Greetings from India

Well this is long overdue… While I haven’t been updating my blog I have been keeping a journal so I will bring all of you up to speed and then go into some more “detailed analysis” later.


I’ve been in India now for just over a month and I cannot believe how quickly that month has gone by. It feels as though I’ve been here for much longer because I’ve adjusted so well and I’m very comfortable in my new milieu. My host family is amazing, to say the least. Roopa (my host mother) is so loving; I can go to her for anything - even on those days when I just need a hug! She’s wonderful. I couldn’t have asked to be placed with better people. There are no children, as Roopa’s only son has moved away to Chicago – and is expecting his first baby girl in September; very exciting – but the house is definitely bustling with people. There is Roopa’s husband, Ravi, his mother, Fenella, and two young nurses helping to take care of her, who I’ve grown really fond of. One nurse, Karthika, is the sweetest thing ever, and the other nurse, Subbu, is like a bigger sister to me. Since they don’t speak English very well the plan is to help them with their English, and in return, they will teach me Tamil - which is a bit of a stretch because the language, although it sounds beautiful, is quite difficult to grasp. My Canadian tongue cannot get used to the pronunciation of some of these words, but nonetheless, I’m trying! There is also a cook, Pavarthi, like the Goddess, whose cooking is simply divine! If I come back 20 pounds heavier, it’s because of her. Speaking of which, the food here is to die for! It’s so full of flavour, and while they have boasted about some dishes being spicy, I haven’t had anything that I couldn’t handle (I love spicy food; my parents cook with pepper all the time!) Some of my favourite dishes include: dolsa, especially egg dolsa, egg parotta, chippatti (roti), curd with rice, and biryani, which is basically fried rice, but it is one of the most popular dishes prepared in India; it is guaranteed you will have biryani at an India function/gathering. I guess I should mention that I have mastered the skill of eating with my hands! Yes, no more cutlery for me, just my right hand and my fingers to do all the mushing! In India, the left hand is associated with bad luck, so it’s uncommon to eat with your left hand, or to be left-handed in general. Luckily for me, I’m right handed and I really hope Jen is as well! The first week Ravi would hand me a fork and spoon at every meal. Then after a week or so of observation – there really is a skill that you have to master otherwise your food will end up all over the place – I went for it. Haven’t looked back since! What makes the food even better is that fact that it hasn’t made me sick, although last week I drank a bottle of water from Sudar ( I made the assumption that just because I volunteer there, the water would be kosher) that tasted strange and that did me in for a couple of days. And, like my dear friend Krista, I caught a ridiculous cold for a few days. But all’s cured now and I’m doing great.


I haven’t been as adventurous as I thought I would be, but then again, I’m not surprised, I've always been one who prefers staying in. Besides, I find little things very adventurous here in India, like driving around town in an auto, taking the bus, walking through a village, walking around the neighbourhood – I find a lot of pleasure in these things because everything in Madurai is so different and beautiful. The funny thing is, what I find beautiful (like the many dilapidated buildings you see while driving around town) some would find grungy. I don’t know what it is, but seeing all the bustling people on the roads, the animals (cows, goats, dogs, bullocks - which make me nervous because I don't want them to attack me) roaming the streets amongst the people; its’ just so mesmerizing. I was driving on my way to Sudar in my auto and I saw an elephant! I almost lost it because I was so excited. I made him drop me off then went back to the street to take pictures and I touched its trunk! AMAZING!! It’s just been little things like that that make me excited and drawn to this country. I did go to the Gandhi Museum but I have yet to go to the Meenakshi temple. I’ve been in the vicinity, however, and saw one of the towers; even then it was quite fascinating so I can only imagine what my reaction will be once I see the temple up close and personal. It’s either the amount of time I have left, or my comfort level here at Roopa’s that has made me a little bit of a “home-body”, but like I said, that’s exactly how I am in Canada. Roopa has noticed this herself and I think she was worried that I wasn’t enjoying myself because I was spending my evenings with the nurses or reading. While she was correct in saying that I am a “home-body”, she need not worry about me not enjoying myself. I am having the time of my life here in India and I am loving absolutely every moment of it!


So remember in my last post I mentioned how I messed up on my presentation and presented information about Sudar instead of the orphanage where my placement was actually supposed to be? Well I’ve been volunteering at Sudar for the month of May because the girls in the orphanage did not come until June 7th. I was helping out with the Spoken English classes, and everyone was excited to have a Native speaker helping out in the class. I found it quite interesting that these girls have been learning English (grammar, literature, spelling, etc.) in school since they were 6 or 7, up until grade 12, but they were never taught, or given the opportunity, to speak English in class. They would simply learn and memorize an English paragraph and reproduce that material for the exam and forget it afterwards (sound familiar?). The girls also know how to read, but the comprehension is not there, so they have no clue what it is they’re reading. Talk about backwards learning. So the purpose of the class is to give them an opportunity to practice and become comfortable speaking English. Many a time the classes would veer into question & answer sessions about myself, my family and friends, and Canada, but it was for good cause because it was another way for them to practice!

Also at Sudar, I taught a work shop on resume writing. That was a very good experience for me; I’ve never seen myself as a teacher (I still don’t) but I really enjoyed being around the girls and teaching them something valuable. To be honest, I wasn't even nervous! And I usually am whenever I have to perform anything infront of people. I wonder, what is it about India that allows me to come out of my shell? I question I'll try to answer later... Anyways, it was great and I got a really good response from the girls and the staff at Sudar afterwards.

