Friday, February 3, 2012

Tuesday December 27th, 2011

So you know that feeling…the one of being somewhere you have never been before.  Somewhere that should be completely unfamiliar.  Somewhere that should challenge your regular way of life. 

The scenery, weather, culture and language are all new.

And yet…you feel right at home.

This is what Chevuru village felt like.  From the moment we first stepped out of the car on the first day, I had a feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be.

Our small group of four volunteers fell into a loose routine:

The day began with breakfast at our hotel in Gudivada.  Traditional Indian breakfast (or peanut butter bread and granola bars for those with stomachs refusing to cooperate with curry) was delicious.  This was my favorite breakfast:

After breakfast, we embarked on our half hour drive to Chevuru.  This drive was one of my favorite parts of the day.  Gawking out the window at the unfamiliar, asking Ravi question after question, listening to the same CD of current Bollywood hits…it never got old. (Find out more about these two movies: Bodyguard and Business Man.)

When we arrived in Chevuru, the children immediately sensed our presence and hunted us down.  Many of the children were fortunately on Christmas vacation from school.  

After arriving, we were treated to a cup of chai made from the milk of a water buffalo.  Mmmm.  I miss that chai. 

And then, the work would begin:

Building walls, mixing cement, passing concrete, passing bricks, returning concrete trays.  Back and forth.  Back and forth. Much more on this later.

Then one of the best times of the day: lunch time.

After lunch, we would either work more, play with the children or visit the homes of villagers.  All of these tasks-we were repeatedly assured by Ravi-were equally important. 

Visiting the homes of villagers was impossible to avoid.  This is because the children would drag you there whether you wanted to go or not.  The opportunity to serve and give hospitality to people who will accept it gratefully is not something these people get to do very often.

As volunteers who traveled to Chevuru to help and give to those in need, learning to accept the hospitality without guilt was our own personal challenge.  How could we accept these gifts knowing full well that those giving have next to nothing?  

We had countless discussions among us four volunteers regarding this matter.  Ravi helped us by giving us the view of the people: joy at being able to give a stranger hospitality that would not be met with scorn.

For myself, it was an incredible feeling that doing something as simple as accepting a delicious cup of tea could be so meaningful to someone.

Sometimes the smallest gestures can truly carry the most meaning.

This gracious woman took us to her home and offered us coconut water. 
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Monday December 26th, 2011

They were waiting for us, all gathered about the brightly painted house just across from the church.  Curious eyes strained to get a look at us as we came to a stop.  We stepped out of the car and into an embrace we will not soon forget.

Joy and gratitude emanated from the faces of the people as they draped enormous flower garlands about our necks.  A tiny old woman reached up to my face and took it in her hands.  Her eyes stared into mine, saying so much more than words could ever hope to. 

The exuberance of the children flowed forth in an inextinguishable current.  Wonder and excitement beamed from their faces.

Ravi translated into the native language of Telugu as we took turns introducing ourselves, amidst laughter, tears, and applause.

As the introductions concluded, we were each bombarded with curiosity in the form of small children.  A cart pulled by two water buffalo was riding by; the children pulled us on board to go for a ride. 

After our short ride with the water buffalo, we were invited for chai.  This was our first daily morning cup of tea.  Afterwards, we would begin our work in helping rebuild Chevuru.

This village called Chevuru would become our home and steal our hearts over the following ten days. 

Chevuru is a small place in the countryside of the Indian state, Andrah Paradesh.  It lies fewer than 20 kilometers from the coast of the Indian Ocean.  Palm trees and fields surround the village.

The history of Chevuru is very long, though I am afraid I do not recall specifics.  A very long time ago, only Dalit people lived there.  They were their own community.  During that time, most people had to travel by foot.  Thus traveling far distances took a long time and, naturally, stopping frequently for water and rest was a necessity.

Because Chevuru was only home to Dalits, upper caste people refused to accept their “untouchable” hospitality when passing through on a journey.  So some upper caste families came to live in Chevuru in order that other upper caste members could stop and receive refreshment when passing through. 

These wealthier upper caste people were able to purchase much of the land surrounding Chevuru.  More and more of them moved into Chevuru, on either side of the Dalit area creating a sort of “sandwich” of a village.

The Dalit people there face the type of discrimination that is dictated by the caste in which they are born.  This means that they must work extremely hard in order to achieve opportunities that others might take for granted.  They are only hired to do the jobs no one else wants to do-some of which are seasonal.

Unfortunately, the Dalit people also face uncertainty in regards to their homes.  Sturdy materials such as wood and cement are expensive and far out of reach for the meager earnings of a Dalit family.  Most homes are built using mud, straw, and palm fronds.

As one might imagine, these are not very sturdy homes.  Especially so when it comes to the annual rainy season, monsoons, and typhoons.  Rebuilding homes is almost an annual necessity for these people.  They must use precious time-time they should be working to build a better future for them and their families. 

The volunteer work that Go Longitude and ARV coordinate does so much more for these people than simply provide them with sound homes.  Watch this video (it's of a CNN team working in Chevuru) for a tiny peek at the work that has already been completed and that continues.  

This is another good video showing the work Go Longitude and ARV are doing:

More to come...
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