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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Delhi, Amar Jyoti etc. - A Quick Update

This post is a) overdue and b) small.
This marks our last day at Amar Jyoti. Our stay has been short but a really amazing one.

Internet access is hard to come by in the area where we are staying so our blogs have been sparse however, not to worry, there are blogs to come.

We have updates on some touring and sightseeing we have done around Delhi as well as some posts about our time here at Amar Jyoti.

Tomorrow we are using our final full day in India to recharge, organize our things, pack and get ready to head back to Canada as we fly out on Friday.

The blogs about Amar Jyoti and Delhi will be posted soon after we return to Canada on July 31st so stay tuned for those.

We can hardly believe our time in India is finished and that we'll soon begin the journey of choosing and mentoring the next group of students who will form the IHI 2011 team. We once again want to extend our thanks to all of you who have made this journey possible for us and we look forward to seeing you all again very soon to tell you all about our time in India.

We miss you all.

Jeremy, Kayla and Pranavi

ps. Marissa had to return to Canada early last week for a family matter and she has made it home safely but we just want to say WE MISS YOU PRETTY FACE!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Contributions to ASSA

Despite the very short amount of time we spent at Amar Seva Sangam, we all felt like we learned many valuable lessons and skills that will help us become better health care professionals. In the previous blog entry, we mentioned the parents’ manual that we were asked to develop. Similar to Canada, the therapy staff at ASSA only see their ‘clients’ for a short portion of a given day, while the parents of these children have at least 23 other hours to care for them. The point of the manual is to provide guidance to parents of children with disabilities in order to help them manage the challenges they face in the home. Unfortunately, we received the proposal for this project the day before we left Canada, so we completed most of the manual while in India. Due to our time constraints, we chose to focus the manual (thus far) on challenges faced by children with physical disabilities, as well as tips for managing these challenges at home and increasing independence for the children. The topic areas we have covered so far include communication challenges, eating/feeding challenges, learning through play, managing delays in physical abilities, increasing independence in self-care activities, managing high and low tone to prevent contractures, preventing pressure ulcers, and seizure management. We hope to continue working with next year’s IHI team to expand this part of the manual, and begin another section for children with cognitive delays and behavioural challenges.

In terms of donations, we were able to leave two suitcases filled with various medical supplies, including different types of gauze, specialized dressings, compression stockings, disinfectant solution, syringes, etc. These supplies were all donated by Not Just Tourists and Grand River Hospital in Kitchener-Waterloo, and were left with the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Unit. Other items requested by ASSA included a blood pressure cuff, a thermometer, various strengths of Theraband, a Spirometer and 50 Spirometer mouthpieces, all of which was purchased in Canada prior to our departure.

After purchasing the supplies mentioned above, we were able to leave a $1,500 donation to be used as ASSA sees appropriate. After meeting with Sankar Raman (ASSA’s Chief Secretary) and Saravanan (Head Physiotherapist), we learned that they would like to put our donation towards a long-awaited project – a Sensory Integration initiative. The therapists at ASSA hope to provide child-directed therapy to the students at their special school using Sensory Integration. Interventions based on this type of theory aim to help children reach their optimal state of arousal (the perfect balance of being calm and alert). Once the child is at their ‘just right’ level of arousal, therapy interventions will be more successful. For more information on Sensory Integration theories and interventions, please feel free to visit the CanChild website from McMaster University through the following link:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Volunteering at ASSA

Our first day started early, as we accompanied some of the ASSA children to their morning physiotherapy session. Starting at 7am, a number of kids already dressed in their red and white school uniforms took over the PT unit and we watched as they played together and did their exercises with the staff. We each played with the children who were waiting to receive therapy, throwing balls and playing clapping games. Soon everyone was up and off to breakfast with the other children, fitted with their callipers and orthotics, or wheeled by their friends. The lively ASSA morning routine continues with busloads of staff and children arriving at the main gates to attend school.

