Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chennai City

This weekend we took our first weekend trip to Chennai. We still can’t believe we were only there for 2 days since we managed to pack so much in! We took our first train ride Thursday night which is always a memorable experience. On Friday morning we arrived in Chennai and went to a nearby Shiva temple to continue learning about how Hinduism is practiced. Later we traveled to Mahabalipuram to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site of temples dating back to the 5th-8th century. The students enjoyed exploring the ruins and taking fun snaps!
Students at the Shore Temple

We stayed at Scripture Union which has a beautiful property with direct access to the beach of the Bay of Bengal! In the afternoon we all enjoyed swimming in the waves (in our salwars), collecting sea shells on the beach, taking pictures, and just having a chance to rest and refresh. We enjoyed some evening worship together before going to bed.

The next morning we traveled back into Chennai to meet Shiamala Baby who is the head of FORWARD (Forum for Women’s Rights and Development). Shiamala shared her incredible story of how she was abused by her husband and gained the courage to stand up for herself. Now she works to help other women do the same.

Shiamala Baby sharing her story
 After hearing her story, we went out to a nearby village to meet some of the women involved in FORWARD. We were not prepared for what we found there. When most people think about Dalits, words like “broken”, “helpless”, “alone”, and “incapable” may come to mind. However, as soon as we got there, our perceptions were shattered. We were greeted as very honored guests: each student was blessed and honored with sandlewood paste and tikka markings on their faces and given bangles for each arm. We were fed many varieties of traditional (and tasty!) snacks and given the best (only) seats in the courtyard. One by one, these women stood up and told their story of how FORWARD was changing their lives. They were not broken or helpless-they had a plan for how to get loans, work in small business, and send their children to school. They were not alone-the whole group of women were bound together!
Students being welcomed in
In the afternoon we visited several famous religious sites- St. Thomas mount where Thomas was martyred and St. Thomas Bascillica where he is buried. For a special treat we revisited the Shiva temple to see a dance performance about the stories of the gods. These children were incredible dancers and very talented at story telling through their facial expressions and hand movements.

In the evening we re-boarded the trains for our night ride back to Coimbatore. 

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