Thursday, August 10, 2017

Piyali - Our Eighth and Final Day

In our final days at Piyali Learning Center (PLC) we have experienced such joy from having formed new relationships with these fine students and their teachers.  Some of us were blessed to continue to grow relationships we had begun last summer.  All of us, no matter the length of those relationships, will be forever touched by the welcome and love extended to us by everyone at PLC.  

Our team said some tearful "Good-byes."  The "Didis" each found connections with students who, one might think, are so very different from them.  

They connected as friends as they all shared similar interests, curiosities, and dreams.   At PLC students celebrate education and our team encouraged them to continue with dreams and goals that education can bring.  

Many of the Piyali parents hold on to traditional values that can change the educational paths for these girls. It is acceptable in this culture for young girls to marry, some as early as twelve years old. Many also believe that there is no need to educate girls past elementary levels.  When our team shared their college experiences, and their hopes and dreams related to education, the PLC students appeared to be listening, yet they posed questions to the team as to what they as 14 year olds should do when two boys have proposed.  The cultural expectations are not easily changed. 

The reality of life for these young students at PLC has its heartbreaks.  The physical marks of a difficult life are visible on some of the girls.  Whether theses were self-inflicted or caused by the hands of another, they cannot be ignored.  Then there are the emotional scars that are revealed in the most casual conversations or within one of their many letters.  Many of these young women are suffering through social pressures, family abuse, and feelings of inadequacy. In building these relationships we can more clearly see how much we are the same. Our doubts, insecurities, and failures as young women are not unlike those of the PLC students. Struggles with being accepted and loved are not limited to any one gender, culture, or race.

So we close our visit to PLC in hopes that our love has shown through all that we have done.  We will never forget these wonderful students, teachers, and staff.  They will be in our daily prayers.  We invite you to include them in your prayers too.  
With love from India ~ Deacon Mindy 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Piyali - Day 6

     Today at the school we started working on new stories with the girls. They seem to enjoy hearing different stories, and I think they are learning a lot of new vocabulary along with much more. In class five, we did readers' theater with the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. 

     I think the girls had fun acting out the story and practicing reading aloud. Teaching the girls is so much fun, and they are such wonderful students. It is incredibly rewarding to know that we are helping them learn. Our time here has been so special and already, we are getting sad as we think about leaving in a few days.

Piyali - Day 5 (Monday)

     Today began our second week of heading out to the school. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel and an hour and a half of waiting for a taxi that never came, we took a car from the hotel and began our journey to the school, filled once again with stubborn cows and goats.

     When we arrived we were greeted with a nice cool cup of water and a hot cup of chai tea. Then Maria, Libby, Sonia, and myself began to teach the girls in Class 3 and Class 7 using new books and introducing them to some new vocabulary.

  After that, we again ate lunch with the teachers and then moved on to meeting with the older girls in Classes 9-12. With the older girls we read the story of Mulan and discussed how awesome it was that she was the hero in the story and showed her culture that women can do anything. The girls then shared stories of times that they accomplished something. It was truly inspiring to see the pride they had in what they had done and so willing to share it with us. 

     Then Pastor Luther gave his fourth lecture on comparative religions with the teachers, which the rest of us were unable to attend. Instead we went and sat in on the after school dance class. Then we all came back together and headed back to the hotel.

     Today was Hindu festival called Raksha Babdhan, or Rahki, in which the sister goes to the brother and ties a sort of bracelet around his wrist symbolizing the brothers vow to protect the sister and look after her. This can also be seen as a bond of protection among friends.    

Throughout the day, several of the girls came up to us and tied bracelets around our wrists. It was an incredibly sweet and a wonderful reminder on the impact that we are having in each other's lives.
That's all for now.