During a couple mornings, Kayla and Marissa observed the intimate classrooms at the Special School, where teachers were paired with no more than 10 to 15 students each, arranged in inclusive semi-circles where everyone could get the attention they needed. Here, students of all ages with varying developmental delays progress through grades based on ability and also learn activities of daily living, language skills (Tamil and English), and vocational skills for some of the more senior students. The students also receive regular physiotherapy at the school. Here, we met another volunteer from Denmark, Marianne, who was just wrapping up a three month stay at the school helping with English lessons.

Just across from the special school is the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit, with its friendly group of patients sitting outside in their wheelchairs, waving to passersby. As Pranavi and Jeremy attended morning rounds at the unit, they learned that each patient had met with an accident that drastically changed their lives and that this chronic care facility is meant to help them adjust and gain the skills necessary to live independently again. The unit has a 12-patient capacity and people stay and receive treatment and training for 6 months to a year. Here, patients get a well-fitted wheelchair (in fact, the unit serves as a store house for the several wheelchairs that ASSA provides to people in need throughout the district), counselling, medical care, round the clock orderlies to help with activities of daily living, vocational training or continued education, and daily physical therapy. ASSA’s field workers also visit the homes of these patients before and after they have moved out of the facility to ensure a smooth transition to life on their own.

We spent the rest of the week out in the field, participating in ASSA’s amazing Village Based Rehabilitation (VBR) Program that serves over 330 village communities within a 100 kilometre radius of the Sangam. We visited two of the six PMRC (Parent-Managed Respite Centre) special schools that this program supports. These schools of between ten and twenty kids each, provide physiotherapy and special education to children with developmental delays. We couldn’t help but notice what a warm and home-like environment these places were for the children and we loved getting to know the boys and girls at each school until they shared auto-rickshaws home at the end of the school day. We also accompanied the Sangam’s field physiotherapist and community rehabilitation worker during home visits, which was a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us. For those children who cannot attend the PMRC’s or the special school at ASSA, the VBR program identifies children with special needs and arranges regular home visits to provide physiotherapy and to train families to best manage their child’s condition at home. It was for this purpose that ASSA had asked this year’s IHI team to create a parents’ manual of practical tips for managing various physical limitations that children may face on a daily basis. While we visited people’s homes, we saw what a far-reaching impact ASSA has had in these villages, as children had custom callipers and other equipment available at home and their families were able to ask questions and learn how to care for their child with a special need. We hope that next year’s IHI team embraces this opportunity to learn about how various physical conditions are managed at home and how organizations like ASSA and their field work team has helped.

PS - Pictures hopefully to come! Technical difficulties...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome to ASSA.

We arrived at our second placement on Sunday and we knew right away that there was going to be a lot to explore at this large facility. Amar Seva Sangam Ayikudi truly is what its founders set out to create: a “haven” for the differently abled. Past its gates, you see plenty of wheel chairs, hand-operated bicycles, callipers, people walking or crawling with different gaits and rhythms – essentially, you see people finding their own unique way of getting around independently. It all fits very well with ASSA’s mission statement:
“To empower the disabled citizens by establishing a “Valley for the Disabled” as a Rehabilitation and Development Center for the region and to develop models for self-help initiatives by integrating the disabled individuals with the society for improved living conditions in the Village.”
The compound is six kilometres away from Tenkasi, the nearest city, and is surrounded by a serene landscape of wind turbines, open land, and distant mountains. It being a weekend, things were relatively quiet when we arrived, except for the sudden torrential downpour that lasted about an hour (it is rainy season after all!). After that, we took a quick tour of the facility. We met the children who live at ASSA first, as they congregated for a midday snack and greeted us with smiles and hellos. The children’s home is for those with physical disabilities who live, attend school, and receive physical therapy and ongoing care on site. ASSA also has a hostel for disabled youth and vocational trainees. The Sangam’s several services, however, are open to hundreds of people from the surrounding area that live off-site. These include physical therapy and medical screening, vocational training (we visited the tailoring and handicrafts workshop, the book binding machinery room, the typing workshop and the computer labs), an integrated primary and middle school for children with and without physical challenges in the area, and the newly constructed School for Special Children attended by 50 children in the area. This is all in addition to the field work done by ASSA in its several neighbouring villages. With all of that and a small dairy farm on the premises, it was a lot to see in one tour!
Since then, we’ve had quite a busy week and have tons to share with you! We’ll be updating the blog over the next few days with the details so stay tuned.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Adventures in Kerala!

