My name is Camille; I'm 28 and grew up in Wellington, New Zealand.
On the lead up to the school year I joined Rob for a few days to help him out.
One of the reasons I decided to go to India was to do some volunteer work with children in the slums. While researching charities I came across Robs blog and got in touch.
The work Rob does is both inspiring and enriching for the soul. After spending the past 4 years in Sydney I had become accustomed to a life of luxury. All of that doesn't seem to matter now after spending time in Mapusa with Rob.
Our first stop was to the Primate Trust; we were dropping off some donated bedding in the form of clothes for the monkeys. I was surprised by how many monkeys were being cared for and how they are threatened and aggressive towards women. Rob gave me a few tips around how to engage with the monkeys and an insight to the work they do there. There are some great videos - you should check them out!
On the second day we handed out monthly health packs to the children. It was so neat to get out and meet so many of the children. They were all very excited to see Rob when we approached their homes. It was such a reality check to see how some of these families live and how grateful they are for these supplies. I've never seen some so happy to receive a gift of soap. We gave out around 140 health packs to the local slum children. While it was an eye opening experience it was also lovely to hear the local girls chatting about boys etc. (mainly one in particular but I won't name names) you see, no matter where you are in the world their is always a guy who has the single ladies in a stir!!
The next day the not so glamorous work started! Time to get the packs ready for school. Rob has a very in depth spreadsheet which captures all of the key information about the kids and their schooling supply needs. Obviously age had a big thing to do with the supplies but I personally thought the little touches Rob had thought of would make the first day of school an exciting one for the children. There were different coloured supplies and also a variety of backpacks. Every single one was specially put together with any special request from the children (within reason) followed. The tailoring of the pack I think will make such a difference because no matter where you are from everyone has different tastes, even if you live in a slum. Even though I was cheap labor (free) I'm nowhere near as efficient as Rob and had to go and recheck the 60 packs we put together. Hmmm detail is not my strong point!
On the last day we caught up Rob had taken a one of the younger girls and her big sister out for the day. After spending some time at a swimming pool they came and meet me in Panjim for ice- cream because all children love ice- cream don't they?!?
I've now made it a personal mission to host a fundraising event when I get back down to the Southern Hemisphere. The work that Rob does is so important; it really makes a difference to many children. So stay tuned for some information about the fundraiser later this year.
A big thank you to Rob who is an absolute legend for letting me get involved, I will be back, hopefully with a bag full of money!
The last few days have been spent visiting the local colleges for prospectuses and trying to get the children into their chosen courses. It was quite a few years since I attended university, and I don't quite remember it being quite so traumatic. The day started early and we arrived at the college at around 7:15 am after picking up a couple of the children from home. Even as we arrived there was already a long queue for their chosen course. There was a large black board with instructions displayed on it so we carefully read through it and bought the prospectus which contained the 'admission form' and headed over to the queue to finish filling in the form.
After being there for an hour the day was starting to warm up, with the sun appearing over the building tops. We were still stood in exactly the same place but another 100+ children with their parents had joined the now, very long queue. As the children stood in line, Robert went to ask when the line would start being processed and to his horror, he was told they wouldn't start until 9:30. As time passed the heat and humidity started to take its toll on us, and the others in the queue. The lucky ones at the front still had the shade of the building to keep them cool, but our section of the queue was in full sun. Robert decided to go for refreshments and as he was leaving he noticed storm clouds in the distance so while he was out he also picked up a couple of umbrellas for the kids. Thankfully it stayed dry, although the umbrellas did come in handy as a shade from the sun. Water was shared between the kids and another hour passed.
The time had come and as the queue started to move, everyone got a little excited, but it was very premature since nearly another two hours passed before we reached the front of the queue. As its India, there were quite a few attempts of queue jumping, thankfully a few people voiced their disgust and a group of people at the front put them to shame. It was now our turn to head up the stairs and join yet another queue. Thankfully it was cool and breezy and there was a place to sit until our numbers were called. Just 10 minutes before our number was called we had the news that our chosen subjects were full and we would have to be put onto the waiting list which would be displayed in two days time. By the time we left there was a huge fight for people to get into the admissions, the stairwell was blocked with people pushing and fighting to get in. It was comical in a sad way. We decided to skip over a barrier and head down another stairwell to escape the madness.
As admission was not guaranteed we visited another institution and bought another prospectus before heading home.The next day Robert joined four more students for their admissions. The crowds were less and over the next couple of days six more children were admitted into college. It was nice that the running around was over, but there was still the job of sorting out three different styles of uniform and getting everything ready for the start of the new term.
Five of the children that I have helped over the last year received the results of their exams which finally came online yesterday (24 May). These finals began at the end of March and lasted for around two weeks so it has seemed a long wait for the results. One of the children had spent many afternoons at Roberts before his exams in the 'study room', basically just a room with a work surface away from the hustle and bustle of the slum, cramming in as much revision as he could before the exams. He was very apprehensive and just wanted the long wait to be over.
