Welcome to Our Travel Blog

We have returned to India after 2 years to meet our good friends at the Pardada Pardadi School for Girls in Anupshahar, Uttar Pradesh and work to establish a Health Center there! This Blog documents and shares our experiences as we arrive in Delhi on October 22, 2012 and continues through our 5 week stay. There has been incredible progress at the school since our last visit that we are anxious to see. Thank you everyone for your support in making this dream become a reality for 1200 of our world's poorest girls.

The Pardada Pardadi Girls School is located in the village of Anupshahar, 120 km (a 4 hour drive) from Delhi. Pardada Pardadi provides a wonderful opportunity for the poorest girls from the community to learn academic, vocational and life skills, leading to a productive and happy life. The school is very well run and was founded 10 years ago by the ex-CEO of Dupont India in his home village. Each girl is provided 10 ruppes (25 cents) per day for attending, amounting to $750 (equivalent to India's per capita income) for perfect attendance, which they can access only after graduating. They also learn textile skills and make products that help fund some of the operating costs of the school. This also provides them with job opportunties after graduating. I encourage you to visit the school Website at

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Educating girls in rural India prevents child sex trafficking

As I prepare to return to Pardada Pardadi Educational Society, located in one of the poorest rural regions of India, I’d like to share the progress we have made since 2010.  Raising a village out of poverty begins with educating, empowering and employing girls and women.   Our volunteer experience has grown beyond what we could ever have imagined, and has become a medical, educational and economic whirlwind due to the generosity of local residents and organizations.

Girls from the village of Annupshar, have long been sold into sex trafficking, under the guise of marriage. Girls are considered an economic burden by their parents. Older men come to the village wanting to “marry” their daughters, paying as little as $25 for the girl.  Last year, one family sold their five daughters, ages 2-12, for $135. Child marriages, usually between age 12 and 14, are common and an issue that the school is working hard to stop. Incentives are provided to encourage  families to send their girls to school. Students are paid 10 rupees/day for daily attendance,provided with 3 meals a day, transportation, uniforms, shoes, textbooks and health care. 

Pardada  Pardadi was founded in 2000, by Sam Singh, the first Indian born man to be hired by the DuPont Company,  in 1963. He lived in the Wilmington area for most of his career. Upon retirement as head of DuPont India, he returned to his ancestral village to fulfill his lifelong dream of improving the lives of girls and women. Girls had never before attended school. Illiteracy is 70%.  The average family income is $14/month. Initially, Sam was met with great resistance and death threats, as villagers felt threatened by him wanting to educate their daughters.  Having met with over 1000 families, the school  opened  with 45 girls. By the end of the first year, 15 remained. Today, 1300 girls attend the school.  4000 are on a waiting list.    

While living and working daily at Pardada Pardadi, we experienced daily challenges and difficulties that are a part of life in this rural village.  Everything in rural India is the exact opposite from life in the US. The garbage, stench, constant noise, dirt and wild animals roaming everywhere required adjustments on our part.  Children rummage through piles of garbage, competing with buffalo, dogs, moneys  and pigs for what food they might find. At dusk, the sight of an older person sitting and scooping water out of a muddy street puddle to drink, is forever etched in my mind.   

During our 5 months at PPES in 2010, we started a hygiene program, teaching girls to brush their teeth and wash with soap. Both of these activities were new for most  students.  Since that time, the girls brush their teeth and wash with soap daily at school. As a result, illness has been significantly reduced.   Mike was able to connect the school to the internet, introducing the staff and students to the world beyond the village. While teaching art, I introduced colored paper(only white had been used until 2010!) and the concept of hanging student artwork on the school walls(until then, only teacher’s art was displayed in the school). We taught English classes, as well. Hindu is the language spoken in the village, so the school is anxious for students and staff alike to learn English.  

Upon our return to the US in 2011, we had no plans to India return to India again.  Though we found the experience to be incredibly worthwhile, we were worn down by limited electricity, water, internet access, the heat, and conditions related to dire poverty.  After a few months of struggling with reverse culture shock, I knew we needed to go back. While the conditions we faced living in the village diminished, we really missed the 1100 girls who we grew to love.  Knowing we were able to make a real difference in their lives, as well as the school, Mike and I eventually knew what we needed to do next. 