I’ve made some great friends at Sudar as well. They’re all younger, my sister’s age, but age has never been an issue with me. I can hang out with 7 year olds, 13, 23, 30, 40, you name it! These girls are all so bright and being able to connect with them and interact with them has been very special. They’ve showed me around, I went to Lady Doak College with a couple of girls to see if they got accepted (they didn’t know their application number so we didn’t find out the results), and I’ve even had the opportunity of going to one girl’s home and meeting her family :)

Now that the orphanage has reopened, I will not be able to spend as much time at Sudar, but I’ll make a visit there at least once or twice a week and spend time with the girls outside of the organization which is even more exciting, if you ask me.

On June 7th, I met with the girls at Kirubai Illam (Mercy House in Tamil), a YWCA orphanage set up for girls who have a family member that is, or was, affected by leprosy. I thought I enjoyed my work at Sudar, but once I stepped on the grounds with Roopa and was surrounded by 50 girls with beaming smiles on their faces and each one shouting their names at me, I was overjoyed. My heart just melted. There I will be continuing to put my English skills to use and teaching the younger children how to read (I'm trying to get them "Hooked on Phonics") and helping the older girls with reading comprehension and grammar. Right now, I won't lie, it’s a little difficult trying to teach young girls who are somewhat enamored by you. It’s exactly like Joanne predicted! I’m the new attraction for the time being so I’ll have 20 girls pulling me in every direction wanting to show me new things, they all want me to learn their names so I am constantly being quizzed lol (which really helps because after 3 days I know more than 3/4 of their names), and they’re always complimenting me and asking me questions that have nothing to do with reading! Needless to say, there are plenty of distractions and at times it gets a little overwhelming, so I have to put my foot down every once and a while. I’m sure after a week they’ll be sick of me and we can just focus on reading lol – at least I hope so. I will keep you updated on the progress because I know, for me, I could easily skip reading and just play with the girls - they’re that much fun. Overall, I couldn’t be happier!

Some pictures:

First Day of Spoken English Class

Going to the Exhibition with Subbu and Karthika

Ravi, his mother Fenella and Roopa

Girls I taught at the Resume Workshop

Pavarthi, Karthika & Subbu

Some of the girls at the Orphanage

The Elephant!!
The tradition: The elephant collects money, and in exchange, he taps you on the head with his trunk! Must be good luck!

Dhanapriya, Myself & Manimala; friends from Sudar

A Local Market

Until Next Time :)

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Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India


The district of Madurai is located in the Southern State of Tamil Nadu, India and is one of the oldest cities in South Asia. The population from the 2001 census in India indicated a population of 2.5 million. The district is divided into 7 Taluks and has about 670 villages. Common languages include Tamil, Hindi, Telegu, Sourashthra and English. The city is located on the banks of the River Vaigai and has been active in commerce and trade since early civilization of the country, which is why it is called the “Athens of the East”. Madurai is also widely known as Temple city.


The history of Madurai dates back over 2500 years ago, and its origins come from incredible mythology of gods and goddesses. Madurai was first said to be a forest called Kadambavanam, and it was in this forest where the king of gods, Indra, would bath and worship Lord Shiva. After discovering this, king Kulashekhara of Pandyan built the beginnings of the Sri Meenakshi Temple in the centre of the city, and according to the legend, Lord Shiva coated the city with “amrita”, by shaking his hair over the city. This “amrita” is the nectar of immortality and the name Madurai is speculated to be derived from the Tamil word “madhuram” which means sweetness.

In 302 BC, travelling merchant Marco Polo and others from Rome, Greece and China visited Madurai and established trade partnerships with the king, as the city was rich in nice silks, pearls and spices; which is why it is known as the Athens of the East. The Pandyan dynasty is credited for establishing the Tamil culture and nationalizing the Tamil language. The Pandyan dynasty was overthrown by the Cholas, but then regained power their empire would remained in power until early 13th.

Madurai fell under several attacks and invasions, and the Meenakshi temple and most of the city were destryod. The Hindu Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi came into power, and the city was governed by the Nayaks. The Nayak dynasty was known as the “renaissance of Madurai” because Thirumalai Nayak rebuilt and renovated the city of Madurai including the Meenakshi Temple, and also erected the Thirumalai Palace which remains to this day. Nayaks were in power until the mid-18th century, until the British took over India until India gained its independence in 1947.


The infamous Meenakshi Temple is the central location of the city of Madurai. The original temple was built by the Pandya’s 2500 years ago making it the largest and oldest temple in Madurai. With the temple in the middle, the city walls and streets were built around the temples in the shape of a lotus, which is the national flower of India – it represents spirituality, fruitfulness, wealth, knowledge and purity of heart and mind.

The towers of the temple are covered with stucco figures of gods and goddesses, mythical animals, monsters and deities in the vivid colours you see in the pictures. These temples are called Gopurams and located at each of the entrances. There are approximately 12, but the 4 tallest are located on each side of the temple and extend up to 50 km making them visible for miles outside of the city.


What would the temple be without its very own legend? This is actually very interesting… The temple is dedicated to the Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Pavarti, who was the daughter of the Pandyan King Malayadvaja. He and his wife could not conceive children so after rituals and prayers for a son, a three year old girl with 3 breasts emerged from the flames; this was goddess Pavarti.

Disappointed that he didn’t get a boy, and on top of that ended up with three breasted little girl, the king was told that she would lose her breast once she met her future husband – Lord Shiva. The King taught his daughter about the art of war and she succeeded him once he died. To the people she was known as Meenakshi which means “the one with the fish-shaped eyes” (sign of beauty in India). After winning successive battles, Meenakshi went to fight Lord Shiva, and it was love at first sight (or love at third breast) because as soon as she saw him, the breast went back into her body. The two were married in Madurai, and their marriage is a celebrated festival; they ruled the city as King and Queen and then as deities of the temple where they disappeared. Scenes of their wedding are also depicted on the pillars of the Temple.


