After many Tuesday night meetings, plenty of fundraising, and lots of team bonding, Team India was ready to depart. We had found out we were going to India 6 months prior to our departure date, and the team couldn’t be more excited to finally head off. Our flight connected through Dublin and Abu Dhabi until we reached Kochi, Kerala, India after a full day of travel, the team was exhausted.
However, our excitement overcame our exhaustion when we arrived in country. We headed into Fort Kochi where we would spend the next couple of days staying in a hostel and exploring the city. This was a great way for us to get settled into the country, get used to the heat, and have a couple of fun and relaxing days before we started work.
After 3 nights at the hostel, it was time to go to the village where we would be spending the rest of the month, Kozhimala. We hopped in a bus and started off on our approximately 5 hour journey. The roads were windy and the scenery was beautiful as we drove off into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. When we stopped on a dirt road way up in the mountains, Team India jumped out of the bus with excitement, we made it!
When we arrived in Kozhimala the locals were all there to greet us. They helped us with our bags and brought us to our house which we were staying in thanks to the generosity of one of the local women. I could already tell that the people in this village would be some of the kindest people I would ever meet.
We started work the day after arriving. Our project was to help the masons build sanitation facilities for local families in Kozhimala. We would be mostly helping with the simple but time consuming work; moving bricks, moving sand, and digging holes for the latrines. Although simple, it wasn’t easy.
On our first two days in Kozhimala, the entire team worked together to move over 100 bricks up a steep hill. It was hard work, but extremely beneficial for the masons. If we were not there, the masons would have had to move the bricks up the hill one by one. However with our team of 16, we created a line that allowed us to move the bricks up the hill very efficiently.
We continued on our work in separate groups of about four or five. We split up and went to different homes all over the village. Each team at each home developed a relationship with the home owners, the mason they were working with, and all the other locals in the area. The people who lived in the homes we were building latrines for treated us very well. They constantly brought us out snacks and tea (lots and lots of tea) while we were at the build site. It was an amazing way to create a close bond with locals in the village.
After work, the team had plenty of time to relax. We had a viewpoint about 30 steps out the back of the house we were staying at which had one of the most beautiful views I, and the team, have ever seen. We watched almost every sunset at the viewpoint, it was a great way to end the day.
After we watched the sun go down and got cleaned up, we would go for dinner. The local ladies in the village cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The food in the village was absolutely amazing, it can’t be matched. The local kids served us dinner every night. We would eat and then it was our turn to serve them dinner.
After dinner, most nights were spent playing cards with the locals. They taught us new games and we learned the strategies to keep up with them. We also played lots of camp-like games amongst the team (Mafia was a big hit). It was a great way to relax and unwind after a long day on the build site.
When it came time to leave the village, the team was heart broken. The bonds we had made with the people and the area would stay with us forever. Pulling away in the bus as the people of Kozhimala waved goodbye to us was one of the hardest things to do. However the impact that we had on their lives will never be forgotten, and the lessons that they taught us will stick with us forever. We love you Kozhimala, hope to see you again soon!
In May of 2015, 16 team members packed up their bags and departed for Kerala, the south western state of India. We were greeted at Cochin International Airport by a wave of humidity and our in country representative, Navin. We spent the first 2 days of the trip in Fort Kochi, a seaside area with many touristy markets and a friendly restaurant where we befriended many of the staff. We also took a backwater boat cruise where we ate traditional south indian food and got to see first hand why Kerala means "land of coconuts".
After adjusting to the extreme heat and humidity in Kochi, our team packed up and departed for Kozhimala, the village that was hosting our stay. It was a long drive up a windy road into the Western Ghat mountains, but offered jaw dropping views the entire way. Not to mention, the higher we climbed, the cooler it became. We were greeted in the village by so many new faces that would become our great friends in the weeks to come. For many team members, this first village meal came as a shock, as we realized that for the next month, we'd be eating with our hands. Some dove right in while others took a little while. But by the end of the month, most of us were under the impression that food definitely tastes better when you eat it with your hands, especially South Indian food. After the delicious meal, we were shown our rooms; local houses lent to us by gracious community members. We began to settle into the community that would be our home for the next month.
We set to work straight away on our project, which was the construction of several latrine facilities within the community. The latrines are built with locally sourced materials and they have a toilet and shower facility within. Our team spiit up into smaller groups, some working within Kozhimala and others taking an always eventful public bus to the neighbouring town, Murikatiguri. There was lots of heavy lifitng, rock collecting, plastering and painting. We worked so hard, that we managed to almost complete 6 latrines before our halfway point!
On our days off, we spent time at the favourite spot of our team, nicknamed "the viewpoint". It was just steps from our residences, and was a great spot to read, journal, chat and just relax after a long days work. We also ventured down to a nearby lake, went into the nearest town, Kattappana, helped out in the kitchens, had many dance parties, and played lots of cards with our friends we made in the village.
The language barrier faced in this village was most definitely a vast one, as the Mannan tribe speaks a complicated dialect of Malayalam and Tammil, and very little English was spoken in the community at all. However, the friendships we made transcended language, and the language barrier was of little consequence to us during our stay. Not to mention, we got to practice our malayalam a lot!