There is no health care in this village region of 180,000.  Our girls had no access to health care.  We began plans to build a Health Center at the school. In October of 2012, we headed back to India to open the new Health Center and hire a school nurse.  We took 150 lbs. of medical supplies donated by Missions Relief in Coatesville to stock the center.  For the next two months, I worked as school nurse, until the nurse that we hired was able to move to the village.   The health center has proven a great success, with an average of 100 girls a week visiting for health care.   

While we were in India, Mike applied to International Medical Relief, based in Colorado.   IMR has been sending medical teams to impoverished areas throughout the world for 12 years.  Upon our return to the US, we learned that our application was the one out of 100 they accepted.   For the next six months, we worked with IMR and the school to plan the trip. Last June, I accompanied the team of 22 US medical professionals to the school, and had the opportunity to witness the impact of lack of hygiene and health care on over 2500 villagers during six days of medical camps, in 110 degree heat and monsoon rains. 

During the week, I shadowed   a pediatrician, who diagnosed a new case of polio in a little boy. The child’s father was heartbroken, as he explained that his son had received one vaccination against polio. What he did not know, as is the case for most villagers, is that his son needed four doses.  This was the third child I have met in the village with polio. During the clinics, the team saw many malnourished, dying babies, as well as so many medical issues we will never see in the US. Health education seminars were held throughout the week, teaching villagers about good hygiene, hand washing and clean water.  Due to the success of the trip, IMR will be returning to the school again in June, 2014.Volunteers are still needed for this trip. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Mary for information. 

I will be returning to the school on March 27, along with two doctors from Baltimore, who will be running dermatology clinics for the girls and their families. Skin infections and diseases are rampant, primarily due to lack of sanitation. We recently hired two doctors, who will come to the school one day a week to provide medical care.  One doctor is a woman gynecologist, who has been most welcomed by the girls and their mothers. 

On this trip I will be taking along undies for all of the girls, which have been donated by the local community.  Last June, I took over 1000 bras, which were collected for the girls and women of the village. Living in dire poverty, these basic necessities are considered luxuries.  The girls were thrilled to receive bras, and asked that I bring undies when I returned.  

Our next dream is to build a Medical Clinic for women and children of the village.  $35,000 is needed for this project to become another reality.  Having made incredible strides since our introduction to life in rural India, we hope that the funding for the center is raised, so that it can be built by 2015.  To support to the school, sponsor students and support the Health and Hygiene program financial donations are needed.  To learn more about Pardada Pardadi,  to donate or learn about volunteer opportunities, or to schedule a speaking engagement, call Mary Cairns at 610-444-2139.  Or visit the school website at education4change.org. 
Chadds Ford Live article 2014

Local woman continues her work at girls school in rural India

On September 11, 2010, Mary Cairns, an interior decorator from Kennett Square, and Mike Mays, travelled to a girls school,  Pardada Pardadi Educational Society, in one of the poorest areas of rural India.  For the next 5 months, they immersed themselves into the culture and lives of some of the neediest children in the world.  Mary had known that she wanted to have an impact on girls who are victims of sex trafficking, and that education is one of the solutions to prevention.   

Girls from this extremely impoverished village region are often sold into sex trafficking, under the guise of marriage, by their parents. Older men come to the village wanting to “marry” their daughters, paying as little as $25 for the girl.  Child marriages, usually between age 12 and 14, are common and an issue that the school is working hard to change.   In order to reduce the economic burden on the family, students are paid 10 rupees/day for attending school and provided with 3 meals a day.

Pardada  Pardadi was founded in 2000, by Sam Singh, the first Indian born man to be hired by the DuPont Company in 1963. Upon his retirement as head of DuPont India, he returned to his ancestral village to fulfill his lifelong dream, of improving the lives of girls and women. Girls had never attended school in the village of Annupshar, Uttar Pradesh. Illiteracy is 70%. Average family income is $14/month. Sam was met with great resistance and death threats, as villagers had no understanding of why he wanted to educate girls. Having met with over 1000 families, he started the school with 45 girls. By the end of the first year, 15 remained. Today, 1300 girls attend the school, with 4000 on a waiting list.    

While living and working daily at Pardada Pardadi, Mary  describes the daily challenges and difficulties that are a part of life in this rural village.  “Everything in rural India is the exact opposite from life in the US.” The school was infested with rats, there is no concept of hygiene, monkeys and pigs roam wild throughout the village, and children can been seen rummaging through garbage, competing with buffalo, dogs and pigs for what they might find. “I will never forget the sight of an old person scooping water out of a muddy street puddle to drink.”   One day, a group of men were meeting on the school grounds. Witnessing a man with a gun walking around the men, Mary approached teachers questioning what was going on.  She was told that it was a political meeting, which often turn violent. There was no concern on the part of teachers, as this was not unusual for them. 

