Tag Archives: volunteering

Colourful Calcutta – Celebrating Holi

1 Apr

On my recent, and first ever, trip to India I had the amazing opportunity to celebrate Holi (Festival of Colours) in Calcutta. Attending Holi Festival is something that has always been a dream of mine and was most definitely a top priority item on my never-ending bucket list!!

I guess when I dreamed up my idea of celebrating Holi, it would be on the streets of some big Indian city, surrounded my 1,000’s of strangers, who would all be throwing colour up in the air, shouting and singing and celebrating. My actual experience was quite different. As we were visiting The Hope Foundation’s projects, we were told we would be celebrating Holi in one of HOPE’s protection homes for young girls who have been rescued from the streets. This made the day SO much more special than being in the street with strangers. The girls were so sweet, and as we had spent a few hours playing and dancing with them a few days earlier, the ice had been broken and we were already the best of friends!

At first Pushba, the house-mother in charge of all the girls and their carers, warned them to treat us foreigners ‘delicately’ and not to cover us too much in the dye. We immediately protested this and said “Do what you want! Let them destroy us if they wish…This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us.” When the house-mother translated this to the kids, that they would have a free rein on the dye, they all cheered loudly, their eyes sparkling with excitement.

We were all brought outside the main entrance to the home, music was turned on, trays of coloured dye were distributed, and soon the colourful madness and cries of “HAPPY HOLI” were to be heard up and down the street. All the kids were given water pistols, big buckets of water and ample supply of multi coloured dye, which they proceeded to cover us in, much to our delight and the delight of many onlookers!!

I hope these photos I took do the day justice and really convey the happiness exuded my all; the joy, the delight, the smiles, the laughter and the amazing friendships bound together by this great Hindu Festival of Colour, welcoming Spring and bidding farewell to Summer!

Colour me beautiful!

Colour me beautiful!

Paint, coming at you!!

Paint, coming at you!!

Happy, smiling faces

Happy, smiling faces

A smile that would melt your heart

A smile that would melt your heart

Happy Holi!

Happy Holi!

Volunteer Niamh enjoying Holi

Volunteer Niamh enjoying Holi

All smiles!

All smiles!

Another volunteer enjoying the Holi celebrations!

Another volunteer enjoying the Holi celebrations!

Kasba Girls enjoying Holi

Kasba Girls enjoying Holi

Me and some of the girls from Kasba enjoying Holi celebrations!

Me and some of the girls from Kasba enjoying Holi celebrations!

Nobody escaped - even the poor bus drivers turned green!!

Nobody escaped – even the poor bus drivers turned green!!

Hands in - the aftermath of the red dye!

Hands in – the aftermath of the red dye!

A beautiful smile, a beautiful day!

A beautiful smile, a beautiful day!

Action shot!

Action shot!

Group shot!

Group shot!

 

 

 

Money for Mud

21 Feb

RUNAMUCK CHALLENEGE
I’m delighted to say that I shall be putting my travelling shoes on again in March, on a journey of a lifetime to Kolkata, India.

India will be country number 36 for me…a tiny bit closer to my goal of traveling to 50 countries before I’m 30.

However before I go, I am determined to raise €1,500 for The Hope Foundation, a charity which does amazing work in Kolkata with street and slum children, giving them a brighter future. HOPE has so far helped over 30,000 children through education alone, and I want to be part of their amazing story.

SHOCKING FACT: There are currently over 250,000 street children living in Kolkata, living on the streets with no shelter from the elements, no one to care care for them or to protect them. HOPE works tirelessly to help these children through education programmes, healthcare, skills training and their 8 protection homes for young boys and girls.

To raise money for HOPE, I have signed up for the ‘RUNAMUCK CHALLENGE 2013′ which considering by shocking levls of fitness, is sure to be quite the challenge! If you would like to donate to this very worthy cause, and like to see me get absolutley battered and bruised and covered in mud from head to toe..then PLEASE DONATE HERE!

