Thursday, June 30, 2016

While in Dehli...

Our touring in Delhi began at Jama Masjid.  It was built in 1656 by Emperor Shah Jahan (the builder of the Taj Mahal) and is the largest and most splendid mosque in India.  It has three majestic black and white marble domes covering the prayer hall which can seat 20,000 people.  (The women's robes pictured here are courtesy of the temple - not our own picks.)

Next we ventured into the Chandni Chowk shopping district.  Whole streets are dedicated to a type of merchandise including: weddings, jewelry, shoes, etc.  We exited from our rickshaws to walk through the the spice shops.  It was filled with unique aromas and many familiar items.   

The final stop for the day was the Red Fort.  It is made from red sandstone and is one of the most magnificent monuments in Delhi.  It was build by Emporer Shah Jahan in 1638. It was here that the National Flag was raised for the first time as India gained independence in August of 1947.  (Dave Nichols' parents were present for that event.)

It was a very hot day here in Delhi with high humidity.  In the early evening we were treated to a monsoonal downpour which we watched from our hotel windows.  In a couple days we will have another update including our visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Check back soon.
~~ Mindy

Getting to Delhi

Today we began our journey to Delhi to further our cultural education of India. We were up bright and early to leave the hotel at 5:30 am to catch an 8:45 am flight from Kolkata to Delhi. We zipped to the airport with very little traffic. 

When we got to the airport, "Surprise!", our flight was cancelled. We weren't sure if it was related to the attack in Turkey or not. We went into the terminal and sat by The Air India counter for about 45 minutes while they rerouted us. In some ways it worked out better for us because we were now scheduled on a direct flight instead of having to stop once on the way which was our original flight. So we went through security and waited by the gate. 

The time for boarding came and went. Around the time we were scheduled to leave, they started boarding us. The plane had plenty of leg room and we were soon we were settled ready to take off. But we didn't. Soon the captain came on and said there was a mechanical issue. So we waited. Again the captain came on and said there was still a mechanical issue. So we waited. A third time the captain came on and said they were still fixing the mechanical issue. So we waited. Finally about 11:45 we left the gate which was about the time we were scheduled to arrive. The rest of the flight was uneventful. 

We arrived in Delhi and met our driver. We drove to the hotel which was very interesting. We noticed that the driving wasn't as crazy as in Kolkata. We also passed by many of the embassies and the president's house. We also noticed the air was a lot browner. It reminded me of LA during the 1970s. 

We got settled in our hotel and are looking forward to going to Old Dehli tomorrow


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday, June 28, at PLC

Today was a difficult day. It was the last day that we got to be with the students and teachers at the Piyali Learning Center. Even after a comparatively short period of time, it is difficult not to become attached to the kids. There are a lot of them and they are noisy, but what a joyous noise!  

Their stories are very similar, yet each unique.  Each of these girls has come from an abusive environment and/or a context in which they were at clear risk of being trafficked into some sort of slavery. The school was created to mitigate that risk and empower the girls in a decidedly patriarchal system, with roots reaching far back into Indian history. 

The teachers are an extraordinary group of women, dedicated to improve the betterment of the lives of each and every one of these girls. They are delighted with opportunities to deepen their skill set and improve the quality and breadth of education of the children.  These girls and their teachers were the people with whom we've had the privilege to work over the past few days.

Today, we've had to say goodbye to them.  Granted, a week isn't a long time, I know, but watching some of our group say goodbye, makes it clear how close they've managed to come to these children and their teachers. 

In the past week we've had occasion to sit in on classes and observe some of the new methods our teachers have shared with them. I don't personally claim to understand all of that, but I've been assured by the PLC staff that it was all extremely helpful. It was delightful for me to observe the interactions between our group and the children. "Uncle" David speaking "math" to the girls; Aunty Megan and Aunty Joan sharing their insights with a very grateful crew of instructors, and then helping them put it all into practice in the classroom. And Sonia "didi" (big sister) simply being Sonia "didi", hanging out with, laughing with, and loving a whole bunch of giggling little girls. Aunty Mindy was also as much a star among the kids here in India as she is at home. 

The truth is that these girls have already had to face a great number of challenges in life and it is our privilege to help them where we can. All of these girls and young women, in the short time the school has existed, are becoming increasingly self-confident and strong. They are going to be a generation that begins to break the cycle of abuse and victimization of girls. I'm delighted to have met them and hope someday to see them again, for they, all of them, have been a very great inspiration to me. 

