Voluntourism in India

Trip Start Jul 13, 2006
Trip End Jul 06, 2007

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, February 4, 2007


The longest day... Our trip from Bangkok to Darjeeling started at 4:30 in the morning and we were still moving 17 hours later. After 2 flights we hired a taxi to take us up into the mountains. Within 2 minutes (you don't need to exagerate in India) the cab ran out of gas - the driver jumped out with a plastic container and said he'll see us in a while. Some time later we got a flat tire. He asked me to move to the other side of the car to take weight off the spare which was also suspect and losing air. We stopped in a village to fix both tires. It was freezing compared to the heat of Thailand and we were exhausted. From a home above us I heard a woman sum up our position by singing an Avril Lavigne song: Its a dam cold night. And then Quinn uttered the phrase which no one (remarkably) had said during the entire trip - "I want to go back to Calgary".

Our family finds itself somewhat precariously perched on a mountain side near Darjeeling, India (just east of Nepal) surrounded by 42 children who have 'adopted' us into their family for the month of February. The home is run by Father Abraham, a Canadian priest who for over 50 years has given kids without parents and those with parents so poor that they can not afford to keep them, a place where they can be healthy, get an education and be loved. Check out www.sasac.net

The children here have been teaching our children the difference between what you want and all that you need. And while they do not have much they are undoubtedly the happiest kids I have ever come across. It has been a fabulous experience for our family, especially Chevy who has really enjoyed playing with and teaching the kids.

It is quite a remarkable place with 37 cows in the dairy and the most impresive garden I have ever seen and a huge mushroom operation which all helps to feed and fund the home. The kids are actively involved in all areas. My volunteer niche has been mucking out the cow barns and working with the compost. I think Deb must have told them I had a lot of experience "shovelling it".

Taking care of the children is only a part of what SASAC (Saint Alphonsus Social and Agricultural Centre) does for the community. They employ up to 500 people in the village, produce bricks to build homes for the poor and plant more than 50,000 trees per year on the de-forested mountain sides.

The home is currently having a funding crisis as the India government has cut-off all donation transfers from Canada. The Indian government has changed their reporting requirements without any notice and the donations are being held up. More than 500 organizations are in the same boat and have been without funding for 12 months.

Quinn (my 10 year old son) and I have raised $6,205 in a sponsorship drive to shave our heads. OOPs...We now have an updated total in what you may wish to point out to your kids as a good reason to learn your times tables... our last morning, Deb announced that she had agreed to fund the cow feed for a month to the tune of $50 or maybe it was $100. How many rupees? I asked. She had dropped a zero and she actually had committed an additinal $1,000, so now the grand total is $7,215 (thanks to poor math skills and the Scotish family we met that donated). Enough to feed, clothe and shelter the 45 kids for 6 months (and some cow feed). A huge thanks to all of those that gave.

It was for sure the biggest family laugh of the trip...
Quinn insisted that if someone was going to shave his hair then it had to be a "professional" despite my assurance that no one could give a bad shave. Our friend Katayoun had suggested a great caption for a photo of Quinn getting his hair cut - "God shave the Quinn" which I thought was hilarious, but if 2 puns in one sentence are bad then surely 3 would be outrageous. So I bought a fish in the market to shave Quinn and it became (are you already there?) "Cod shave the Quinn". The funniest thing was when I told the barber at the 'Saloon' (a typo long ago that has been passed on to every salon in Darjeeling) I had a fish and I wanted to shave my son with it. He gave a few head wobbles, showed no surprise and then he said "no problem, we do this all the time."

Some of the kids were quite curious about how we were 'paid' to cut our hair. They wanted to know if they went to Canada, would people pay them to cut their hair.

The more we care for the happiness of others,
the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
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