I will post photos here of both this event and my experiences in India, so you will be able to see exactly where your money is going and all the good it is doing!

Thanks for your support!
Janet xxx aka Journalist On The Run

Dear Diary – New Friends

28 Dec

Dear Diary,

We met Brother Paul today from the USA. He invited us up to Kakuma some day to visit the UN refugee camp, with over 86,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and The Sudan. These kinds of things are suddenly becoming a reality. You hear about them and see them on the News back home but never imagine you will actually step foot in them in real life. 

Paul and Bosco (2 local boys) chatted to us for over an hour in the compound. They are so full of stories about flying places with the bishop, and doing this for the bishop and that for the bishop. Not entirely sure how much of it is true, but they are entertaining none the less!

 We headed up to St Kevins, the school where we will be teaching later in the morning. They have a lot of facilities such as a science lab and computers – way more than in the school in South Africa which is strange. Classes have around 50 kids so half the size of my classes in South Africa. We will each only have 6 classes which isn’t very much..not sure what we will do for the rest of the day!

We met the headmaster, Father Louis, a rather abrupt, fiery guy. He was wearing just shorts and a t-shirt…not your typical school headmaster! Later we hopped into the backie and drove to Johns house, quite far out-of-town in a local village. He has a really lovely set up. We got home at 1 o Clock so had the whole day to relax.

We met a lovely Malaysian Nun in the guest house at dinner. She is living in a compound near the refugee camp in Kakuma. They have been broken into 4 times!! Men with guns and knives came and stole all the donations from the USA for local children and even all their clothes!! Who would rob from a Nun?! Madness.

I still cannot actually believe where I am living! Went into town a few times yesterday. There is such a great atmosphere. Everywhere, people selling and cooking, Turkana herding goats through the town, naked men sitting on the rubbish dump, children playing with old tyres or balls made from plastic bags. Everyone looking at us and shouting ‘Hello, How are you FINE, How are you FINE’ as if it is all one word!! All the elderly ladies sit around weaving traditional baskets while all the men, young and old, sit on upside down beer crates chewing tobacco and listening to booming congolese tunes. I feel like I’m living in a parallel Universe.

Dear Diary- Hello Lodwar

23 Dec

Dear Diary,

We  eventually made it to Lodwar today. Cool date and it’s Kerrie’s 19th birthday-what a bizzare way to spend your birthday. I’m still shaking as I write…that bus journey was out of this world. I’ve also just realised  it’s after 9pm and I am seriously sweating and very sticky- this has to have been one of the weirdest days of my life thus far.

First finding the bus- my god sister Geraldine-what a woman! She cracks me up! Totally paranoid she is. You would think after 27 years living here in Kenya she would have integrated in the local community..become a local. But no! To this day she still acts like an ‘Africa Virgin’. She is still unaccustomed to shouts of ‘Muzungu’ (white person), still believing any local will rape, beat, shoot or attack her all at once after 6pm!! Her word of wisdom to us, ‘Cover your bellies or you’ll be attacked!!’

So after 2 hours of waiting, being overcharged ourselves AND made to pay for an extra seat for our baggage (corruption I tell you!!), much hassle from endless hawkers trying to sell us watches and blades and socks and belts and water and nuts, we made it onto the bus.

We also made a new friend, Kalle. One could write a book on this boy and his life so far. Right, so his mom was a drunkard and left him with his grandmother whom he lived with until he was 6 and she sadly passed away of HIV/Aids. So then he became a cowboy- herding animals in the Turkana. A young swedish missionary rescued him and he realised he no longer wished to be a street kid. His alcoholic mother found God and is no longer a drunkard. She has set up her own orphanage in Lodwar to protect and help children like her son. Kalle is sponsored to go to highschool in Lokitang and Nairobi by the Swedish.