Today we had a bit of a gathering before we left. We purchased ice-cream and cotton candy for the kids, in addition to little things we brought from home. They really enjoyed it all. The little ones especially got into the ice-cream and ended up wearing most of it. 


They were very grateful for the gesture and appreciated all the little things (pens, pencils, balls, candy, hair bands, etc.) we brought for them. 
We later had a catered lunch with the staff and shared some great conversation. 

We took group photos, both with the students and then with the staff, before leaving. 

This school is on an exciting path that is not only effectively fighting against the evil that is sweeping the world, that is human trafficking; it is doing so by equipping young women for life in the world. I am excited by what they have done and are doing, and the extent to which this work represents a paradigm that may ultimately prove useful in other areas around the world.
~~ Pastor Luther

P.S. You are invited to leave comments!  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Notes from Joan ... Continued

Yesterday, Sunday, was very low-key. The school was closed as it was the weekend so we mostly stayed around the hotel, talked to each other over meals, and did our laundry. We all found various ways to hang the laundry to dry in our hotel rooms, particularly in the shower area. Last night Mindy and I took a little autorickshaw to the mall about a half mile from the hotel. It looked surprisingly like an American mall although the clothing options were slightly different or the same. We had dinner there and took the auto rickshaw back to our hotel. These are small three wheeled vehicles that many many people use to get around in the city.

    Today we headed back out to the school. We met with the Interact Club which includes the seventh through 12th graders girls.  Interact is a young peoples' organization sponsored by Rotary and they do many service projects. They have many great ideas for helping in their community and it will be through Interact that we may coordinate a joint project in the future.  Afterwards we took a tour of parts of the Piyali area and saw some of the other projects have been done since the school was opened. 
    When we got back to school, we worked in some of the classrooms and continue to coach them on the methods that we had introduced at the workshop last Thursday. The students continue to be delightful and we have made connections with many of the teachers. It truly is an oasis in a sea of poverty. After school we watched the dance program and then headed back to town.
    Today we also got a firsthand look at monsoon rains. Pretty spectacular.
    As always we are so appreciative of your continued prayers. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Friday at PLC!

   The girls of Piyali Learning Center are full of joy. They have a strong desire to learn, even beyond the classroom. Every girl has a smile ready to greet you, along with so many questions that you can hardly provide answers fast enough. You would never know from the first glance that they are victims of poverty and abuse.
    In speaking with the girls, we quickly learned that their home lives are not ideal. Kelsey, the director, said when they teach the girls about abuse, the question is not if they are abused, but how severe the abuse is. Some students who were identified as high risk were removed from their homes to live in a safer one. Pastor Luther came across a girl who said her father was a very bad man and was no longer with her family. Dave identified many girls who had scars indicative of violence. Sonia and I sat in a classroom where a woman who worked at the school came in crying. We later learned that her son was sick and it was not looking good. Her daughter attends PLC and there is no father. The issues are great, and yet despite all of this, everyone in PLC is happy and has hope for the future.
Below are some of the letters the older girls have written to me. In them, you will see how sweet the girls are, as well as some of the things they are up against.

Also, just as a side note, Joan and I played water dodgeball with the girls and my team crushed Joan's team two wins to one. :)

 ~~ Megan

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Notes from Joan continued...

Friday was a really good day at the school. Megan and I spent the day working in classes with teachers on the techniques and strategies we had shared at the workshop the day before. The rest of the team spent time with the girls in the classrooms as well. The girls really really love Sonia. The teachers and students both seemed receptive and excited to the ideas that we were sharing.

After school we got to participate and see some of their afterschool program. This is an enrichment opportunity for students in class 6 through class 12. They do different activities on different days. Monday is always dance but they do sports, music and other activities on other days. It is voluntary but most of the girls stay. We spent about an hour with the seventh through 12th graders in their music class. They sang for us, we taught them Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and we got to learn a little bit about the Indian music system that the teacher was instructing about. Afterwards we went to see the sports program. They were playing dodge ball, but because it was so hot they were using soaked sponges instead of regular balls. Some of us got to participate which was great fun. Afterwards we watched them play a very traditional Indian game called Kabaddi. If you want to know more about it click on the link which explains about that game.