Other monuments include the Thirumalai Nayak Palace

And of course the Gandhi Memorial Museum which, according to Rough Guide India, is home to the bloodstained dhoti Gandhi was wearing when he was assassinated.


From the legends and ancient mythology, it is no wonder why Madurai is so rich in culture and its people so enthralled with religion. Madurai people hold very strong religious beliefs in Hinduism, Jainism, Islam or Christianity; the most prevalent being Hindu. The people are very traditional, despite some modernization in the city; they wear traditional clothing such as a Sari or Dhavani. Daily routines often begin with a religious bath, followed by prayer and the lighting of the lamps.

Here is a picture of a local flower market. Flowers are large export for the city, as flowers are exported to various regions of India.


*A picture from the Chithirai Festival

The temples hold various festivals throughout the year. Some well recognized festivals include Pongal Festival which is the festival of Harvest which celebrates the sun, the nature and the cattle for giving the farmers good harvest. Jallikattu, which is bull taming; more of a sport than a festival and is mostly held in villages. Chithirai festival, which is the 10 day celebration of the wedding of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi, and finally there is the float festival, which is celebrated on Thirumalai’s birthday and large floats are brought out to sea.


I had a little mix-up with my placement while presenting to the class. I originally thought I was going to work at the YWCA with children at the orphanage, then in an email, it accidentally said I would be working at a women's centre. So I presented the class with information on the women's centre, instead of the orphanage, but just so you get the best of both worlds, I will post information on both!


The children at the orphanage, that I will be working with, have lost their parents to leprosy. Leprosy is one of the oldest known diseases and attacks the central nervous system, especially the hands, feet and face. Affected persons lose all feeling in these areas, and the disease causes disfiguration and deformaty of affected body parts, which may lead to amputations (BBC World News, 1998).

The disease was most prevalent in poor rural areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America. India had more than 60% of the world's leprosy patients, but after global campaigns and the National Health Policy of 2002, India achieved elimination of leprosy in 2005 (BBC World News, 2000; Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India, 2005)

Pictures from the Orphanage provided by Elyse Redden, 2010


There is also an NGO called the Sudar Foundation in Madurai, which is one of the Women’s Education Project Centers. The WEP was founded by Zoe Timms who worked in Madurai while attending University of Wisconson. She recognized the low levels of education amongst underprivileged women in India because of poverty, and so she and another board member, Kathryn Ugoretz, created this center to support and help women pursue higher education, develop professional and life skills, and obtain careers. A one year program costs $200 and it costs these women $2 a month to attend the school.

Please watch this video and take a look at the website for more information!

Women’s Education Project! » Videos

I hope you enjoyed this post! Namaste


Madurai, (No dates provided)

National Informatics Centre, Government of India (No dates provided)

Rough Guide to India, Tamil Nadu, Madurai. 2008.

BBC World News. "Leprosy." (1998)

Mike Woolridge in Dehli. "India Targets Leprosy." (2000)

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare:

Women's Education Project, 2006:

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Scatter Brain!


Sorry I just had to let that one out! Sometimes a good screaming session can be theraputic!

I titled this post “Scatter Brain” because my mind is literally all over the place and I just don’t know if I’m coming or if I’m going. It’s like a whirlwind of emotions, of questions, of thoughts, of things to do, and I’m just trying to get a hold of everything!

Since this is the last post of the semester (The biggest grin came across my face as I typed that!) I guess it would be fitting to go over some key highlights from the semester... again, my mind is all over the place so please bare with me.


This semester brought me some frustrations with volunteering. I didn’t end up making it to kidsLINK this semester because of extreme delays with a police report (which I still haven’t received a call about) but I emailed the coordinator and she said she’ll save me a spot for when I return! I was looking forward to that experience, and as you know, working with all the children, but my backup volunteer placement was simply great.

As mentioned before, I had to quickly change my plans and I was welcomed at St. John’s with open arms just like all volunteers are. I don’t really have any stories from the kitchen, but I do have great memories, especially memories of the people! I’ll definitely be back, because there is something about the great sense of community and the dedication everyone puts into making the kitchen operate, that I love being around.


This was a challenge! Blogging, I will admit, is great for keeping people up to date and connected, and for some it is a great place for them to express their thoughts. But blogging is not my cup o’ tea! What I learned from blogging is that I’m probably one of the most reserved and quiet people when it comes to things like that sharing my thoughts with people I don’t know. I really tried to get out of my shell, even in class, and I thought blogging would be a little easier since it’s not face to face, but I was wrong. I couldn’t get myself to take it to that level. I did what I could, however, and shared what I felt was appropriate, but I’m just not that type of person. There are really only a few people in my life that I am fully comfortable with to let my guard down. Most of those people are family, and a few close friends. It’s funny because (from what I’ve been told) some people have this assumption about me that I am more talkative, but what is the cardinal rule that we mustn’t forget? You can’t judge a book by its cover, now can you! I guess I’ve followed this mantra that it’s better to be seen than heard (I think the first time I heard that saying was from an episode of The Bill Cosby Show, and I must have taken it to heart as a little girl). So instead of doing the talking, I like to listen and observe and take everything in first before I make a comment. I do this a lot during classes and I don’t know if it bothered any of my Beyond Borders members, but at least now you know why. It’s not that I didn’t really want to talk or open up more; it’s just hard for me. It always has been. And although I’m trying to work on it, and in some cases I can put up a good front, in the end I’m just too shy. That’s why blogging has not been such a great experience for me. I could have done a lot more reflection and self analysis, but hey, you win some and you lose some. But if any of you did learn something about me, that’s great too! I guess I did something right!


