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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On Holiday.

Coimbatore was home to the International Tamil Conference last week, so things have been a bit different at FFC during this district-wide holiday. While classes were on hold, FFC held activities for the children all week, such as drawing and writing competitions and fancy dress-up days. This past Saturday, we had the pleasure of being the “guests of honour” at the event that wrapped up the week’s festivities – an awesome variety show held in the girls’ living quarters. Dozens of children sat in rows on the floor or atop of the bed frames stacked along the back of the room. Everyone was super-excited to get the show started, including all of the FFC teachers that were MC’ing the event. We watched as the pre-schoolers danced for us in their frilly dresses. The grade one and two classes performed their own numbers as well. A few of the little boys dressed up as old men (complete with painted on moustaches) and put on a short play. Some of the teen girls at FFC performed some impressive dance numbers from popular Tamil movies...the FFC kids are certainly an adorable and talented bunch! At the end of the show, prizes were awarded to the winners of the various contests held throughout the week, and every teacher was gifted with a new tiffin (a metal lunch box). On their way out, every child got some candy, a colourful pencil and ruler, and a sticker. No one went away empty-handed and everyone had a great time!
While we were watching the show we couldn’t help but think of how if we were putting this show on with our classmates at school, our parents would be in the audience taking our picture, waving at us, and telling us how proud they were of our performance afterwards. We thought how hard it must be for these kids to not have that. But the reality is that they did have it. The people watching them dance in the audience is their family. We have to remind ourselves continually that while these kids may not have a family in the conventional sense, they do have a family in the staff at the school, the mom’s who take care of them in the girls house and the boys house and in all the other little boys and girls that they live with.

For us, the most memorable part of the whole experience was seeing, again, how much of a family FFC really is. All of the children and staff here treat one another as their own and you can see that as they cheer for their brothers and sisters at performances like this one, or on any other day in the classroom or in the yard. The teens are mentors to the younger ones, and the little kids look after the even littler ones! In the special-care rooms, the senior students look after the more challenged students and they all learn from each other. Some of the staff themselves grew up at FFC and now continue to give back to the place they called home. During Saturday’s show, we felt like we were allowed into a family gathering and we really did appreciate the opportunity to be a part of such a loving and supportive environment.

We took a bit of a holiday ourselves on Sunday and explored more of Tamil Nadu with a day trip to Ooty –a popular tourist spot a few hours away from FFC and home to the highest mountain peak in all of Southern India. The drive into Tamil Nadu’s mountainous region was a scenic one and we took plenty of photos of the area’s lush greens, bustling hill station areas, and small villages nestled in the steep slopes. The day was really lovely and it was nice to get away for the day and to see a completely different part of the country. We saw monkeys and elephants on the drive up the mountain, and the expansive tea fields on the way home. All in all it was a really lovely day. love Kayla, Marissa, Jeremy and Pranavi

Friday, June 25, 2010

Physiotherapy at FFC

Mukhil Singh, the physiotherapist at FFC, has been very welcoming and invited us to join him for some of his therapy sessions with the kids. Mukhil, along with a few PT students, provide therapy to many of the children living at FFC. Since there are so many children who would benefit from PT, he explained that he has to focus on those with the most significant needs. Most of his clients live in Special or Extra Special Care, and range in age from infancy to adulthood.

We observed Mukhil provide PT to five children in Extra Special Care, and found that most of the focus was on preventing or managing contractures and promoting mobility. Therapeutic equipment used for his clients included Ankle-Foot Orthotics (AFOs), leg braces, walkers, wheelchairs, and a therapy ball. Here, we met seven year old Senthil sitting in his new wheelchair. Last year’s IHI team donated $2300 towards the ‘Mobility India project,’ which allowed FFC to purchase 15 wheelchairs. Many of the chairs that were available before this time were adult-sized, so these child-sized chairs were very much appreciated and are clearly being put to good use.The main difference we’ve noticed between the sessions we observed and those in Canada is that a single piece of equipment may be used for a number of children, and is not customized to fit a given child. In Canada, it seems that there is more of a focus on equipment being the perfect fit for the child. Although this isn’t the case at FFC, the children really seem to benefit from the therapies that are provided and are flourishing given the circumstances. Each of these children lit up and were so proud to be able to walk independently (using the walker or while wearing leg braces or AFOs). There are so many children here who move around very functionally and independently without any adaptive equipment. It really seems that children are very creative, and will find a way to do what they need to do, regardless of the equipment they may or may not have access to.When speaking with Mukhil, he explained that the individuals at FFC would greatly benefit from a standing table, as well as equipment to use for electrical stimulation. His department is also in need of more small equipment like therapy balls, foam wedges and rolls. Near the end of our time with FFC, we will look at the needs of the different care areas and split up our $2500 donation accordingly.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Families for Children or Our Adventures thus Far.

