Mrs Potter, the head of Ribby with Wrea Endowed Church of England Primary School, is in Chennai with the Grassroots team. This is her report from Saturday and Sunday:
We spent time last night walking around the slums, meeting different members of church families, experiencing a little of their lives, so we had a bit of insight when talking to children with their parents today.
As well as the trials of living in the slum area, the horrors of alcoholism amongst the fathers has been evident. A mother today weeping because when her husband drank too much, not only was she beaten, but also their daughters. Many asked for prayer for their families because the father drank. The horror of their situation, with little hope of changing the future, and the increasing ease of access to alcohol now that the government have supported the sale of alcohol in 'alcohol shops', makes it easier for them to fall into the despair of addiction. It is frustrating to hear that the government have given these slum dwellings free TVs, in the attempt to win votes probably, but have not seen it better to provide clean water or decent toilet facilities. As a mum myself with a washing machine running at least once a day when I had children at home, I just don't I understand how they keep their clothes looking so lovely, but somehow they do. I am guessing quite a few wore their very best clothes to meet us today though , many certainly looked wonderful. Also amazing is how they keep their smiles in such extreme poverty. The children are so amazing, smiling and laughing, chattering, swamping us with requests to have their photo taken. Some of the older girls had a serenity and maturity beyond their years. Their knowledge of English was impressive, having seen the books they brought home for homework. Children of 9 years learning about conjunctions in English!
One of the questions we have asked is 'Do you cook inside or outside?' Having seen cooking being done over wood outside last night as night fell, with dogs, goats and chickens trying to get some scraps, this made sense. Mind you it all smelt wonderful, but I didn't fancy the flies on it. Also as most houses are just one room, sometimes there just isn't space inside.
Also we asked, 'How far is your toilet?'. Again, having been told to walk up the middle of one street because it was a 'toilet street' and the sides were full of faeces. But where else was there to go was my question? Basically there or the river. Even though the corporation comes and sweeps it all up each day, it seems degrading that people are expected to live like that. And the river has become a sewerage river, not just because of the slums, but waste is not cleaned or filtered from anywhere, whether a home or factory. And the slum dwellers are living alongside this and when it rains for more than 3 days their houses are flooded with this filthy water and they have to flee to a school hall before returning to try and save some of their home.
And yet the families took such pride in keeping their homes beautifully tidy, some adding lovely paintings to the walls inside, or adding pictures from magazines or bible verses.
Then there was a lovely lady who wept at the loneliness of children leaving home and being abandoned by them; her heartache would be felt by any mother. But she opened her tiny home to the church for a prayer meeting and fed 35 people at it each month.
For me the highlight has been meeting Aravindar, I think he is 6 now. I haven't interviewed him yet, but I wept when I met this lovely little lad, who has been so much in our thoughts and prayers at school. He is a quiet boy, but knowing what he lives through broke my heart. He shared his homework with me and proudly sounded out English words and counted up to 10 confidently. I couldn't help but notice he was wearing the same shirt as on his photo last year, but now has his two front teeth missing, as most children his age do!
We visited the building project next door to SKM. Kevin and Deborah have such vision (and hope). They have a Christian builder who has committed to doing all the foundations and the ground floor, strong enough to support 3 floors and earthquakes, before being paid. Then the bank has said a loan will be possible. Kevin has invested so much himself into this building, selling his other property. I think he finds the pace of the work too slow! But the builder needs to support himself by doing other jobs too so it is a catch 22 situation. And Deborah just keeps smiling and encouraging people and praying for them …. and cooking! We have been well fed – things I have never tasted before, eaten off banana leaf mats as plates. Loving it!
So many experiences and I haven't told you the half of it. Such deafening noise when the children arrive with their laughter and appetites! (the video gives you a flavour) I could go on, but Laurence needs the iPad now for tomorrow's sermon!
We had a great day at church. Such enthusiastic, loud singing and clapping in worship. I caused chaos by handing out pipe cleaners to make fish models out of in the children's service. They hadn't seen them before!
The hall is full. An encouraging group of 24 men at back on chairs and about 150 women on mats on floor. But there were two morning services and another evening service as well as Sunday school. The ladies nearby neatly squashed the creepy craw lies heading in our direction!
Just off to start today's interviews. So enjoying being here.
Many thanks to Mrs Potter for her report. To learn more about sponsoring a Child in the SKM project in Chennai go here!