Friday, March 5, 2010

India is calling

Hi all. It's Friday night at the end of a big week of work. The girls have headed down to the restaurant for dinner and I am babysitting the little master, who quite fortunately has gone to sleep very tired. The damage report for the week for the little master included scribbling in pen on the table, nail polish on the drawers and his big finale ripping a 1 foot sheet of wallpaper off the wall. I am not sure if we will be locked up for these offences and hope we make it out of the country! Other than this it has been a wonderful week In thailand. The venue was perfect for the kids and Bec and they were able to do some amazing things this week and experience a great deal of traditional Thai culture. My week at work was as always an inspiration to me. To spend the week doing what I love with a groupd of individuals whose lives are dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged kids, it doesn't get much better than that, and to have Bec and the kids here just makes it so much more enjoyable. In this week's program we had leaders from the US, Thailand, Phillipines, Zambia, Dominica, Panama, and even Liberia. It is always very grounding for me to spend time with these guys and listen to their stories of what life is like for them. The man from Liberia, a country just out of many years of a very nasty conflict and still trying to restore stability. For Billy he is living in a very dangerous place, away from his family, who he gets to see 4 weeks a year, working 12-15 hours a day 7 days a week. Billy was special to me this week and was a proud African man working very hard to make a difference. Billy's story is all the harder to fathom when he shared with us how his son had died several years ago, he made a real impact on me, you can't help but be grounded by people like Billy. Billy is one of 12 special people I had the opportunity to work with this week. Not only that but I had the opportunity to work with 2 other experienced consultants in my team who showed me just how much I have to learn and provided me with great inspiration to strive for in my chosen field. These programs are always good for me. Every program I do there is always a moment when I sit there and wonder how a boy from the southern suburbs of Adelaide found his way here, I still haven't found the answer to that one.
We are all pretty excited about packing our bags and getting ready to head for India. I was reflecting the other day about why India had such an impact on me, For a number of people India is the last place they would ever want to go to and I can certainly understand why. Sometimes a place presents to you as more than a place, it gets into your soul and becomes a part of you. I remember when I was younger I never really had a yearning to travel. I remember mum and nick offering to take me to Bali when I was about 19 and I said no thankyou. I am not exactly sure why but I imagine it was a mix of fear and uncertainty that presented to me at the time. Around 6 years later I was sitting in a lecture at Uni and was absolutely inspired by a man called Frank Tesoriero. Frank just had such a passion for social justice and I connected very strongly with him. He encouraged me to think broadly about my education and before I knew it I was planning to spend 4 months in India and take my first trip overseas, alone in the first instance. So what happened? I remember landing in India and it being an absolute assault on the senses as anyone who has been to India will tell you, the heat, the smell the poverty, the rubbish and the masses of people. For the first couple of weeks I pretty much locked myself in my room and didn't really want to come out. I got very sick and yearned to be home with Bec and my family. Gradually I found some courage and started to venture out into the streets and experience India. On that first trip I was fortunate to experience city life and rural life in India. My special memories include;
Meeting Boska: I went to visit a HIV Aids clinic in Chennia and there met a young man called Boskarana. We were heading out on a visit to one of their local villages they were working with on a train. I was a little distracted and not really paying much attention to Boska who was my host, a quiet and shy young Indian man working as a social worker for the clinic. As we went along Boska started to share his story with me. He was from a village in the rural part of the country and had travelled to the city for working which he was enjoying. He was from the Dhalit caste, the untouchables, the lowest caste in Indian society. He started to tell me about his home. His brother had just been murdered for no reason other than his caste. His murder meant that Boska was required to return home to look after his family. Boska shared with me that in all likelihood he too would be murdered upon his return home but it was his duty to his family to return anyway. It was a moment I will never forget and I certainly wasn't distracted anymore and everything stood still for that train ride as I sat there glued to every word that Boska was sharing with me. I think what impacted on me so much was that Boska was about my age but with a very different life to mine. I often wonder what happened to my friend Boska.
The Chennai Slum: One day I went out for a walk, nowhere in particular. I stumbled upon a slum not far from where I was staying. I caught the eye of a couple of kids who were playing together and I approached. Before I knew it I was surrounded by a large group of local kids and accosted into a makeshift classroom nearby. The room was about as big as our laundry, thatched walls and a very basic galv roof. There I sat looking at these beautiful kids, not being able to connect through language we communicated through smiles and gestures and little by little things started to flow. Before we knew it we were singing songs together and dancing (which anyone who knows me knows this is a big thing, I dont dance!). It was a moment in time when I sat there and thought how did I get here, I am so lucky to be here experiencing this moment in time. I loved being there with those kids.
The Chennai Sewers: On another day In Chennai I visited a group of Australian people who had moved to Chennai, inspired by Ghandi who said look into the eyes of the poorest person you can find and ask what is it that you do that makes life better for this person. They decided to tackle the dirtiest and lowest job they could find, to clean up the sewers and drains in central chennia. They established a medical clinic nearby and spent much of their time working manually cleaning rubbish out of the sewers. What an inspirational bunch these guys were.
Heading to RUHSA: After several weeks in the city I headed to the rural part of India for my 3 month placement at the Rural Unit for Health and Social Affairs. Here Bec joined me and we had an incredibly challenging time of growth and learning. My project was to work with a group of elderly Indian widows offering health care in the local villages and Bec was volunteering as a Nurse. I always remember showing up to work on my first day on a 40 degree day in shorts and being sent home to put on long pants and a shirt, welcome to India! We had a small room, a cold shower and we were 50 metres from a railway line with very loud trains going past at all hours of the night.
Bec and the dying baby: I will never forget the story Bec shared with me after one of her days in the clinic. Aside from the conditions the medical staff were working under there were many other challenges that Bec experienced, one story still haunts me to think about today. I remember Bec being very upset one day when I got home from my work. It turned out that she was observing a difficult birth of a very premature baby. Unfortunately the baby was born far too prematurely and was never going to survive. The baby was delivered and placed on a gurney for its first and final few breaths of life. There was no cuddling of the baby as it passed and Bec couldn't just let this happen and simply moved over and held its hand as the life slowly drifted out of its little body. Its not our place to judge but I know this was a very difficult time for Bec as she was introduced to life in a rural health clinic which delivered hundreds of babies everyday and just didn't have the time or the resources to care for this baby, I am glad Bec was there for that little one. This was one of our toughest times.
Nights on the Roof: One of the delights of RUHSA was nights on the roof of our dorm. Every night we would head up with Frank (my uni professor) and sit up there and look up at the beautfiul starry sky which was spectacularly bright given there was no street lights to diminsh the view. We would venture up there to debrief our experiences of the day and ponder what it all meant. I am not sure we came up with any answers but we enjoyed the questions.
Dinner with Ama Damal: One of the elderly ladies I was working with on my project invited me to dinner. Ama lived out in a very small rural village in a small hut. She couldn't speak a word of English and my Tamil was extremely limited. I remember walking into this one room very small hut, fire burning in the middle of the room and a cooking production underway. I sat there and watched as Ama prepared dinner for me and we shared smiles and a few words. A veritable feast of chapati and potato currey was prepared for me and I am not sure what I enjoyed more, Ama's company, the event itself or the food. It was a memory that I hope will stay with me forever.
The old man and the beans: One day I was out riding a bike through the local villages when we came across an old man shelling some peas for his dinner. He was clearly living in absolute poverty and I am pretty sure the beans were his only meal for the day. As soon as he saw us he called us over and wanted to see us. Upon us stopping he sat up with a big smile on his face and offered up his peas to me to take with me. I think I was in shock and didn't really know what to do, what could I do. I didn't want to reject his very kind offer but knew what this meant to the old man. Why the peas, why me, to this day I am not sure what this meant to this beautiful old man to share this with me.
Difficult Times and Time to head home: By the end of the 4 months Bec and I were ready to return home. There were so many memories, a few of which we have shared here. I had run into the Indian bureaucracy at its finest and my work was failing to make an impact. This was an awakening for an idealist social work student who thought he could change the world and found out that I couldn't! Bec had done her stint volunteering in the hospital and we had lived off predominantly rice and Samba (watery vegetable gravy) every night for far too long. Bec and I returned home to get engaged and vowed that if we ever had a daughter she would be called India, after our time there together.

