During our first couple weeks here in India, we have already experienced so many ups and downs!
Firstly – although the final count is nowhere near final, we have REACHED OUR GOAL and collected over $10,000 in contributions!! Many volunteers still have to pass along some donations, so THANK YOU to every single person who gave everso generously.
We gathered a few last minute supplies and snacks in Bangalore, then hauled all of our stuff to the train station, and were rocked to (not-so-deep) sleep on the 10-hour overnight train to Koppal, and were greeted by smiling familiar faces at the train station! From there, we took the most common form of transportation back to Samuha – motorbikes!
We spent the first few days getting ourselves sorted and ready for our time in Koppal. Big realization: nothing in India runs as smoothly as one would hope. We bought only one ready made outfit each in Bangalore, with the intention that we would custom order the rest of our clothing made locally in Koppal to support the economy.
One of the first evenings, we ventured into town with the cook (who can also sew), and two other female CBR workers. There are also three German volunteers here for the year, so they came for the trip into town as well. We packed 11 people into a 7 seater micro-van. So we took a selfie.
We went to three different fabric shops and became overwhelmed with the choices being thrown at us (literally, they were throwing stacks of dresses at us), then another shop to purchase lining fabric, then yet another shop to buy thread. The whole affair took us three hours. But, Ruksana (the cook) created beautiful suits for us to wear during our time here in only two days. Each set cost $22CAD, materials and labour all in.
The next example of how things don’t run as smoothly as you’d hope: when I say that my patience was tested these past weeks, that is an extreme understatement. Much of the reason that I haven’t updated this blog was because I was dealing with visa issues – when I applied for my employment/volunteer visa in Vancouver, I listed the Samuha Bangalore address on the application (as that is the official registered office). They granted my visa as above but when I went to register with the immigration office (which I had to do since I’m staying a longer period), they strictly told me that I was only allowed to live and work in Bangalore, and therefore not allowed to work in Koppal, where I need to be.
We tried everything – I stood in line after line, travelled back and forth to Bangalore, filled out forms, Samuha directors wrote me new sponsorship letters, I pleaded with several different officers, and Samuha even sent in one of their main contacts to speak with a higher level officer. At the end of it all, we had two options: a) IF the Vancouver office amended the visa to change the location from ‘Bangalore’ to ‘Koppal’, then I could stay; or b) I would have to leave the country, fly home to Vancouver, and re-apply for a new visa then fly back. I sent a few emails to request the change, but ultimately it was with the help of my dear friend and Kids Physio colleague Sharaya who physically went to the office, explained my situation, and was able to get a Consular officer there to grant the change. I CAN STAY!!
I cannot express my gratitude enough to each person who worked so hard to keep me in the country – from the drivers bringing me back and forth to the office, the staff for writing last minute letters, offering support and calling in help, and of course Sharaya for taking time out of her busy day to go to the visa office on my behalf.
SO – project-wise, what have we been up to? Well, after a few exciting sessions of brainstorming and planning, the ball is rolling on how to improve the programs of the Early Intervention Centre in Koppal (main town), the Early Intervention Centre in Deodurg (3 hours away from Koppal), and the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Unit (45 minutes away from Koppal). Those details coming up next!!