This is only the first part of the journey, but my overall experience this far has been, like I said, a whirlwind. I’ve been happy, I’ve felt enlightened and inspired, I’ve felt frustrated and tired, I’ve felt confused; honestly the list could go on! What’s most important is that although I can’t quite pin point where and how, I’ve felt growth. It’s funny because most of us in the class admitted to being more confused now than when we first started the program, which is absolutely true, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that I am not the same person I was when I started this. So what exactly has changed? Well to name a few, my way of thinking has changed, my outlook on Western society has changed (it’s not all it’s cracked up to be); the path I was taking in life has changed. Let me correct myself, the path hasn’t changed, as I didn’t really have a path before. Instead it has become clearer for me, but still, because of all of the confusion, I don’t know where it’s going to end as of yet, but it feels right. (I might have taken that idea from another classmate Nevena, but Nev, you’re absolutely right! I feel the same way)

I’ve also had to deal with a lot of friends and family not really understanding why I’m doing this, or not wanting me to go, or thinking that these programs are clichĂ© and glorify places like India and Africa without recognizing what goes on in our own country. Overall, there are a lot of people that don’t “get it”, and I mean really get it. They see it happening, they understand for the most part or they think it’s “cool”, or whatever the case may be, but at the end of the day the thought remains: “Well if you wanted to volunteer, you can do that here in Canada too!” There is no disputing that this is true. People in Canada suffer from poverty, and there is also discrimination and racism and inequality in developed nations that deserves our attention. But why limit ourselves to our own borders? If we look at the bigger picture, international programs are not about us going to save a nation; it’s about us learning from the people within that nation. It’s about us seeing the commonalities that exist and becoming connected to everyone; it’s about global community.

I guess I’ve always found it hard to articulate my thoughts because I thought it was obvious for everyone to understand why this is important, but that was a silly assumption on my part. Not everyone gets the things that seem so obvious to others. So I’ll try my best to explain, but if you’re looking for something really deep and inspirational, this isn’t it! But here is the Cole’s Notes version of why I joined Beyond Borders: I am not doing this for self aggrandizement, I’m not doing this because I feel pity for developing nations and I’m not doing this because I’m trying to rebel against Canada or any other rich industrialized nation. I’m doing this because I feel that even with all the diversity in the world, we can still find unity; but you cannot unite if you are unwilling to open your eyes to rest of the world. I’m doing this to learn. To learn about a different culture, a different way of living, a different government, a different view on life. Going abroad opens up different doors of truth, truth that one may not be able to find in their own country. I don’t see why I just have to be Canadian. Nationality and borders are just more technicalities that keep people segregated. Therefore I am Canadian, Jamaican, Indian, Ghanaian, Ugandan, Argentinean; I am Catholic, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Muslim. I can be whatever I want, but in the end, I, like everyone else, am human.

(There are more reasons, but those are the main ones)


I just want to finish by saying a few things.
1) I don’t expect everyone to get. That’s absolutely fine and I make no judgements. This is the path I have decided to take and that doesn’t make it any less or more significant than anyone else’s life journey.
2) To my fellow Beyond Bordians, I wish you all safe travels and I hope you all find inspiration in your journeys. I thank you for a wonderful year and I cannot wait until we see each other once again :)
3) To all the readers, I thank you for tuning in. Despite my dislike for blogging, this is not the end. I will be using this as a way to document my experience in India. It would be cruel if I made you read through all the boring – I mean exciting analysis – and didn’t even post a single picture from India! Well don’t fret, there’s more to come!


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Expect the Unexpected

In a few of my prior posts I have talked about how good it is to think ahead and to prepare yourself for all possible situations, especially the good, the bad, and the ugly situations. Well this week as I was putting together my India presentation for the class, I did not, in any way shape or form, anticipate that my USB device would stop working and prevent me from opening up my power point presentation to present to the class. When I saw the big “ERROR” message pop up I was thinking, “This could not be happening; not to me, and not right now.” I only saved my work on my USB stick because A)I grew accustomed to saving all my work on it; I have a very old laptop, and I don’t own a printer, so most of the time I have to transfer my work onto the USB key anyways, and B)I didn't think USB could stop working, whereas a computer (especially one as ancient as mine) could crash at anytime; so I always also thought that it was the safer option. But regardless, I did not save my presentation on the computer, I did not email a back-up attachment file to myself – I did not prepare for the good, bad and ugly. I thought my USB was infallible, when really, it was imperect just like everything else in the world.

So after the first presenter wraps up their wonderful presentation, and Joanne calls my name, the only thing I could say to her was, “My USB doesn’t work and I can’t open my presentation!” Honestly, at that point I was secretly praying to myself that these words would come out of her mouth: “Oh really? Well that’s okay Raquel. Technology can be a pain sometimes, so you don’t have to present ... I’m sure your presentation would have been marvellous. Here, I’ll just give you an A!” Haha. Yeah, right! Only in my perfect fairy-tale dreams. Instead she said something like this: “Okay figure something out NOW... Who’s next?” So as a couple more people presented I was scrounging around looking for pictures, links, videos and all the information I used while putting my presentation together. The show had to go on, and that it did, although not as smoothly as I would have liked.