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Our Second Day Off ~

Sunday morning brought some excitement--for Libby and I, at least--when, for the first time since we've been here, we slept past 3am! And 5am too! With that wonderful start to our second day of the weekend, we gathered after breakfast for a quiet worship time together--a peaceful morning moment for reflection and prayer. As we discussed our work, our hearts grew full with the notion that just maybe, our work was impacting the girls at the school who have made such an impact on us.  
We spent the rest of our free day soaking up some Indian culture, and this time, at the movies! Though most of us could have done with some English subtitles, we had a fantastic time watching the new Hindi take on When Harry Met Sally (jab Harry met Senjal). The movie theater just happened to be at the mall, so we got to do some window shopping too. We had nearly convinced Libby to enter the modeling contest that was going on in the mall today (her pink hair is a big hit with people here), but she ultimately decided against it and we all came back to the hotel via scooty (not quite a car, not quite a scooter) for dinner and more down time. Filled to the brim with a good dinner and even better desserts, we've retired to our rooms, and are excited to get back to school tomorrow with our favorite students and teachers! 

                 LOVE - Maria  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Day Off in Kolkata

Since today was Saturday, we did not go to the school, and we were able to do some sightseeing around Kolkata. We began our tour at the Victoria memorial, a stunning marble building dedicated to Queen Victoria. 

We all enjoyed walking around the beautiful grounds. Then, we moved on to Saint Paul's Cathedral which was very pretty and interesting to walk around inside. 

After that we took a quick look inside a giant cricket stadium which was very impressive. 

Our driver recommended we visit a cemetery that was hundreds of years old, so we went there next. Inside, it looked like it could have been the set of a movie; there were lots of trees, and everything was covered in green moss. Our final stop and the most impactful one was to the Mother Teresa house. 

It was very moving to stand in the same room that Mother Teresa was buried in and to see her bedroom and various personal belongings. We were able to learn more about Mother Teresa's life and work, and the experience was truly humbling.  Mother Teresa provided a perfect example of how to serve God by serving others. Going to the Mother house was very inspiring and reaffirmed why we are here.

 We'll leave you with this simple quote by Mother Teresa that describes our reason for coming to Kolkata: "Faith in action is love-and love in action is service."

Lizzie and Sonia

Sent from my iPhone

Piyali- Days 3 & 4

On Thursday and Friday this week, we spent our mornings with classes 3-7 learning stories like The Boy Who Cried Wolf (we are told it's nearly identical to The Boy Who Cried Tiger, which the girls all seemed to know pretty well). While the other class worked on the story of Snow White. 

We learned new vocabulary, and practiced pronunciation, and even got to watch some of the youngest groups in kindergarten and class 1 perform their favorite songs--Mary Had a Little Lamb being second on the set list.

While the heat and long car rides can be exhausting, the sweet girls and endless chai keep us all awake and excited to get to the school every morning. Pr. Luther has spent the first part of his afternoons with the team of incredibly dedicated teachers, discussing world religions, which they promise they enjoy, and look forward to more of next week.

On Friday, we left the school a bit early to rest up at the hotel before meeting up with the teachers from Piyali for dinner in the city. We met the teachers at a Chinese restaurant called Bar-B-Q where we shared heaping plates of rice, chow mein, various saucy meats, and plenty of laughter. All the teachers at Piyali are so kind and caring. It's easy to see where the girls at the school pick up their manners and kindness! After dinner had finished, we trekked back to the hotel, eager to sleep in this weekend and recharge for our next week of teaching!

With love,
Libby and Maria didi

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Piyali - Day 2

This morning we once again ate chocolate waffles and proceeded to head out to the Piyali Learning Centre where we would begin teaching. On the drive out to the school we took a different route and traveled through Piyali village, experiencing a little bit of culture shock realizing the conditions that many of the girls from the school live in.
When we got to the school, we were greeted by the girls' sweet smiling faces and a nice warm cup of chai tea. Our lessons began with Maria, Libby, Lizzie and Sonia teaching English to classes five and six. We used the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" to teach the girls some new vocabulary, work on reading comprehension, and help them practice reading aloud.  We had a lot of fun teaching, and the students seemed to enjoy the lesson.

