Girls GroupIt was a transformational experience for us all – undoubtedly the highlight of our 6 weeks in India!

We are a family of 4 who spent a fabulous 5 days at TRUST in August 2016. We were travelling around India for a summer backpacking adventure, and were keen to get off the tourist trail to find out about “real” India. Our friends the D’Silva’s put us in touch with Thirumaran and helped us organise our visit. We enjoyed spending time in both girl’s and boy’s children’s homes, as well as teaching at the TRUST primary school. In particular our children (Evie aged 13 and Daniel aged 11) enjoyed making friends with their contemporaries in a completely different culture. Thirumaran and his wife Shanti were amazingly generous hosts, looking after us brilliantly and carefully planning to make sure we got the most out of our visit.

Please click on any image to see them all, and others, full size

Here are some extracts from our blog, that give more details:

Cross-country capers - Daniel
4:30 am was today’s wakeup call for the plane, train and car journey all the way down to the TRUST Children’s Home in the state of Tamil Nadu, near the southern tip of India. The train from Trivandrum to the town of Tirunelveli (going down the coast and back up again to bypass the mountain range) had amazing views. Once we got to the station, we met Thirumaran (Thiru), who runs the Children’s Home, on the platform to bring us to the house. On the way, we had a quick look around the boys’ home where they welcomed us with a song. Then the 32 boys showed us round the dormitories and all the other facilities. Our first impressions were that they all have communal rooms and the only thing I’m going to say is that Evie takes more away on a weekend than the children own during their whole childhood! But they all seemed happy and smiley and pleased to see us. After a nice dinner and a chat with Thiru and his wife, Shanti, we went to bed very tired and stuffed.

Visiting the TRUST primary school - Joe
Shanthi's wonderful cookingWe’re being put up in an old unoccupied house with a central courtyard and a dark room at the back where we’ve been given four beds and an air conditioning unit. Then there’s a simple shower room with Indian toilet that we’re getting adept at using. It’s a peaceful house to retreat to. All our meals are provided by Thiru and his wife Shanti at their home 50 yards away. Their youngest son Nannan, aged 13, is also around and speaks very good English. The older two children are away at college. The food is delicious – mainly rice, vegetables and not-too-spicy sauces, but also samosas, noodles and very tasty bananas (they have 30 different local varieties) and papaya.

TRUST India SchoolAfter a late breakfast we went across the road to the small primary school that was established 4 years ago, partly for the younger children in the Home, but also for village families. Shanti is the hlead teacher and there are four classrooms, each with their own teacher plus assistant. After an initial tour of the classrooms, where each child had to introduce themselves, we were asked to do an impromptu lesson. We resorted to teaching them the alphabet song, and then some question ping-pong to practice their English, finishing up with ‘London’s burning’ which we managed to get them singing in a four-part round. I’d say we just about got away with it.

After lunch and a rest we went back at 3pm for the final hour, firstly giving out certificates for best drawing and handwriting, and then joining in with their weekly yoga class. Then we waved them off as some walked, some were picked up on motorbikes and the rest piled into the yellow school bus.

Late afternoon, we made our first visit to the Girls’ Home where we were mobbed by an exuberant crowd of 40 girls aged between 5 and 17. Since we’ll be going back tomorrow I’ll leave Evie to describe this in more detail in the next post. It’s wonderful to be here but exhausting to be constantly feted, so regularly resting is essential.

The Girls and Waterfalls - Evie
Discussing homeworkWe started a busy day with a full, filling, breakfast at Thiru’s and then headed off to the Girls Children Home. It was a bit of a change from last night when they were all overexcited and crowding around us. Today there were more familiar faces and relaxed conversations with us. They are very intrigued by the different colour of skin and keep on putting their hand next to ours saying ‘you white I black!’

It was very hot so we all sat around in the shade chatting, singing, reading or doing puzzles. All the girls are lovely, beautiful, smiley, very welcoming and full of energy. It’s a pleasure to be around them and really lifts your mood! We gave them all yellow balloons with rubber bands for bouncing up. They were a great success!