Today, Saturday, was a tougher day emotionally. We spend the day going around Kolkata and seeing different sites. We had a great tour guide to help us. We started off at the Missionaries of Charity's Mother House which is where mother Theresa lift and actually died also. Her tomb is there and we got to see that which was moving. Then we went to the Missionaries of Charity's Orphanage and after that we went to the hospice. The hospice was particularly heartbreaking especially when we found out that some of the women there who are former prostitutes who had been thrown out when they got to old. The sisters and volunteers that work with the orphans and dying are amazing. We also saw two important temples for Hindus and Jains and the pottery center where thousands of life size and smaller images are made for Hindu religious celebrations every year. The process is quite interesting. In addition we saw colonial British buildings are visited the gardens of the Queen Victoria Memorial. Towards the end of the day we went to the Ganges River which is an important and holy river for Hindus. 

Along the way we saw some extreme poverty and extreme opulence. From the dying in the hospice, the orphan child who was recovering from emaciation, and the woman living in basically a "shack" made of bamboo poles, plastic and other pieces of garbage to the Jain temple with incredible mosaics and jewels and amazing Victoria Memorial, it gave us a lot to think and reflect upon. 

We've done pretty well with the humidity and heat. One of us has had some stomach issues but is doing better this evening. 

Thank you for your prayers. We really do feel them. Please pray for continued protection and health especially from stomach problems and also the heat and for safe travel on the roads.

Touring Kolkata -Saturday

Saturday was our day to explore Kolkata.  With the assistance of a guide, we drove through the city to Mother Teresa's and the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity's home, "Mother House."
As she was humble, so too was the home in which she lived.  The Missionaries of Charity are still actively serving the community from this meager facility.


This too is Mother Teresa's final resting place.  Many visit her here each day, bringing with them their prayers.
The house includes a small museum room where her accomplishments are presented on large story-board displays around the room. Numerous letters written to and by Mother Teresa are also on display.  In one letter she wrote, "Jesus said ' I thirst' and the Missionaries of Charity response is, 'I quench.'" As we continued on to the orphanage and the Home for the Dying we saw the Missionaries of Charity working to quench the needs of so many.  Experiencing these places was quite moving.

We continued our tour going to Victoria Memorial where we toured the gardens.

Then we walked through the pottery village where local artisans craft statues for Hindu festivals from straw and clay.

The Ganges was a short walk away so we made our way through the narrow streets and over the railroad tracks to the river.

 The Ganges is sacred to Hindus. Millions of Indians  live along it and depend on it for their daily needs.  

Finally we visited the Sheetalnathji Temple and Garden which was stunningly beautiful.   The entire temple structure, both inside and out, is decorated in ornate and intricate mosaics. 

I'm guessing you can tell that our day included some of the most beautiful and some of the most humble aspects of this intriguing city.   I don't know how to put into words the poverty and suffering we have seen during our stay.  My sense is that humanity is failing humanity in many ways. We are called to see Jesus in our neighbor who may be saying, "I thirst." We are also called to respond by quenching that thirst.  Where do we start?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Notes From Joan...

***** Since Joan is busy each day updating our prayer team on our activities, we thought we would share her perspectives here too.  Enjoy! 
Greetings Prayer Team,

The last two days have gone really well here in India. On Wednesday we went out to the school and we're taking on a tour by three lovely girls. They showed us the gardens all around the school and we got to go into each classroom and meet the students and teachers. It was so cute because every time we would enter room the girls with standup and greet us and then often times they would all say their names. We also met with the director, Kelsey, and started talking about ways that we could come back and help next year.

On Thursday we went back to the school and spent a lot of time in the classroom and working with the girls. The girls are delightful. They are enthusiastic learners and you can tell that they are very happy overall. This seems to be a very safe place for them. We also found out that some of the at risk girls live in a safe house close to the school and see their families less often but in a safe manner.

We eat lunch at the school each day with the teachers which is a really nice chance to interact with them. They all seem to truly care about the girls and about the environment at PLC.

