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3 new volunteers, 1 less, and a food delivery!

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On Monday 13th September, Gaia, Ella and Joe joined us from Development in Action – a UK-based charity that sends volunteers to their linked projects in India. All three are university graduates with different skill-sets, so Dunc had made plans to allow them to quickly integrate into their programmes. Gaia has a monster challenge to live up to – she’s hoping to take the lead on the events and fun-raising side of things for Deep Griha.

As 3 newbies arrived, one of our ‘oldest’ volunteers left. Chris (UK!) also joined Deep Griha from Development in Action, but after a few months in India, he had to return home to start his final year of uni. We had a fab leaving night celebration for Chris – a roof-top stir fry followed by ice-cream on the top floor of our house.  We were even treated to music from the nearby Ganesh celebrations!

Before we got to enjoy our farewell meal, me, Dunc, Christa, Chris (US), Joe and Anurag were sent on a special mission… a truck-load of donated food was waiting for us in Wanowrie, with the invitation  to fill up our van with all we could carry and deliver it back to Deep Griha! Cue a human chain, sweaty faces and dusty clothes, and a warm fuzzy feeling afterwards! Awwww! 🙂

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Deep Griha Orientation and the Ganesh Festival!

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Family Welfare Centre, Tadiwala Road community

Family Welfare Centre, Tadiwala Road community

Ok, so I’ll try my best to do weekly updates from now on – my memory can’t cope when I leave it too long between posts!

So, week 2 with Deep Griha involved lots more orientation-type stuff to let us understand the rural programmes that are underway (about 45km outside of Pune).  On Wednesday 8th September, we took a day trip to City of Knowledge, then a rural medical clinic, the City of Child (where Dunc volunteered 4 years ago).

Deep Griha Academy at City of Knowledge is really amazing! It’s a relatively new and ongoing project, run by Ashleesha Onawale.  The concept is to give kids in the countryside the same opportunities as those in the cities, and at the same time, teach the students that they don’t have to move to the city to make a life for themselves. There are only a handful of classes running at the moment, but the aim is to incrementally build up the school when funding becomes available.  The ‘city’ is set in 15km of land, with grand plans for how to build on it! One day, there will be a primary school, high school and a self-sufficient water supply, all in the land that is already available. It’s so peace out at the school – a real change from the busy lifestyle in Pune!

DIYA Youth Centre in Ramtekadi community

DIYA Youth Centre in Ramtekadi community

The medical clinic was very basic but actually cares for people in about 10 surrounding villages. It is intended as a ‘first-aid’ type clinic for people who can’t quickly or easily get to a doctor surgery or hospital, and what shocked me, is that they actually perform some operations here – one of which we were invited to see! Christa and I politely declined…

City of Child was very quiet on the day we visited, mainly because the kids were all out at the nearby school! That didn’t stop us from wandering around the kids’ accommodation, eating in their dining hall and playing with their puppies!!

On Friday 10th, we had the day off work! Then got asked to volunteer at a corporate event… being good volunteers, we all obliged! A crowd of volunteers and programme team leaders went along to The Bank of New York Melon in a technology park to recruit new volunteers.  The bank already donates money to Deep Griha, but this initiative was aimed at telling their staff what their money has been spent on and how they may be able to volunteer their time to our programmes.  It was a really interesting day and we left with more than 100 names to add to our volunteer list! 😀

Saturday marked the start of the Ganesh Festival: a 10-day long Hindu celebration of the elephant god Ganesh. Me, Dunc, Chris, Christa and Cassie met up with a local volunteer and friend Anurag, who walked us through the main processions where the crowds were pulling their Ganesh idols through the streets.  Some of these displays must have easily been more than 20 feet tall, with elaborate decorations all over and music blaring out.  The atmosphere was really quite incredible, and we’ve got another 10 days to look forward to!

Our First Week with Deep Griha

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Deep Griha operate from two main locations: the Family Welfare Centre at Tadiwala Road and DIYA at Ramtekdi.   As well as providing somewhere for the community to visit, there are also field workers designated to make home visits to discuss health and welfare issues.

