Monday, October 29, 2007

Arrival in India

By Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

Our study tour to India will be one of our most challenging trips this year. Twenty-four sponsors and staff gathered at the Newark International Airport from throughout the United States on Thursday night for our 14-hour flight to Delhi. They were an excited group of sponsors with determination to fly to India, travel constantly over the next 11 days by bus, plane, and auto-rickshaw, eat exotic food, see some of the most beautiful monuments in the world, visit urban and rural CCF projects and meet their sponsored children.

International airline flights have become the enemy of many road warriors, but Continental Airlines should receive 5 stars for their excellent service, knowledgeable and courteous staff, and better-than-average airline food-- plus getting us to Delhi 15 minutes ahead of schedule with all of our luggage arriving on time to the baggage carousels within fifteen minutes. Clearing customs in India was efficient and without problems. Soon, we were out of the airport and on our 'coach' as they say in India and on our way to the hotel. It is now almost 10 p.m. on Friday night in Delhi and the streets are crammed with cars, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, dog, pigs, cows, and a long line of nomadic tribe people riding ox carts in the middle of the street. Somehow, all of this seemed natural and quite orderly in this fascinating country of paradoxes and quagmires. Welcome to India!

Keep in mind that India is 9 and one-half hours ahead of EDT-- it is an interesting story how India adopted the half-hour time zone... but just blame it on astronomers and those wacky Brits in colonial times that wanted all the trains in India to run on the same time zone. Nothing makes sense in this wonderful country, but everything seems to work just the same. After checking into the hotel at 10:30 p.m., we had dinner....yes, it is quite common in India to eat at this hour and the food at our hotel was outstanding. I was surprised that almost all our sponsors came down to the dining room for dinner at this hour and seemed to enjoy it immensely. Not a complaint in the group!

After a short overnight rest, we were up on Saturday and ready to tour the heart of the historic parts of New and Old Delhi. The first lesson in Delhi when riding a bus is to close your eyes and realize that there are accidents, but very few considering the demolition derby that goes on constantly on India's street and highways. Of course, air pollution is a major problem in Delhi and please do not plan to go 'quickly' anywhere in this town. A trip of eight miles could easy take an hour or more. We have excellent local guides who know the nuances of India and can translate to foreign guests with humor and clarity. Nothing is as it appears in India!

On Saturday afternoon, we went to an orphanage which is supported by CCF-India. It is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of this immense city and administered by an order of the Clarist nuns. There are over 100 children assisted by this wonderful orphanage and I knew our CCF sponsors would be overwhelmed by the warmth and sincerity of the welcome given to them by the children and nuns. There were speeches and dances, smiles and hugs, and hundreds of photos were taken by our group. The positive spirit and commitment of the staff at St. Anthony's Orphanage was infectious and soon everyone in our group were on an emotional roller coaster... it was actually hard for me to get the group to leave the orphanage and return to the hotel.

It is now Sunday morning and we are preparing for our first day of meeting sponsored children. Because India is such a large country, we will have a 'Child Sponsorship Day' in northern India and another in Bangalore for sponsored children who live in southern India. This is always a very special day for everyone... it is a day, from my experience in assisting Study Tours, that I can accurately predict that there will be tears from sponsors, children, parents of children, and CCF staff as everyone comes together for this emotional international family reunion. Many of these youngsters have traveled with their parents for hours, even days, to be here in Delhi and now finally meet their American sponsor. In our Study Tour group, we have sponsors who have been sponsoring children throughout the world for over 25 years, and, yet, today is the first time they have ever met one of their sponsored children in person. Everyone is excited, nervous, and almost giddy at times in anticipation of this meeting.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Off to India!

By Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

In less than 10 hours, CCF sponsors and staff will be leaving a chilly Newark International Airport for the hot, humid 98-degree weather of New Delhi. This trip will be our second study tour to one of the most diverse and fascinating countries in the world. Where else could you encounter a country that speaks 17 languages and over 800 dialects? India is a country that is rooted in democratic and religious tradition, but is rapidly developing into one of the most robust economies and advanced technological nations in the world.