Hands after preparing the wallAt midday we retreated back for some lunch and a rest before returning to the home with a painting idea. When we got there a lot of the girls were rubbing the wall down with sand paper and getting blue all over them. When they had finished we got to work with the white primer as it was a big wall, before doing the actual painting. By the time we left half the wall was finished but the girls seemed to enjoy painting and while we were using the brushes for the wall they managed to find some old paint and brushes to fill in the stairs a variety of colours.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for longer as we went with Thiru’s son Nannan to a couple of mountain waterfalls. When we got there, there were tons of people bathing under the falls, we weren’t tempted though but mum did put her hand under and said it was ‘refreshing’! Then to round off an amazing day we had a delicious dinner, ready to face tomorrow’s excitements!

Creative spirits and wall-banging weddings - Jo
Finished wall paintingWell, it has certainly been an action packed day today. The morning was spent creating a wall mural at the girls’ home. Evie and Daniel had planned a design with 2 interconnecting trees where the leaves were the handprints of all the children.  It seemed like a huge task at the start of the morning, in the sun and heat hanging off a ladder (one steel, one home made of large sticks lashed together). But once we had the outline painted on, all the children were excited to get involved. After about 4 hours we had finished, and the results were better than we had imagined. A very satisfying group effort, “Soo-per!” as all the girls like saying!

Joe trying SilambamOn the way home, Thiru pointed out a banner that he had got printed hung up outside the TRUST primary school. Basically slightly dodgy photos of all 4 of us blown up next to our names. Evie was aghast at her photo! Later in the afternoon, Thiru took us to a local friend’s wedding reception and we then went on to visit the Boys' Home, joining them for dinner. We all played cricket and volleyball with the balls and bats we’d taken for them, and Daniel joined in a fairly boisterous game of Kabadi. We were also given an impressive demo of Silambam (an ancient Indian martial art involving a large stick) – Joe was slightly less impressive in his attempts! Dinner was chapatis and chick pea curry, very tasty! Daniel, in particular, had a wonderful time bonding with the boys. Hopefully we will have time to go back tomorrow in the daylight.

Last day at TRUST - Joe
Evie with girlsOur last day at TRUST was even more action-packed than the others. We woke up at 6am in order to spend time at the Girls’ Home before they went to school. Hanging out with the children has been our most enjoyable activity of the whole trip, so it was good to get a final couple of hours with them, as well as seeing their breakfast routine (large portions of curd rice), school uniforms and large rucksacks. Evie and Daniel have been brilliant at learning almost all of their names.

Group with Bore Hole drillThe other reason for the early start was to witness the bore-hole drilling that Thiru had hastily arranged. A couple of days ago we began to discuss how to spend the money that we raised with our cake-sale at church (some very generous extra donations brought this to a sizeable total of around £1300). We’d been told about the aspiration to build a library, but this has already been completed due to a local benefactor, and stocked with a supply of books that had come their way. So Thiru suggested two priorities, an extra bore-hole for the Girls’ Home, and repairing the ambulance that he uses to help the elderly and sick in the local area. While we could see the desirability of the latter, we opted for the former because the money was given specifically for the children’s home. Thiru is a great believer in guests and benefactors being honoured by a full and public acknowledgement of their gift, so he wasted no time in getting the bore-hole trucks on site, and a photo opportunity just before the school bus whisked the girls away. The huge drill then took three or four hours to hit water at 600 feet, which will provide a significant boost to the water supply. It was fascinating to see the machine in action.

Family group with Thiru and ShanthiOur meals have been amazing. Shanti has worked tirelessly to produce a huge range of both savoury and sweet delicacies. After a very substantial breakfast and a bit of packing, we donned the new shirts and saris that Thiru had generously given us and got tailored. This was followed by a few more presentations of volunteer certificates for Evie and Daniel with various local visitors (Thiru has an impressive ability to ‘hold court’, both with his conversation and his networking!). Then we went back to the primary school for final ‘lessons’ (we managed some dramatic versions of the Good Samaritan) and farewells.

With a final treat of spicy fried fish and samosas for lunch, we bade a fond farewell to our amazing hosts.

Thiru and Shanti are an inspiring couple who have given their lives to building up a remarkable set of social projects to help the most needy in their locality.

We have been hugely privileged to spend time with them, and to be treated as honoured guests.

Please click on any image to see them all, and others, full size

Here are some more! 

  • Handprint on wall
  • Evie with girls
  • Finished wall painting