Saturday, August 8, 2009
Just a quick note. Both teams made it to Bangalore safely, and are enjoying swapping stories about what God has done through our time here, both in our own lives, and in the lives of the people we had the privilege to serve. We have a "rapid 12" hours between now and when we need to depart to the airport, which is just enough time for us all to get a hot shower, a good meal (Pizza Hut here in Bangalore!!! Woo-hoo!!!), and some shopping in before we evac for the long trip home. This will probably be my last post till we hit good ole U.S. soil, but know that our love and gratitude for your prayers and thoughts go out to each of you who have followed along, and that we will be happy to see you in just under 48 hours from now!
Thursday, August 6, 2009
John and Nate accompanied Pastor Job, Ananraj, and Thiagu to a Salem wagonmaker, to negotiate for a wagon for Grace and her husband, who sell flowers, and would like a wagon to use in their business. Right now, they can barely pay the bills, and would like to add vegetables to their business, and Grace could operate the cart, while her husband would continue to travel on his motorbike, purchasing flowers and selling them.
If they had this cart, they think they'd be able to make $1-2 per day consistently, and sometimes more. Grace and her husband came along, and John interviewed Grace to get the details of her business, and help with suggestions for operating the business. The picture to the left shows the cart, and Grace, John, and Anandraj are discussing the terms of the purchase.
Then Thursday, in Suramangalam, Nate met Lydia and her mother-in-law. Lydia's husband committed suicide, something common in this village. Lydia's father-in-law had also committed suicide. Lydia has 2 children, age 8 and 15, and has been working for women who make rope. We are hoping to help her start her own rope business, with a machine like the one to the right.
Nate and John also went and bought 4 goats to begin a business for 2 people in Thirumalagiri, so there is a lot going on.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
India teams are tough, but exceedingly rewarding. In the process, however, we have learned that taking a day in the middle of the experience to extract from the village environment to something just slightly more Western where team members can get a hot shower, do some laundry, and maybe even eat something pseudo-familiar (like scrambled eggs and toast) is very helpful, and keeps everyone at their best for the remainder of the trip. As a result, we are now at the “Pride Biznotel” in Ranipet for a day, just chillin (literally… the rooms are air-conditioned… woooo-hooooo!!!!). I’m catching up on some blogging and some work, and I’m pretty sure everyone else is trying to lay low to recoup before heading back in to our final 2 days of project.
How do you teach 150 Indian children some Conversational English basics while at the same time keeping it fun and interesting? By teaching them the Hokey Pokey, of course! Shown here are several team members teaching Kalavai kids how to “put their right hand in… and shake it all about”. The kids loved it! And I’d wager that our team did too. It was a riot all around.
Anyone who has been to the Irla Colony in Kalavai knows Miss Lilly! Her beaming smile and generous heart keep everyone going, whether on the work site, or over chai in the evenings. She was the first person to come to Jesus in the village, and now, has been steadily bringing more and more of her neighbors with her to church at Shower of Blessings with Pastor Sam. Miss Lilly is a widow and has a grown son who lives in Chennai. She came to the Irla Colony 10 years ago, and works for approximately 400 RS/month (about $10/month) as a house-maid. She is excited about the goats as a means to sustaining a higher degree of revenue for her needs, and is likewise excited about the work that GCC, Life Mission International, and Shower of Blessings are doing in her village.
Amuda and Mativi are friends, and their situations are similar. Whereas Mativi is a little more outgoing, however, Amuda is shy but very kind and gentle in her interactions with other people. Like Mativi, she is also an exceptionally hard worker, and was married 5 years ago before her husband abandoned her when he accumulated too much debt to be able to repay it. She lives with her mother and when asked how we could pray for her, she said, “I would like your people to pray that there may be peace in our village, and that we would have harmony with one another.”
Mativi has a smile that will knock you over. She is slight but built with steel under her skin, and worked a 12 hour work day on the construction site in 100 degree heat without much of a break, if she even took one. She laughed and smiled with us as we tried to learn everyone’s names, but kept the work flow moving the entire time. Three years ago, she married a man who was a con artist of some sort. After living with her two years, he liquidated their dowry, sold all their goods, and then ran off with the profits, leaving Mativi and their 2 year old daughter without anything. They later found that this man has done this with other women, but the prospects of his returning to her are slim if any. Mativi has done her best to provide for herself and her daughter by working as a day laborer whenever possible, but I wish you could have seen her eagerness at the prospect of having 3 goats with which to begin to work!
