Chaitanya Charitable Trust (CCT) – What a wonder and a pleasure it has been

We are down to our final day in Jamnagar, and it is quite bittersweet!
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Here Peter, Keith, and I are with Durga, one of the amazing teachers at the Happy Children Center we have had the pleasure of getting to know over the the past month!

IBM CSC India 20 has been receiving some attention in the press this week, which is great!
IBM announces community projects in Jamnagar as part of its CSC Program
IBM collaborates with NGOs in Jamnagar
IBM partners with NGOs on community projects in Jamnagar

Yesterday, we presented our final presentation to the client, which was very well received, we had a farewell lunch with our clients, Hitesh and Kajal, which was very festive, and we took a lot of pictures with / said our goodbyes to the children at the Happy Children Center. It was a wonderful day, and it was both a relief to have completed such a comprehensive project and also very sad to get in our auto-rickshaw and drive away from the slums for the last time.

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One regret, from a blogging perspective, is that I did not spend enough time talking about the project itself. My colleague Keith has done a wonderful job summarizing it in his blog, which I encourage you to read. Keith’s Blog on CCT In summary, we worked with an amazing non-profit organization, the Chaitanya Charitable Trust, that is small, but mighty, and is providing desperately needed services in the areas of education, public health, humanitarian efforts, and women’s trade and empowerment in some of the most under-served and forgotten slum areas in Jamnagar, Gujarat. Find more information on their website http://www.chaitanyatrust.org/ or on Facebook.

Here are some of the many services provided by Chaitanya, including daycare, sewing classes, and supplemental education (the focus of our project) at the Happy Children Center.
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Our project focused on helping Chaitanya build a five-year strategy plan to expand its Happy Children Center programs in order to serve even more children in the slums. The program is amazing, because it literally takes place in the slums where the children live, and unlike public, government schools which are rote and uninspiring, the Happy Children Center’s whole purpose is to create an environment which encourages “Learning with Fun.” The smiles on their faces, show you just how successful this program is at achieving this mission.
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The past four weeks have been amazing, and I could not have asked for a better team than the dynamic duo of Keith and Peter! In a rare moment of levity below, the guys having some fun and one of our auto-rickshaw rides home.
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Peter is a technical genius; he single handedly re-designed Chaitanya’s entire website and showed steadfast German determination in the two-week back-and-forth exchange with PayPal, finally winning the battle of proof of address and getting the much needed PayPal link set-up on Chaitanya’s site to enable seamless, one-click donations. As the team’s unofficial social director, he helped the whole team balance the rigors of the project with fun outings and team dinners. Here he is with three of his biggest fans and enjoying one of his favorite Indian traditions, drinking Chai tea.
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Keith is our master translator, tireless cheerleader, and PR magician. In just a few short weeks, he was able to create local contacts for Chaitanya and bridge relationships that had not been touched in years if ever. He wrote countless templates and proposals, sent emails, made phone calls, and facilitated several intimidating in-person meetings. As the “senior” person on our team, he was a trusted source for the client, and always a patient translator for the team (especially when I talked to fast, imagine that?!) His humor and positive attitude kept us going in some interesting situations over the past few weeks. Here he is making us laugh at the market and enjoying an Indian banana split.
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It has been a pleasure working with both of these guys over the last four weeks, and I will be sad to see them both go. However, I know they will both have countless other fantastic adventures as they continue their travels in the north of India over the next few weeks!

Few more images from the last few weeks,
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Tomorrow, we leave for Mumbai, and while it is sad to see this project come to an end, it has been a truly wonderful experience I will never forget!!

For all of my family and friends back home celebrating, best wishes for a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year! May 5774 be your best year yet! In honor of the holiday, I will be partaking in the traditional apples and honey with my India 20 CSC teammates this evening 🙂

Last but not least, very Happy Birthday wishes to my dad who is celebrating a big birthday tomorrow. I love you and hope you have a great day!

Thank you to everyone who followed along on the blog and for all of the encouraging emails, posts, and words of support over the last month!!!

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Around the bend

Here we are, the beginning of our last week in Jamnagar, which is quite bittersweet. Happy Labor Day to friends and family celebrating the long weekend at home!! Thanks for all of the positive inquiries into when the next blog would be 🙂

After two amazing weeks in India, I was temporarily sidelined with some sickness last week, but am happy to report I am on the mend, feeling much better, ready to resume my blogging duties!

As we head into the home stretch, we are heads down working on the final report and presentation, here is the team hard at work yesterday.

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Will certainly post more later, especially about the project specifics, but in the meantime, below was my punjabi debut!  It was a huge success; earning a lot of compliments from students and staff alike 🙂

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Around Town: At the Market, Bird Sanctuary, and Raksha Bandhan

Over the past few days, I have had the pleasure of experiencing a number of different local sites and customs.