We have just returned from a lovely, five day vacation in various parts of Kerala, a state adjacent to the home of our first two organizations in Tamil Nadu. We began the vacation with nothing short of craziness, as we got up at 3:30am to catch a 5:30am train from Coimbatore to Cochin (a.k.a. Kochi) and nearly missed our train! We asked for direction from a staff member at the train station, only to find ourselves literally launching our bags through the door of the departing train...a train that turned out to be the wrong one! Luckily we met some very nice, English-speaking people on the train who told us when to get off to meet the proper one.

Despite the early-morning drama, we arrived safely in the main city of Cochin and were greeted by some very friendly residents who happen to be “friends of friends” of Pranavi’s family. They were amazing and arranged our entire five-day Kerala accommodations, travel, and sightseeing! We stayed for two days at the Abad Metro Hotel in Cochin, very nice accommodations for us! We were so excited to have comfortable beds, nice pillows, a hot shower, flushing toilet, and TV to watch the World Cup! Our second day in Cochin, our friendly driver, Shaiju, took us sightseeing around the city. We visited the old Cochin Royal Family palace in the morning, before spending the afternoon and evening in Fort Cochin. We visited many museums, learned some Indian history, and finished the day by watching a Kathakali Dance performance.

Our Kerala friends also arranged am overnight houseboat trip for us in Alleppey. This was the highlight of the trip for us so far, as we enjoyed our very comfortable float down the Kerala backwaters. The staff served us three full, Kerala-style meals, complete with prawns we bought in a village along the river. The houseboat dropped us off the next day at Rice Village, a resort run by a family in a village that’s only accessible by boat. The owners two young daughters took us on a little tour around the village, which was complete with many nerve-wracking trips across rickety wooden plank bridges. All around, the stay at the Rice Village Resort was a very relaxing one, and everyone took great care of us~! We completed our evening by watching the Indian version of “Deal or No Deal” with the owner and his daughters.

This afternoon we arrived at Amar Seva Sangam, our second organization in Tamil Nadu. We will be here until Saturday morning, and hope we can see everything in the short amount of time we have to be here! Stay tuned for details!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Your Donations, Hard at Work.

As you already know, we have finished at FFC and left Coimbatore, and are currently enjoying our stay here in Cochin. On the recommendation of IHI 2009 we are taking some time in between each NGO placement to recharge and reflect on our experiences at the last placement.

Since we’ve been frequently sharing some of the hands on stuff we did during our stay there, we also wanted to share with you what some of the monies you, our amazing and generous sponsors, donated will be going towards here at FFC.

This is something that we didn’t take lightly at all. We have a large donation of about $2,500 we have for FFC and we wanted to spend it all wisely. Much of our time here was spent getting to know the facility, and asking the staff, the people who know best, where our money would best be spent. We got an amazing response from the staff here of things that they need.

Luckily we were able to purchase a number of things requested right here in Indi and we spent one of our mornings navigating the city, with the help of FFC’s awesome driver, Mani, purchasing these things. We bought rexin and rubber mats for the floors and the cribs, respectively, in the baby rooms, a pressure cooker, and a food processor and blender for preparing baby food. We also had a digital camera donated to us in Canada that we were able to leave with the FFC school.

For the remainder of our donation we split it into a wish-list of sorts, indicating where we would like to see our donation money going. A lot of the money has been designated to basic supplies needed to keep FFC running from day-to-day. These include school and art supplies, diaper materials for the baby rooms and special care sections, cooking supplies, and some new toys for each of the sections.