After school yesterday make it and I did an hour teacher training. We had brought materials with us from the states. These are strategies that can be used in any class and grade level. It was so much fun to work with the teachers and watch them try out the strategies with each other. They seemed genuinely interested in using some of these in their classrooms. Over the next few days Megan and I will be going in and working with teachers on using these directly with their students. The strategies are called Kagan strategies and they get the students to interact and show their thinking which is different from how most students are taught in India. We're very excited to go back and do this.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

June 23 and 24 in Kolkata

We started our second day in Kolkata with breakfast together in the hotel restaurant.  Then we headed to Piyali Learning Center which was a long and bumpy ride.

It was incredibly interesting to look out the window and watch the scenery change from the city area we're staying in, to small crowded shops on narrow streets, to areas with open fields and tiny shacks that people live in.  We drove through the village that the girls from the school live in and got a sense of the terrible amount of poverty there is here.

 When we got to the school it appeared as a total oasis.  We were greeted by Kelsey who sent us on a tour of the school with 3 students as our guides.  
Most of the tour was spent going into the classrooms and being introduced to the students.  The girls were all so sweet and had shockingly wonderful manners.  Everyone was so welcoming and genuinely happy to have us there.

I had so much fun talking to the girls that I couldn't wait to go back to the school on Thursday.  The ride to the school on Thursday was a lot like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, and we got to see more of India than we expected.  Most of Thursday was spent observing classes and interacting with the girls which was so much fun.  Some of us even got a lesson in speaking Bengali from them.  We got lots of sweet notes from the girls, too.

At the end of the day, Megan and Joan led a workshop for the teachers that they really appreciated and seemed very excited to use the new strategies in their classrooms.

On the way back to the hotel, Kelsey showed us the school's guest house which is a place we could potentially stay in when we come back.  It had an AMAZING view.
We've had the best time at the school so far and can't wait to continue helping. I'm so grateful to be here.  Thanks so much for your continued prayers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mission Trip to India: Kolkata Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Right after the 8:30 church service last Sunday, six slightly nervous but very excited folks left the church at 10:40am for the LA Airport.   Pastor Luther, Megan Symons, Mindy Bugaj, Joan Bohnstedt, Sonia Steen, and Dave Nichols (me) began the mission trip to India.

The traffic we experienced on the 405 to LAX wasn't bad until getting off the freeway and heading towards the Emirates Airlines terminal.  It took over half an hour to go the last two miles.  We were dropped off at curbside and then went into the terminal to check our bags.  As we entered we were met by a sea of people.  Lines were extremely long but they kept moving but we finally got our bags checked and to our gate by 3p.m.

We flew on the largest passenger plane in the world, and Airbus 380.  It has two decks which span the length of the aircraft's fuselage.  At take off, the captain of the aircraft said that with our fuel we were weighting in at 475 tons.  AMAZING!

Our route of flight took us North over Montana, Canada, and arched Northeast over Greenland, North of Iceland, down and across Finland, Norway and Sweden, and then over western Russia, and into Dubai.  This was a 16 hour flight crossing 11 time zones so when we landed it was Monday night.  The flight was very smooth.  We were seated in rows 67 and 68 among a dozen or more infants and toddlers.  Pastor Luther helped to babysit a pair of 18 month old twins whose mother was having a difficult time keeping them from crying for most of the flight.  Emirates Airlines was a great airline with good service and two delicious meals.

We had a 6 hour layover in Dubai where we strolled up and down the length of a beautiful, clean modern terminal with scores of "Duty Free" shops and small restaurants.  We were all exhausted and fighting off sleep.

The second leg of our trip took 4 hours and covered 1.5 time zones.  We flew over the Bay of Bengal and across India to Kolkata. Upon arrival, we all went through immigration easily, but slowly.  It was 8:30 a.m - we had had little to no sleep.

Our host, Kelsey Eaton, met us along with two other teachers.  We were given leis and then went on our way through the roads of Kolkata on our way to the hotel. Traffic here is quite an adventure with constant horns honking, no marked driving lanes, pedestrians and cows crossing anytime, and cars too close to each other for any comfort.

To Pastor Luther and me, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) had changed in that there's 45 kilometers of raised commuter rail lines begin built in the city and a hundred or more high rise buildings being built all at the same time.  Two major projects are being taken on simultaneously within the city.

At the hotel, we all had a light lunch and took some time off to freshen up before we met Kelsey to discuss our schedule for Wednesday.

Thanks to God for all of us arriving safely and not loosing any baggage.  Also, thanks to all of the folks at home who are praying for us and the success of this trip.
~~ Dave