On our third day of present giving (27th December) we visited a couple of local places where the children know us well. The children aren't here all year round so we don't get them into school, but they do say they are in school in their villages (near Pune), although as they move around so much we are not convinced that they will be progressing well, due to the time away from school. In any case it was Christmas, a time to forget about school and just have a little celebration, a bit of fun and bring a few smiles to the children's faces.
The children have known 'Lob' (Rob) for several years as they return to the same place each year. On arrival we could hear calls of 'Lob! Lob!' and the children ran over and started to form a lovely queue without being asked, in anticipation for whatever we had stored in our large bags that we brought along.
We started by splitting the children into two lines, one for boys and one for girls and Saroj, Richard and Jal (From Project Paintbrush - more on that in a later blog) helped give out the oranges (fruit is always important), and an easy way to start off and get the children settled.
However once we started giving the presents they did get a little excited and rowdy shall we say. The children often have to fight for everything and it's hard to calm the desperate need to make sure their get their share. In reality we had plenty of gifts and more to spare, but it can be difficult for them to understand due to their everyday lives where they have to fight for everything.
The presents we had packed contained the same items (2 packs biscuits, juice box, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, some lollipops, sweets, balloons etc) and then a few items to differentiate them into boys or girls presents, the girls had items for their hair (bobbles, clips, etc) and pieces of costume jewellery and the boys a frisbee, toy cars / cricket cards / stickers etc.
All the children received a pack of goodies and at the end we had brought a large bag of small soft footballs to give out. As there weren´t enough to give one to each child, we asked the children to get into family groups and we gave one out per family. See More photos on the Goa Outreach facebook page, please like and share.
There was to be no rest for us, and after a very busy and tiring Christmas day, Ishita, one of our Indian Trustees had arranged a day of present giving in Panjim where several families live in very basic conditions. Robert was to meet Ishita in Panjim but became a little late as he got stuck in a festive traffic jam along the main highway. By the time Robert arrived, Ishita had already started speaking to the families and had them all in a group ready to hand the gifts out. Ishita had prepared everything for the day and had wrapped up presents for the children and brought along the donated drinks and biscuits that were kindly given by Natasha Parekh (Thanks Natasha :). As a little surprise Robert had spent the morning with his mother icing a special Christmas cake for the children. There was lots of sponge cake left so we sliced it in the middle and added butter cream then carefully smoothed a little extra icing on top with a scattering of marshmallow cubes and silver sugar balls to finish it off.
While Ishita was giving out the items to the children, Robert started to give out the cake and there was plenty to go around. After all the children had a piece of cake the clear plastic box was put down and lots of the adults were staring and we had to keep saying, sorry, it's for the children....
After giving out items to the first group, Ishita and Rob headed over to the second area close to the roadside. The families were split into two groups and a few more presents and the remaining cake was given out. Ishita spent some time speaking to the families when Rhys (Trustee) joined us and we spent a good thirty minutes talking and giving a few things out. It was nice as we sat, played and spoke to the children and parents. Some baby clothes were also given out, but Ishita instructed the parents to wash the children first before putting the new clothes on; one of the mothers washed a young lad in front of the busy road with what looked like chilled water if his reaction was anything to go by. At least afterward he could feel clean and happy in his new clothes.
While we were there a kind passer-by gave a tub of ice cream to one of the parents, who shared the ice cream out to the children by scooping a piece out and placing it on the outstretched hands of the children who then licked it from their palms and although not the most elegant way to eat ice cream it certainly tasted just as good.
As we were leaving another couple of young lads gave out packets of cooked rice to the families to share. It was lovely to see that other locals were in the Christmas spirit and helping those less fortunate than themselves.
It had been a lovely morning / early afternoon and we would like to thank Ishita and Rhys as well as the kind passersby for their help and generosity. It all makes a difference.
The run up to Christmas was tremendously busy, a little more than usual as we were waiting on a few stocking fillers during the week before Christmas as several supporters were gifting items including Rob's mother who had collected a good range of items from her dance group in the UK. With the help of Abigail, Sue & Alf, Iris, Pat and Gopi we were able to finish off (most) of the children´s gifts before the big day. As well as the standard gifts for the Goa Outreach children, we also packed nearly 300 'Goodie Bags'. The Goodie bags are still waiting to be given out, we had hoped to manage an area or two on Christmas Eve, but the whole day was spent wrapping Christmas presents in preparation for the party on Christmas Day.
At 7.00pm on Christmas Eve the packing had to stop and with only a handful of presents left to do we were hopeful that everything would be sorted by the time the children arrived on Christmas morning.