This study tour will challenge our sponsors both mentally and physically. We will travel from Delhi to Agra by bus, and then on to the ancient city of Jaipur. No need to unpack luggage, because we will keep moving on to Mumbai for a quick look and then down to Bangalore-- the location of the national office of CCF in India. Our trip will end in the coastal city region of Goa-- which more resembles a Portuguese village than an Indian community. Along the way, we will be visiting CCF programs in both Delhi and Bangalore as well as giving our sponsors a chance to actually meet their sponsored children.

Our sponsors on this trip are from Oregon to Florida, and many of them have traveled with us before on other study tours. For the newcomers, they will learn that we are 'travelers', not 'tourists' and they will return to the United States with a profound knowledge and understanding of the old and new India. They will also have a greater comprehension of how their sponsorship gifts impact the lives of thousands of poor children and families throughout India. I can guarantee you that our sponsors will be different people when they return from this trip and we hope the newcomers will appreciate how special this experience can be in their lives. For the old-timers that have traveled with us many times, they know how educational, fun, and life-expanding these trips can be. We are all from different backgrounds and experiences, yet united in our commitment to helping children-- to give them a chance just like someone may have given you a chance in your life.

Throughout the next 10 days, I will attempt to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly of our experiences in India. Right now, everyone is excited and happy to be on this study tour and ready to depart on our 14-hour flight from Newark to New Delhi. Likewise, in India, much planning has gone in to this study tour by our Indian colleagues and they eagerly await our arrival. We are on a journey of discovery and self-education with unlimited opportunities to see and do things never experience by most tourists traveling to India. I hope you will join us on this trip through this travel blog and maybe experience a little of our adventures and visits to these regions in India through my writing.

gary d.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

By Elizabeth Sung, Consultant for CCF-Chad

A long line of white land cruisers makes its way along sand tire tracks, through the dry brush, and passes by the teems of camels and donkeys drinking from the ouaddis. Each trip to the camp begins like that with the levels of adrenaline rising each time the car's wheel hits a crux in the route. At the camp entry, we pause to sign in at security, then we drive to CCF's Child Centered Spaces to drop our staff off, and continue on to our meeting space for the training.

Today, I made my way to Iridimi to finalize some details for my survey which is in its last stages of execution. I spent part of my day at one of the CCF trainings held for the refugee volunteers. They discussed the concept of vulnerability of children, how to recognize the signs of child abuse, and how to refer the child to the appropriate resources. The discussion was animated, and we even discussed the similarities and differences between American culture and Sudanese culture. It is during this time when I feel most inspired and vibrant, when we learn how we cope with problems in society, in the camp, and in our families. Even when the language and culture seem like great obstacles to overcome-- we are linked by our concern to protect those in our community, to progress beyond the norms, and to improve our quality of life. Our staff is doing amazing work, and I only wish everyone could see it!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

By Elizabeth Sung, Consultant for CCF-Chad

It has been over a month since I arrived in Iriba. I have seen the moon waxing slowly until I didn't need a flashlight to walk home from another NGO's base. Now, the moon is waning. It seems like the moon is peeking out of a hat that sits on an angle. The radio handset crackles with static, crickets chirp without taking a breath, groups of donkeys snort loudly, and come 4:30 a.m., I hear the first of the hourly wake-up calls from the rooster.

"Ca va?" My neighbor's little boy and girl call out sweetly, waving their hands to me. Last month they would hide behind others when I approached, not responding to me, but now when I sit on the mat next to them, they offer their hands in greeting. I have been trying to teach them to slap a five or ten… that's coming along each day.

By now, I have trained my staff about survey administration. In Iridimi, a three-day training was held for twenty refugee volunteers about survey administration. See the above photo of Aziza and Deye demonstrating to the prospective interviewers how an interview is conducted. The survey will roll out in the next week in the three camps of Iridimi, Touloum and Am Nabak… here's to hoping that everything goes well!

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