Sleepless in Chennai

Trip Start Nov 27, 2012
Trip End Feb 24, 2013

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Where I stayed
Fortel Hotel, Chennai

Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sleepless in Chennai.

Bad choice of hotels in Chennai as we are across the road
from the railway line. The trains run their horns very loudly from 0500 to well past midnight, necessary to warn the communities who live along the railway line. The pavement dwellers outside our hotel use the areas between the tracks to dry clothes and for their ablutions and so far this year there have been over 450 fatalities on or around the
railways in Chennai.

In spite of sleep deprivation we have had a good few days in Chennai catching up with the Sports and Education Project here.   The project works in three slum communities
to get school drop-outs back in to school and support them with their education
to ensure they finish it and get placed in further education or jobs.  The football training each morning is a vital part of this, building self-esteem and giving them a positive focus in their
lives – the alternatives are petty crime, solvent abuse and various forms of child
labour.  There are then after school clubs each day to help with education and teach life skills.   This is all part of community development programmes in their slum areas which help the locals address the issues they face each day.

On Friday we met up with our partners here for an annual
review and also to catch up with the young men leading the project.   Vijay is head of everything to do with the football, co-ordinating the two grounds where over 200 boys come regularly for
training at 0600 each day and managing the various teams and tournaments in the
Chennai area.   Vijay is an amazing guy and a former street child so he really understands some of the hardships these youngsters face.  Alongside him are a group of really committed young lads who have come through the programme and are now the team of volunteer coaches (see picture).  Each one has an inspiring story about how their lives have been transformed and tell us how they are being role models to the younger boys and helping them with issues they may face.     We have re-named Joe “Superman” (back row, far left). He has recently been
responsible for sorting out drainage problems in his slum community of Basin Bridge and has become a bit of a local hero.  Recently Joe stepped in again when a boy was electrocuted on the railway line and Joe took the boy to hospital. Thankfully all is well.

After a number of meetings we headed out to visit two of the after school programmes (ASP’s), including a new one at Basin Bridge.    Driving through Basin Bridge we are
reminded of what a horrifically poor slum area this is.   One of the communities here lives alongside the railway line in reed huts and has done for generations.  We heard about the desperate situation for many of the young people here and how a red light area has sprung up here – a drastic choice for some of the young girls.   The small room they call the Resource Centre is packed with children and they have planned a cultural entertainment programme for us.    This area is not used to western visitors so all children want to shake your hand or have a picture taken with you.  Thankfully there is a small roof space
outside the room where the entertainment can take place.    There is a lot of dancing from the various
age groups and a short play from some of the boys based around the tragedy of turning
up to football training and finding no air in the ball!  We met the tutors who and chatted about the
progress kids are making.

We rushed off to Kannigapurum which is the largest ASP.  Unfortunately we were late arriving and over 200 children were crammed in to the one room waiting – the heat was almost
unbearable.   Lavinya did a wonderful traditional Tamil welcome dance and then we experienced lots of different entertainment which the kids thoroughly enjoyed.  We got to talk to two parents about how their children’s behaviour had improved and they were doing better at school.  Parents in these areas will generally be uneducated so it is quite nerve racking for them to get involved in conversations about education, however, the programme includes home visits and encourages parents to be supportive.  One of the mothers is doing a tailoring course at the centre during the day and was very positive about getting a better job when she has finished (most women here are domestic workers).

On Saturday they had arranged a mini tournament and we were
told where to meet at 0700.   The normal training ground at Basin Bridge (part of the Hindu cemetery) was flooded so we met at a ground alongside the railway line which involved us stepping over the tracks to get there.  It was amazing on the way in the half-light to see trails of boys walking through the streets to get there, some coming from 4km away.    
Over 200 boys were attending that day and all were very excited.  We soon found out that the area behind the pitch was where the local men go for their morning ablutions.   Some were very proud to have a toothbrush tucked in to their lungi and we were pleased to see a few
had shovels!     A centre line was marked but there were no side line markings so there were regular incursions in to the rough ground where we were spectating.  
The project now has five league teams for the boys to play in, two in Division 2, one in Division 3 and two in Division 4 of the Chennai Football Association.     All teams were out today and Terry was very impressed with the level of football.  One of the players has recently been selected to play for the state.  It was a great morning and the early start meant we were back in time for breakfast at 1000 and then a brief kip!

Our last night here and we went to a lovely restaurant to eat called Amethyst.   It is an old
colonial style house set in beautiful grounds and a real haven in the madness
of Chennai.  Unfortunately, with many hundreds of thousands of auto rickshaw drivers in the city, we managed to get the same one we had in 2008.   He is a
complete nutter who once we were seated turned head on in to six lanes of
traffic to make a U turn with Indian music blasting out and laughing that he
was “15 years no accidents m ’am”.   Regular plugs about the size of his tip, invites to meet his wife and baby (even after he had told us his children had left home) and trying to get
us to visit his friends shop were all as we had remembered from our previous

Our last sleepless night included being called by reception
at 2345 to question whether we were actually booked in (we were!).  Today we’re off to Goa for the start of the holiday section of this trip but buzzing with the excitement we always feel after
visiting the Rianna’s Fund projects here.  We are so fortunate to work with such a devoted group of people on the ground in India and we find their work so inspiring.  Keep it up guys!

In the news
:  In Chennai a prisoner who is on a murder charge was taken to court by two police officers but using the public bus service which included three bus changes. 
On the way a gang of 15 men ran on to the bus and stabbed him to death
before running off.  This happened even though he was handcuffed to the policeman and the “cop” didn’t have chance to draw his gun.   Does nobody smell a rat here!

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