Monday, April 25, 2011

As Things Begin to Wind Down...

Hello again everyone,
Trusting that all has been well, things have continued to progress as positively as possible on this side of the world. Each of the children we’ve worked with has continued to show incredible progress in the display of emotions, English language skills, and the skills and concepts which we’ve continued to pursue both collectively and individually. The two little girls I often mention continue to flourish and have even started getting into a bit of mischief here, which is always a good sign for children. This week, for the first time, the little girl who would keep her eyes shut stayed in the pool for longer than five minutes without kicking, screaming, and crying. After a while, she opened her eyes back up and began to toss the balls around with the other children, as she kicked, laughed, and splashed. Although I was surprised, I was overjoyed to see her conquer another one of the things she seemed to fear. The other little girl continues to blossom into a little chatterbox, talking, singing, and carrying on basic conversations. With those two, I think the impact of our presence here has been incredibly evident on personal and professional levels.
The rest of the school-age children continued to progress through the basics, especially with learning conversational English, phonics skills, and basic mathematical concepts. Documenting their progress and the positive changes has been pretty remarkable and definitely goes to show the effects of consistent and meaningful instruction. The progress we’ve been able to make through the use of play-doh here has been fantastic. Each night, we’d spend some time molding various objects to fit into a theme that we’d selected -- one day food, maybe animals another day -- and the children and staff were simply amazed by each day's creations. By captivating their interests, we were able to drive home certain points and concepts within the context of education, and that made play-doh seem so much more meaningful that we’d ever viewed it before. Here, the smallest things really do seem to make the greatest impact.
We've officially completed our formal teaching experiences, as summer camp began today. With the rest of this week planned, we’ll be facilitating more activities along the lines of our summer camps at home. Today, we painted Easter eggs to share some of the Easter traditions with the children who will soon be departing for America. The volunteer from Germany, Stella, shared some of her traditions at home and we seemingly combined the two. We painted hollowed eggs, instead of boiled, and then attached string to hang them from a tree, which is believed to bring good fortune. The small tree we hung them from will be planted in the courtyard to remain at BSSK for years to come. The children absolutely loved painting the eggs and then hanging them from the tree, and I think we enjoyed seeing their expressions just as much. The rest of this week will consist of t-shirt painting, cooking small dishes, a day of recreational swimming, and more. With the excitement that accompanies this week, a twinge of sadness also arises as we prepare to return home. The excitement of seeing our families and graduation is incredible but we’re certainly going to miss the children and staff who have become like family during the last six weeks. The journey has been magical, to say the least, and I believe God has used us to help fulfill just a small portion of His plan in the lives of these children.
The final update for this blog will be offered once we touch down and settle back into our routines at home. Thank you for your support and continued encouragement. We hope that you have enjoyed sharing this experience just as much as we have.
Blessings to All
I learned a new technique for dying eggs --- very messy but equally as unique
Stella's finished egg
Our tree, to bring good fortune
A part of our food theme

As you probably guessed, Animals

Proud of my little turtle
Fletch, proud of her duck

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two Weeks Left to Make Magic Happen