The weekend began with a stroll around the neighborhood around the hotel, which even on Saturday morning is quite busy and full of people.  We enjoyed a chai tea from the local vendor.  Slightly different than how we make it at home, but one of the tastiest in Jamnagar.  Here is the local vendor at work.

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Here I am with Malcolm, Peter, and Claudia enjoying the finished product.

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Saturday evening, we visited the local market with our clients, Hitesh and Kajal, which was quite fun.  Those who know me well, will be shocked to learn I loved shopping in a foreign country 🙂

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With the help of Kajal, I was able to navigate the many beautiful fabrics for sale and purchase a few traditional Indian outfits, or punjabis, which consist of a long flowing top, pants, and coordinating scarf.  After purchasing the punjabis, we went upstairs, to the tailor who will be fitting to size.  Thankfully Kajal was there to translate, as there were numerous measurements and decisions involved!  I received the finished product today; it is quite beautiful, and I am very much looking forward to wearing the Punjabi to work over the next few days.  The children at the center will go wild!

Here I am shopping with Kajal (check out all of those choices behind me!) and Keith and Claudia enjoying the experience.

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Early Sunday morning, the whole team visited the Khijadia Bird Sanctuary.  Although, prime bird watching season occurs later in the year, there were still a number of local birds to see, including pelicans; the banner of this blog is a scene from the Sanctuary.  The entire atmosphere of the Bird Sanctuary was quite calming and peaceful, and a welcomed respite from the otherwise noisy and crowded streets of Jamnagar.  The scenery was beautiful;  the water lilies even reminded me of one of my favorite impressionist paintings.

Birds

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After the Bird Sanctuary, the team took a quick stop at what can only be described as an Indian rest stop, and we headed to the beach!  Unfortunately, the nearest beach is more similar to Revere beaches than those of Hawaii, however, it was still very fun to stick our feet in the Arabian Sea!!  Another funny moment, conservative dress extended even to the beach, where even the water goers went in full clothed!

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Yesterday, we celebrated another national holiday, Raksha Bandhan.  Sisters tie bracelets around their brothers’ wrists to symbolize their love and affection and brothers’ commitment to protect and look after their sisters.  It is quite sweet.  The schools were closed, so we worked from the hotel during the day, but on Monday afternoon, Keith, Peter, and I were treated to a chorus of well wishing students telling us “Happy Raksha Bandhan Day” in anticipation of the upcoming holiday.  It was too precious for words, to receive Happy Raksha Bandhan cards from the young girls, who even managed to spell out my name phonetically…very impressive indeed, when you consider that English is the third language they are learning after native Gujarati and Hindi.

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Finally, there are quite a few camels that call Jamnagar home.  So, as it is Wednesday, thought it only fitting to pay homage…with love to you, Lee!

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Catching up…Independence Day, Cow Traffic Jams, and More Great Food!

On Thursday, we had the pleasure of celebrating India’s 67th Independence Day here in Jamnagar, which was very cool!  The day began quite festively, as all of the hotel staff were wearing Indian flag caps.  In fact, they were kind enough to lend me one as well, and inform me that now, I too am Indian 🙂 Here we are in the hotel lobby, getting into the spirit!

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Although schools and public offices were closed for the day, we were able to work from the hotel in the morning, and then in the afternoon, some of our team members from the other India 20 projects joined us as we headed over to Chaitanya where the children from the Happy Children’s Center had prepared a cultural program.  It was a wonderful afternoon in celebration of the holiday, complete with singing, ceremonial gift presentation, and numerous choreographed dance routines.

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Yesterday, on our usual auto rickshaw ride to work, we experienced our first cow traffic jam!  On the main roads, the cows are typically just driven around, however yesterday there were 6 or 7 cows that were congregated at the intersection of two small one lane roads.  It required some deft maneuvering and persistent honking by our skilled driver, Khim-gee, but we ultimately got around them… what an adventure!

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In addition to the cows, I am also getting a little bit better at negotiating the crowded streets here, and most importantly crossing them.  With no lights or stop signs, pedestrians and drivers alike, have to pretty much assert themselves, in order to get anywhere.  All of those years of jaywalking in the cities of Boston and NY are finally paying off for me!!  Now if I can just figure out how to keep the mud from covering the bottom of all of my pants and shoes, I will be all set!

I continue to embrace the vegetarian haven that is Indian food.  Before coming to India, I was warned that the food here would be significantly more spicy than what we are accustomed to in the US.  However, I have really enjoyed everything we have had so far, and have since learned that Gujarathi food is known for being less spicy than other areas of India.  I could probably write an entire blog alone on the awesome food we have had, but for now, I’ll mention a few of the highlights.
Yesterday, we had the pleasure of having a home cooked meal for lunch, made by our client Kajal.  It was one of the most delicious meals we have had so far, including roti (round, wheat bread), curry, biryiani (flavorful rice), bhindi masala or lady fingers (what we call okra at home), and a delicious brown sugar tasting dessert; it was quite the feast!