Fast forward nine years, we were married, had two beautiful children (our first daughter we named India), I had built a career in business and we were a long way from India, in fact I hadn't thought of India for many years. I was sitting in a carpark on Port Road and couldn't drive to work. I am not sure what was going on. I had achieved every goal I had ever set for myself, had a beautiful wife and kids, successful business, lovely home and everything I thought I ever wanted. Why was I so unhappy??? It didn't make any sense. As I sat there not able to move I started to think again of India. I rang a good friend of mine, Di and said I was thinking it was time to return to India and she said she knew of some kids in an orphanage there that needed some help and asked could I help. I then rang Frank (my old uni professor) and he said he was about to go to India and would love it if I would accompany him to run a social work conference at RUHSA. I rang Bec and she said you have to go. Do you believe in fate? Three phone calls later I was on my way back to India, I didn't exactly know why I only knew it was something I had to do..........


  1. Nick,

    This is very inspirational stuff mate. I cant wait for the next chapter. You should write a book. It really does bring you back to earth. Here i am sitting here in my nice home with my beautiful family a little down in the dumps because i have to leave home this afternoon to spend a week in North QLD for work. It doesn't make sense that you could be down in the dumps with a life like mine compared to some of the stories of the people you have met.
    Hope you guys are safe and well and look forward to the next update.


  2. I don't know why you question how you are there doing what you do Nick, you are driven by an alturistic passion that is inspiring and like many inspiring leaders it is not driven my your ego. You make me so proud big brother and I wish so much I count count the stars from that tin roof with you. Miss you. K x