Panchalli is the oldest of the owners, but don’t let that fool you. She is spry and smart and you can tell from talking with her that she has some business savvy, but just has never had much opportunity to use or develop it. She is a widow and has 3 children who live far away, and also works as a maidservant in two wealthier family’s homes in the surrounding village. She has asked that people pray for her health so that she can care for the goats well and do what is necessary to cause them to grow and prosper.
This sweet little lady is one of the hardest workers you will ever meet. Honestly, she put most of us to shame on the job site, and she is easily twice the age of most of us. She is a widow and has 4 children, but they are all grown and live far away. Like Maliga, she has often attempted to generate a meager living from hiking into the jungles and cutting firewood, and also like Maliga, one day dreams of having her own home.
Maliga is a strong woman, and you can read that characteristic immediately in her demeanor and her physical strength. I first met her while she was shuttling 30 lb dishes of rock around the KC3 work site where she has been working with local contractors as a day laborer. She is a widow with 6 children (4 boys, 2 girls), and has made a sparse income of hiking into the forest to cut firewood or by hiring herself out as a day-laborer. She has lived in Kalavai since birth, and lives in a tiny thatched hut with her kids. “Someday”, she says, “I would like to own my own home.” The goats will give her a start toward that dream, and to taking care of herself and her children.
The following 6 stories are about the 6 women who are the “prototype” group to receive the first 6 micro-herds of goats purchased by the team. They are each extraordinary and amazing ladies, and it has been a privilege getting to know them a bit better. Before introducing them, however, I wanted to tell you about the fun way Raj and the RB came up with to give each lady their goats. In order to be as fair as possible, the RB divided up the goats into 6 lots (each containing at least 1 pregnant female) of relatively evenly matched goats. Then, Raj wrote a number on a piece of paper for each lot and hid them in his hands. In turn, each lady came and picked a piece of paper, and the corresponding number determined which herd would belong to her. It had a “price is right” sort of feel as each lady came up and was nearly vibrating with excitement as she looked from micro-herd to micro-herd, wondering which would be hers. It was hilarious.
As illustrated above, in order to ensure that the goat project has the highest degree of success possible, a “Regulatory Board” of village elders (plus Pastor Sam) was formed to provide overarching leadership for the 6 women receiving micro-herds. This body will serve for the greater good of both the community and the micro-herd owners, and will also help to coordinate such things as sale-price for the goats, veterinary care, and guideline enforcement. The RB is made up of Pastor Sam, Kassi (a village elder and man of considerable standing within the community who has been present with us consistently throughout the week), and Valliammal (a woman in the community who is slightly wealthier than many of the Irla and also highly respected, particularly by the other women).
So how does one go about the purchase of goats, then? Well, one gets them from a market, of course. Yes, but how does one get them back home from said market? Well, one rents a large, flat bed truck, and transports them, of course. Yes, but where do the team members who want to go along to help with the goat purchase and wrangling ride? Well, in the back with the goats, of course. Yes, but what do they sit upon, and where would the seat belts be? Well, you’re in India… don’t ask such silly questions any more.
So, those of us not installing water filters piled into the back of a flat bed truck as we went zipping down the highway, standing in the back of the truck not too unlike goats ourselves and being quite the spectacle for every Indian who saw us. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking as they waved and smiled, but some part of me wondered if some part them was wondering how many Americans would one goat be worth, and which would be the fairer trade.
1) A Regulatory Body (“RB”) comprised of community leaders will oversee the basic oversight of the 6 women owning micro-herds. The RB will also help to administer resources over time so that more and more people in the village can acquire resources and join the process.
2) An Executive Director (“ED”) will both report to the RB as well as carry out its day-to-day and tactical interface with the members of the community, serving as the primary point of contact for micro-herd owners when they have problems and also when they need to sell a goat for profit or income.
3) Each herd owner must keep a minimum of 3 goats at all times, and a growth rate of at least 1 goat per year (i.e. 3 goats this year, 4 goats next year, etc.). Since goats can give birth 2x/year and often bear 2-3 kids, this should still allow the herd owner to both sell 1-2+ for profit while still a) maintaining the critical mass of 3 and also b) growing the heard geometrically over time.
4) One of the first born kids to each micro-herd goes back to the RB. This is a one-time “gift” back to the community (i.e. it is not a “payment”, because the goats are given as gifts, not loans). These new goats are then given to another community member who would like to enter the goat-herding business as their “start-up”.