I was primed the day before about the exam results going live, and as soon as the time came I got a call from the excited children to check. I navigated to the education results website and all I needed from the children were their seat numbers.
As I typed the first one in, the results were almost instantaneous, although I am sure that every second felt an eternity for the children. There were six subjects, English, Hindi, Marathi, Maths, Science and Social Science. I read through each with the score and grade, and finally at the end the all important result which simply said 'Result : PASSES'. Then for the next minute or two all I heard was screaming down the phone and comments like 'Are you sure', 'You telling truth, nah', and then shouts of Joy.
After the excitement had calmed down, the second boy was also there and a quick check showed that he also passed. The three girls hadn't asked me to check, so I gave them a call and asked for their seat numbers. A quick check and I was happy to tell them all they had passed, but two especially were also very sceptical whether I was joking or telling the truth. I printed out the results for them. The first boy was not 100% sure about his seat number so a quick drive home to check put his mind at rest.
We then visited the girls' home and saw their mother who we showed the results to. The girls had just gone to the pharmacy for tablets, when they returned we sat down and went through their results and then double checked again, just to make sure! All the students were so relieved and thankful. It was lovely to be part of the experience.
I was especially happy as the one who had been coming to the 'study room' had received the highest percentage; he had worked so hard the last few weeks and I was delighted to see it all pay off, although of course, all of the children had made me so very proud.
Well life is never boring looking after the kids; tonight has seen one of the young boys get into a little bit of trouble after he was accused of stealing an ice cream, the boy in question had been out late and on the way home visited the local shop where things got a little heated. Both sides were accusing the other, by the time Robert reached the scene, he found a gang of around 6 guys intimidating the boy.
Unfortunately as I only have basic Hindi skills it was hard to keep up with the conversation but within a couple of minutes one man slapped the boy across the face so Robert got in the middle to protect the lad and then decided it was best to start filming the incident to make sure any other altercations were caught on camera. Sadly the lighting was pretty bad as by this time it was midnight. The boy continued to explain, and Robert was under the impression that the police had been called although during the 30 minutes he was there they didn't arrive, so it seems all they had in mind was to harass the boy.
A few more men arrived and the boy continued to say he just paid for the bread and did not steal any ice cream. After the same man hit the boy again Robert got in the middle again and also received a blow to the head which sent his glasses to the ground, this seemed to make the other men a little less interested in continuing so Robert escorted the boy away for a time out and gingerly drove home as the lens of his glasses had broken and he probably wouldn't see a neon elephant if it was in the middle of the road! But they arrived safely and after finding a spare pair of glasses and letting a good 15 minutes pass, Robert escorted the boy home and made sure he got safely inside before leaving.
Thankfully this is not a common event and the video of the encounter has been saved and logged just in-case it is needed. In the morning Robert will visit the police station with a copy of the video for their record and see what the police recommend.
The last few weeks have been somewhat busy with the number of children we are helping increasing on a daily basis. The current count is around 80, which is way beyond our original expected number of 50, which was in itself, double of what we did last year. Due to this, I was truly thankful for the helping hand of Camille who had been searching for volunteer work in Goa. She had tried to contact 4 or 5 different schools and children's homes but had not received any replies, so when she got in touch, she was delighted and surprised for a quick response.
Camille's timing was perfect, we had already bought around 70 bags and still had lots of items which needed adding to each bag. Camille and Robert spent the day going through the checklist and ensuring each bag had the correct set of items in the pencil cases, and that if uniforms were already stitched and school sandals bought, they were in the correct bag. Extra items like rulers, umbrellas and health packs were also shared out between the bags.
The hardest job was ensuring that each pencil case had age specific items in and we had to double check that each child had rulers as we thought we might have missed one, so after completing everything we had a quick look through and found two or three which had been left out. It took most of the day to go through the bags between us, each one labelled and listing the items in each so that when more uniforms are stitched we can ensure they go in the correct bags. There was still a lot more to do and some of the children hadn't been measured for uniforms yet and the majority still needed to visit Mapusa for selecting their school sandals.For the majority of the children we hadn't received book lists from the schools so we were unable to sort note books out for the bags, although Camille kindly purchased around 100 books for the kids which will be added at a later date.
It has now been two weeks since Camille was here and the bags are nearly complete. Extra books, pens, geometry boxes and umbrellas have been purchased for the ones we did not manage to finish earlier. We have also received around 43 completed uniforms with another 20 waiting to be received, the final ones have been delayed as the children are in their village for the holidays, once they return we will take them to the tailor for measurements and hopefully they will be completed a few days later. A similar number of school sandals will have to be bought later for the same reason, but we will ensure all the children will be sorted in time.
The last week has seen the first sets of bags being given out. Twenty complete bags have been given out and we will continue to give to the children once the last few items are secured.
I send a huge thank you to the lovely Camille who was a life saver.