During the first trip to the school, Mary and Mike started a hygiene program, teaching girls to brush their teeth and wash with soap. This was new for most of the students.   The girls have been brushing their teeth and washing hands with soap daily at school since that time.     Mike connected the school to the internet, introducing the staff and students to the world beyond the village. While teaching art, Mary introduced colored paper(only white had been used until 2010!) and the concept of hanging student artwork on the school walls(teacher art only until this time!). They taught English classes, as well.

Upon returning to the US in 2011, Mary and Mike had no intention of returning to India again.  After several months, Mary knew she had to go back. Since there is no health care in this village region of 180.000 they decided to build a Health Center at the school.  With 150 lbs of medical supplies donated by Mission Relief in Coatesville, they were off to open the new center, and hire a school nurse.  While Mike worked to improve the computer system and teach computer classes, Mary worked as the school nurse. 

While in India, Mike applied to International Medical Relief, based in Colorado, to bring a team of US medical personnel to the school. Upon their return to the US, Mary and Mike learned that they had been the one out of 100 applications accepted.  For the next six months, Mary worked with IMR to plan the trip, and returned again last summer, with a team of 22 US medical professionals. During that time, the team saw over 2500 villagers in six days, in 110 degree heat and monsoon rains. 

Mary was able to shadow a pediatrician, who diagnosed a new case of polio in a little boy. The child’s father was heartbroken, as he explained that his son had received one vaccination against polio. What he did not know, as is the case for most villagers, is that his son needed four doses.  This was the third child Mary has met in the village with polio. During the clinic, many malnourished, dying babies were seen at the clinic, as well as so many medical issues we will never see in the US.  Due to the success of the trip, IMR will be returning to the school again in June, 2014.Volunteers are still needed for this trip.

When Mary returns to the school on March 27, she will be taking undies for all of the girls. Last June, she took 1000 bras, all donated by friends and strangers alike.  Due to living in dire poverty, girls do not have underwear. She will accompanying two doctors from Baltimore, who will be running clinics for the girls and their families.  She will also be working on a Child Sponsorship program.  Girls can be sponsored, through the school website, at education4change.org.  For $40/month sponsors provide 3 meals  a day, transportation, textbooks, 2 uniforms and shoes for their child. 

Mary’s new dream is to build a Medical Clinic for women and children of the village.  $35,000 must be raised before her new dream can become a reality.  Having made great strides since 2010, Mary is confident that the center will be built by 2015.  Financial donations to support the school are greatly needed.  To learn more about Pardada Pardadi, or to schedule a speaking engagement, call Mary Cairns at 610-444-2139.
Volunteer opportunities at Pardada Pardadi 

Annupshahr is located about 100 miles East of Delhi, in the State of Uttar Pradesh, and by car will take about 3 hours. PPES will arrange to pick you up at the Delhi airport and provide meals and lodging while in Delhi. After a day in Delhi, adjusting to the time change and sensory overload, transportation will be provided to Pardada Pardadi. Meals and lodging while at the school will be at the Guest house, or Sam Singh’s home. While in Annupshahr, you will spend time at the school, interacting with the students, teachers and administrators. We will visit villages, and the homes of our girls, so you can see what their lives are about.  Annupshahr is located on the Ganges River, a river with great significance to Hindus, so you won’t want to miss an evening boat ride on the Ganges. Also of interest will be our newly opened health center, production operations, community toilet complex, self-help groups and dairy best practices groups. The village of Annupshahr is also a must see, a short walk from the school, where shops and stalls sell everything you can imagine, and not imagine.   For those with a medical background, you will find work at our new health center very eye opening and rewarding. We will set up medical camps in nearby villages as well.   We are always looking for English speakers to sit in, participate in or teach our conversational English classes. Also if you have a particular teaching expertise, you can volunteer in any of our classes, K through 12. In the past, volunteers have built toilets, taught EMT classes, assisted with girl sponsor communications, collected survey data, helped with medical clinics, written procedure manuals, helped out with the library and introduced the students to classical music. The opportunities are endless and we encourage all visitors to participate, whether for an hour, a day, a week or longer. A volunteer manual will give you information on longer term projects. When your time at the school is over we will spend a day in Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal, one of the man-made wonders of the world. Our goal is to give you the opportunity to learn about and become a part of the PPES family.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sam Singh, school founder, at Solar Lantern Project.