We arrived at our first placement on Saturday, June 19th. Families for Children is an orphanage located in Podanur in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, India. The more we explore it, the more we fall in love with this incredible facility and all of the projects underway here. Our guest house is right across from the small and middle boys section – a building called Harry’s House. Every morning we wake up to the sound of sweeping as the little ones get up and help clean the grounds before they sit in rows for breakfast. In our mission to befriend our adorable neighbours, we mixed some dish soap and water, curled some of the pipe cleaners we brought as part of our school supply donation into circular wands and blew bubbles! Of course, it was a hit. Soon we had dozens of kids chasing them, blowing their own, and calling all of us Auntie or Sister (Jeremy included).

Close by are the Special and Extra-Special Care buildings. Here, children with cognitive disabilities are cared for. Anyone who walks by is greeted with many smiles and waves from the girls out in front. Upstairs are the “Extra-Special Care” rooms, home to children who require increased attention and help with mobility and personal care. We will be spending quite a bit of time there helping the friendly staff care for the 28 children that stay there. The Special Care Boys section is located in a separate building and is home to 45 people ranging in age from 3 to 35 – each with their own unique talents, needs, and personalities. There are always a handful of friendly students sitting on the stoop ready to strike up a conversation with us when we come visit. Their teacher, Chandraleela, helped them prepare a yoga and dance demonstration for us where the students showed off their skills and cheered each other on. Their classroom was filled with the crafts the students created, the toys that help with their manual dexterity and coordination, and the hand-made soap bars and greeting cards from their vocational training workshops. We hope to spend more time with their class next week and potentially go on a field trip off the grounds.

As a joke, the staff often says that they can always track down their FFC children because they smell like goats. We didn’t understand what this meant until we were shown the FFC goat farm. The facility provides all of the milk for the children on the site, as well as the soap everyone uses here. Jeremy and Pranavi are determined to each milk a goat while we’re here, and Kayla and Marissa have agreed to watch from a safe distance. We’ll keep you posted about how this goes.

Last year’s IHI team often mentioned their “favourite ladies in the co-op across the street.” We were introduced a couple days back to these ladies and the amazing handmade purses and handbags they make and sell in the market. This co-op is a place for some of the women of all abilities who grow up at FFC to work and have an income when they are no longer in school. We’re all super excited to purchase some purses to bring home with us! The ladies have recently begun a new project – dyeing fabrics in intricate batik patterns using all-natural dyes.

Close to this co-op is the home for the older boys, who can stay on the compound until the age of 21 when they find jobs and move off site. A group of boys can always be found in the front yard reading or playing. The facility is also home to vocational projects for the boys, including a paper-making project and greeting card station. We were amazed to see a bunch of the guys hand-embroidering and hand-painting designs onto these greeting cards. They were a very talented group, with one gentleman sewing wonderful flower designs even without any vision!

A short walk away and across a busy street are more FFC buildings (FFC is basically a little village of buildings within a village). Each day we walk over to this section to visit the canteen for our meals – the ladies here are so very friendly and even accommodate Marissa’s sensitivity to wheat products. Each morning we have our dosas/chapattis/pooris and sweet tea before heading off for the day’s adventures. We recently also met Thangaraj, the man who runs the FFC lending library that is open to everyone in the town. We hope to spend some of our down-time there helping him catalogue the growing number of books in his library.

This section is also home to the FFC school (pre-kindergarten to grade 3), the baby rooms, toddler area, and the middle/older girls building. Many of the girls here are eager to show off their English – something we have yet to reciprocate well in Tamil (beyond “unga par anah?” – what is your name?). Pranavi has been doing a great job of translating the Tamil she knows, and the rest of us just smile, bob our heads, and manage to use “vanakum” (hello) and “nandri” (thank you) as much as we can!

We spent Monday visiting with the babies and toddlers, as well as some of the classrooms. The babies are so cute – if we could, we would seriously sneak some home with us! The staff at FFC do wonders with these babies – many of them come here with various medical and physical challenges, and many are malnourished when they arrive at FFC. The little guys we have met are so bright-eyed, interactive, and playful (although there are definitely a couple little babies who are terrified of us crazy strangers). We dared to venture into the pre-school and came out exhausted! The kids are so much fun and are eager to play with us. In the grade one class, we were pulled into a round of “Are You Sleeping?” and “Wheels on the Bus.” The kids also showed us how well they know their English numbers!

This week we will continue to learn more about this amazing project here and try to find our place in it all. We have a few planned appointments (helping PT in the extra special care section, going for walks with some of the kids here, visiting a government and a private hospital in Coimbature, planning a field trip) throughout the week but much of what we will be doing here is finding out where an extra pair of hands are needed and situating ourselves there. We have had a lot of discussion this week amongst ourselves about what our role is going to be here and often find ourselves caught up with the need to be ‘doing’ something to help out. We forget that by being here, being with the children, socializing and playing games and by assisting with even the smallest things, we are being helpful. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we do not have all of the answers and a big part of our mission here is to learn from these amazing people about their culture and the way they do things here. There are so many amazing staff members here (we have already met a number who have been here since it all started over 30 years ago) that all have some valuable knowledge to share with us.