Christmas Day started very early with scrubbing and washing the large balcony and hoping it would dry in time for the kids. Rob's lovely mum, Pat (who is a young 83) washed 4 flights of steps had been a huge help over the last week and at 8:30 when Alf and Sue arrived the centre still looked like a Christmas bomb had exploded (and not in a good way). So we all ran around moving and sorting so there was some sense of serenity by the time the first children showed up. Alf and Sue very kindly found and wrapped a few final presents as the first early arrivals walked up the stairs.
Gopi, one of the older lads has been a great help over the last year and was happy to help on the day, his first job was to help pick up the large sponge cakes that had been ordered. Sara and Stuart (the family) had been assigned the job of making the cake a little special by preparing a butter cream filling and topping of pink water icing for the cake with marshmallow cubes and silver cake pearls sprinkled over. It looked beautiful.
As the first children arrived Gopi donned the entertainment supervisor hat, and started a few games with the children, at first there was just a handful of kids and then more and more... We started off the games with musical chairs, which was a real hit for the kids and the smaller children played so well with prizes given for first and second, then more and more games. Gopi needs a special mention as he did such a good job with the kids, and then later joined by Anwarshi who also helped the day run smoothly. Mango Drinks were given out to all the kids and mid morning Iris arrived with bags full of fruit.
Iris very kindly offered to make fresh fruit salad for the children, the kitchen surface was cleared and she set to work with a helping hand from Budmanti and Acchelal (two more of the older kids). They spent a good hour, if not more, cutting and dicing the fruit and once complete the children, were given a dish of fruit salad topped with a large chunk of Christmas cake.
Just after mid day the number of children had peaked to around 65 and they all behaved so well. It was time for lunch, Abi, Sara, Stuart and Pat kindly served the children, and sat them down for a little respite before it was time to go home. The children ate Chicken Fried Rice and Chicken curry and some came back for seconds and thirds. After the meal, the children headed back out for a few games until the time they had all been waiting for Presents!!!
First to receive their presents were the younger girls who came in and sat quietly as we sifted through the hundreds (yep - there were so many wrapped gifts!) each child receiving one, two or three wrapped presents (depending on size and often difficulty in wrapping). They all also received a goodie bag (biscuits, a few sweets, drink, soap, toothpaste and brush, balloons, and juice boxes (thanks Tanya!) and, finally a chocolate bar (English Chocolate - Yum (Thanks Mum!)). After all the girls had been given their presents it was time for the lads... The lads were a little more spirited than the girls and a couple of presents had gone missing, thankfully in the end we found them and sorted everything out, but it´s never good when someone´s missing their present. It was now time to say goodbye to the young ones, especially as the older ones had already started to arrive.
Thankfully the older ones (12+) were a little laid back and were happy to catch up and chat with each other which gave time to ferry some of the smaller children home with their large collection of goodies.
The afternoon session was similar to the morning and everything came to a close at around 7pm. The day was a huge success and several of the children were raving about the party days afterwards which was great to hear. Thank you to everyone who was involved and helped out, the day wouldn´t have been possible otherwise - Merry Christmas!
The first Sunday in December saw 16 of the older children join Robert and Heena who was a member of staff at Children Walking Tall, on a Christmas shopping spree in Panjim.
It can be difficult to think what to get the children for Christmas, especially the older ones who become a little more picky as they grow up. Our main objective always is to give the children something they want and hope they have a Christmas worth remembering. Gopi one of the older boys was in charge and he took a trip down to the shop the day before to do a bit of reconnaissance, but actually went to find himself a present but after about an hour of looking he really couldn´t make up his mind, so many choices you know...!
The next day, all the children met up at our base and then Gopi took them via buses to Mapusa and then Panjim. It´s about an hours´ journey and the children met up with Robert and Heena once they reached Panjim. The children were given a few simple instructions and then let loose. They were all really good and the first 30 minutes were used to visit every corner of the shop and to see what was available. Each one had a different idea of what they would like, although most of the older boys thought a nice pair of shoes was the way to go. They all had Rs 500 to spend, the two youngest thought that quantity was more desirable so they got a nice collection of small items which added up to Rs 500. We managed to get some great deals and the children enjoyed the day out, especially as they got the chance to choose their own gifts.
We had brought an empty 50KG rice sack and also a large backpack with us and managed to fit everything in. The children returned by bus while Heena and Rob carried the goodies back home on the bike.
Thank you kids for being so well behaved (as always) and to Heena who very kindly helped out on the day.
We are still in need of a few Christmas presents for the younger children so if you have anything spare that would make a nice stocking filler then do get in touch. Wishing everyone a lovely Christmas!!
We would like to thank the Detroit Institute in Panjim who donated a 25KG sack of rice a few weeks ago and they called again one morning recently and asked if Robert could make it to Panjim straight away to pick up another 70KG of goodies as they wanted to donate again.
Obviously, we were delighted, so Robert headed straight there and was greeted with a huge amount of dry goods waiting on the doorstep of the shop. We only have access to a motor cycle and the amount of things piled up seemed a too much for a small car, let alone a bike!