For our weekend excursion, we departed for a city called Thekkady, the neighbour of the famous Periyar Tiger Reserve. The team spent lots of time bartering in the local markets for all kinds of beautiful souvenirs, but we also kept active! We participated in a 17km hike that went through both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. We braved some leeches on the way, but it was worth it for the view. We went bamboo rafting, took a jeep to a waterfall, rode elephants and attended a Kathakali performance. Kathakali is a traditional Keralan dance performance with characters, elaborate costumes and makeup. Our project coordinator was selected for a little audience participation...much to the amusement of the team.
Upon returning from Thekkady, the team hit the ground running. We quickly completed the six latrines, and began construction on a seventh. With all hands on deck, this proved quick work, and we managed to build our final latrine in less than a week's time. We also got to decorate the outside of the latrines with the help of the local families, which was a great way to conclude our project.
On our final night in the community, the Mannan tribal King joined us for dinner, and the community put on a show for us! With traditional music and dancing, it was a night to remember and everyone on the team was up dancing at one point or another.
Team India is so delighted to be a part of such a successful volunteer project. Seven latrines were built and are in use within Kozhimala and Murikatiguri right now, and our team feels very proud to have been involved with the process. Saying goodbye to our new found friends was not easy, and it was an incredibly tearful goodbye leaving the village, but it made it easier to know that we had left something wonderful behind.
We are eternally grateful for the lessons that the beautiful people of the Mannan tribe taught us, and for allowing us to stay in their home.
Nani, Mannan tribe and Yearoutindia! We miss you!
In May of 2016, a team of 11 Ryerson students packed their bags and departed for an experience of a lifetime. The team flew into Cochin airport where the in-country representative, Navin, greeted them. Navin lead us through two full days of fun in Fort Kochi where we saw Chinese fishing nets, went on a back water boat cruise, saw churches and museums, and shopped at many touristy markets. Additionally, the team dove into their first Indian cuisine dishes during this time in Fort Kochi, which were filled with flavor in every bite. Nevertheless, it soon came time to leave Fort Kochi and head out to the village in which we would be staying in, Maryoor, Kerala.
After just a few short days in India, the team became more equipped to handle the hustle and bustle of the city, the high temperatures and the humidity. However, thankfully where we were headed was located at a much higher elevation where the temperatures were much cooler and a lot less humid. The six-hour bus ride ahead of us to the more rural village was filled with twists and turns, vehicles overlooking the cliff sides of the Western Ghats, and loads of honking. After safely arriving at the local school in Maryoor town where we would be residing, we were greeted by the school nuns, local women, and many children. They welcomed us with fresh coconut water, handmade flower necklaces, and a delicious first meal. Our first meal was interesting for many of our team members, as it was their first time eating with their hands! Though this posed as a challenge for some, by the end out our stay in India it seemed as if we were all pros at eating with our hands.
Soon after our first meal we settled into our room. The hospitality of our hosts was admirable! The school nuns allowed us to stay in one of the dormitories because the school was on summer break. The dormitory had four bunk beds, three single beds, and bathroom, which was perfect for our stay. After settling into our room and unpacking our belongings to the best of our ability, we were proud to call it home for the next month of our lives. For the remainder of the day, we spent our time getting to know the school grounds and nearby area, as well as interacting with the main locals we would be spending our month with such as our builders, cooks, nuns, etc.
The next day, we jumped straight into the work of our project. Our project consisted of building four new latrines, renovating three older latrines, renovating six showering facilities and installing 27 solar panel units. The solar panel project was a joint project in conjunction with the Light Matters Foundation from San Francisco and Kanan Devan Hills Plantations. Throughout the month our team was split up into interchangeable groups that rotated between the construction projects on the school grounds and surrounding village, and the solar panel project in the tea estates of Munnar. The work primarily consisted of digging, transporting materials such as rocks and concrete, plastering and laying brings, and painting. Though the work was quite tough, it proved to be very rewarding for the entire team and we successfully completed all aspects of our project by the last day!
During the time not spent on the project site we primarily relaxed. However, we also went trekking, got to know the locals, ran a team scavenger hunt, had dance parties, played cards, read on the rooftop, etc. The school grounds had absolutely stunning views that we did not take for granted in any spare time. Though, the most enjoyable thing about our down time was having team bonding moments that we will remember for the rest of our lives.
When it was time to leave the village at the end of our project, we said our tough but heartfelt goodbyes and headed of to our final excursion of the month in Munnar. In Munnar, the team spent their time watching cultural shows such as the well-known Kathakali performance and also a martial arts show. Additionally, we got traditional Ayurvedic massages, went paddle boating, saw elephants, visited spice gardens and view points, and went shopping for gifts to bring home to our friends and families.
For our final day in India, we spent our time as a team. During this day, we reflected on the trip and spoke about moments that really impacted each and every one of us personally. We also made awards for each other and shared a final meal as a group before departing for the airport where many very emotional goodbyes were said.
Ultimately, this years Team India was overjoyed to be part of such an amazing experience and very successful volunteer project. ASB is very proud of all the work that has been accomplished with Yearoutindia and we are delighted to see where the future takes us with this organization. We are perpetually grateful to have had the opportunity to have this experience. The people of Kerala will remain in our hearts forever as the upmost hospitable, and gracious people we have had the privilege of knowing.
Naṉṟi, nāṅkaḷ uṉṉai kātalikkiṟēṉ!
Thank- you, we love you!