Sunday, February 20, 2011

A trip to the stars!

Today was a special day for the kids at the Royapuram Government Boys Home because it was an once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity for them to come out from behind their compound walls. The kids were ready and hyper about their outing. I really doubt whether they had any idea where they were being taken, but the sheer joy of going out was enough for them to be ecstatic.
All the HUGS volunteers assembled at the Royapuram home by around 8.30 AM in the black and blue combination (idea courtesy – Geetha). Renita briefed the new volunteers, and the veterans got to work. We assigned the volunteers to group of 4 children each and then put them into the bus. I should thank Durai and Sid for arranging a good transport vehicle. Some of the children however hoped that the bus would be filled up soon, so that they could come by car! The music and dance pepped up the journey, though the volunteers seemed like they had more fun than the children. The latter were busy looking out of their window and were fascinated by the sights, sounds and smells of the fish market, as we took the sea side route to our destination.
A few weeks back, we were discussing that we should do something different from our usual visits for these kids : at that point we decided to take the kids out on a day trip. We thought various options over, and then settled for the Birla Planetarium. The obvious reason was that it will be of educational value along with the entertainment plus an on –the- side reason being that even most of our volunteers hadn’t ever been to a planetarium. At this point I would like to really thank two people, a creative director of an ad agency and the other, a Plastic surgeon, for sponsoring the whole event. I am unable give their names as they prefer to be anonymous, and what’s more they volunteered to help with the event before we had even asked them! Nivash and then Siddharth did the scout work and the booking of the planetarium, Dorai and Sid arranged the transport, Monica bought the water and snacks. Aswin and I took care of the finance and budgeting, Amit, Kiyomi and new volunteer Praneeth took care of the volunteer coordination. Geetha had put some feelers on the media front, and Renita processed permissions needed for taking the children out on a trip.
Back to today: when we reached the planetarium we gave the kids the usual cautionary notes and protocol to be followed for the next 2-3 hours. First they visited the science museum and the first stop being a structure which demonstrated the domino effect. The structure was quite complicated and it was very intriguing for the kids to see the ball rolling from platform to another smoothly demonstrating the transition of potential energy to kinetic energy – the older kids tried understanding the process, while the younger ones were awed by the visual treat. Those were photographic moments with their mouth open and with wide grins on their faces. Next each group with their volunteers proceeded to other exhibits. I am not sure whether they were able to understand the mechanism of most of the demonstrations but they were excited to see new things which they had never seen before in their life. Jacob’s ladder was a huge hit among the exhibits, and the transport museum was entertaining ad educative, with all the kids having a go at the cockpit of the fighter plane exhibit.
We spent about an hour there, following which we all gathered under the trees for the snack break. Each kid was provided with a pack of delicious biscuits. As they were having the snack, we called upon whoever was willing to narrate their experience. From what the children said, they seemed to be having a good time and were already contented. We celebrated Vetrivel’s birthday with chocolates and a birthday song, and it was beautiful to see him glow with happiness – he later said that he had never had so much fun on his birthday. Then we proceeded to the Planetarium: it was the first time for these kids at the planetarium and they were struck with wonder even about simple things like the new kind of seating with extended push backs and the dome above. The lights went off and as the film started playing some felt excited about the unique display above them and some enjoyed the whole projection. I really wish the whole projection had material which could have been easily comprehensible for the kids. But some still enjoyed what can be called a totally different experience. Some kids even went to sleep in the cozy atmosphere within the air conditioned auditorium which itself they felt was a unique thing compared to their day to day life. After 25 minutes we piled out of the planetarium, some amazed, some plain dazed.
Next we had the 3D show which actually was not expected to be in our itinerary. We had to repeat the cautionary note regarding the special glasses provided. Though the projection was not fantastic the animation of snakes and skulls made the children very excited which was evident with all the hue and screaming. I would even term these ten minutes as far more entertaining than the thirty spent inside the planetarium. Finally we gathered back at the entrance and had the group photo sessions and got back into the bus to return home to the Home. The assistant superintendant had accompanied us and was of great help in organizing the children into groups and in taking care of them. I saw him doing a head count, every so often, as if on autopilot!
When we reached the home we felt it had been a long tiring day; but we all felt so glad that we were able to make these kids so happy. I felt contented about a day well spent, and after good byes headed back to the car. As I passed by the windows of the Reception Unit in the Home which houses another 70 odd kids, they stared waving to me and were expecting us to come and play with them as we usually did. I told them that we will come back next week and immediately saw their faces fall. One kid caught my hand and pleaded me to play with him for at least 5 minutes. ‘Please anna, 5 minutes vanganna! Please na….!” His plea tugged at my heart and I felt myself breaking down within. My heart was so heavy with the realization of how much these kids needed care and compassion – and how they looked up to us to provide them with those needs. I felt happy and sad at the same time. How much happiness we have been providing to these kids all this while – while I thought we had only been giving them our time. How much sadness these kids experienced, day in and out, and how they cherished the little that we were doing for them. I felt wanted, needed, overwhelmed and very very sad that we would not be spending time with the Reception unit children this week – and that they would have to wait 2 more weeks for another HUGS session. I just told the kid that we will be taking them out the next week. For him , he was not able to comprehend what I meant because he was not even allowed outside the four walls, but he let go of my hand in the hope that he would have some good time next week.
I really thank all the volunteers who have been dedicated and committed all this while, coming and spending time with the children in order to put a smile on each of their faces. Trust me, your time is very much valued by each of these little ones. Wishing the next trip is yet another success, I sign off.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Who will take care of my little sister?

