Friday, January 12, 2007

Opening Day

Yesterday was the opening day for the Elderly Welfare Centre. It was chosen because one of the Trustees for the charity which funded the program is visiting from the UK, although he came via the US, New Zealand and Singapore!

For the last few days, apart from the boredom of having picked up a cold and fruity cough from someone in the CMC library on Saturday, I have been in seventh heaven painting posters and doing some general arts and crafty stuff in preparation for the Open Day. Many a happy hour has been spent trawling through the stationery shops in Vellore for paints, pens, paper, glue, double-sided sticky tape etc. My room now looks like the playroom in a Kindergarten; people have said to me in the past that I am a frustrated primary school teacher! The theme of the open day was to create awareness in the wider community, to educate people as to the future plans of the community centre and to inform CMC about the program and work done.

The day before, in preparation for the open day, Mathew, myself and a couple of willing electrical engineering students from the vocational program at RUHSA, set off in that most peculiar of Indian vehicles (amongst some quite stiff competition), the three-wheeled pick-up truck, to go to the village. Rather resembling the Queen of Sheba during a dip in her fortunes, I sat in the back on a plastic chair facing backwards, with my two young attendants standing behind, smiling and waving at the enthusiastic locals, who were most surprised to see a white woman using a mode of transport more traditionally used by coolie workers on their way to building sites or fields.

On arrival, we inspected the whitewash job done by the beleaguered Donald and team (which I just learnt today, does not include a plumber or plum-per as it is pronounced here). Of course there were drips all over the floor and less than perfect edges, but the building did look a lot better. The two electricians set to work immediately mending some indeterminate wire going from one place to another without any apparent purpose, but which was no doubt crucial. Some local women had drawn coloured chalk patterns on the floor (I suspect to disguise the drips left by the menfolk) which are a traditional South Indian decoration called Kolom. Altogether, there was an air of festivity and anticipation about the place.

On the day itself, I cycled to the village at 9.30. The proceedings were due to start at 11, and in one of my typical last minute rushes - which fits right into the Indian way of doing things - I had to put up all the posters, label them with their Tamil labels, with someone to help me in case I stuck them all on upside down and make a collage of the photos I had taken of them all, to give them something to giggle at.

I sat outside in the backyard, on a concrete slab, happily surrounded by "making stuff" and, whilst listening to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, mounted the posters and the photos. I had a very willing group of helpers, who despite being unfamiliar with the properties of double-sided sticky tape and not being quite so anal as myself about sticking the photos down in straight lines with equal gaps between them, ensured that I was able to have the posters on show in record time.
The room was packed for the opening. There were local politicians and villagers, RUHSA staff and even a minibus from CMC with staff and foreign visitors, not to mention the elderly who numbered 28, which was considerably more than we were expecting and almost capacity – we had budgeted for 30.

Mathew and I had planned for a few speeches. We agreed that there shouldn’t be more than four speakers. At least 10 people stood up, including one of the elderly men and 2 village women who sang welcome songs. Most of the speeches were in Tamil, so I was only able to get the gist from a reluctant translator sitting next to me, but everyone was very positive and impressed. Several people commented on how this group in society, being so vulnerable, has been difficult to deliver care and aid to but our model of village participation and consultation should be developed further.

All this was of course very pleasing, but by far the most moving moment was when the bigwigs left and the elderly sat down to have lunch. The women who had volunteered to cook and serve it did a magnificent job, bringing steaming pots of rice balanced on their head and carrying pails of sambar and vegetables. The elderly sat around the edges of the room on rush mats, their thin, worn clothes wrapped around them and stared fixedly at their plates as the food was piled on. There was not a sound except the occasional clunking of a serving spoon as they dug their hands into the piles of rice and scooped the food into their mouths.

It was a good sight.

Here are a few photos of the day itself:
Free Image Hosting at Me having fun painting posters
Free Image Hosting at The crowd gathers (note outcome of "fun" in background")

Free Image Hosting at Birds in a row enjoying their lunch

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it must be very satisfying seeing the vision in reality, and made even more so by the numbers of elderly bothering to turn up you'll soon have to start on the extension!!
i wish i could have seen you on your plastic throne waving regally cant wait for the next instalment xx