This generous gift was for a couple of charities, but it was still a huge amount to take back on the bike. We quickly filled up one large 50KG rice bag with rice, flour, dal, and sugar which had all been packed into 5Kg bags, tied it at the top and started on the second bag which included more flour, chickpeas and 10 litres of oil.
Thankfully Robert is the adventurous type. He lashed the 50Kg bag to the back of his bike seat; an operation which had to be repeated a few times since the sack had a tendency to slip off. Finally the sack was safely secured but there was only a little space left on the seat to sit.
The 2nd bag with probably another 20 kgs in it was flung over his shoulders and so Robert took up the seating position (half on the seat and half on the petrol tank - not the most comfortable of positions) and set off.
Half way home he had a short break to check everything was still in place and then got going again. There was a great amount of stuff and we would like to thank the Detroit Institute for their donations and we hope to either give the remaining items out or use for the Christmas party this year. Thank You!
Just before the monsoon we were delighted to receive a small truck full of second hand mattresses, twelve in total that we gave out to the families in the slums. The mattresses were really well received although as we only had 12 many of the families missed out.
Recently, we were very happy to find there were going to be a few more mattresses to give away so some of those who missed out the first time would have a chance to own a mattress.
This time there were 5 large mattresses donated. One of the mothers had just had a major surgery and the timing was ideal so the first choice was given to her to aid in her recovery. The largest mattress was chosen and being a super king sprung mattress it only just managed to fit through the door of their modest home. The Mother was previously just sleeping on cardboard laid over the bed frame, hopefully the new mattress will be a tremendous help.
The final four mattresses were given out in two areas, all but one of the mattresses were sprung mattresses and were in really good condition and there was a heated discussion of who was getting which one with one parent trying her hardest to get everything her way.
We try our best to give out fairly and as there was one family that had two children we had helped for longer, than the other with child, we gave them the choice to have the sprung mattress. The remaining family decided to wait till next time in the hope we will be donated more instead of having the basic coir matress.
The last mattress had a thin cotton cover which was a little ripped. We took it to a second slum, and as there was no choice to be made the new owner was delighted with the mattress. Robert offered to find a suitable cover to replace the current one so it would look as new. He thought he had a second hand duvet cover which he could give though sadly found there were none left.
When Robert was in England he had bought a new duvet set which he had only used once so decided that the family´s need was greater than his. The family now have a new two tone black satin feel sheet which is easy to wash and looks great and was greatfully received.
What made the day was to watch the three children in the last room using the mattress to jump up and down on and doing front rolls, all three at once. It was a lovely experience and the same family has had a hard time recently with the loss of their father.
We hope that the new mattress will give them a good nights´ sleep and a feeling of hope and support which is what we all need. Thanks once again to Rhys and Goa Holiday Villas for their continued support.
The end of November saw a return to school after the Diwali holidays and with it, the new term requirement for a new set of shoes. Most schools expect the children to wear blue and white plimsolls once the monsoon rains have finished. This year we planned to get everything ready in plenty of time and an order for around 80 sets was placed; we decided to use a different supplier this year. Actually we were buying from one of the older children who we had helped many years ago. Now a young adult he runs a small shoe shop in Arambol and is doing really well for himself and his family. He had already helped source raincoats before the monsoon but this would be a bigger order so we made sure to give it early.
Our best laid plans never took into account the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in a shock announcement on November 8, said that Rs 500 and 1,000 banknotes were being withdrawn from circulation in a bid to crack down on corruption and counterfeit currency.
The announcement came at around 8pm that evening and the notes were basically unusable 4 hours later at midnight! Everything went a little pear shaped, a deposit for the shoes had been paid but all the money we (and most people) had were in 500 and 1000 notes which the wholesaler was no longer accepting. Banks were closed the next day to stop the rush, but there was still a rush, which lasted for the next week. Nobody really had any money and now nearly 20 days later as I write this, things aren´t much better. The lines to be banks have shortened, but many banks are struggling to give out money as they don´t have enough themselves. The queues at the ATMs are long and winding and many still aren´t open or open just for a couple of hours as they are emptied quickly as everyone is in need of money to continue their normal lives.
The children started back to school on the 15th November and we didn´t have the shoes to give the children. Many of the children were coming and asking, saying we really need our shoes otherwise we will be punished. To calm things down Robert visited a couple of the schools and explained the situation and we hoped we would have given them all out by the weekend. Unfortunately when the first lot of shoes arrived it was only half the order so we had to wait nearly a week for the rest. But in the end we managed to get all the shoes sorted.
Some of the schools require different styles so most of those pupils bought the shoes and we reimbursed them once we received the bills.
Thanks to Babu for sorting out the majority of the shoes, Surdesh Footwear for buying the remaining ones and the kids and schools for being patient due to the delay in supply.