I think it is safe to say we are all very excited about the opportunities that FFC holds for us and we can’t wait to find out what some of those opportunities are.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Update!! or Waiting in Abu Dhabi.

IMG_0030 We  (three of us, Jeremy, Kayla & Marissa) are currently sitting in the Abu Dhabi International Airport waiting for our connecting flight to Chennai. Our flight was long, but manageable, with the longest leg of the trip over with. The airline was pretty amazing with OnDemand movies, tv and radio, and overall good service. We would definitely recommend Etihad Airlines to anyone looking to travel in this direction.

It is currently 8:23pm on Friday June 18 and our flight leaves at 10:15 so we thought what better way to spend our time than to update our blog?!

You’ll notice we said three of us are waiting here, Pranavi is already on route to Chennai and will arrive a couple of hours before us tomorrow. We miss you Pinky and we’ll see you tomorrow!

Ok. Hopefully the internet will be good to us on our trip and we can update regularly but if not we will update whenever we can. So stay tuned for more.

Jeremy, Kayla and Marissa

Monday, June 14, 2010

This time next week…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Sometimes it feels like just yesterday we took this picture, and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. But, this time next week, all of our hard work in planning and fundraising will be paying off when we will finally be in India working away at FFC. We are very busy putting together final preparations for our trip, making sure that everything is in order for when we arrive.

We recently had a meeting with a Speech/Language Pathologist who travels to India frequently and warned us that we will probably fall in love with the country and the people. She told us all about her trips to India, what we could expect, things we should do and see etc. and now we are all very excited to get to India and start our work there.

The past 7 months have been a whirlwind of planning and fundraising and we can hardly believe it is finally come time for us to get on a plane and go to India. There were times when we wondered if this day would ever come and now it is upon us. We fly out on Thursday night and will be in India early Saturday morning.

We really want to thank everyone who has been there for us and supported us over the past 7 months during the planning stages of our trip. We couldn’t have done it without you – both our financial supporters and those who have supported us in other ways with time, wisdom and travel tips. Thank you so very much – you all mean the world  to us.

We want to remind you that donations can still be made either online or by cash or cheque in the mail. Please follow the directions in the right hand side bar to make a donation. Any donations over $40 will still be eligible for a tax receipt and any size donation will be very helpful in making the final amount of our fundraising goal. Donations can be made now and even after we leave for India.

Also, one final thing. Please bookmark this blog site. We have had some technical difficulties with the site but we seem to have them worked out and we will be updating the blog from India. We will be keeping  you posted on what we are up to and how we are making out on our travels and how each of our volunteer opportunities are going. We will be sharing pictures and stories with you, our supporters, we really want to make an effort to keep you all in the loop so you can see how your donations are being put to work.

Thank you so much for all of your support and prayers both now and as we continue on this journey.

Jeremy, Marissa, Kayla and Pranavi.

(and bookmark this page!!)

EII Recap

An Evening in India went off without a hitch on Saturday April 10 and anyone who attended will tell you that it was a fantastic, entertaining night of fun and culture.

Here are a few pictures from the event. DSC_0408 IHI 2010 team with IHI 2009.DSC01830imageimage Our amazing DJ, and IHI alum, Larissa!image Two of the amazing people who helped us in planning and running EII 2010 – Dr. Bhayana and Dr. Prasad.

We want to say a huge thank you to all of our supporters who came out to enjoy the night. It really meant a lot to us. We also want to thank everyone who helped us put the night together, without their help EII could never have happened. There are a few people who deserve special mention:

Dr. Prasad, Dr. Bhayana and Dr. Venkatessan who were instrumental in planning and assisting with the night. The staff at W. Sherwood Fox Public School who were amazing at accommodating us in their lovely space and assisting with clean up afterwards. Larissa and family for supplying the DJ supplies and DJing for us. All of the ladies who made and donated food and drink as well as all who donated supplies and silent auction items. IHI 2009 who were extremely helpful with all aspects of the night but always seemed to be making sure there was someone at a ticket, food or merch table. And also a big thank you to all of the performers. You were amazing! Thank you for taking the time to put together such wonderful performances and truly making our night as special as it was.

There are so many people who deserve to be thanked, and if we’ve missed anyone please charge it to our head and not our heart. All who helped out mean the world to us.

We also want to remind you that EII 2010 was filmed and DVDs can be purchased. For just $10, you can relive all of the acts of the night any time you want from the comfort of your own home. To order your copy email us at Simply tell us how many copies you would like, as well as your name and address and we will get back to you. Order quickly because copies are going fast.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to support us.DSC_0406 Love Jeremy, Marissa, Pranavi & Kayla