Picture this: A kid around 10-12yrs of age goes out everyday from his home, out in every possible direction,in search of his brother who has been missing for about an year or so but comes back home to take care of his little sister. Their parents have been dead for more than a year. He hails from a village in interior Bihar. During one of his forays, he gets caught in the web of human trafficking. And is later rescued by the police and has now been placed in a Government residential home in Chennai, Tamilnadu. Right from the day he came into the home people see him crying. When asked he replies that his little sister is all alone with nobody to take care of her. He knows nobody in the village. Even the only person whose name he can remember is the one who has been beating and ill treating him.
This kid begged me to save him and send him back to save his sister. These are the kind of scenes you come across in the Home. Every kid has his own story. We cannot completely believe these kids for various reasons yet there is a possibility that these stories are true. It's sad that we feel so helpless in a situation like this. We hope the government takes swift action in such issues. But it is so easy to pass on the burden to the government forgetting that WE are the government.
I would request everyone to think about these kids just a moment: we have comfortable lifestyles - going to pizza corner for lunch, Saturday nights to pubs, Friday evening to Satyam theatre for a movie, play games with our playstation, chat with friends over Facebook. These kids have hardly 0.1% of the comfort that we have. It just takes a couple of hours for anyone to make some difference in the lives of these little people. If you think you can do something let us know….Join our facebook community – HUGS India
Karthik B

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Promise!

It was a lazy Sunday morning, the week before Christmas. A hard earned weekend for me, after a crazy week and a late night at office.

The phone rang flashing the name 'ABR'. It was only 8 am. I knew the debate would begin.

ABR, aka Aswin and I were volunteers for HUGS camp, an NGO that 'Helps children Go To School'. It had more to do with play learning, for the underprivileged kids. The recent camps were at the Royappuram Boys home – a government’s shelter for orphans, children of convicts, kids who ran away or were sent away and so on. We heard about HUGS through Facebook (these days I turn to FB for everything – for gossips from friends’ circles to the latest make-up tips, from current affairs to international news. FB has got it all covered!)

Both of us were pretty lazy to wake up, and spoke with our eyes closed, under the pretext that that would help us catch on lost sleep, while our lips gibbered away to glory!

I waited for him to say "Let's chuck it and go back to bed". That way the blame would not be on me for backing out. Neither would be the guilt, of disappointing a bunch of kids who looked forward to meeting us every fortnightly.