Dr. Matthew in Health Center

Loving the girls

Nina, Taruna, myself and Elsa at pantie handout.

New panties!!
Sam and myself on a village street, talking with the children

"what do I do with this comb?"
Hygiene lesson in not sharing combs

Backpacks donated for all of the girls by a US Volunteer

Muskan showing photo of her sponsors

Riding to a village, covered to keep out the dust and debris

Room where Pooja, 8 years old, was killed by a snake

Pooja's mother and sister, Archna. Archna needs a sponsor!

Family of 4 girls, who ride their bikes 7 km. each way to school.

Beautiful Manisha, no parents, living and caring for 95 year old blind grandmother, in rat infested room.
Village scene.....
Visit to the home of a girl who is dying
Girls playing cricket

Writing a letter to her sponsor....

Ishu and Anu, so happy to be in school

Eyeglasses will help, but malnutrition must be eliminated for healthy eyesight

With sisters, Anjali and Aarti

Ajeema with her sponsor's letter

Girls at sister school, listening to Sam tell them about opportunities for higher education


Girls writing to their sponsors

Students during a visit to their home

Starving, malnourished and dying....

this child is 5 years old, weighing 20 pounds.

Visit with the women elders, who had never seen a westerner before!
New panties!

Gushal, deaf and mute, is a former student, now the #1 producer in the textile department at the school, sewing at home on her day off.  

Trip #4- Continuing the work at Pardada Pardadi- 2014

On Easter Sunday, as I began to write about my most recent trip to Pardada Pardadi, I found that I struggled for words that would be adequate in describing this experience in India. I have had so many friends, family and supporters asking about my time there, so it’s time to find the words.  My heart is always with the girls at PPES, who count among the most  needy girls in our world. Their hope for a bright future is the result of everyone who cares enough to provide support for their education, and for the incredible work being done at PPES.    
So many memories swirl about in my head as I reflect back over the weeks there.   I have found that processing my experiences has become more challenging, as I have been given the privilege of delving deeper into the lives of the people, and witness so many unthinkable things that are a part of life in the village.  From our arrival in Delhi, until my departure, every day provided the opportunity to live amongst, and love, so many wonderful girls and their families, and the staff, who have allowed me to be a part of their lives.  The warmth and hospitality, along with the many incredible experiences that most in the western world will never experience, can also be too much at times.  Yet, I know that God gives me all that I need to continue the work I have been called to. 
The first week was filled with 5 days of medical camps, with two US and three Indian doctors.  This incredible team was able to see hundreds of patients/villagers during five days of camps in two of the very poorest local villages, as well as at the school. Bringing medical care to the people in this region is huge, as virtually no care exists in this region.  Students and staff alike were able to see doctors, and be treated for a vast array of conditions.  Lots of antibiotics were distributed for the many infections, mostly the result of poor hygiene.   Our dermatologist, was able to treat so many skin conditions that will never be seen in the US, most of which could be prevented with simple hygiene.  The people tend to have little concept of what that entails.  We hope that through school and community health and hygiene education programs, villagers can begin to practice safe hygiene, thus improve their health.

International Medical Relief- IMR will be returning to PPES in June. Last year, 22 US medical personnel saw 2500 villagers during 6 days of medical camps.  PPES looks forward to hosting IMR this June, when they return to bring medical care to the villagers.  $20,000 is needed for the Health Center, nurse’s salary and two doctor’s salaries. Two doctors come to the school on Saturday’s to see girls and villagers.    
To summarize some of the incredible moments……
~the distribution of 2200 pair of undies, all donated in the US. Many of our girls have never had a pair of new panties, so this was an exciting time. Thank you to all who made this project the great success it was.   Last summer, our students appreciated  receiving over 1000 bras from the US.