We mentioned that a lot of our time was spent assisting and observing with physiotherapy rounds here at FFC and we have seen a major need for funding here. Mukil Singh, the head PT here, identified that he could really use a new set of parallel bars and a standing table for the physio department here. He kindly looked into it and got a quote of how much it would be to have these supplies made and decided it would be feasible for us to donate the full amount to get each of these made. We have included this equipment in our wish-list and sent it off to Sandra Simpson, the amazing founder of FFC, who will consider our list and make the final decision on where our donation will be allocated. We are hopeful that these needs we identified with the help of the staff at FFC, will be met using the money we are so fortunate to be able to donate.

We thank you again for your generosity that allowed us to donate such a considerable donation to this amazing place.

Jeremy, Kayla, Marissa and Pranavi

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Farewell to FFC.

If you are reading this we are either on the train heading to Cochin, or we have arrived and have started our little four day break before we get started at ASSA.

We really enjoyed our time at FFC and met so many amazing people over the past two and a half weeks. Everyone was so kind and generous, always willing to help us out as we were trying to get settled and find our place her at FFC as well adjusting to a new environment and culture.When we first arrived everyone asked how long we were going to be staying here and they were all so surprised when we responded with two and a half weeks. We later found out that generally volunteers here stay for long time periods, often months and months at a time. We can now see why this is the case. It is as though we are only beginning to get settled here and started on some of the things we wanted to accomplish and now we have to leave.

I think the consensus among the four of us is that we are truly going to miss it here. The whole place is truly amazing. The concepts and philosophies behind it are something that we have never seen before. None of us have ever spent much time in an orphanage before, however we each had a picture in our mind’s eye of what an orphanage would be like and this, FFC, definitely does not fit the image that any of us had created.

It doesn’t feel like we’ve spent the past two weeks in an orphanage – instead it feels as though we have been spending time with a family. It feels as though this family has opened their doors and their home to us and welcomed us in as one of their own. The kids who live and go to school here, the men and women who both live and work here, and the various other people who keep this place running such as the teachers, the kitchen and office staff, are all one big family and now even after two short weeks, we feel as though we are also members of this large family.

That, as we’ve found, is the beauty of this place called Families for Children. We can say with absolute certainty this place lives up to its name 100% and like a family, it will be in our hearts forever.

Jeremy, Kayla, Marissa and Pranavi

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fun Times at FFC

Today marks our last full day at FFC. Our train to Cochin leaves tomorrow at 5:30 am so today we have been saying our goodbyes, packing up our things, handing out photos that we have taken here and generally getting ready to leave tomorrow.

It hasn’t been all work in our two and half week stay here, we have found some time to have fun as well. We thought it would be a good time to reflect on some of the fun times we’ve had during our stay here at FFC.

On campus at FFC we started every day off with the Canteen ladies and their delicious breakfasts (chippathi, dosas and idly). No breakfast was complete without sitting to enjoy a tea afterwards before we got started on our day’s work.

A lot of our time was spent providing extra hands in the special baby room and that often meant we were able to play with these babies, read to them, take them outside to play in the school yard or for a walk in the strollers.We occasionally found ourselves on the playground at recess, playing with the school aged children. Running around with them, pushing them on the swings and relearning what it is like to be a kid. We often found on these little play breaks, that bubbles were a big hit with kids of all ages.

We also braved the rickshaws, the...exciting...Indian driving experience and the bustle of downtown Coimbatore to have some fun too. We experienced Chennai Silks, the huge clothing store downtown and got ourselves some salwars, tunic tops, and saris. It is a good thing they have amazing staff there to help you out because what a process it is just to buy a few articles of clothing. Upon walking through the facade, it looked like chaos to us. There were people everywhere and it seemed as though there was at least one staff member for every customer, it didn’t take long to realize however that this store was run like a finely oiled machine.