Hello everyone!
Trusting that all has been well at home, this week has been a little different than most. As our group doubled in size, we worked to adjust to the new routines with all of the children present, and dealt with the challenges of sick and hospitalized children. The progress with everyone here continues to shine each day. Within my primary group, they’re all beginning to grow in their abilities identify and write an increased number of numbers, they’re growing in their phonics skills, catching on to the concept of 1 to 1 correspondence, and also learning more and more conversational English. When we began teaching them basic greetings and English words, they would simply repeat the words that we’d speak to them. Now, they’re beginning to reply to “Hello, how are you?” with “I’m fine!” and a smile, so they’re definitely beginning to understand more and more. When they want to be picked up, they will say up in English, instead of Marathi. They’ve learned to tell us when they want to play, when they want water, and when one of the other children has been hitting on them (smile). Many of the children in Rachel's group have started to show progress, moving from never saying anything to babbling and speaking to her in baby-talk ---- which is mountains more than what they had been doing before. The growth each day is remarkable and we’re definitely enjoying seeing them blossom before our eyes.
The little girl whose eyes were barely open when we arrived has kept her eyes open all week! Early in the week, she would keep them open fairly well and then open them all the way up once she heard one of us come into a room. As the week progressed, I began to sneak downstairs each night to check on the children and also to see how she was with keeping her eyes open. When I went downstairs the last two nights, she was playing, talking, and running around with her eyes opened as wide as she could possibly get them. After three weeks, the child whose eyes were once always closed has become an extremely bright-eyed toddler. The other little girl, whom they believed to be a mute for two months, sang twinkle, twinkle little star with a few other children and me on the swing yesterday! One of the caregivers looked over almost as if she had to see it to believe it and just beamed as the little girl sang the song and moved to the accompanying hand motions. She’s starting to repeat many more English words, as well as Marathi words. She’s to the point where she’s babbling, singing, or talking as much as, if not more than, all of the other children in her group --- and it just delights us.
This week was the first week the children were able to enter their small, blowup swimming pools and just just had a blast the entire time. While there was only about 4 inches of water in each pool, you would have thought they had taken a trip to the beach with as much splashing, laughing, jumping, and "swimming" they were each doing. Being here has certainly taught us to cherish the small things, as the children are experts at it. Their lives are so simplistic and, coming from America, it's amazing to watch while taking it all in. With everything from a little extra food at dinner time, to more milk at snack time, and even down to the one piece of chocolate they receive each evening, they certainly know how to show appreciation.
The older children that have just joined us this week have certainly made themselves at home very quickly. As I sat here and starting typing this update, the phone in the lounge beside our bedroom rang twice and then stopped. Immediately following, the phone in our bedroom rang. I picked it up and the person on the other end hang up. A few seconds later, it rang again and this time I answered and the 10 year old from our group was on the other end. His excitement was obvious, as they’d achieved their goal of figuring out how to contact us when we were “off of the clock.” They screamed, “Jackie tyie, you are coming down!?” And, as we’d discussed earlier, if I could understand them in English, I would respond appropriately. It was a little incentive to get all of the children to speak as much English as possible. I responded and told them I would be down but I intentionally waited about five minutes to see if they’d all again. About two short minutes later, the phone rang again and when I answered they said, “Tyie, are you standing there? Come fast!” My mission had been achieved and I joined them downstairs for dinner this evening, which pulled more conversation in English out of them. They’ve started to teach me fruits and vegetable in Marathi and Hindi, and I repay them by teaching them the English words for said items. So far, I have mastered grapes: Grapes, Ungal, Draksha!
Besides the day by day progress here, all else is well. The staff has asked if we will host a workshop to teach them how to make creative items with play-doh and we weren’t exactly sure how to respond. Being here has definitely pushed us deep into our creativity bags but we are certainly no experts. I’ve started to teach them one or two new items each day, and they’re delighted when they achieve success. In turn, the chef in the kitchen teaches me one or two new things each day. I’ve learned how to make fresh Chapati (similar to our tortillas at home), fresh coconut French beans, Indian rice, their special recipe for Chai tea, and I’ve learned how to process buffalo milk so that it is safe for the babies to drink --- it’s been quite an experience, to say the least.
Three weeks in, two to go.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Namaste! (Good Morning)

