development and growth. The KGBV School (which is mostly government funded) has a well established team of very confident teachers and great axillary staff (cook, admin and groundsman). The Barathi Girls Hostel (which is not currently funded) supports graduates from the KGBV school, to live in the town where they can attend the local high school and further their education. At the Hostel, we saw much development, as they were seeking certificates and approvals to be eligible for some government funding. During our visit we saw the water bore being drilled further to ensure a water supply, the sleeping halls were tiled for cleanliness and hygiene, and the back yard was being leveled to manage a water draining problem.

Two highlights for me to mention here.
a. While my friend and I were visiting Madurai one weekend, and shopping in a popular Indian clothing store (Pothi's) we heard 'Madam, Madam!' from across the racks - this is what we're called by the girls at our school. So our heads turned.... surprised to find one of our ex-students had got herself a job in the city! We were so proud. She had come from a difficult past - her poor family couldn't afford to give her an education, so they kept her home to work on the farm. She was accepted into the KGBV school at the age of 10 to to an intensive primary school education and pass an exam to get into high school at aged 14. To see her working in a respectable and popular local store was just wonderful.
b. While working at the school and Hostel - we were talking with the management team about the hostel. They have many requests for financial assistance, however a simple request was made that we thought was achievable. The Hostel has been well supported by English volunteers in the past - all leaving and donating English readers and novels for the hostels library. The Library now houses several shelves of a cupboard. All well and good if the high school girls felt comfortable reading English. Generally they don't. So the request was made for a Tamil Library collection - in their own mother tongue. A quick sms to Australia, several emails later - we have $300 donated and the hostel management team could beginning purchasing some Tamil books for the girls to, hopefully, learn the Love of reading.

If you too, would like to donate something to the Hostel funds - see the buttons at the top right of my blog site.
P.S. News from India recently:
In the training center, with the support of Chris and Tamara the women stitched 160 cotton bags. We received 8 Australian dollars per bag from Chris. It is a good donation and encouraging the women.

In the Barathi hostel we fixed good tiles and now the floor is clean and easy to wash.

Also, received Rs.17500 as donation to buy Tamil books for the library, because all the books donated by volunteers are in English.

With this support we bought 143 books and still we have balance of Rs.6800 which we aim to buy on the week of New year. Because the book sellers will organise exhibitions and we will buy with concession rates.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Diwali and Schoolyard Fun

Hangman in the sand

This week, in a small village in rural Tamil Nadu, my friend and I have been having some fun with girls at the school we’re volunteering at. (See post below). This week is the festival of Dewali here in India, the festival of lights. The festival is celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, eating sweets and purchasing new outfits for the whole family. Our school had Friday off for the girls to be able to go home to be with their families. So the lead up to Friday was filled with excitement and distractions. 

For the visiting volunteer English teachers, our plan was simple – we weren’t going to attempt any complex new work in classes, but would reinforce conversational English skills. Needless to say, by the end of the week we were a little bit over songs ’10 green bottles’ and the ‘hokey pokey’. We did enjoy games of hang man, doing other word puzzles and playing ‘eye spy’. 
playing in the sand after the rain

Playing Eye-Spy in English
Of course, we had to get a little caught up in the celebrations, and went shopping for new outfits too.  Because we weren’t going to see the girls during the festival, we made last day of school the day we would wear our new dresses. We went all out and purchased new bangles, necklaces and scarves to match. You have no idea how much this pleases the locals – they love matching things. The girls googled and aahhed our outfits with many compliments such as ‘Madam – matching outfit! Very nice’ or ‘ Madam,  your dress is Super!