Today we got to get off campus with some of the special care boys in the wheelchairs that last year’s IHI team funded. We took a short walk down the street for some coffee, tea and savoury treats.

Sundays were our days off here at FFC. We took our first Sunday to head up into the mountains to visit the charming little city of Ooty. Our second Sunday was spent in Coimbatore. We treated some of the staff here at FFC to the good seats in the theatre to see a Tamil movie. We saw Raavanan starring Aishwarya Rai and the crowd-pleasers Prabu and Karthik. Later that night, the four of us enjoyed a fancy dinner buffet (including meat we felt comfortable eating) at the Residency Hotel.

One of the most interesting things we were asked to be a part of during our stay here was a wedding reception for a girl who grew up here at FFC. The reception took place right on the main FFC campus and everyone got to participate and they all got dressed up in their best party frocks, salwars, saris and suits. The food was amazing and was probably one of the best meals we enjoyed during our stay here. It was really cool for us because a lot of the older kids came back for the celebration – people who are now away studying at college, working or who have families of their own now. It was amazing for us to see them interact with each other and with the younger kids still living here at FFC.

It was also really cool to see them with all of the staff. We can see how that would be a very rewarding aspect of working here – catching up with these kids that they worked with who are now adults. It would be amazing to see the person that they have grown into and know that you had a hand in helping them get where they are today.

Love Kayla, Jeremy, Marissa, Pranavi

Sunday, July 4, 2010


The FFC Women's Co-op employs some very talented seamstresses who create one-of-a-kind hand-made bags, each with a unique Indian flavour! Today, we picked up a few items that we will be selling when we get home to support this wonderful place we've called home for the last two weeks.

We love every single piece! There are small passport bags, messenger bags, awesome yoga kits that include a mat bag and a backpack, and hobo-style purses to choose from. We will post more details on how you can get yours when we return home.

Pranavi, Marissa, Jeremy, and Kayla

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hospital Visits

To better understand the nature of healthcare provision in India, IHI will try to visit area hospitals at each of our placements. Last week, we visited a new small private hospital called the Rajam Medical Centre in Coimbatore. It is a 40-bed hospital with physicians of virtually every specialty available on call, two operating theatres, and a delivery room. We felt that Rajam’s atmosphere was a warm and inviting one and that the small size of the hospital allowed for the personalized care of the each patient. The staff mentioned that they see several patients in their cardiac care unit that travel from neighbouring countries for that very reason. Though they are a private institution, they do provide some emergency treatment to patients who can’t normally afford their services.

Today, we had the opportunity to tour the government hospital in Coimbatore, which happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It truly is a massive facility and it serves over 4000 outpatients a day! As we walked from building to building we were a bit taken aback by the crowds and the hospital’s size. The government hospital provides free medical care to the population, including medications, and it has every department you can think of on the one campus—dental surgery, physiotherapy, vascular surgery, neonatology, paediatric surgery and medicine, trauma, ENT, psychiatry, cancer treatment, ophthalmology, leprosy treatment, diagnostic imaging including a CT and MRI lab, all of the inpatient wards...everything down to the coroner’s office can be found at this one large medical education and treatment centre. Several children from FFC regularly visit the neurology department for the ongoing treatment of seizure disorders. There is also an STD clinic on site that provides free anti-retroviral treatment for patients with HIV.

We also did some shopping for FFC today. We drove through the busy streets of Coimbatore and picked up some essentials for the baby rooms: waterproof bedding, a pressure cooker and heavy-duty blender for preparing food for the little ones. We ended the afternoon with a snack – plaintain bajii, yum!We only have a few days left here at FFC and they are quite busy. We have a few blog posts that we are planning on sharing with you to keep you all updated about what's going on with us here in Coimbatore. Then we are off to ASSA after a short break in Cochin. We really appreciate all of you who read this blog . It means a lot to us that all of the people who have supported us and supported this initiative are connected to this trip. We want you all to see exactly what your donations are doing in this country. So we thank you!!

Jeremy, Kayla, Marissa and Pranavi