Every once and a while an event like this takes place in life. Personally, I was angry that it happened, and mad that I didn’t back up my work on my computer, but I didn’t completely freak out or have a melt-down, which I consider to be a really good thing. Some people may have been reduced to tears, which is normal, but not this tough cookie right here! If I can recall correctly, one question in the BB interview was, "What will you do if something goes completely wrong? How will you handle it?" (Or something to that effect) I remember saying that if a situation occurred and everything was spiralling out of control that I would probably need a moment to collect my thoughts, get my head straight – basically have a “mini meltdown” - then I would regroup and figure out some way to handle the situation. While I didn’t have a mini meltdown this time, as it really wasn’t necessary for this particular situation, I did have to be quick, and I had to implement plan B. Let's face it, things always happen unexpectedly, things go wrong all the time, and technology fails, no matter how well you prepare. I think I’ve said this before, but it’s how you handle the situation, and pick yourself up that is most important.

I guess the morale of this story is: Always expect the unexpected (and don’t trust a USB stick!) I hope in India I will be able to handle the unexpected (after my mini-breakdown that is). But I’m glad this happened because it was sort of the reality check I needed to put all this talk about preparation into perspective, instead of just blogging about it!

On another note, please tune in as I will be posting information about India in a separate post. I would love to share some of the unique information I found during my research about Madurai to my readers, and classmates since they didn’t get to see my presentation either!

Take Care,


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A Change in Plans

So this week I had to take some serious action towards my lack of volunteering. Luckily for me, the people at St. John’s Kitchen accept new volunteers with open arms. My partner in crime, Olivia, and I, woke up at the crack of dawn this past Tuesday and Thursday and accumulated half of our hours. But the amount of hours is beside the point; I know that after I've completed the necessary amount for the program, I'll still volunteer until it's time for me to leave to India.
So I guess now it’s fitting to share my experience…

First of all, it was A LOT of work! There's a lot of time and energy that goes into running the kitchen, and let's just say, the work that I had to do would make my mother really proud! I mean, I do chores at home, but even one of the older volunteers I met said that our mothers would be proud of us mopping the floors, bussing the tables, cleaning the showers/bathrooms and stairs and preparing and serving the food! It was sort of like, "Okay Raquel, welcome to the real world!" It was great though! The many chores made the day go by really quickly. It was when I reached home that I felt the aches and lethargy of the day’s activities, and had a nice nap!

But on to the more exciting stuff...

The woman in charge, Gretchen, is one character! She is great with the volunteers and the people and the regulars that come in to eat, and she cracks me up, which always makes the job fun! The great thing I realized as St. John's is that everyone there is like one big family. The sense of community I saw was tremendous, and everyone pitches in to get the jobs done. The people that eat there know the place inside out, so they were there to give some guidance and direction, and they also helped to serve the food and clean up. What made the days really great for me was the gratification we received from the staff and the people who eat at the kitchen; that at the end of each day, there was always someone to say, "Thanks girls, you did a great job today!" That simple thank-you went a long way; and I mean a long way. I’m not going to deny it, I was tired after everything! But to hear that, made it all worth it, because I’m sure they’re all aware of the hard work it takes daily, to make sure everything runs smoothly! I certainly left St. Johns with a smile on my face!

Now this change in plans obviously means that I have not yet volunteered at kidsLINK, which I’m really upset about, because I was really looking forward to working with the children at the different centers. Unfortunately, my police report has taken FOREVER to complete, and I cannot volunteer without it, so I could not wait any longer and had to shift gears. Hopefully I can work something out with the coordinator, and she will accept me at a later date if I return to Waterloo.

That’s it for this week,

Take Care Readers

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"Waving Flag"

I just wanted to post this uplifting song because I really like it :) Enjoy!

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Drowning in a World of Despair

This past week in school, I had one of those moments where I could actually feel the $20 000+ investment towards my higher education actually teaching me something! I’m just kidding, I feel that way about school all the time :)

Well instead of saying that, I guess I could say that what I learned this past week in school really hit home with Beyond Borders, and our mission and goals for this program. I’m really beginning to take what I’m learning and either apply it, or analyze its deeper meaning, to see how it’s affecting the global community.
So let me waste no more time highlighting with you, the wondrous teachings that I learned:

In my Foreign Policy class, we discussed the more recent notion of Ethics in foreign policy. Not only did I learn that I am completely Liberal when it comes to politics and foreign policy views, I learned about a man by the name of Peter Singer. Upon further investigation, I found out that Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher who specializes and writes about applied ethics, animal rights and liberation, abortion and infanticide, world poverty and famine, and even vegetarianism. The professor presented the class with a scenario by Singer, and so, without further ado, I will present it to you, the readers.

The Scenario:
Suppose you were on your way to an important interview for the job of your dreams; dressed decadently in your brand new suit, your confidence is soaring at an all-time high because you know all there is to know about the company and the position; there’s just no way you cannot get this job! But suppose on your way to the interview you have to walk by a pond. As you’re walking along you see a child, whom you’ve never met, drowning in the pond. In order to help the child you have to get your brand new suit wet and dirty and you will miss your interview. If you can, without endangering yourself, save the child, do you have an obligation to do so? Does your obligation change if the other passersby, who are as equally capable of rescuing the child, are standing around twiddling their thumbs, or simply watching the child drown? Most would agree that none of the above matters, and that rescuing that child should be the only priority irrespective of the dream job or the people taking no action. But then, Singer proposes this: “[W]ould it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself?” Singer’s students, he says, initially say no, that distance and/or nationality do not change the morality of the situation to help those further away. The reality is, however, that we are living in this situation every day; everyday there is a drowning child or adult, who may not be an arm’s length away, who resides in Ukraine, Uganda, Kenya, Peru, Argentina and India, but is still in need of our help, and whom we can help, without putting ourselves in any extra danger or risk. The only problem is, because of access, we tend to help those who are physically closer to us, and give them greater priority than those living further away.