 ~120 preschoolers receiving their first combs. This included a hygiene lesson about combs being your own, and they are not to be shared.  Lice, bugs and scalp infections are a challenge at the school. I brought treatment for lice to the school to be used by our school nurse.  Again, it was fun to watch!   
~A big thank you to Soap Box Soaps for donating 1800 bars of soap to the school, for girls to take home, and for use at the school.  Soap, and handwashing,  has decreased illness significantly.   
~A big thank you to the students who worked with the doctors at the medical camps.  This may change the course of their futures, as they consider a nursing as a career.   The confidence and leadership abilities demonstrated is gratifying, knowing we are truly making a difference.  A simple, “I’m so proud of you”, “you’re doing a great job”,  are words they may never have heard before. A great smile makes my work so gratifying. 
 ~Solar lantern project- 200 lanterns have been distributed in the very poorest village, to encourage girls to attend school.  85% of the village girls still do not attend school. Your daughter in school, with a 70% attendance rate, provides the family with light at night they have never had. Girls can study and teach their families what they have learned in school.                         

~Eyeglasses, a newer concept at the school - 22 of our girls visited the local eye ophthalmologist. 60 % of our girls are malnourished by WHO standards, which causes problems with vision.  Though some of our girls now have eyeglasses, their eyesight will continue to be problematic until their nutrition improves.  The school needs $12,000 for the Nutrition Enhancement program, which will improve the overall health of our girls.  
 ~ My visit with Reena, a teacher at PPES. Reena was married in a love marriage, to Ritul, also a teacher at the school.  Her father and brothers have attempted to kill her for doing this, so they had to go into hiding. She has been completely estranged from her entire family as the result of making that decision. Today, they have a beautiful baby girl. She will grow up with parents who are educated, value girls and have resisted the cultural tradition of arranged marriage.               

~Village visits. One of the highlights of this trip was the opportunity to visit many of the villages, and the homes of our girls. This experience ranged from excitement to heartbreak.  Word spreads quickly that we are in the village, and before long I feel like the pied piper walking the streets, accompanied by children, as we weave in and out of houses.  Among the images, forever etched in my mind, is this little girl who is so extremely malnourished, likely to die from the condition. This is a common reality in the village, not just a picture in a magazine. 

I met with Pooja’s mother and her 6 year old sister. Pooja, 8 years old and a Class 1 student, was recently killed by a poisonous snake, as she swept her home.  The snake still roams, as Hindu beliefs prevent killing anything. I cannot imagine the fear of her family and villagers,  knowing the snake is still out there and can strike down another life.  The pain of the mother losing a child is the same the world over, so meeting with Pooja’s mother was heartbreaking.  I  think of Archna, her 6 year old sister, having lost her big sister and best friend. Her cousin, Kajill, pictured here, also attends PPES.

Elsa, our school nurse and my interpreter, took me to Manisha’s house to meet her 95 year old, blind grandmother.  Manisha has no parents, and her role in life is to care for her grandmother, in one room, infested with rats at night. They count among the most vulnerable.   I am left to wonder what will happen to Manisha when her grandmother dies. Will she be “married” off, sold into the brothel life?

My tour guides. Anjali and Chamma…they were a delight as they accompanied me for a day of village tours. They were thrilled to carry my backpack, notebook and cameras. It has been wonderful watching these girls grow since 2010. Their father and grandfather are in prison, so the children and mothers are on their own.  It is great fun being with them, as they take pride in taking me to the homes of our students.  

Polio continues to impact lives in rural India, despite what WHO reports.  I have met too many young people who have polio, including students at PPES, with no treatment available, nor devices to improve their mobility.  Typhoid continues to kill children in the village, as does cholera, malaria and  many other diseases long eradicated in the US.  $26,000 is needed to vaccinate our girls, as the Indian government,  continues to nothing for these children. 
There is a vast scale of conditions for living in dire poverty.  The narrow roads, too small for a vehicle, the intense heat of the sun, the animals living in the homes(some just one room, with a buffalo or two),while the children and adults roam barefoot,  the dust and smoke in the air, the stench of garbage piles can be  too much at times, and the condition of the children, malnourished, in rags or nothing at all, so very dirty-are all witnessed on these visits.  Though all of our girls live in the  dire of poverty, some live better than others.  This might mean the house has a toilet(outdoor, squat), a water source,  and a dirt floor swept clean.  It also might mean the family has a door on the house. The women and children
are so vulnerable, with no protection.

Child sponsorship- $40/month is what it costs to educate a child at Pardada Pardadi. This includes 3 meals a day, 2 uniforms/shoes/sweater, transportation(bicycle or bus), textbooks and health care.
 Every day at Pardada Pardadi is incredible!  To witness success, confidence and self-esteem, as our girls learn that they deserve to be treated as equals to boys, to have dreams and actually live them out, and to change the face of India for their own daughters, is what keeps me coming back. It  is also very challenging, due to conditions and coming face to face with unthinkable conditions without any warning.  The commitment and love I have for the school is greater than the adversity, which has provided me with opportunities 
most Westerners will never see.     