On Thursday, our first day, we were lucky enough to attend a workshop with the ‘DISHA Ladies’; on this particular day, the team of 6 workers  were visiting a truck-stop to educate the drivers on the risks of contracting HIV and the measures they can take to avoid these risks.  It was really something to see how a small group of curoius on-lookers turned into such a big crowd, with everyone taking away an information sheet and contact details for the health clinic at Tadiwala Road.

Chris and Jennie (our volunteer gurus!), were also able to tell us that the DISHA project works alongside a campaign called Wake Up Pune.  Much like Deep Griha, this campaign aims to educate the Tadiwala Road population, including schools and uiniversitites, about HIV.

The Sphurti Kendra IT School (my placement), runs from the Welfare Centre and is attended by local students who have attained 10th standard at school and have been accepted onto the programme.  The programme takes about 30 students in per batc, which works on a 3 month rotation.  The class start off by learning about the basics of computer systems, the go on to learn the MS Office package.  The programme is actually designed as a ‘fit for work’ scheme, so in the morning they learn spoken English, and on weekends, take CV building classes and interview preparation.

As part of our orientation, we visited the DIYA project at Ramtekadi, about 10km away from our home in the Culural Centre.  This project also aims to empower the slum community, but on a slightly smaller scale. Two creches run daily, so we had a great afternoon playing games with the kids!

Kids in one of the Ramtekadi creches

Kids in one of the Ramtekadi creches

Deep Griha also run a child sponsorship programme, where kids can either be supported in their own families, or recieve funding to attend City of Child if they are orphaned.  Every 3 months, a joint party is held for all the kids who celebrate a birthday during this time – and there was one held on Saturday!  There were 50+ kids in at the party, ranging from 2 years old to 18 years old.  It was such a great experience to help the kids celebrate with games, presents, and of course… cake! Each child was dressed beautifuly, and each had a bigger grin than the next!

On Sunday, Wake up Pune organised a HIV Bootcamp twhere they invite anyone who is interested along to the Welfare Centre to learn about the virus, and how to manage the risks of contracting ir.  Not only that, but Chris delivered a fab presentation to teach us about the social aspects of the virus and the stigma surrounding it.  By the end of the presentation, we had at least 6 people approach us who were keen to offer support to the project.

This is getting a wee bit long now for only being 4 days worth of stories, so I’ll save the next installment for another post! 🙂

Arrival at Deep Griha Society, Pune

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The Cultural Centre in Pune

The Cultural Centre in Pune

After a 24 hour sleeper train (in first class with A/C – thanks mum!), we arrived at the Cultural Centre in Pune by midday on 1st September. The CC is a big guest house where all the international volunteers from Deep Griha live while working for the charity -at the moment there are people from the UK, Sweden, America and Belgium!

Pune is much more developed than I expected; as with most cities in India, it’s really built-up in places and poor in others. The area we’re living in is really well kept with lots of shops, but the Family Welfare Centre where we work on Tadiwala Road is at the outskirts of a big slum area, housing more than 20, 000 people.

The Deep Griha Society directly supports these families by providing them with healthcare services, education and by spreading awareness about HIV. The volunteers support the full-time staff in all of these areas, although I’ll be focussing on teaching 18-25 students the computer skills and interviewing techniques they require to increase their employment opportunities. Dunc is looking to work with the DISHA project to hold workshops and visit the Tadiwala Road community to teach them about HIV and the support that Deep Griha can provide.

Stay posted for our first post about life as volunteers in India!

Agra, home of the Taj Mahal

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So my first experience of Indian trains was surprisingly OK! We had the sleeper carriage all to ourselves so it was nice and quiet and, more importantly, cool.

We stayed longer in Agra than intended due to the scorching heat – it was hitting at least 40C every day! On the first day of our 5 day visit, we went to Agra Fort, then took a cycle rickshaw to Meghab Park at the back of the Taj Mahal to get the famous sunset view. Later in our stay, we of course visited the beautiful Taj and it lived up to the expectations 🙂

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Whilst in Agra, we caught up with a lovely Belgian couple whom me originally met in Udaipur. They were on the first stop of a year-long Round the World trip! Although India is such large country, you almost seem to be guaranteed to bump into somebody you know!