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.