Ron says "Hello" from Batlagundu, India

From time to time Chalice is blessed to work with volunteers who travel (solo) to our Sponsor Sites to serve alongside our Partners. Ron is one such volunteer.  Our Madurai Sponsor Site is blessed to have Ron assisting with administration at the Site Office for 3 months.  Here are some of his reflections, as shared on January 27, 2015:
Hi All,

It has a been a week since I arrived in Batlagundu and so I feel I should tell you how I am doing. It was Republic Day in India yesterday, so the office was closed and I could not get to a computer.

Physically, I am doing well; albeit very careful about what I eat or drink. Have to very tactfully decline offers of some foods and drinks. I have no problems with the food in the convent or the company during meals. The food is simple but taste good; three meals a day. I am always conscious about quantity much to the dismay of the sisters. I suppose they are accustomed to seeing men eat large quantities. They all drink bottled water and Sr. Jeya had housekeeping deliver a barrel of water and a dispenser to my room.  However, this morning I was in a rush and accidentally just gulped down some water from the tap. It tasted awful. I will update you on the effects of this mistake.  The nuns are great! Sr. Jeya, the Site Director, is always smiling!  

I reside in the hospital block that is reserved for visiting doctors to the hospital - Leonard Hospital. I was assigned a suite; more space than I need - three rooms, a kitchen and washroom. A cleaning lady comes in twice a week and does a great job. The Dhobie stopped by on Friday and took my dirty clothes (all 16 pieces) and from what he quoted me it will cost me about 75 Rupees (about $1.50) and he promised to bring them back by Sunday. No sign of him yet. He assured me that every piece will be ironed. I may get to like this life a lot faster than expected.

Batlagundu is a noisy small town. At least, that is how it is where I am located. A lot of trucks, auto-rickshaws, motor cycles & scooters all the time and always honking. When I say "always", I mean 25/8. There is a visiting nun from Patna, Bihar and she can't handle the continuous noise either and from I have heard, Patna's traffic is as bad as any big city in India. 

The staff at the Chalice office are great. There is the expected slight language problem but Charles, who is the local Sub-Site Director, is quite fluent in English, as are all the nuns and most of the nurses. Chalice's Madurai Sponsor Site has four Sub-Sites, one of which is in Batlagundu (where I am), and St. Jeya is responsible for all of them. This site does not have an orphanage or any direct involvement in the schools. There is a a Daycare for mothers who have to go out and do menial work as laborers or in agricultural fields. These mothers get paid about 100 rupees (US$ 1.50) for a days work and they are "required" to pay the Daycare Rs. 25.00 a month. Most times they do not have the money to pay. The majority of these mothers are single. I walked across the road  from this site to visit some of the children that Chalice sponsors and I was shocked. Each of those children live in a leaking shack that is no more than 9 X 9 ft. with his mother and siblings (on average 2) - imagine a family of 4 living in a 81 sq. ft space.

This site also runs a Trade schools with 2 sessions a day 6 days a week. They teach young women (mostly school drop outs) to sew, with the hope that these skills will help them get jobs as a seamstress or at least help them make clothes for their children. They teach other girls (and some boys) to use Microsoft Office (for the most part Excel & Word) but these children have to have passed grade 10 and can read basic English. This school also trains 16 & over teens (school drop-outs) to do basic electrical work and also some electronics - repairing cell phones etc.  The goal is to teach these have-not's any skill that will take them, and hopefully their children,  out of this vicious circle of poverty and all that comes with poverty.  

The nuns run the Leonard Hospital which treats any and all who come to their door.  The line up is long even before the gates open at 7.00 am. All 36 active nuns do a fantastic job in the hospital and the girl school from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm and sometimes even later. Each of the major departments in the hospital is headed by a nun. All of them have a Masters degree or Doctorates in their field of expertise, a few have doubles. So I am in good hands in case something bad happens to me.  Most of the nuns manage two portfolios. So, you can imagine what it would cost to run this hospital if they had to hire outside doctors. Each of these head positions would demand a salary 200,000 to 400,000 rupees a month and the nuns do it for free. They survive on foreign donations and whatever they charge the patients or whatever they can pay. The nuns also run a nursing school and some of these nurses continue to work in the hospital.  Mother Superior manages this school and the convent - double portfolios. Not sure how they are always smiling and joking? 

On Thursday, I went on a field trip to the Chalice Site in Kodaikanal. It was such a wonderful day even though what I saw was not very pleasant. I guess it was all of those smiling faces of the nuns and the children. Kodaikanal is just a beautiful, clean town at the top of the Western Ghat mountains. Sound of Music atmosphere at about 8000 feet above sea level. It is about 75% Catholic with at least 4 religious orders serving that community. The Chalice site  is attached to St Teresa's school. A third of the students are boarders in the school of which more than 50 % are orphans or semi- orphans.  They are all supported by Chalice. The total number of students is about 1200. The school is run by 8 nuns and some hired teachers. Same old story - over crowded class rooms, the school needs basic repairs to hold the structures together and extremely limited financial resources. Bright side: everyone is smiling, laughing and playing. Students are graduating and moving on. Saw a lot of monkeys everywhere we went. There is a golf course in Kodaikanal and guess what? I literally saw a monkey jump down from a tree, run to the green and steal the flag stick and run away with it; then another took the ball that a player had landed on the green. I just did not have my camera read to to capture all of that. I did get a picture of the third monkey checking the hole for a ball. You should have heard all the on-lookers laughing.

Yesterday I went to Madurai with four nuns, two of who had to do some work there but the other two enjoyed the sites with me. Visited the Gandhi Museum, which was just great. Learnt a lot about the independence movement and old (16th - 18th century) Indian history. Saw an old palace built in 17th. century. It is huge even after half of it was destroyed in some tribal war. Saw a huge and very old Hindu temple that is about the size of the Eaton Centre.

Sister Jeya has assigned me to help with a few projects, so from now on I will be expected to produce.

Anyway, so much for now.  Love to all.