So finally Kalle takes his seat next to his sister and the bus starts up with a bang, a burst of congolese tunes and the start of a very bumpy bus ride! Sitting next to 2 Turkana women, we shared our music, sweets and exchanged small talk in English. The first 2-3 hours was amazing! Passing by tiny villages, maize fields and lush green grass, vegetables, up and down we glided through the cherangani hills, through valleys, cliff hangers and amazing views. We even had to drive through a river..only in Kenya!

As the climate and scenery changed, the bus slowly got warmer. Away from the hills we were faced with vast, endless barrenland. Desert, camels, goats, turkana herders- wearing traditional tartan and beaded neckolaces. It was hot- high 30’s at least. Then suddenlt, out of nowhere, the tarmac road stopper. Fuck. Small bump followed by small bump bump, bumpity bump…stretching on for 200km!

Everytime the bus went into a depression, us 3 fools sitting at the back, with our backpacks in tow, went flying into the air- like being shot from a cannon. This continues for miles and miles, hour after hour. My stomach ached so bad- I was starved but couldn’t eat. My head throbbed and I was gasping for a cold drink but afraid to drink for fear I would need to pee!

We finally made it. I’m sitting safely and alive, just about, in our wooden shack within the military compound. Basic? YES! Hot? YES! But it will do perfectly. A dream house in a dream land. Sand everywhere. Living in a compound surrounded by armed guards. Scorpions and spiders are our biggest worries. Tomorrow we visit St Kevins school and only God knows what lies ahead.

Oh yeah- we have no running water, no luxuries. A Bucket for showering, toilet, washing clothes, brushing teeth…everything! This will be a harsh life like no other. Bring it on!

Dear Diary- Bye Bye Nairobi

22 Dec

Dear Diary,

Got the 8.30am bus to Kitale today. It’s hard to believe how far the 3 of us have come..from Cork, Cavan and Roscommon all the way to Nairobi and then to Kitale, finally we are en route to our final destination.

The scenery we passed today meant no sleeping would be had. It was spectacular! The change from city bustle to country life happened fast. Mud huts, red clay roads and potholes…many, many potholes! So primitive…it’s hard to believe we are actually here and that so many people live in such remote environs. The presence of schools is apparent no matter what. No matter how tiny or remote the village, schools are to be seen everywhere. Schools and Celtel! (The mobile phone network!!)

We passed through the great rift valley- 800 feet high looking down on a vast depression- a feature one reads about while studying Leaving Cert Geography but never expects to witness first hand. It’s expanse vastness- words cannot describe our excitement and the kenyan locals on the bus thought we were crazy getting excited about ‘a depression’!

Next was Lake Esmertiata where all that could be seen was hundreds of pink blotches which turned out to be…FLAMINGOS… thousands of them! Beautiful, pink flamingos covering the entire lake-what a sight!

6 hours later and 2 toilet stops, we crossed the equator. Just like that! Imagine! Northern hemisphere one moment, southern hemisphere the next! A dream come true, a true life ambition. The equator, another far away place, a geography term to be learn off and understood, a line on the map, suddenly a reality! Living the dream!

10 hours on a stuffy, smelly bus, and a bursting bladder…but well worth it for the journey of a lifetime!

Hello Kitale!

Dear Diary- Hello Kenya

22 Dec

This is the start of a new series of posts that I am going to copy word for word from an old travel diary I found in my bedroom. Reading back I was not the most sensitive person and my creative writing could have done with some (a lot) of tweaking!! But hopefully you will enjoy the naive honesty of a 20 years old backpacker with big dreams!

Dear Diary,

WOW. It’s hard to believe I’m actually here in Kenya. In Africa. Only a few hours on a plane and one enters a completely different world. After the hectic experience of Heathrow airport and nearly getting lost, Nairobi Jomo Kenyetta was a breeze. All those stories of muggings and hawkers, crooked airport staff and pushy taxi drivers seems to be a myth. Or else we just got lucky.