All is well on the Indian home-front. We’ve spent the last week settling in, exploring, planning, and beginning to take things over here in the classrooms. Since we’ve been here, about 5 adoptions have taken place and we were able to witness the ceremonies and share in the celebrations with those families. The children have adjusted well to their friends being gone and all is back to normal here. Our experiences continue to grow and we’re discovering more about the children, our skills, and our personal abilities along the way. One little girl, who they believe has trained herself to keep her eyes shut because of the bad things she’s experienced at a previous orphanage, has started to keep her eyes open for longer periods of time while we’re around – a few minutes more each day just brings such a feeling of joy that can’t be put into words. She’s starting to come out of her shell and another little girl, who barely said two words when we arrived, is starting to laugh and talk more, so we’re incredibly excited. She’s starting to repeat English words after us, approach us more for attention and affection, and even speaking to us in Mirathi, which is leaps and bounds over what she was doing one week ago. The staff joins in on our excitement because the progress, with these two in particular, is something which they’ve been working on for months. We’re starting to realize that more of our impact may be on a social/emotional level for many of the children, more so than academic, and we’re growing to become more than okay with the idea of that --God’s using us as He sees fit. The experience overall has certainly been worlds different than we imagined, from the age groups to the activities and ways of schooling here but we’ve come to realize that, just because something’s different, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. I (Jackie) am in the Rainbow room, working with children from 3 years to about 9 years of age. The students in my primary group are between the ages 3 and 5, some with special needs and some without. I’ve planned activities that focus mostly around basic phonics and number sense skills, while delving into colors, shapes, and preliminary mathematical skills. They certainly enjoy the activities and the change of pace from sitting and writing for two hours each morning to being up jumping, dancing, and moving around. We mold letters, numbers, and shapes out of play-doh, use crayons and plain paper to work on animals and object/shape identification in English, and we’ve made maracas out of water bottles and rice to assist us with our nursery rhymes. For us, the change of pace has been exciting and has certainly required us to tap into our creative abilities, which has been both challenging and rewarding all at the same time. For the majority of the day, Rachel is down in the Twinkling Stars room with children ranging in age from 1.5 to 3.5 years. Her focus group consists of four children, with special needs --- One deaf, one blind, one with epilepsy, and one who is believed to have autism. She has developed some goals for her group and has started working with them, individually, this week. From time to time, we tag-team (especially outdoors) to help take away some of the pressure associated with being new to the environment here, and everything always falls into place. We’ve had the opportunity to shoot a ton of photos and plan on finding a way to share them with you all once we return home, since we can’t post them online here. The rest of this week should begin to solidify our new routines for us and the children and we look forward to offering an update next week. We've started to pick up bits and pieces of Mirathi and are learning a little more about the Indian culture each day. For this weekend, we’ve planned a bit of tourism and are looking forward to spending a day out and around Pune. We miss you all very much, pray that everyone is well at home, and send our love all the way to you.

Some of the kitchen staff, caregivers, and teachers.

One of the cooks -- she makes sure we're fed VERY well

Some photographic moments along our journey

Elephant in traffic, during our Sunday walk through town

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We have arrived safely and are in full swing!

Hello, everyone!

Finally, we have arrived safely in India and have started our work here at the orphanage. Let's rewind back in time, just a tad. We began our journey from home on Friday, March 25th and arrived here at the orphanage on Sunday, March 27th. The time here is about 9.5 hours ahead of the time at home. As we arrived in India, we were immediately met by 100 degrees of HEAT! We were expecting it to be hot but didn't realize the intensity until we arrived --- we've adjusted well. When we arrived at the orphanage on Sunday, we were greeted by an abundance of friendly faces that helped to create a very welcoming atmosphere for us. Monday was our first real day of interaction with the children and it was quite exciting, to say the least. The orphanage currently has about 76 children on-site, ranging from 1 day to 10 years. There's an additional 30 children placed in foster care through the orphanage, currently awaiting adoption.  We helped the children trace letters and numbers before drawing shapes for them to color --- They were quite excited to have some new faces and bodies to cling to. There are so many of them and they are all so unique in their own little ways; they truly are magnificent. We're still feeling our way around and are beginning to plan for the next couple days. Through our interaction with the children, we realized that the Indian culture is very much drill, drill, drill with educational skills. We're working to plan activities and lessons for the next few days to help the students become engaged with some sensory stimulating materials such as play-doh, uncooked rice, cotton balls, and things of that nature. It's certainly going to be a new experience for us, because most of the children speak little to no English --- it should be an exciting challenge for us. We recently learned that there are going to be 5 adoptions in the next two days, so I think we'll experience some heartache a little earlier than we anticipated, but it's certainly a wonderful time for the children. Because of the adoption regulations, there are very strict restrictions on photographs and, unfortunately, we aren't able to post photos or videos of the children to the web. We're still planning to post as regularly as possible to share our experiences with you.