We then ate lunch again with the teachers. Later in the afternoon, Pastor Luther gave his first lecture on comparative religions to the teachers, discussing the basics of epistemology and diving into the history and principles of Hinduism. The teachers seemed very interested and grateful to have someone teach them about such an important topic. Before we left, several of the girls came up to us and handed us notes. It was a wonderful reminder that having us there really does have an impact them.
Lots of Love,
Lizzie Didi and Sonia Didi

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Piyali - Day 1

After a full Monday of some much needed R&R (and a couple of glasses of fresh lime soda) at the Gateway Hotel, our group of travelers woke up this morning ready to take down a plate of waffles and head to the Piyali Learning Center. The journey to the school took us through bustling streets of Calcutta, past the occasional cow road block, and along lengths of rice paddies, until finally, we found ourselves in the principal’s office—and we mean that in the best way. We enjoyed a welcoming cup of chai and took a tour through the school, led by three particularly tenacious sixth, ninth, and tenth graders. 

Every young student was eager to introduce herself, and to learn our names…and our mothers’ names, and our fathers’ names, and our siblings’ names, and our hobbies, and more. And they were especially glad to see their Didi Sonia back in their classrooms again—a cry of “THAT’S SONIA!” often sounded emphatically from the back of every room we passed. 
Though we had the privilege of sharing lunch with the teachers, and sitting in on various classes, most of us ended our day with the fourth graders. They gave us our first lessons in Bengali—which we have been promised to be quizzed on tomorrow—and performed one of their favorite dramas, complete with props and an impressive English translation.

After a final hour of learning to play their favorite games and sing their favorite songs, we parted ways with fervent promises to see them in the morning. As we left the school in our car, the girls piled into a group and waved us off the school grounds, calling goodbyes as we drove into the distance. The drive back to the hotel was shorter than our drive out…the driver didn’t need to stop for directions this time. Once returned, we quickly set about resting and eating dinner so that we could have time to plan our lessons for the rest of the week. We are so excited for waffles in the morning, but mostly to share with the girls the stories and lessons we’ve prepared, and to watch them learn. 

Lots of love, 
Libby and Maria….but we go by Didi now. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

DOOR Story - Day 4

LA Food Bank
On the morning of Day 4, we went to the Food Bank. When we arrived, there were two other volunteer groups visiting California. The three groups split off into separate operations. Our group was sorting bread based on expiration dates, then packaging boxes with the bread that wasn't  expired.

In total we filled up 5 pallets each with 45 packaged bread boxes. At the end, we moved around 20,000 pounds of bread, which was a big help to the organization, and to the people who are in need of food. Going to the Food Bank was a great experience.

Our final evening ended with worship.  All four youth groups joined together to close out a terrific week.  We heard from speakers about immigration and what God is calling us to do.  Some or our youth helped to lead the worship music - and did a wonderful job!  We are eager to get back home and share more details of our experiences.  If you have time, stop us at church and ask us to tell you more. We have stories to share and hope you will hear them some day.

DOOR Story - Day 3

Serving at The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is a ministry of First Presbyterian Church N Hollywood, our host church.  It feeds the homeless in the area twice a week.  They also provide parish nurses to help with medical needs.  We prepared and served the guests their noontime meal.  We also had the privilege of visiting with some of them.  The stories we heard will stay with us.  

Homeboy Industries
This program is incredible for people who want to turn their lives around for the better. We went on a tour of the facility and our guide was very nice and knowledgable and welcoming. He clearly was a man of great faith, but we found out later that he had run away from home at 16, been in prison for 23 years and had only been out for 6 months. But the opportunities he was given at homeboy to take classes, learn skills, and gain job experience had really given him a new perspective on life. Homeboy was full of these amazing stories of people who were given a second chance: whether it be through painful tattoo removal, opportunity to finish school, or the ability to be hired with a criminal record. Everyone that comes there for help, leaves with references or a plan for their future and it was a privilege to see. After a day of incredible experiences, we decided to take our night off and do something fun.