I guess he read my mind. So instead he said, "You decide Geethu. Am game whatever!"

Smart a _ _ !
Spoke like a true man. Left it to the woman to decide. Now I was stuck.

And trust me, it was tough to have decided not to go and yet say, 'Ok fine. I'll meet you in 30'. But, that's what I said.

So there we were riding, that cold December morning, riding from Royapettah to Royappuram, (a distance of almost 18 kms) on the most dilapidated bike ever! (I know that by putting this up, I risk my chance to be ever spotted riding pillion).
Aswin spoke as he rode, about old Madras and the roads and how the shortcut we took would help us get there faster. While he was thanking the British for building the shortcut roads, I was cursing them - a longer ride meant more time to sleep). But my desperate attempts would anyways go futile, for Aswin ensured that not a single gutter or pothole went 'unattended'.
The ride lasted well over 45 minutes, thanks to the drizzle in between. As he parked the bike within the compound of the home, many hands extended out towards him, calling him "Maddy", "Madhavan", "Anna" fondly. The children inside the shelter seemed happy to see us.

We walked in to see Karthik briefing the new volunteers about HUGS. Renita meanwhile was being her chirpy self, organizing the set of toys to be distributed amongst the volunteers. It was my third trip and I felt like a pro already.

The children assembled at the hall. Christmas was round the corner and a few kids were decorating the hall. Somebody had to keep the rest of them engaged till the play session would begin. Aswin, Sidharth, Amit and I sat amongst the kids.

A few children, who were familiar with us, thanks to the earlier sessions, came closer and asked us how we were and went on to tell us what they had for breakfast and so on. The others new kids watched on in awe. It would take a little time for them to start mingling.

For a few were shy.
Few scared.
Few indifferent.
Few differently abled. (deaf, dumb, blind, physically or mentally challenged.)

And there were a few more, who could talk, see and hear. Yet they couldn’t mingle with the rest
of the kids. For they spoke languages no one could decipher – it could have been - Assamese, Gujrathi, Konkani or even Oriya.
The huge responsibility of talking to the children and locating where they came from, based on their mother tongue, fell on the translator appointed by the government. And he spoke only 2 languages - Tamil and Hindi.
The lucky ones were traced back to their homes. Those who were not would stay back at the home. They were provided with food and shelter and education. And those who could not be traced just stayed on. Until they learnt Tamil.
One more reason why HUGS needs more volunteers, who speak different Indian languages!

Coming back to the 19th of December, 2010. Renita and Monica had split the toys for each group, while we split the kids into groups of 4 to 5.

That's when I noticed Aswin sit with a boy, hardly 10 years old. He was crying clinging on to the window and refused to budge and mingle with the rest of the gang. I offered to help. The 'woman' in me had woken.

I held him close. But he moved away, as large drops of tears kept wetting his faded T-shirt. His answers were restricted to nods and wipes (of his tears, of his nose and occasionally his T-shirt). I had to ask him several questions like
'Did your friend fight with you?'

'Did you not eat this morning?'

'Did someone at the camp scold you?'

'Do you not like the rains?'
'Did you hurt yourself'

… to finally figure out the following:

The boy had been at the home for hardly 2 days.
His father had left him there, for he could not provide for his education.
He had lost his mother earlier this year.
His sister was also put up at an orphanage nearby.
He did not like the place (that was the easiest to figure out).

I did not know how to manage the situation. Do I just sit with him or do I try console him and make him cry further. Renita and Karthik offered to take over. And whatever they did, they really seemed to be good at it. For the boy was soon playing and laughing. He was introduced to the rest and they were asked to make him feel at home. Many heads nodded and we knew they would keep their word.

Meanwhile, I had a bunch of loyals from the previous session waiting to play the Indianised version of the Monopoly, with me. They loved the feel of the money, though fake. They refused to play any other game. They waited patiently for me to divide currencies among them - denominations of 10,000s, 5,000s, 1,000s, 500s, 100s, 50s and 10s. And as we played, I observed that this time they were better organized. They were well-planned about how to spend their money and highly enthused to purchase plots and construct houses. I was amazed at their
willingness to help friends who turned paupers.