We cannot do this without your help.  Please visit education4change.org to make a donation today. 
Or send a check to: PPES 321 Hillside Lane Kennett Square, PA 19348

I can assure you that your donation will be well used, in the area that you see as the need you would like to support.  …………………………………………..  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Healthcare Project at Pardada Pardada School

To all friends and supporters of the Healthcare Project at the Pardada Pardadi school for girls in rural India:

Warm greetings to all.

Thanks to many many supporters, enablers, friends, staff, teachers, board members, volunteers and others, I am pleased report to you on the very significant progress and accomplishments of the Healthcare Project at the Pardada Pardadi school in Anupshahr, India. It is just amazing what a group of dedicated people can do by working together!

1) Health Center: A new Health Office has been built and is open for "business" at the PPES school. This facility, without question is the newest, cleanest, and best health center in the community and it will be able to serve the immediate health needs of the 1200 students attending PPES. This office includes; a waiting room, nurse's desk, doctor's desk, medical supply storage, medical supplies, 3 beds, file storage, a new laptop computer, Skype phone, sink, toilet, shower, back-up power supply, ventilation system, new lighting, tiled walls, and fresh paint.  Pictures are below.

2) Nurse/Health Teacher: A highly qualified, experienced, English speaking nurse has been hired!. Elisa, a registered nurse originally from Kerela now living in Dehli, plans to start at the school the end of January.  She will be living at the school. We are so thrilled to have Elisa join the PPES team. We are confident she will be able to play the leading role in providing on site medical care AND provide health education to the students and teachers and potentially the community at large.

3) Medical Supplies: 100 lbs of new medical supplies were donated, delivered and are organised in the Health Office along with new medicines, bandages, and additional supplies purchased locally and in New Dehli.  The Health Office is well stocked. New First Aid kits were created and provided to the 2 grade schools and the pre-school.

4) Medical Records: A datatbase of student health records has been set-up on the new Health Office laptop.  These are set-up to be shared via Google Docs.

5) Immunization Program: A dedicated group of doctors from neighboring Bulandshahar have agreed to visit the school monthly and provide immunizations and medical and dental check-ups. The first monthly medical clinic was held in November with 4 doctors participating, two pediatricians, a dentist and gynecologist.  Hepatitis B vaccine was administered at the pre-school and check-ups given. A second clinic has already been held in December to administer the MMR vaccine.

6) Eye Exams and Glasses: A qualified optician has been found locally and 5 girls were tested and fitted with glasses.  This will make it feasible to provide glasses to those girls who need them on an ongoing basis.

7) Tooth brushing: 3000 new toothbrushes were purchased and 1200 were distributed to all students. This program is funded to continue.

Much work still needs to be done!  All of the current programs need to continuely supported to ensure their sustainability.  Health education curriculum and teaching will need to be defined once the nurse arrives.  Procedures, now under development, need to be finalized. A medical mission of U.S. doctors is being sought for the Summer of 2013.  The nutritional needs of the girls require further review. Fund raising is critical to support, sustain and build on all of these programs.  Your continued support is very much appreciated and has a direct impact on the girls of Pardada Pardadi.

Thank you All for your support!

Best Wishes for the Season.


 Anjuli getting her toe bandaged with Sevilla looking on.
 Rashimi practicing applying an elastic bandage on Mary.
 Doctors desk with new laptop.  Health office bench and sink.
 Nurse's desk, bed and storage.
 Hep-B immunizations at the Pre-school.
Dental check-ups
 Entry to Health Office
 Waiting area.

Elisa, the new school nurse who will be starting in January. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Myanmar - Beautiful Land

