ChildFund New Zealand’s Kathy McKay and Kathrine Seavill travelled to India for two ChildFund conferences and onto Kenya to collect stories. This is the first excerpt from Kathy’s diary of her experiences in India. Here Kathy is introduced to a community of people who are considered outcasts and finds out how ChildFund is helping them to improve their lives.

Monday 8th Feb

Today we went to visit a gypsy community.  The gypsies are the poorest of the poor.  Because of their nomadic lifestyle they are outcasts.  They also seen as unclean because they scavenge for food and eat meat – killing birds.  All this means they are not accepted by the wider community.

Kathy and gypsy children

The ChildFund project is about an hour out of Chennai.  We travel on a busy motorway past a stone crushing factory – the air is fill of dust.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to work here….

The ChildFund project is working to keep the children settled in one place so they can get an education – while one parent travels selling the beads that they make.  Other things ChildFund does is to help the woman to improve their beads so they can get more money for them.  There is an early childhood and development centre (ECD) for young children to prepare them for school.  A lot of work is done around hygiene and cleanliness to make sure the kids aren’t ostracised when they start school – as this causes the children to drop out early.  ChildFund feeds and looks after the children at the ECD all day.  ChildFund registers all the births – without this the children can not later go to schools.  Anthony is proud that no babies or mums have died in this area in the last year – the improvements have been great.

The Government has given a grant to build 10 houses.  But the rest are flax tents.  I went into one house – it was one room but they were very very happy to have this room.  There was an outside toilet as well.  The house didn’t have any beds – just a mat on the floor.  It smelt like petrol and was jammed fill of stuff – it reminded me of a car garage and I wonder how you could live here.

The community has one tap to drink from.  Earthen pots are filled and carried home.  They are very proud there is a concrete road (big path) to walk on through the community.  About 30 families live here.

These children are the first generation to go to school.  One mum said it was important because when you can’t read you are taken advantage of.  She can only give her thumb print and the money lenders rip her off.

Smiling faces in IndiaWhen we walk up to the village there is great excitement.  Lots of children run to greet us.  They all want me to take their photo and to see their pictures on the screen.  They laugh and think it is great fun.  The walk to the ECD centre is slow progress.  Lots of little hands reach out to me.  The children are gorgeous.  They are very small and I feel like a giant.  We are welcomed at the ECD centre with, flowers, beads, fire crackers.  We sit under a tree as the children do a welcome skit.  I am not sure what is going on but it ends with a bucket of rose petals been thrown over us!  The girls do a dance – one of the girls is a fantastic dancer – I think she is about 12 but she is really 18.  The boys then do their dance.  We are invited to walk around the village.  I have a little shadow – one of the dancers has changed out of her fine dance clothes to normal clothes.  She holds my hand as we walk and wants to show me where she lives.  She isn’t one of the lucky ones with a brick house but she seems proud to show me where she lives.  They have nothing.  There are some pots and pans outside to cook with but there is no furniture.  The dogs have a dog house though.

Most of the older children and parents have one meal a day – it seems to be mainly rice.   One little girls dream is have a house with bricks – that’s all she wants.

Another boy’s best day of his life was the day he started school.

These kids have nothing but they are proud they can now go to school.  Some of them now have aspirations – to be a Dr or to be a community official.  They do see hope for their future – I admire them and think how hard it is to have dreams when you have to struggle like this – but they do.

On the way back to Chennai I think what a privileged life I have.  The community has achieved a lot but there is so much more to do to give these kids a chance.

Tuesday & Wednesday

In meetings all day.  But good to discuss with colleagues from the Alliance how their fundraising is going and to share results and learnings.

Thursday 11th Feb

Last morning of meetings.  In the afternoon we went out in the tuk tusk again and had fun racing around Chennai.  We went back to the beach.  I am struck again how big the beach is – it looks like a desert the sand is so wide – you can’t see the sea.  Couples cuddle by the fishing boats.  Our next stop is a big temple in town – Shiva.  It is beautiful and like the beach peaceful and quiet compared to the city.  There are cows in the temple and lots of people sit and make offerings. Candles and incense burn.  Holy men wonder around the temple.

Chennai is a friendly city and relatively rich by Indian standards.  We are not hassled at all and there are very few beggars.  One lady at the temple stands out tho – her face is horribly disfigured and I feel very guilty and sad as I turn away from her.

I wonder how I would live if I was born here?  Would I have a decent house?  How would I make a living? Again I feel very very lucky.

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