Day 4 - Fair Trade India Tour April 14 2014, 0 Comments
On the advice of one of our fellow traveling partners, we each took Tylenol PM to sleep. Wow, we both slept till our 7am alarm giving us almost 6 straight hours of sleep! Upon awakening we showered and packed our bags for our upcoming overnight train trip to Barmer.
We departed by bus for our 5th visit of the trip to "Very Special Arts", a vocational art program for handicapped and disabled children. We arrived at the location to see a facility colorfully decorated with wall paintings and flowers. Meera ji, the director, a dynamic, articulate and confident elderly woman greeted us at the door and immediately had everyone’s undivided attention.
She explained that the center, established in 1968, provides therapy through arts and does not consider any child handicapped but "differently abled". By providing the best ambiance and the best facilities and instituting a variety of music & art programs they find that each child has different capabilities. This not only provides therapy but potentially a vocation as well. Those that are blind are the ears for the deaf, and vice verse. Many students lack have lack of motor skills and the art therapy plays a critical role in development. Kids learn the vocation as therapy and later, when they come of age, a minimum of 15 or 16 yrs. old they can make their products for the market and some have learned to work and earn from home.
This school, through several volunteer art teachers, teaches block printing, candle workshops, painting, weaving and sewing. Students learn and then as they master art, they shift from student to Assistant Teachers. The center is a school, not a home and children come each day from orphanages or individual homes.
Meera ji took us on a tour to see the facility and meet the students and staff. We started with a small group of young girls guided by their dance teacher to perform a song and dance for us. It is an amazing and beautiful thing to see children with disabilities not only perform so well but be loved and cared for.
We toured the block printing facility, taught by master artisans. We watched the teachers worked with students suffering from severe motor skill challenges and saw firsthand how rewarding it was for each student to create artwork. We toured the candle workshop, the weaving, stitching. painting and the computer lab, the walls abundantly decorated with the beautiful artwork of the students. We spoke with a young woman from Lucknow who said “What I am today is because of the VSA”, and she explained that because of the block printing skills she developed she is able to provide for her two children and now also teaches at VSA.
When asked why she does this, Meera ji explained, "if you get an opportunity, you rise up". I don't think I have ever met a person like Meera ji, she is simply amazing and as a representatives of One World Fair Trade, we were fortunate and honored to have met her and toured her facility.
After Very Special Arts we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that looked as if it were an expensive nightclub. We were the only guests and they had a Chinese/Indian lunch buffet prepared for us, kind of odd but not bad. On our way to the train station we stopped at a Domino's Pizza to pick up our dinner for the long train ride ahead and arrived at the Delhi train station with time to spare. The station was a very crowded, dirty and foul smelling with many homeless sleeping in front of the station. We climbed aboard the 2nd class car, this one offering sleeper beds, four to a compartment, two bunked opposing each other. The bottom two could be utilized as a sitting bench until someone needed it to sleep. This would be our home for the next 16 hours.
Several of us crowded into the bottom two bunks in one of the compartments, sitting up to socialize, and swap stories of life in India compared to life in the US. We discussed random topics like arranged marriage and favorite movies. At one point the entire group packed into these two bench seats for a picture, pilling 16 or so in this very small space. As crowded as this stunt was it was just a taste of how the passengers in 3rd class where traveling.
We all shared pizza and snacks and some wonderful person even smuggled a small bottle of vodka onboard, something apparently not allowed on the train. We cleverly acquired several small cups from the tea boy as he passed through selling Masala Tea from a metal tea can, each of us getting just a splash as a nightcap.
During the night we would stop at every train station along the way, passengers loading and unloading at every stop. When the train was moving I seemed to sleep but would wake at each stop. About the halfway point we stopped at a station and heard a bit of commotion outside our drawn curtain. Suddenly the curtain was pulled back aggressively I found myself arguing with a middle aged Indian man and his family that we were occupying his bunks. Not having a personal ticket to validate as this was arranged as a group and seeing that he was trying to get a spot for his elderly parents, Annette moved to a top bunk across from me and Sarah, one of our traveling companions, moved to a single bed in the hallway leaving the bottom two bunks for the elderly couple. They departed at a stop not too long afterward and new passengers occupied the space again making for a long night of travel with little sleep but an opportunity to journal our adventure so far.