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In addition to the home cooked treat, we have also enjoyed some delicious Chana masala, Gujarati tahli (mix of local dishes), and, feeling daring one evening, I asked for something spicy.  Veg Kohlapuri is known by the locals as being a spicy mix of vegetables with a red chili base; when I ordered, the waiter asked if I liked spicy?  As a precaution, I was advised to also order a side of yogurt (or curds) to tame the fire.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised to not need it, as the Kohlapuri ended up being spicy, but not overpowering, it had wonderful flavor and was in short, delicious!!!  Have I mentioned how much I love the food here? 🙂

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Real Life Heroes

Hero: (noun) a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent with great strength or ability; plural heroes

Today, I was introduced to a little boy named Hero.
This was emblematic of the day as a whole, as our team had the unique privilege of spending the day with two real life heroes: Hitesh and Kajal Pandya, two amazing and inspirational people.  As co-founders of the Chaitanya Charitable Trust, http://www.chaitanyatrust.org/ the two have created a truly miraculous space to educate, promote, and provide services for the most underserved populations of the slums of Jamnagar, India (primarily in children’s education).

Our Corporate Services Corps project involves working with Hitesh and Kajal to grow one of their critical services, the “Happy Children Center” project, which aims to supplement the inadequate education provided to grade school students in the slum areas of Jamnagar.  Today, team members Keith, Peter, and I spent the day being educated, experiencing tremendous highs and lows, as we saw how the centers run, the excitement in students’ eyes and laughter, & the multitude of good deeds performed, but also the struggle of what it means to live in an area without services or representation and sadness in the depth of poverty in the poorest slums.

It was hard, and it was inspiring, and it was only day one of our on site experience.  The task at hand is certainly daunting, but after today, I could not imagine a more worthy or deserving cause.

Some of the highs and lows from today:

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Hello Jamnagar!…Arrival, Sharing the Road, & Auto Rickshaws!

So much has happened in the last 36 hours, it is hard to believe that this is only our second day in Jamnagar!

Early Thursday morning, the entire India 20 team was united in the hotel lobby in Mumbai. It was a festive experience, finally meeting in person with this dynamic global team!!
We headed to the airport together, and in a short hour and a half, we arrived in Jamnagar! The airport is quite small (this was the only daily flight to the city from Mumbai) and deplaning on the runway, collecting our bags off the one carousel, certainly had an island feel to it.

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We were warmly greeted by our awesome Corporate Service Corps local contact Kabi, who is instrumental in arranging our projects, accommodations, and just about everything else related to this trip, and we headed to the Hotel Aram.  Here is the outside of our home for the next month.

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The car ride to the hotel was wild. There were cows, goats, and dogs in the street, amidst motorcycles, auto rickshaws, cars, and bicycles, as well as tons of pedestrians. On more than one occasion, the car slowed to maneuver around cows congregating in the midst of the street!  Just a few of the animals we shared the road with below:

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Upon checking in, we reconvened as a team and shortly after, I got to experience my first ride in an auto rickshaw (think three-wheeled golf cart).  Here Katrin and I are, all smiles for our first adventure into Jamnagar!

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More to come tomorrow as we start our projects in earnest, with the kickoff meeting with our clients.

Arrival & First Meal in Mumbai

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After some 24 hours of traveling, I am very happy to be reporting my first post from India!

Earlier today, I arrived in Mumbai (via London), the team’s first stop in India.  The first flight, which departed NY in the wee hours of Thursday morning, was accompanied by no less than five screaming toddlers, but aside from the unexpected melody, the flights were relatively uneventful.  Thankfully, there were no major delays or turbulence, and moving through customs was relatively straight forward.

Upon arriving in Mumbai, I was pleasantly surprised by the general lack of craziness that I had been primed to expect upon arrival in India’s capital.  It was a relief to be greeted by our local contact Shruti and meet my first team member, Nina, in person.  Traffic immediately leaving the airport, was not so different than that which you would see in any major metropolitan city.  However, upon leaving the immediate vicinity of the airport, the roads quickly became a frenzied scene… Imagine, if you will, your busiest highways, without lanes or traffic signals, and all of the motorists driving like NY city taxi cab drivers.  Then. throw in some stretches of road where traffic is literally going in both directions in the same lanes.  Top that off with nearly constant blaring of car horns, and you begin to get the idea.  It was at once exhilarating and frightening!

This evening was my first real Indian meal with the team.  Already, I am in vegetarian heaven!  Our first dinner was at an all vegetarian restaurant, and after a few false starts, attempting to ask our waiter about menu items, we ended with a delicious meal.  It started off with aloo tikki, followed by buttery and garlic naan, chana masala, paneer, & other vegetarian delights.  Aloo tikki was an immediate success across the team.  For the curious, “aloo” means potato, and “tikki” means small croquette, so essentially, a small potato pancake with many spices, served hot.  Yummy!  These are certainly not my grandmother’s potato pancakes 🙂