Singer goes on to say that sacrificing that brand new CD, a new pair of jeans, or BeyoncĂ© concert tickets is what it would cost us to save the lives of people drowning overseas. Donating to organizations like Red Cross or Oxfam, “overcome the problem of acting at a distance.”

After reading “The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle” (click the link to read the article in its entirety, which I strongly recommend you do!), all I could say was, “That’s it!” It hit the nail right on the head! People like to place more value on the lives of people who live closer to them, than those who are in another country - which shouldn’t be the case at all – because of convenience. A lot of people only think within the borders of their country. My mother for example doesn’t understand why I can’t just volunteer here in Canada. Well it’s for that reason alone. There are people drowning in India who need help as well. I’m not purporting at all, that I am the one who’s going to rescue them from the "water", but I am recognizing that they are equally entitled to, and deserving of, the same aid I would give anyone else here in Canada.

In a sense, I do understand the “dilemma”. After all, I was brought up in this environment so I see the mentality towards issues like this. I do understand that helping people closer to us is, physically, so much easier. And that people worry about sending their money to organizations because of all the corruption that takes place, and they don’t know where their money is actually going. For me, and I’m going to be 100% honest here so don’t hate me afterwards, I sometimes use the fact that I am a struggling student, with no income whatsoever, as a reason why I cannot donate to any agencies or NGO’s, because every penny counts for me. Yet, at the same time, I can justify buying a new shirt and skirt at H&M, or spending $5 on a triple-venti-nonfat-dolce-mocha-choc-a-latte drink at Starbucks (yes I know, it’s ridiculous which is why I don’t do it often), but sending a donation seems like – dare I say it – a “waste” of money? :( It’s quite horrible, now that I think about it! And unfortunately, that’s how a lot of us think – that our self-interests are more important. That skirt and that latte are going to bring us instant pleasure, whereas sending our money to an organization that sends packages to hungry children, does not seem as satisfying because we can’t see the fruits of our hard earned dollar. Don’t get me wrong, we obviously we must provide for ourselves first, and I don’t expect everyone to donate 25% of their income to charities like Singer, but what I’m concerned about is the over consumption of EVERYTHING in our “Western” world - buying more of what we already have plenty of, and not acknowledging the detrimental effects it has our global community.

Singer touches on this as well in the article, and again, I could not agree more. He also refers to the “Ideology of the free market” - the fact that our goal in life is to achieve the ultimate success so we can consume, and then we work harder, so we can earn more money, so that we can consume even more. It’s a vicious cycle, and not a very fulfilling one, at that. No wonder environmentalists have strong reason to believe that over consumption is depleting the world’s natural resources.

I don’t want this post to come off the wrong way. In no way am I saying to follow every suggestion Singer has written, and I don’t want to sound like I’m ordering everyone to consume less, and stop buying or indulging in nice things, even deliciously over-priced drinks, and to give all your money away to charities and live in holes for the rest your lives. I certainly know that is not ideal; even for me. But a little awareness may go a long way. The next time you go to purchase something, you may ask yourself, “Do I really need this [insert expensive good here], or can I go another month or so with what I already have?” And try and realize that there is an entire world outside of your own country. There are 6.8 billion people in the world and 195 countries and, in 2005, 32% or the entire world’s wealth was in the hands of the United States, alone (Family Care Foundation: Village of 100 People, 2005). It’s time to become more aware, it’s time to make smarter decisions… and it’s time to start thinking more about the people who are not an arm's length away, but who are still drowning.

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Hello again bloggers!

How many times have you caught yourself saying: “I wish I were a kid again!” Too many, right? But what is it about those youthful years that we enjoy so much? Well I can name a few: less responsibilities, for one; less stress, everything was so much easier – the hardest decisions I had to make was deciding if I wanted to play with Barbie or Polly Pocket. It was beautiful! Everyday was rainbows, unicorns and smiles :)

Since my childhood days are long gone, I love being around younger children – I love interacting with younger kids, playing with them, conversing with them, and making them laugh. There's something about a little child's laugh that is so infectious, you can't help but laugh yourself. But really, the beauty behind children, in my opinion, is how genuine they are when they are younger. Kids are just themselves; they don't hold back and they say whatever comes to mind, which is usually the “darndest thing” (haha), because they don't think “if I say this, will I look stupid?”, or they don't have to worry about who's judging them because they don't even know what judgment is! I remember in “Becoming Human”, by Jean Vanier, Vanier said that if you've ever watched young children playing on the playground, you'll notice how easy it is for them to approach one another and instantly become the best of friends. It's because they don't acknowledge things like looks, or race, or how “uncool” the other kid is, unlike older people, who use criteria such as these to screen the people they want to talk to, and don't want to talk to. Kids, on the other hand, just see another person to play with and the bond starts from there.

Younger kids are so innocent, and I love that they aren't filled with all the negativity that we learn growing up. When we get older that's when we are taught that having money is the most important goal in life; that physical things like cars, clothes and jewellery bring us happiness; that you have to compete and make it to the top in order to be successful in life; that you should only associate with people who are more like you because they're on "your level". That means not talking to or getting to meet new people because they don't look a certain way, or they don't wear designer clothes, or because they're homeless, or have a mental disability. As we get older, life changes from rainbows, unicorns and smiles into money, competition and depression.

