Sunday, April 15, 2012

My father and I have just been to India to give out 30 bikes in Jharkhand out of one hundred that we have raised money for. We are also visiting Bal Ashram a children’s rehabilitation school for children rescued from child labour. This was done in April, to get there we went to Philadelphia international airport where we got a flight to London Heathrow that was a six hour flight. Then from Heathrow we went to Delhi a 9 hour flight where we met a friend that I got to know very well his name was Jubil. Jubil picked us up from the airport and took us to another very good person called Bhuwan and his wife Priyanka. When we got to their house just after 2.00am we quickly went to sleep to try to catch up with our jetlag.

In the morning we had breakfast and were told that we were going to meet another friend Alyssa who I rock climb with back at home and my father had helped her get a job in India. This was great and she was told that after we gave out the bikes she would travel to Bal Ashram with us. This was good news so we told her we would see her then and were off to the train station, late of course, taking some very interesting short cuts to get to the station.

Thomas and Alyssa

When we got there we got in the first class train car with three minutes to spare. First class to get clear was a booth on the train that you shared with three other people so it was not like an American first class, but much better than 3rd class that my father often travels in.

 After a long 13 hours on the train we arrived in Jharkhand at five in the morning. When I got off the train it is hard to explain but most the people we passed on the street had never seen a "white person" and was even rarer to see a fifteen year old boy.

After breakfast and all my dad’s meetings, that I slept through, we set off to the villages to give out the bikes. After many hours we arrived in the village that was very nice because I got to see many familiar children’s faces again and got to shake over one hundred people’s hands. After all the flower garlands, bindi’s (red dots on the forehead) and string bracelets were given to us, that was very unique again as I would be the only “white/Caucasian” person they would ever have seen, we all sat down to talk, several hundred people were at the meeting.

Village chiefs and students that are now teaching elders in the villages

Bindi from young student

Over the course of an hour we talked to the villagers and I also had a little speech that was powerful in a few words. Finally we were ready to give out the thirty bikes. This was also a little awkward because the girls, who we were giving the bikes out to, were very shy and confused. This was because only a couple of years ago if these girls sat in a chair they could be killed let alone a being able to have or ride a  bike so it was understandable. The 30 bikes were given to children so that they could travel to the high school that was over 8 miles away, not one girl had ever attended high school as they could not get to the school, now all the middle school girls could go to high school. It is easier for boys as they can stay locally with families, but a girl cannot do this. After the handing out of the bikes we sat down to take pictures, talk and shake more hands I would have been happy to stay and do that for another hour but sadly we had to leave so we said good bye and we were off.

I then went with my father into the jungle, with two other 4wd cars, as my father wanted to visit some more people, in the end we were the only car to make it, as the 2 other drivers said the road was impossible, but we did make it to the next village where my father met with people. The road was crazy, but we had the best driver Bhuwan and a very tough car.

Finally we got back to the hotel at around five at night It is too dangerous to be in the jungle after dark. Our train was at ten so I got some sleep and eat and we were off to the train station. One important detail was that I was not informed that on the way back we were to be in second or third class.  This was a big downer at the time because this was not a nice place to be for 13 hours (9 bunks in a very small area). When we got on the train the ticket collector walked around taking our tickets and telling us where our bunk was. At first he looked at me took my ticket and looked at me strangely.

Breakfast on train - top bunk

Bhuwan quickly asked if there was room in the first class he said yes and we were off on another adventure walking down the train, with feet sticking out from the bunks into the corridors, having a toe up your nose is not fun. After a while Bhuwan told the conductor that I was fifteen, he was very shocked as he thought I was older, in this area there is a lot of hunger and some people do not grow very tall. He walked into our cabin to look at me, waved and walked off laughing.

After the thirteen hours in the train we arrived at Delhi station and was ushered off to the car and started to drive to Bhuwan and Priyanka’s house. When we arrived we were jumped on by an awesome dog, a four to five month Rottweiler dog that was full of energy and licks. We all had a good laugh and then were off to pick Alyssa up from where she worked. After that we set of to Bal Ashram that was a 5 hour journey, in the car we talked and caught up on the journey because Alyssa had been in India for four months.  The road as usual was very crazy with few people following any rules.

Finally after the long car ride we ended up at Bal Ashram a place for children who had been in child labor were schooled. Believe me this place is amazing. After all of the fun looking at the amazing houses and school that we were staying in we were told dinner was ready so we sat down for some very well cooked vegetarian Indian food. While we were eating we were told that we would be attending a performance by the children, last time this happened we learned how to dance Indian style and plays were put on as to the labour they were rescued from.Before the performance we went swimming in the fresh water pond that was like a swimming pool but the water was used to irrigate the crops.

When the time came to go to the performance we looked in the distance and we could see loads of lightning strikes this was bad because it could stop the performance, and cut the electricity. When the rain came instead of going inside all the children ran outside and started dancing in the rain (it was nearly 100F), this was very entertaining because we were asked and taught to dance “Indian style”. After all of the dancing it was around 10 at night so we are all ready to sleep, especially me.

In the morning we went to a Hindu temple that was around a thousand years old that was on top of a huge rock mountain and as I like rocks and rock climbing this was fun. When we got to the top we were given a prayer by the priest and also some candy. This was quite funny because the candy looked like rocks and we were all confused until our guide, Jubil started eating them. After a long walk down we went to a Moghul hunting lodge that was around four hundred years old, this one  was very beautiful because the inside was covered in very old paintings.

After all of this it was time to go we went over to the children’s library where as a present we gave my book that my father and I have written on my journeys around the world. The children enjoyed this very much because we explained the pictures with very funny hand gestures because most did not know English.
After we said good bye we were off to Bhuwan’s house. While I was there I fooled around with his dog and it was time to leave. 

We said good bye and we were off, and went to the airport, my dad has a gold card so we can use the lounges where I am writing this blog right now.

This trip really opened my eyes telling me that I have to do a lot more and we need to find extra money for bikes to help these special children travel to school.

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