Our "free" night at DOOR
We went out and got some great burgers at a place near the church called Shake Shack. After that and some sightseeing, we got to the main attraction: an escape room! The basic premise was that an archeologist had used our help to steal the constitution, and then framed us for the crime. We had 60 minutes to find the stolen document and make it out before the Feds burst in the room and took us prisoner. The room was full of puzzles for us to solve and it took a lot of deliberation and teamwork. We were ecstatic when we escaped the room with only 8 seconds to spare. All in all, our Wednesday night was a lot of fun and definitely one to remember.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DOOR reflections from Tuesday, July 25

Our second day at D.O.O.R. consisted of us traveling to MEND which means, Meeting Each Need with Dignity. Our supervisor Art, has volunteered at MEND for 6 years. The jobs they had us do, consisted of packaging meals for single people and for families.

The meals had multiple cans of food, rice, beans, soda, pasta, and fresh produce. While, others removed canned foods from palettes and put them on shelves. After a lot of work, 68 man-hours we were told, Art took us on a tour of MEND. MEND was started in the early 70's in someone's garage. It provided food and clothes to the needy. Along with providing food and clothing, they branched out to providing computer training, gardening, sewing, English learning, eye care, dental care, medical care, portable showers, and help people earn jobs. They feed anywhere from 300-400 homeless per week. As well as, 300-400 families per week. After, our tour we ate lunch at MEND. Which was very good! After lunch and our tour we returned to our stations, and continued working for another hour.

When we got back to the church, we all walked down to 7-11 to get Slurpees. After our Slurpee trip, we played cards for 2 hours with some of the other youth groups.

For dinner, we did an exercise called a solidarity walk. Which meant they weren't giving us dinner but we had to feed ourselves, without any money. We were split up into 2 groups, girls and boys, and we walked the streets asking for money. Some of us were given money but other were turned down. It was uncomfortable to ask people for money and when they said no because it was very discouraging. Some of us came back to the church with food and others didn't. Everyone thought this was a difficult to approach people. After this activity, we had a guest speaker named Dion Ramos come and talk to us about homelessness. He talked to us about the myths and the stats of homelessness. He shared many stories of helping the homeless. Our second day was filled with up's and down's but overall an amazing day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

DOOR Los Angeles - Monday reflections

Out first night in Los Angeles was followed up by a pleasant morning and a day of service. Today, we went to the Alexandria House, a non-profit organization that provides daycare and summer camps for children from pre-k to fourth grade.
As volunteers for this program, we played with and took care of the children as part of their summer camp program. Seeing the kids enjoying themselves was simply beautiful for all of the volunteers there. Watching them warm up to us throughout the day was meaningful to us as humans; it was nice to know that we were considered friends in the kids' eyes.
Some of the highlights of the day included the large game of Apples-to-Apples with a few of the children and the craft time later in the day when the kids constructed "mouths" by gluing marshmallow "teeth" into a paper mouth. After the program, half of our group went to Home Depot to pick up the things they needed to fix a broken fan in the guys' sleeping area while we went straight back to the church. On the way back to the church, we had time to reflect on what we'd just experienced. Looking out the window on the cityscape of L.A., we wished that everyone could have the chance to have fun and not worry about their problems, knowing they are safe and cared for, as we helped the kids to do today. This deep reflection was followed up by a Slurpie betrayal: the half of our group going to Home Depot had stopped by 7-11 afterwards and gotten Slurpies without us.

At the evening program today, we had discussions about how every one has a different story. Even if multiple people are in similar situations, they may or may not have come from the same background or had the same experiences. We did an activity with all of the different groups participating in DOOR: a guest speaker had us step forward when she read a statement that was true for us. The statements included some funny ones, like "Take a step forward if you have really cool pants," and some were more uncomfortable, like "Take a step forward if you or someone you know has ever been incarcerated." As the activity went on, we observed who was standing with us. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in people who looked or seemed totally different. The activity helped us to bond while also giving us an example of just how diverse even a single room can be.
Anna, Sarah, and Leo