5) When a goat is sold at market, 10% of the total sale goes back to the RB for use within the community, either for the KC3 project or for other things that the RB determines are beneficial for the community.
When we presented the idea both the people making up the RB, the ED, and the candidate women to receive the herds, each responded with great questions and concerns. We talked through them, and reached a point of action whereby we all agreed to cooperate. So, in the end, you see that we’re basically helping them with “business model ideas” and not the technical savvy necessary to herd goats.
I’ve learned a lot about goats recently. Did you know that a full grown female goat can produce 2-3 kids per pregnancy, with up to 2 pregnancies per year? Yep, and they eat just about anything too, so can graze just about anywhere. And here in South India, goat meat is actually preferable over all other kinds of meat with the exception of chicken, so a full grown goat can be sold for anywhere from $40 – 50, or more if it is a pregnant female. As a result, a herd of 3 goats (example 1 male and 2 females = approx $150 value) can become a herd of 11 in just 12 months ($550 value), with geometric and exponential growth at a vast rate in only a couple of years. In addition, here in Kalavai, while the Irla people are technically of the “rat/snake catcher caste”, they are often permitted to watch and herd other wealthier people’s goats, thus giving them some shepherding experience (note that in that instance, the Irla people are not actually “paid” a wage, but rather are allowed to keep one kid if a pregnant goat gives two when it gives birth). So when we started trying to figure out what kind of potential income-generating occupation might be best for the Irla people, they suggested purchasing small “micro-herds” (i.e. 3 goats/herd) for start-up for the poorest and neediest of their community to try out. We thought that sounded like a great idea, so set about figuring out where to purchase goats and how best to put together a business model to help them manage them once purchased with a “prototype” group of 6 women from the village.
So we inspected the 5 and found that all but one were operational (1 had been knocked over by a drunken male, and thus rendered useless). In fact, the 4 others were being well used, and each family reported that they had noticed an improvement in their overall health. “We haven’t been sick for 6 months” one mother smiled as she told us about her filter, “and I’m sure this has helped!” One family, in order to ensure that the filter stayed stationary, concreted the filter to the flooring to keep it upright an immovable. We were impressed.
So Chad and Dan set about training another group of village members the first day, and then, along with some additional members from our team, set about installing 15 more on Tuesday in combined teams of Americans and Indians. While Chad and Dan will still be available as resources on Thursday and Friday, the newly trained groups of Indians were, as Chad said, “doing just fine on their own”, and so expect to have the project and promise of 75 total filters to the community completed by the end of the week!
You may have heard that one of the main reasons for the Kalavai team to be coming is that we would have a chance to work on the new Kalavai Colony Community Center (KC3). It’s actually going to be similar to our very own MC3 in South Bend, and will offer vocational training, after school tutoring, ongoing Conversational English training, small group discipleship and Bible studies, and whatever else the community needs as it moves along its path to transformation and change. By the time we arrived, the footers and north and west wall foundations had already been poured, so we set to work on the east and south wall foundations, and on the primary flooring itself. It was a huge project, and took all of us as we made concrete, back-filled rubble, and cleared the pathways to additional construction. We’re doing the building in “phases”, similar to MC3, and expect to have Phase 1 (which will have enough space for general use, plus wash rooms and basics) complete within the next couple of months.
See this little girl? She’s a cutie, isn’t she?! She followed closely beside Raj wherever he went, holding on to his arm and never letting him get any farther away from her than an arm’s length. It was more than the standard “hey, you’re great and I’d like to hang out with you” kind of thing, so I asked Raj about her story. He said, “ah, yes, well… this little girl is very sweet, but she is from a very poor family. Her father died a couple of years ago and she is one of several siblings. Her mother is very sick as well and often cannot rise or generate an income for her family. When I saw this little girl a couple of days back, she was very interested in what we were doing with training our church planters, and I noticed that she had a natural curiosity wherever we went. In the evening, while we were eating, I brought her over and sat her on my knee, and asked if she had had dinner. She sweetly shook her head. I asked her how long it had been since she had lunch. She said softly that she didn’t have lunch. So I asked her whether she had breakfast. Again, she shook her head and said that her mother is often sick, and because there is no other way for them to get money, the children often go days without food of any kind. So, I quietly took her aside and got her a plate of food. [Then he laughed his big laugh that anyone who knows Raj will recognize] I was so surprised… she ate more than a teen-age boy! Then I got her some food for her mother and a little for her siblings. She took it eagerly, and now, whenever she sees me, she just comes and quietly stands with me, not wanting to let me go.” This little girl is 5. My little girl is 5. I stared into this little girl’s big dark eyes and saw my own little girl’s staring back at me. It’s instances like this where I am grateful again to serve a God who expects His people to step into the darkest places of the world and intercept the entropy that exists there with light, hope and love, and with a message that matters just as much for their “here and now” as it does for their “then and there” (i.e. Heaven, eternity, etc).