There's no denying that these innocent children will become exposed to these negative aspects of our Western society. Unfortunately, some will believe in this Western philosophy and they're lives will be directed towards consuming the physical and materialistic items that we have given so much praise and value. Or some, we can hope, will learn with the proper guidance and direction, that that isn't what constitutes a fulfilling life; that healthy relationships, happiness and most importantly, love, are what brings true value to your life.

The reason why I'm going off on this little tangent about children, is because I will finally be starting my volunteering this week at a social services agency called kidsLINK. Yes, I was supposed to be volunteering throughout the term, and yes, I now have to complete 20 hours of volunteering in less than 4 weeks (and during one of the most chaotic school months ever), but remember, I was built to work under pressure! Honestly, this time, my procrastination was not 100% to blame. A few of the earlier placements I looked into fell through, for various reasons, so I had to go back to square one. I could have joined my other members at the St. John's soup kitchen, but I was adamant in volunteering with children, now, before I work with the children at the orphanage in India.

To let you know a little bit more about my volunteer placement, kidsLINK, like I said before, it is a social service agency that works with families who have children with mental health challenges, such as autism, or different social, emotional or behavioural challenges, that the children need help developing. I will be working with children from the ages of 2 – 12, and I will be doing various activities with them, while helping them develop their social skills, recognize their emotions, and how to properly deal with those emotions in different situations. To find out more about kidsLINK and its parent company just click on the link!

I am excited about this placement because as much as I love being around children, I have never been around them in this fashion. I've babysat and I hang out with my little cousins and my friends' nieces and nephews, but that's pretty much the extent of it. I want to see how I interact with them, and if I will actually be able to handle 6-10 screaming children, with different needs and personalities, without losing my own sanity! I've also never worked with people with mental disabilities, so this will also be new for me. I am not worried about it though. If there was one thing I learned from reading “Becoming Human”, it was that mental disabilities do not prevent people from being their truly unique selves – that they are still humans who laugh, cry, and jump for joy. And they can make others around them laugh, cry and jump for joy, if they look past their disability, treat them as another human, and let them into their hearts. I'm hoping to learn a lot from this. There's a lot you can learn about yourself in every situation, and working with these kids, here, and in India, will certainly test me, because you never know what could happen, especially with children.

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"I will stop procrastinating... Tomorrow"

This past week was a real eye-opener for me as I have learned a lot from the consequences of my actions. The funny thing, however, what happened to me this past week, has actually happened 3 years prior; I think the aftermath of this year finally made me realize that I have to change, otherwise there is no way of me succeeding at anything in the future.

Of course what I'm talking about, and what I need to change – immediately – is my relentless procrastination! It is absolutely awful! It has plagued me for many years of my life, but instead of getting better, it is only reaching new heights, and I cannot sit back and let it suck me in any longer.

This week was the first week back after reading week, and to put it colloquially, it was a week from H-E- double hockey sticks! And of course, I am the only one to blame, because I chose, once again, not to take advantage of the week off, and actually do some school work. Like I said before, this is the usual routine for my reading breaks – not doing school work – but this time it hit me tenfold. I have never felt so disorganized in my life! I think in total, I only got 8-10 hours of sleep for the entire week; I was sick and coughing up my already weak lungs; I missed too many classes because I was doing midterms/studying/reading for others; and on top of that, I had to pay $400 so my arm could be numb for the entire week, from the vaccination shots I received! I'm just glad the school reimburses us, otherwise I don't think I could afford to go to India. There is more I could say about this week, but I digress. I'm sure there are students who are in the same predicament as myself, or maybe even worse. And I am not doing this so we can have a “pity party” for Raquel. The last thing I need is pity! What I do need is tough love and discipline (and a massage). But by putting my bad habit out there, this may be a different way for me to solve the problem, because I usually just deal with everything internally and by myself.

So let me continue to “put myself out there”: Once I got myself in this situation and realized that I needed to stay up hours on end to finish everything, that's what I did. I was able to finish everything that I needed to, on time, and some would commend my efforts. To tell you the truth, most procrastinators I know end up pulling everything off in the knick of time, and we end up doing well, for the most part. (These are the ones I know, not all procrastinators can do this). Most procrastinators would agree that it's that added pressure of working under the gun that fuels our creative energy. But honestly, I just can't take it anymore. After this week, I left too much to the last minute, and despite completing everything, I was still disappointed with myself. I was disappointed that I put myself in that situation, yet again; I was disappointed at the fact that I wasn't 100% satisfied with my end work; and I was mostly disappointed that after so many years, and so many proclamations about wanting to end my procrastination, that nothing had changed.

Let's just say that I've been kicking myself all week! But enough beating myself up, I need to move forward. A quote I read from Walt Disney said, “You may not realize when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Life is faced with endless challenges and it's how you meet those challenges that really matters. It would say a lot about my character if I continued down this downward spiral, and let my procrastination get the best me. Or I could recognize that it is making me unhappy, and that it's jeopardizing my academic career. I choose the latter, but I know this is not going to fix itself in a day. I'm young, I'm making mistakes and trying my best to learn from them, even though this particular mistake keeps reoccurring. But I'm also human, and some habits, like procrastination, take some more time to break. I think what might make the difference this time around, is that I truly hit an all time low, and I never want to feel like this again. I WANT to change, and I want to get rid of this horrible habit.

Now that I admitted to being an incessant procrastinator (the first step is always admittance), it's time to take action … and no, I won't start next week! I'm actually really good at writing down tasks and what needs to be done. It's somewhere after compiling the list that either laziness kicks in, or the television or Facebook beckons. As something new, I'm going to post, here, some reasons I found as to why I procrastinate and then some advice/steps I found to help me fight it. Hopefully when I catch myself procrastinating, I can come here, read this list, and get back to work.