At HUGS, we make use of games like building blocks, memory cards, snake and ladder, dominoes, to teach the desolate kids something. Anything!
But it often ends the other way around. The kids teach the privileged us much more than what any school or college can offer us!

After another play and learn session, a fulfilling session which lasted 3 hours, I walked out and waved goodbye. I could hear them call out "Akka, we will wait for you... Please come fast for the next session" I nodded my head.
Only to hope I'd keep my word!


Monday, November 8, 2010

Children's Day!

Yes, 31st October turned out to be an amazing day for the HUGS volunteers, and I am positive it was atleast as much for the children at Royapuram Home, the photos seem to agree with me.

What did we learn : that we need more volunteers, and the volunteer:children ratio needs to be 1: 5 or less, that we need to have a rota system on paper for handing out toys so that all the children can have a go at all the toys. Most importantly, we learnt that a Dermatology camp is an immediate necessity. Since this would easily be considered an in house thing, that is what we are doing on the 14th November, at Royapuram. The morning would be a play learning session as was the last one, while the afternoon would be dedicated to the Dermatology camp. We have spoken to 3 medical companies - and they were happy to provide free sample drugs for the camp- I will put up the names once I have the confirmation on hard copy.

So what do we need?Loads of volunteers, some dermatologists - either made, or in the making, medical students, pharmacy students- for help with dispensing drugs, and I think that should get us a good day's job done on the 14th. Please confirm your support, by clicking on the event invite - or call me, Renita at 9894488797, Feroz at 9841441890, or Karthik at 9840919399, or write to us at hugsindia@gmail.comHonestly, the event link is the easiest way:)We are partial to people with multilingual skills considering there are many children in the home, who have not been able to communicate with anyone in their native tongue for months together.Looking forward to seeing a lot of action and fun on the 14th,Renita PS: confirmed volunteers will be taken through a short tutorial on how to play the games - and of course, any innovation is welcome:)

View HUGS - LIFE Project - Royapuram in a larger map

Thursday, October 28, 2010

READY ! SET !! GO !!!

The Learning in a Fun Environment (LIFE) project is starting on Oct 31st at the Govt Home, Royapuram.

Where: Govt Home, Royapuram

When: 10:30 am, Sunday, Oct 31st

Coupling the potential of play based learning, with the lack of real life examples for the Govt home children (primarily abandoned, parent-less/differently-abled), LIFE project in Royapuram aims to provide an easily approachable and accessible mentor whose role includes imparting education through play and interactive methods while simultaneously providing an emotional anchor and psychological support to the budding minds of these future citizens.

Currently, educational & fun toys worth Rs. 30,000/- has been obtained catering to various age groups.

All toys have been classified based on the age group & what is the learning that can be obtained from each toy.

So, what next?

1. Mentorship Day 1 starts on Oct 31st from 10:30 am to 12:00 noon

2. Children would be grouped based on age & mentors will be allocated to each group

3. Mentors will interact with the children, develop rapport with the children via:

· Playing the toys with the children (toys will be provided to every group based on age group)

4. Stimulate thinking, creativity, imagination, team work via group playing & hopefully make a contribution to emotional, social & intellectual development, however miniscule.

Definitely, believe this would be a challenging exercise in terms of getting the children to play these toys, getting them to learn &

But, that is why we are all in here, right !!!

Interested individuals are encouraged to contact Renita (9894488797) or Feroz(9500059774), or mail in to us at hugsindia@gmail.com, renitarajan@gmail,comorzeeferoz@yahoo.com.

Be there, have fun, put a smile on faces & make a difference !!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let's play!

We are looking for volunteers who love games, kids, fun, learning, - anything in this genre. We are scouting for play buddies for the Royapuram Home - LIFE (Learning in a Fun environment) Project. watch this space for more!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

TOY STORY - 4 ( released )