I kind of dig Gypsies. Think I probably always have in some respect or other. It’s probably because I tend to be a restless person at heart myself, or maybe just because the self-imposed isolation of their communities has made them a mysterious curiosity for the better part of 2,000 years, I don’t know. But whether working with or encountering them in Eastern Europe, or even here in India (by the way, did you know that all Gypsy culture originates with the Dravidian tribes of Tamilnadu? Yup… if you’re here, you’re in Gypsy Eden, baby!), their colorful and gregarious natures, their existing folklores and superstitions, their tightly knit communities and their cobbled together mélanges of cultures coupled with their makeshift and portable domiciles have always made me smile when I see them… and perhaps secretly wish I could be among them. So I was kind of geeked when I found out that, as we did in December, we’d be constructing a makeshift “tent city” for our team to stay in while working in Kalavai. And believe it or not, we’re just as much of a curiosity as a tent-city full of gypsies. People drive by and honk, or even just walk from surrounding villages to check out these crazy Americans living in portable nylon houses, working during the day with the villagers and then dancing around bon-fires at night. No one has asked me yet to tell their fortune, of course, but I still fancy when I close my eyes and pretend that for a piece of silver, I probably could.
So after the service at Shower of Blessings, a woman approached Lisa Holliday (Dustin’s wife) and said, “I would be grateful if you would name my baby, please.” Lisa, not surprisingly, was shocked and didn’t quite know how to respond, but the young mother persisted. Lisa looked closer and discovered that sure enough, the woman was holding an infant only a couple of weeks old (in India, parents in rural villages often do not name their children for a couple of weeks until they know their chances of surviving are confirmed), so looked quickly around for help about what to do. Over her shoulder, Dan Blacketor quickly explained that the mother was showing a great amount of respect to Lisa, and that she was actually serious. He further suggested that she think of a Biblical name as that would be both understood and also carry significant weight for the entire family. He suggested a name like Rachel, and so Lisa took it and ran with it. The mother grinned gratefully and then handed little Rachel over to Lisa to hold for a few minutes as we all snapped quick pics.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Today part of our team got to experience Christian worship Indian sytle. Jennifer, Sandy, Deb, John, and Dana went to a service at pastor Job's church and it was absolutely amazing. Words could not describe the energy in the room. Jennifer took a short video of the worship. John gave a short message before Pastor Job's sermon. Afterward we were all greeted by everyone that was in the service and some other people in the village. Many of the children gave us bracelets and told us that we were their "forever friends". It was an awesome way to start this journey before we go into the villages to do the work we came here to do. Tonight... we celebrate!
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Sinbu is a young teenage girl that we met last winter when we first arrived in Kalavai. A couple of the women on that team befriended Sinbu and anytime we were in the village Sinbu was there. It was several days before we realized that Sinbu actually did not live in the Irla village but from a neighboring village but she is what I call an early adopter (willing to engage early on when a new opportunity or adventure is presented). Sinbu has a lot of natural leadership instincts and quietly questions (and sometimes not so quietly) the position and status of women and girls in the Indian culture.
When we hired several of the villagers to help build the community center Sinbu was one of the first in line to work an 8 to 10 hour day for the $1.40 (great wage for Indian's in this area) plus lunch and dinner. Each night she takes her daily income and food home to her family. On Friday when the amount of work was limited Sinbu hung around played and cared for the younger village children and did whatever any of the villagers asked her to do. I'm not sure how old she is but my guess she is between 11 and 13 years of age.
The Irla people are one of the lowest caste people in all of India. And because Sinbu is from another village many of the women tend to treat Sinbu a little more harshly and critical but it seems to bounce off of her and she just keeps coming back.
Last January Sinbu acted and played like a litte girl. This trip I can see her becoming a young women. Will Indian culture drive the independence, leadership and free will from Sinbu or will the KC3 community center allow her to break free from the bonds that supress most women in India? Will the Irla women drive her away because of their human nature to attempt to be better than an "outsider?" Or, will KC3 open the hearts and minds (and skills) of the Irla villagers where they realize scarcity is not part of the Kingdom of God? I sure hope so! Will keep you posted,