We also learnt a little bit more about our cook, Namatha, who was hired to prepare our meals while we’re staying. Namatha’s story is not uncommon. She’s a bright young mother of two boys. She has a reasonable good level of basic English (compared to many others in her town), and appears quite smart. When asked why she didn’t finish high school we were told that she couldn’t finish 9th standard because she had to go to work to help support the family. He brother was still a school, and her father, a tailor by trade, has a lifelong disability. But when she was old enough to go to work in the local shops she had to leave school. Namatha is happy though. She is married now with two small boys. While her marriage was arranged, as is traditional in south India, she is very happy. Again, sadly, her husbands work is more than 8 hours away, so he works away for 3 months at any time, and returns home for only 10 days at a time. She’s a hard worker, dedicated to her duties. Cooking for us brings her a small income, and offers her an identity outside the family – although temporary.

In India, having a disability is in fact just that, disabling. Many families in our small community carry the burden of caring for the disabled, working hard to earn an income to cover the extra costs, and having little time to spend with their families due to the hours required to earn the income.  We see it every day. Our previous cook, widowed due to her husband alcoholism, tells us this time, that her adult son too has recently passed away due to the same problems. While she has experienced this incredible grief, twice, we believe she is somewhat relieved also in her sons passing. He was still living at home and requiring his mother to collect his bathing water every day, doing his washing and preparing his meals long into his adult life. Meanwhile, her daughter was expected to marry her own uncle after his first wife died.. needless to say her daughter has a disabled child also. There is much work to be done, and many hours of treatment and hospital visits. It pains us to see our friend struggle with these traditional ways.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

From India

The photo above is my conversational English class at a small girls school in the south of Tamil Nadu, India. My friend and I are here volunteering as English teachers for 5 weeks, participating in a program to educate girls, to give them an opportunity to see English as a spoken language, and to encourage their ongoing education.
The girls school provides an intensive education to girls who have started school late (usually about 9-10 yrs) after having either been working on family farms, or in factories or cottage industry to help their families. The school offers years 6, 7 and 8 and prepares the students for the high school exam. they have 3 years to complete their primary school education.If they pass their high school entry exam, and they want to go to high school, there is very little government funding to support them. Many of the girls at our school could not continue their education without the support of the NGO I am working with - ODAM.
My friend and I have two classes at the primary school, and we are also leading a discussion and reading group at the girls hostel, managed by ODAM. I wanted to share with you a small joy for us this week.
My friend and I first came to work with ODAM in 2007, and some of the girls we taught then are now in our hostel English discussion group. It's such a pleasure to see them still interested in English - especially when English is never used in these rural parts of south India. In 2007 we taught the girls an Australian song - Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree - but they were still young and struggled with some of the words. This week (6 years laters) they asked us to help them with the last line of that song.
Another highlight for us was when I proposed the idea to the discussion group about reading English news papers - there three or four girls who were really keen. I raised this with the Directors, who said we could get a subscription for the hostel if we thought it would be helpful. For me this is great progress on several levels - a) We've found something that the girls are interested in that links their world to English, b) it gives us something in common to discuss, and c) it will bring the other hostel girls in contact with English in a practical sense.
Its been a wonderful experience to come back to see the girls growing up, and to find that our relationships with them are life long. Some of the girls we've taught over the past 6 years are now in college or university studying nursing, zoology, arts and science. Some of our girls have pursued tailoring training (probably one of the most common qualifications for women in this district) and office administration.
Still, funding for the work of the hostel is critical. The hostel has had to undergo some serious renovations to meet government regulations so they can achieve the standards required for some government funding. We are currently looking at purchasing 25 bunk beds so the girls don't have to sleep on floor mats. Any support is welcomed - visit here to make a donation.
Our girls performing for us on our first day at the school.

More updates soon.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

India and my Video Project

It's not long now before my friend and I head off to Tamil Nadu, in India's South, to visit and volunteer as English teachers in a girls school and hostel. Our plans are coming together, and our excitement is growing.
The school and hostel are in a rural area near Madurai - home to this amazing temple. But I recently found something else I want to visit in Madurai - the Women's Education Project.

While I'm in India, I am hoping to do some video interviews of the organisation's Directors, Teachers and especially some of the girls who are currently enrolled in the school program. If you visit the above website of the Women's Education Project, you'll find some of their video clips. I want to do something like this.