Here's a few:

PROBLEM: “People don't want to face the consequences of failure, so they delay.” (Pace Productivity)
SOLUTION: “Develop a clear mental picture of the completed task and how you will feel at that time. Maintain a focus on the end result, not just the process. Remind yourself how good you'll feel when you're finished”(Pace Productivity)

PROBLEM: Laziness.
SOLUTION: Joanne, the director, said this simple phrase to the class: “Be like Nike, and 'JUST DO IT' ”

PROBLEM: Not taking the first step
SOLUTION: “When you start to look too far into the future any task or project can seem close to impossible. And so you shut down because you become overwhelmed and start surfing the internet aimlessly instead. That is one of the reasons why it is good to plan for the future but then to shift your focus back to today and the present moment”(Henrick Edberg, Positivity Blog).

PROBLEM: Too much thinking, not enough doing
SOLUTION: “A bit of planning can certainly help you to achieve what you want to achieve. A lot of planning and thinking tends to have the opposite effect. So plan a little and then take action” (Henrick Edberg, Positivity Blog).

PROBLEM: Putting off small tasks
SOLUTION: “By over thinking and putting things off you are not only trying to protect yourself from pain. You also make mountains out of molehills … The more hours and days you put something off the worse it grows in your mind … This makes a little thing a big Godzilla, a horrible beast that is threatening to ruin your life” (Edberg).

For more great tips and detailed explanations on how to stop procrastinating, click: The Positivity Blog.

Also, check out this video I found on Youtube... it's where I got the title for my blog!

Until next week :)

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Pessimist or Realist?

Reading week is officially over. Well it was fun while it lasted!

During the reading week I was able to get in touch with some friends, share stories, and brag about India. While we were indulging in deep, intellectual conversation, one of my good friends pointed out that I have a tendency to always bring up the negative sides of things. I denied the accusation, and I did go on the defensive a little bit, but the truth is, this wasn't the first time someone had said this to me. Because this wasn't the first time, I had to do a quick self analysis and ask myself, “Do you always think about the negative?” If people who are very close to me, and have known me for years are telling me this, then there must be some truth behind it that I am clearly unaware of. Then I started wondering if this is how I am perceived by others. If so, will the people I meet in India think I am negative as well?

In retrospect, I can admit that I am more predisposed to think about the worst case scenarios more often than I think about the best case scenarios. Also, when people ask for my opinion, or tell me about certain plans or situations, I am usually the one to play devil's advocate, if you will. As an example, instead of agreeing right away, I like to ask questions such as, “If A doesn't happen, then what are you going to do?” Or I'll say somethiing along the lines of, “Yes, that's great, but what about ________?” I personally didn't think of this as being “negative” per se, but it led to me being called that dreadful word: pessimist!

All this time I thought of myself as a very happy go-lucky girl, with a friendly disposition, who is always smiling and laughing, and has a great sense of humour. Now, I am being called a pessimist? This can't be! A pessimist is the complete antithesis of who am, or should I say, who I thought I was.

For some reason the word “pessimist” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. “Why?”, you might ask. Well, I blame society, first of all. To me, the word has an overall bad connotation. I view pessimism and optimism as a type of dichotomy, where, on one end of spectrum you have pessimists who are miserable, cynical people, who are never satisfied, who are very unappreciative, and depressed because they view everything in life negatively, and are unable to see the good in any situation. (Now do you see why I was so offended to be called a pessimist?) Meanwhile, optimists are self-deluded people who are running through life as if it were a field of lillies and daffodils; where nothing can upset them, or bring them down, because they believe everything in life will work out perfectly in the end. This is obviously my over exaggerated interpretation of pessimism and optimism, because I don't think people are actually like this, however, based on my own interpretations, I would not want to be placed on either side of the spectrum! Quite frankly, it may sound better to be called an optimist instead of a pessimist, however, there are pitfalls to being either one. For example, optimists may be setting themselves up for failure by having overly ambitious goals, and no alternative courses of action if those goals are not met, because they assumed everything would work out. Thinking about or planning for the worst case scenario is not necessarily a bad thing, but being overly pessimistic about every situation, is. Plus, it cannot be good for your health. That is why I consider myself to be a realist, which in my mind, is a combination of both pessimism and optimism.

The classic test used to decipher whether or not a person is an optimist or a pessimist is to ask, “Is the glass half empty, or half full?” Apparently if you answer that the glass is half full, you are an optimist, and you are a pessimist if you see the glass as half empty. I remember when I was first asked this question and, before I understood its implications, I had trouble answering it, because clearly the glass is both half empty and half full. Then, throughout the years, I became more apt to say the glass was half empty. I'm not sure why, really. I should have maintained my initial position, but maybe throughout the years I became more skeptical life. What this suggests, however, is that I have always been a realist at heart!

A basic definition of a realist I found was, “A person who accepts the world as it is literally, and deals with it accordingly” (Church of Reality). This is exactly what I tell people when they call me a pessimist. I suppose because I am so quick to point out the "negative", or the bad outcomes, people take that as me being pessimistic. However, I would rather lay all the cards on the table and give all possibilities equal consideration because, realistically, that's how life works. Not everything will turn out horribly bad, and not everything will be absolutely wonderful. The only thing we can do is wait to see the the outcome, and deal with it from there. But like I said in my last post, preparing for worst case scenarios, is always wise and decreases the chances of failure. And I don't see anything pessimistic about that!

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