The food here has been pretty fantastic - a little hit and miss, from time to time, but very good overall. We have internet here from 9am-5pm our time and we purchased a phone today, so we should be able to contact our loved ones soon.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Final greetings from the USA!
                Hello everyone! As our departure approaches with visas in hand, we wanted to offer a fond (and hopefully final) farewell from this side of the globe. For us, the adventures of the past week have been exciting, overwhelming, productive, and enjoyable, all at the same time. From Sunday into Monday, we traveled to the India embassy in New York City to complete the application for our visas. While there, we decided to explore a bit and discovered M&M world, the extreme presence of the NYPD, and the wrath of windy, New York weather. Nonetheless, we are extremely pleased to share that our visas have arrived and our flights are set to depart from Pittsburgh at 2:40pm tomorrow! If all proceeds as planned, we will arrive at the orphanage on Sunday morning. With a 10-hour time difference, we hope to update again once we have arrived and are settled. Please keep us in your prayers, as show-time has finally arrived.

Blessings to all!
The journey to obtain our visas begins

Traffic? Yep, we have certainly arrived.
NYC Signature


Rain. Wind. New York.

Sweet Success!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

God's Will is God's Will

Hello all!

Our day yesterday was eventful, to say the least. As we prepared to depart, we received a call informing us that the coordinator of the trip had forgotten that we needed visas to enter India and we would have to postpone our departure until we obtained them. As we all know, it's relatively impossible to obtain a visa in less than an hour, especially in Pittsburgh. So, we've spent the past two days researching and rescheduling flights and completing applications for our visas. We are prepared to travel to the New York Embassy from Sunday into Monday to finalize the application process for our visas. Our flights have been rescheduled for one week later than the original departure date, so we will now by flying out on Friday, March 25th. This has been a stressful and eventful time, however, we know that God has a reason for all He does. Prayers for working through these new bumps in the road and getting everything to work out so that we may fly out on Friday would be greatly appreciated.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Departure time has arrived!

Hello ladies and gents!

             Our plans have been solidified, and our trip to India is right around the corner! We will be flying out today at 3pm and returning on Tuesday, May 3rd. We have gotten all of our vaccinations and medications that are necessary for the trip. The outpouring of support from those at Cal-U, friends, and family has been amazing, and we have been given a plethora of supplies for the orphanage, as well as monetary donations to buy supplies for the children once we are there.
On March 11th we completed our first student teaching placements here in the U.S. Our days have been full of planning lessons and activities, creating behavior systems, and trying to figure out how to best reach our students. The past 7 weeks have been very busy and at times overwhelming, but we both loved our students and had a very difficult time walking out on our last days. Before we knew it, our first placement was completed, and our journey to India was less than a week away!
            This week the nervous excitement has set in as we tie up all of the loose ends here in the states. Applications for substituting, summer jobs, and teaching positions in the fall have been completed and sent out, giant packing lists have been made to make sure nothing is forgotten for us or for BSSK, and visits are being made to friends and family to say our last goodbyes. We are so grateful for those that God has placed in our lives. This trip wouldn’t be possible without each and every one of you!
           As our journey begins, we continue to ask for your thoughts and prayers. Prayers for the children at BSSK and those we will meet along the way, for the unknown as we go to orphanage without set details and plans, and for us that we may be at ease and let God work through us to complete His plan.
                India here we come!