Your help is wanted! I am currently preparing some scripts for the proposed video interviews. I'd love to hear what sort of things you'd  like me to ask the girls in India. Here's the link to their website:

Here's some of the questions I've already thought about including into my interviews

·         Where do your family live? Is it very far from here?
·         How old were you when you started coming to ODAM’s school? [many of the girls at the school didn't start school when other kids do - many of them were working in factories or farms]
·         Did you go to another school before?
·         What did you do before you started school?
·         Do you like school? 
-      What’s the best thing about coming to school here?

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book reviews - Henri and George

 Finalising my own goals for Paris in July (now more than 5 weeks ago!) I wanted to offer a brief review of the last two books I read for Paris. I cant remember where I heard about Henri's Walk to Paris, but I think it was on another Paris in July participants wish list - thank you who-ever recommended it. 
It's a simple story with lovely simple but distinctive graphics. Others have remarked that the story is classic and elegantly illustrated. The colours in this book remind me of my own childhood, which is not surprising as the book was first published in 1962, more recently re released in 2012. The artist, Saul Bass (1920 - 1996) was a celebrated American graphic designer and film maker, He apparently designed many famous logos including AT&T, United Airlines & Quaker Oats.

 For me, the story is both simple, yet quite powerful. I don't want to reveal the full story, because I'm sure you too will enjoy the mystery as you turn each page. But I wanted to highlight that, while this may be a beautiful children's story, there's a message in it for everyone. We dream of big cities, with bustling life and potential excitement - however, there are many wonderful things to enjoy in the presence of your loved ones. Here are just some of the pages from this book, which I hope don't reveal any story punchlines.
George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris & London was a very different read, and there has been much said about this book in other arena's. Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) is one of George Orwell’s first published works, an autobiographical account (or perhaps only a semiautobiographical account, depending on which reviewer/critic you read) of being destitute in Paris and London.
My overall impression was that the book was slightly too long, therefore giving me the impression that Orwell was trying too hard to make an impression. In the beginning I was interested in his 'assignment', which seemed to be self-imposed period of poverty. He was compelled to sell his clothes, piece by piece, to pay for board, food and cigarettes. He made friends with other poor people who taught him the way's of the streets. As an author, i felt he described the scenes and experiences in enough detail that I could almost smell and sense the filth and grott - however I didn't much get a sense of the emotions one would feel when sinking into a cycle of poverty.
One reviewer wrote: To me, “Down and Out” read mostly like a classic bildungsroman: an unsentimental education and a bit of a slog. Orwell (before he becomes “Orwellian”), a peripatetic but not entirely purposeless young man, with an enviable writing style and an open mind (within the limitations of an Etonian education), immerses himself quasi-voluntarily among the working poor of Paris and London, and writes about it. Whether it is more of a diary in situ than a recollection in solitude, more fact than fiction, more Brechtian than Shavian, I, as a sympathetic reader, wondered about it but didn’t really care.

The book ends with a call to arms - one that I'm happy to ascribe to - and that is one of empathy and compassion - for the circumstances that individuals and communities find themselves in are often not even of their own making - Orwell learnt this:
 I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.

Other Quotes:
"And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety." Chapter 3, pp. 20-21

Describing one of the jobs he took when down in Paris - 'The plongeurs, again, have a different outlook [to the waiters]. This is a job which offers no prospects, is intensely exhausting, and at the same time has not a trace of skill or interest; the sort of job that would always be done by women if women were strong enough'. (Chapter 14)... 'and yet the plangeurs, low as they are, also have a kind of pride of the drudge - the man who is equal to no matter what quantity of work. At that level, the mere power to go on working like an ox is about the only virtue attainable'.

