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STOP International Project Summer 2007

A small group of 13 volunteers excitedly waited in the early morning of August 9 at London Heathrow to check in for their flight to Bangalore.  For some this was a new experience with many unknowns ahead of them, which added to the anticipation.  Other seasoned “old-hands” took it in their stride.  Yet for all this was a very exciting time, for on arrival in India, work was to begin on a new piece of land, 6.5 acres just outside the town of Denkanikotta, Tamil Nadu.

 

Before we could flick through all the in-flight entertainment we landed and were greeted by the project manager, Kish Poddar, and two other volunteers who flew in from Italy.  5 am in Bangalore is as peaceful as it ever gets, but even then the smells of new rain and food on the local markets mingled with the sounds of early morning worshippers and traffic.  Exotic and welcoming.  We travelled through town and south into Tamil Nadu where we arrived at our accommodation ready for a shower and breakfast to refresh us for the start of two weeks as a project volunteer.

 

The land STOP acquired is designated as a “Children’s Village”.  It will be a secure plot that will have 24 hour security to protect the resident orphans, a deaf school, students attending vocational training centres and the local community visiting to collect fresh water or meeting in the planned community centre.  On arrival the volunteers found 6.5 acres of potential.  A local builder had started work and fenced the land, built a wall facing the road and installed gates for access.  A guard house was planned by the gates and the foundations had been laid.  Everything else was potential!

 

The plan over the next two weeks was to

  1. build the Guard House up to lintel height,
  2. to mark out and dig foundations for the orphanage,
  3. to dig drainage to cope with the monsoons and
  4. to outline plan for future projects.

 

We also needed to schedule visits to 4 other orphanages STOP supports, spending time with the 120+ children cared for.  We also had a weekend visit to Periyar Nature Reserve in Kerala and one day shopping to squeeze in.  It would be a very busy two weeks.

 

Building required bricks to be moved and watered, sand to be sieved by hand and mixed with cement for the mortar (by hand), laid and then the resulting walls kept watered to ensure the mortar cured effectively in the dry conditions.  All the water had to be pumped (by hand) and carried 100m (by hand – well jars really) to where the sand was sieved.  Once we started the Guard House we then extended the build to add toilet facilities.  And with all this activity it still was complete in the allotted 4 days.  All the volunteers shared all of the jobs, maintaining interest and giving each volunteer a chance to learn bricklaying skills.

 

While the Guard House was being completed, two of the volunteers took some string, stakes, a tape measure and the local builder to measure and mark out the foundations for the orphanage.  The spot had already been partially levelled in preparation so once the first corner was staked, measurement were taken and Pythagorean theory used to ensure all the corners were square.  Half a day later you could see the outline of all the walls that will appear in the finished building.  The foundations needed to be 2 feet wide, so using the string as a guide, powdered lime was used to mark the trenches that needed to be dug for the foundations.  The outline of the orphanage was now apparent and it was getting exciting.  We invited the director of the Way To Life orphanage who will take up residence in the new building, Pastor Abraham, and his deputy Selvi to visit the site.  They too were very excited as they imagined their 27 children moving in during their 2008 summer holiday.

 

The hard work had hardly begun, because now the foundations needed to be dug 3 feet deep.  Armed with crowbars and mabetes (Indian shovels) the volunteers got started.  What we soon realised was that the soil only reached 4 inches underneath which was granite.  After toiling for 4 hours we submitted to geology and called in the JCB digger.  This made light work of the trenches, however it was still 2 days before all the trenches were dug.  We needed to clear the debris from the bottom to prepare for the foundations.  We worked in team, one in the trench filling pans with dirt and stone and one on top taking the pan and depositing the dirt in piles.  Swapping regularly once the back was aching, the volunteers enjoyed this hard physical labour and were rewarded with fresh coconuts and an expected afternoon shower to cool down.

 

Next a drainage ditch needed to be prepared to take a granite base to avoid the powerful eroding effects of monsoon rain.  Some of the men went to site to carry tons of granite chips to line the bottom of the ditch ready to have stone slaps laid on top.  The ladies took this opportunity to spend a day at the BESOO orphanage, which STOP built in 2002 and now cares for 92 orphans.  They run a Kindergarten to Primary school and the ladies went to do craft with the children, to participate in lessons and to play games.  The children do appreciate their “Aunties” spending time with them, talking, learning and playing.

 

On the penultimate day all the volunteers took the orphans from Way To Life to the Bannergatta Wildlife Park, part zoo, part nature reserve where they have tigers, lions, bears, crocodiles, beautiful birds and other animals.  We enjoyed walking around the zoo, had a lovely lunch together and then waved our farewells hoping next time we would see them they would be in their new home.

 

On our last day we met with two other orphanages and had lunch and an afternoon playing cricket and other games with the 30 orphans who we have met many times now and we see them grow and develop into lovely young men and women.

 

Another successful project, breaking ground on the “Children’s Village” site with a Guard House and Orphanage, paving the way for future projects to take the vision forward with school and vocational training units.

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