Father Tom from St Patrick’s Missions picked us up at the airport and we were given a second breakfast before been whizzed down town by Joseph, their driver, to sort out our bus tickets to Kitale the next day. Passing by hawkers selling everything from Mangos to puppies, children begging in traffic, a foot-less leper on the roadside. From the lush suburbs inhabited by rich diplomats from around the world and foreign aid organizations and missionary compounds to the slums, an endless menage of aluminium shacks, make shift hairdressers, sweet shops, shoe shiners, car washers, wood cutters. People cleaning themselves alongside the road in ditches full of thick brown, muddy water. It was all so overwhelming for our fist day in Kenya.

We were given a huge lunch and dinner best food ever; potatoes,kidney beans, soup, bread, pizza, porridge.

We have been laughed at many times today by the other priests and local at any mention of ‘Lodwar’, the place we are going to teach. “Bring sunscreen” one said with a laugh. I guess they know best, they have lived here for 9 years!

Welcome to Kenya!

BOP BOP BABY

22 Dec

So I’ve been rummaging through old drawers at home and just came across an old diary stuffed full of stray papers, boarding passes, poems, photos and many random phone numbers!

It dates back as far as 2003, the year my passion for travel began. It was also the start of what is set to be a life long love affair with humanitarian work, a career path I am now finally pursuing in the academic world.

Early 2003 I was introduced to ‘BOP’, the Belarussian Orphanage Project, which was run by Ed Jordan (maybe still is…). After an intensive weekend long selection process, I was given the green light as a suitable volunteer to travel to Belarus. And boy was I was ecstatic! We would spend 2 weeks helping to build a playground for the Novinki Children’s home and work and play with the children there, who suffer from psycho-neurological disorders, many still affected my the chernobyl nuclear disaster.

I was 16 years old, and ready to take on the world. Or so I thought.

BOP was great because it wasn’t just about volunteering abroad. BOP was a community back home in cork, too, with like minded people who shared a common desire to help out and make a difference.

We spent every spare hour fundraising for the cause; from bag packs, to raffles, sponsored swims, and food drives in local super markets to MANY MANY MANY hours at the newly founded warehouse sorting out and packing ‘aid bags’ full of nappies and Dettol soap, children’s clothes and baby food.Every weekend for months I feel I lived in that warehouse, and I loved every minute of it. The group formed a real bond so when the time came to head to the airport, excitement levels were through the roof!

Arriving in Minsk was a big shock. Although more than 8 years ago now, I can still remember some of the images as if it were yesterday. The huge,gray buildings and been warned not to take photos unless we wanted to get into big trouble. The strict hotel rules about bed times and no noise making. The day we brought the kids to the circus and little  Sasha was so happy sitting on my knee that he peed…all over me.

I remember going to the ballet and everyone looking so dolled up! The trip to minsk sea with the kids. The day some Irish soccer team came to visit the children’s home and gave away ALL their shin pads, jerseys and kit as a gift to all the kids. The kids were so thankful, so happy, so over joyed that some insisted on never taking those shin pads off. Not even at bed time.

I remember our whole group been punished and not allowed to visit the sickest children in the therapeutic feeding ward because the minority broke one of the rules. A sad day for us emotional wrecks, at only 16 years old, it was all a lot to take in, in such a short period of time.

I can remember having full on conversations in russian (dha, dha, nyiet!!) with ‘the old ladies’ who were all in their late teens or early 20’s but due dis orders had the mentality of young children. We would spend hours playing with barbies or dolls, me listening to them blabbing away in russian, pretending to understand, nodding my head and saying the few russian words I had been taught!

It really does only feel like yesterday that I was sitting on one fo the circular swings, with deaf artum on my knee, laughing away with all the other Irish volunteers with, at times, not a care in the world.

For more info and photos visit BOP WEBSITE

BOP volunteers 2003

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