Though we left India just a week ago, it seems like we have been gone much longer. Myanmar, though it borders India and Bangladesh, is a country so different from where we came, in every way.  How is it different?
                                          Mike in his Longo, the main male attire in Myanmar
We were taken back, as we arrived at the airport itself, with the peace and serene calm.  The drive to the hotel consisted of cars driving in an orderly fashion, down streets with marked lanes. The constant horn honking, cows, goats, broken trucks, masses of people and chaos were gone.  No beggar children approaching the car, hands open for food or money, or hawking plastic toys. Upon arriving at the hotel, it felt like we were in Asia, not India. There was the grandeur of Asian artwork in the lobby, hallways and our room itself.  Clean, it felt clean!!! Simple things, like a hot running shower, tissues and a comfortable bed were so welcome. Free internet access! All amazing. It was worth the wait!
A most delicious breakfast, with so many choices, awaited us the next day. For five weeks, though we loved being with our girls, the food we ate was the food we were served. No choice, no meat, just overcooked, overspiced vegetables, cold rice and dal.  Bucket baths, with a bucket of hot water, and a cup was our shower.  Paper products of all kinds are not available in the village. We quickly ran out of tissues brought from home. Toilet paper, just for volunteers, is obtained in Delhi. Thank you for small favors!!! We never complained, though, as we focused on the girls, not our own creature comforts.     
The pool overlooked a beautiful and serene lake, with a golden pagoda, so picturesque, on the other side. A scene postcards are made for. We learned this pagoda to be a floating restaurant, where we enjoyed dinner and a culture show the next night.   A boardwalk encircled the lake, with young lovers, umbrella to shade his lady, walking hand in hard. Wow! In India, men and women are not seen walking together very often, unless they have kids in tow. Public displays of affection are forbidden by the opposite sex there. Men can walk hand in hand, or with their arms around one another, but not men and women! Here in Myanmar, a Buddhist country, these young lovers are smiling, happy and together by choice, rather than by their parental arrangements. 
Our days in Yangon(first of 5  destinations) were relaxing and glorious. We mixed visits to the largest temple in Asia, with poolside reading, walks and some shopping, where bartering is required.  We were then on to Bagan, a UNESCO site, and the ancient  ruins(dating back 1000 years) of almost 5000 temples and pagodas.  Pretty overwhelming, though made more interesting by a tour guide who has lived here her entire life.  We covered the highlights, having to remove our shoes way too many times,  to visit many pagodas and temples, which housed Buddha in endless variations. 

We were then onto Mandalay, to visit monastaries, walk across a 1.2 km teak bridge, built in the 1800’s. We stopped so an astrologer and palm reader could tell me about my life and future. A boat ride back to the other side of the river, took us to our taxi, whose driver had lost the keys to the car. We walked around the village, and had a cup of tea, until the keys turned up. We don’t even begin to ask questions here, as the answer will make no sense at all. 
After an adventurous day, and a long drive, we were in another village, up in the mountains, to stay at another incredible inn, just like the ones you see in a travel magazine.  The next morning we walked to a spectacular botanical gardens, with a petrified wood museum(housing pieces estimated to be a million years old), the most incredible butterfly exhibit(collected over 30 years) and orchid garden(where they come from in the US). It was then onto a coffee plantation, which was more simple and ordinary than I ever could have imagined. Rows of coffee trees, lush with red and green fruit, and the owner, who invited us for a cup of coffee. Our coffee was Nescafe instant, as his beans are all exported by the government. Though he spoke not a word of English, we smiled, looked at photographs on the walls and moved on.  We are very used to this experience now, as we have had it many times this trip. 

Yesterday, it was back to another airport, for a flight to Inle Lake, a 22 km long lake. Since the closest road to our resort is 45 minutes by boat, the ride was another amazing experience.  As we sped across the water on a very old, noisy skiff, we passed people bathing in the river,  fishermen rowing one legged,  floating huts throughout the villages, and natives carrying boatloads of produce.

We now sit on the deck of our floating cottage, at a resort most will only dream about.  Surrounded by water and bungalows here, it is so peaceful, only the sound of boats going by, fish jumping and birds tweeting. Heaven!  How many times since we have been here in this country have I felt like we are in heaven? Many! Below our bungalow, snakes slitter(not too happy about that! Just so they stay down there and don’t slide up the pilings!), waterlilies bloom profusely, and fish swim and splash.

This morning we took a boat to a market, where we went between having fun and buying some fun, great stuff and being stressed by the call of “happy money. You will be my first money of the day, lucky money”. Though she didn’t understand, I felt compelled to tell one woman that it wasn’t my job to bring her lucky money.  We do feel good about doing something small to support the local economy, while at the same time, bringing back gifts and surprises.

Tomorrow, we are on to the beach on the Bay of Bengal. We understand there is a slice of heaven waiting there for us, too.  My angst and apprehension I experienced in India, before heading to Myanmar, is gone. What a beautiful country, beautiful people! How grateful we are to have experienced it!