Saturday was our day to give back to the community in a more personal way. Our community service project was to spend the day with the children of Karunalaya (www.karunalaya.in). The Karaunalaya Center cares for street children of Chennai. While they provide many related services to the families and women of the street, the focus of our trip was on the children. IBM had sent a team to Karunalaya three years ago as part of the Corporate Services Corps program. At that time the team helped set up a marketing program and web site as well as enhancing the fund raising approach. Our goal in visiting the children was to deliver science education while having some fun. We decided to develop three experiments in which the children could participate and learn the principles of the experiment. Our lessons included chemical reactions and moving objects through mechanical advantages. While we knew the children were planning to share their experiences with us of their trip to Brazil to participate in the opening of the World Cup games and play football with us, we had no idea what to expect.
We left the hotel at 2:30pm. It took us about an hour to get to the school after navigating several small alley ways. I can tell you that I was anxious as I didn’t know how our experiments would be accepted with a group of children ranging from 6 years of age to 15 years of age. We pulled through a gate, into a dirt lot and exited our cars.
We were greeted like royalty with a brass band and drum corps of children from the center. As we processed up the stairs they followed us into the building. It was there that I felt the first lump in my throat. We met with Paul Sunder Singh, Director of the center, who showed us the various rooms in the center before escorting us to the main hall to meet the children.
The children welcomed us with their song, followed by one of the traditional dances performed by two of the boys. I can’t tell you how it felt to watch them perform for us. I was so honored yet, I could see that they were just as honored to see how happy it made all of us. Following the dance, the boys who traveled to Rio shared a video of their journey to Rio followed by a slide show they narrated. They were glowing as they shared their story. It was here where I had to start to bite my lip so I wouldn’t be seen as a the weepy lady on the team. Imagine hearing from these children what is like to see an airplane in the sky and never imagine that some day they might be on one and then to find themselves flying to Rio; to have a passport when they never had any form of identification or any known need to ever have one; and the excitement of enjoying a hotel meal. It was very touching.
After a brief introduction, we broke into three groups ensuring we had native speakers on each of our teams and started our experiments.
Much to my surprise the children were very involved and very interested in everything we said and did. Some of the children just wanted to be hold our hands. Some wanted to be in the middle of the experiment and others just to watch but watch with intent and interest. Magesh and I ran the chemical reaction experiment showing children how to fill balloons with air through the mixture of baking soda and lemon juice in soda bottles. Ravi and Mats showed the children the mechanical advantages with how to juggle. And Barbara and Jayanthi showed children mechanical advantages of how to build and catapult marshmallows. It was all great fun.
Following our experiments the children performed another dance and then enjoyed the ice cream, biscuit and chocolate snacks we brought and showed us how to wear their dance costumes and use their drums. But that wasn’t the end of the day.
We then retreated to the courtyard for some football. What a lesson in fun. It’s been some time since I have played football and racing around in the heat with some very fast players was a test, but one I would do again and again. The boys were quite taken with Mats and Ravi and their engagement in kicking and passing drills. Barbara and Jayanthi sang songs with the children jump roping while I chased the younger boys around with the ball getting schooled on passing and goal keeping. It was here that I felt the biggest tug on my emotions. As I played with the boys, I realized just what giving here means. It wasn’t about what we brought in bags, it was about what we shared of ourselves and what they gave to us.
If you have any time to take a look at the web site, please consider how you can share with this group. They are doing tremendous work and offering these children a chance to change their lives.