Passing comment on the English laws that seem to enforce poverty and the cycle of homelessness, Orwell spent the last two chapters putting his thoughts of the whole experience in perspective. 'the other great evil of a tramps life is enforced idleness. By our vagrancy laws, things are so arranged that when he is not walking the road he is sitting in a cell, or in intervals, lying on the ground waiting for the casual ward (homeless hostel) to open. it is obvious that this is a dismal way of life, especially for an uneducated man'. (chapter 36).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Changes mean time for reading

 Changes - I've changed jobs, which means I've changed some aspects of my life. The biggest change is that my new job is 3 hours away from home! Now, that means I've joined the commuting population. It also means I've got a bit of reading done in my first week! The fact that my man has been away has also helped. Now, for my lovely friends, who I know are going to worry about me commuting for so many hours a day - my next change will include staying in the city a couple of nights a week - so more blogs to come about what that will mean.
 I've finished, albeit unsatisfied, Lily Brett's latest - Lola Bensky. I've loved all of Lily's other books, but this one just didn't do it for me.Lily is an Aussie living in NY, and most of her books describe aspects of her own life growing up as the daughter of Polish survivors of Auschwitz. I have always appreciated what she describes about her own experiences - but Lola (who is also a similar character for Brett's fans) is unable to capture me as others have. Disappointing.
 Unlike Lola Bensky, this book - the lost battlefield of Kokoda, did capture my undivided attention. My man has just returned from from 8 days trekking the historic Kokoda Trek, and while he was bravely undertaking the very physical challenge - I read about it. Kokoda was a very significant campaign in  WWII for Australia - but not many  people (least of all many Aussies) are actually aware of what it entailed. The Lost Battlefield, is actually a story of a battlefield in PNG, on the Kokoda Trek, that was forgotten, over grown by jungle, until only recently. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in war, Australian history or even just the mystery of things once lost but now found.

I'm now progressing with Down and Out in Paris at an alarming rate - and very much enjoying Orwell's interpretations, philosophising, and descriptions. When I do finish it, I'll share some of the interesting quotes I've marked.
This week (because I've had time to do it) I ordered and received my copy of Henri's Walk to Paris. Its a picture book - which I will review in more detail soon. I love it. It was on my Paris in July wish list, and I'm so glad I got it. More soon!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Paris in July - Housekeeping


I always hope to finish Paris in July with a quality summary and a thank you to all participants. This year I have done some summary stats and lists under my 'Challenges' tab for Paris in July 2013. Please check it out to see just how busy we all were.

A here's my big thank you to this years participants - Merci!

Please join us again in 2014 - for what ever Paris in July looks like next year.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Paris in July - Final Wrap up - Merci!

It's with great sadness that I compile this wrap up post - I dont want it to end - but it's 'au revoir' to Paris in July 2013. Karen from Bookbath and I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who participated, visited and dreamt of Paris, even if only once during July! We've thoroughly enjoyed every post you've published, and there's been a few (I think that's a line from my favourite movie "Sabrina").

So again, I've attempted to theme the posts that were published since sun 28th July in the final days of the month. I'd like to invite you all to leave a comment following this post, mentioning your favourite Paris in July post. I might even be able to select one more gift recipient from your selection of best post..

Book Reviews and Quotes from Books
Photo's and Symbols
People, Places and other topics
For something personal and historic
  • Recollections of a Vagabonde provides a very real and personal history of living in St leu la Foret, a small village - her friendship with an orphan, Rachel, with a complex history and changes that have happened over time. Thanks for this post - it really touched me.
Individual Wrap ups (interesting to see what people got up to during July)
 I would like to say that because of your amazing diverse and numerous posts, I've not had the time to do the things I wanted to do for Paris in July. So as we pass down the Champs Elysee's onto a different street in a different place, I will embark on some of my own Parisian fantasies. Wait and see something about Cocktails in Paris, Female artists, and my book review of Henri walks to Paris.

Out of all the posts I read for this wrap up, I would like to award the special gift to Mel U, because she was consistent in her posts for the month, and introduced us to some classic and little known french authors and characters. Mel, just email me with your contact details...

Thanks to All - and Au revoir et a la prochaine julliet!