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India Service Trip 2017: Basketball arrives at Joybells!

For many years, football (which we know as soccer) has been the favored game at Joybells. Some of the boys have become such good players that many of the other children only watch the games or play little games among themselves during the sports time in the afternoon. So, we decided to bring two basketball hoops this year with the expectation that they would be nailed up to a wall somewhere to see how the kids took to the game. But, Joybells traditions are different and things are always done in a proper way. A lot of time and energy was put into creating the metal poles to hold the hoops, digging two 4 foot holes in the hard ground, mounting them carefully in concrete, clearing the rocks by hand from the outdoor basketball court, and painting the lines on the backboards and court. All this work was done by hand by the children with our help. The court was opened last week with a ceremonial ribbon cutting event, and the game has become ever so popular even among the little ones. We hope you'll enjoy reading the reflection below by Anna Kennedy and seeing the pictures. 

Anna Kennedy, Reflection:  Basketball arrives at Joybells! 

When we came from the US, we brought two hoops to set up to teach the kids the sport of basketball. Setting it up became a huge process with the boys pouring concrete into the holes very late for two nights. When the day came to open the court, we attached a ribbon to the entrance and Atta and Jim cut it to officially open it up. Atta opened the court with a bang and made the opening shot from the free throw line. After that, we immediately started playing! We needed to teach the kids the basic rules and how to dribble and shoot but they quickly got the hang of it.

The past two days, I have been playing basketball all afternoon with a lot of the kids mainly, the girls and younger boys. Although I haven’t played basketball since PE class in middle school, I have been having loads of fun playing with the kids. It is a really nice set up with low scoring but competitive games. These games are the highlight of my day and it is so much fun to watch kids that aren’t able to play soccer have the chance to play basketball, a game where all of us are on the same level. 

Colonel SS takes a shot.

Jim Sir and Tashi dig a hole

Jack Sir carts away the dirt

Sophia Mam helps the girls clear rocks from the court

Chianna Mam and the girls clear rocks from the court

The big day arrives; the ribbon is cut! 

The play begins.

Ben Sir helps the little ones learn to dunk. 

India Service Trip 2017: The Ganges, the Beatles Ashram and more


Reflection by Minh Pham

This Thursday we took advantage of the wonderful weather and headed over to Rishikesh, a town not too far from the orphanage. After a 2-hour bus ride, we finally got there and enjoyed a breathtaking view of Ganges river. One of the Indian rituals we had a chance to perform was lighting up a candle in the paper basket with flowers and putting it into the Ganges River while making a wish for something good in your life or dedicate to someone significant. It was a truly special moment and I am grateful we had a chance to experience it. Afterward, we walked across the Lakshman Jhula, an iron suspension bridge across the river. Although the path was pretty narrow I found it amusing to see cows wandering around or taking an afternoon nap right in the middle of the bridge. On the other side of the town, we visited a beautiful garden full of gorgeous flowers. Surprisingly, we appeared to be the major entertainment there as Indian people stopped us and enthusiastically asked to take pictures with us. Then we headed up to the Beatles Ashram, abandoned former meditation ashram the Beatles visited in 1968. There were lots of amazing graffiti and messages on the walls written and drawn by artists from all over the world. After wandering around for about an hour and encountering the whole family of monkeys, we left the ashram and walked about a mile to the Little Buddha Cafe where we had delicious Indian cuisine for lunch while enjoying the view of the Ganges River. After getting some rest, we spent 2 hours shopping! At around 7 pm we drove back to the orphanage where we had dinner. Exhausted from the heat and long walks, all of us went to bed pretty early in order to recharge our energy for classes next day.
Posing by a statue of Shiva at the Parmarth Ashram, Rishikesh

Sending flowers and blessings down the Ganges

 Flowers and blessings float down the Ganges

Chianna stands near the Beatles meditation hut 

The monkeys entertain us. 

India Service Trip 2017 : Managing the heat!

Jack Freeman offers his reflections on the weather and more...

    Stepping out of the airport in Delhi was a shock for a number of reasons, among which were the 115ºF heat wave (approximately 46ºC) and the sudden feeling of isolation as the only noticeably western tourists. The heat presented itself as alarming initially but welcoming upon our eventual acclimation. Similarly welcoming were the people of India as we entered their space. I have come to enjoy the heat as this trip has progressed with transportation, to hiking, and to life here at Joybells. Our previous Sunday here in Dehradun was filled by a six-mile hike up a mountainous terrain to a Hindu temple dedicated to the god, Shiva. Normally this hike would not have been difficult for our able, athletic bodies, although the Indian heat made the challenge a bit more strenuous, but enjoyable nonetheless. On my watch, I was taking readings of the temperature up and down the mountain ranging from 95º to over 100ºF. Meanwhile, the Joybells kids that accompanied us laughed at us as we took several water breaks and nearly sweat through our clothes. 

In our time here I have been fascinated with the Joybells students’ energy, athleticism, and overall positivity in a range of events in all weather conditions: monsoons to heat waves. I have always been intrigued by weather, so this trip’s exposure to “the elements” has certainly broadened my horizons in the experience of numerous weather scenarios. I have additionally gained an appreciation of the somewhat mild weather conditions of Maine and Gill, Massachusetts. It seems that the majority of us have adjusted to the climate here in India, although I imagine the transition back to the U.S. may be even more difficult given the near thirty-degree difference in average temperature. 

India Service Trip 2017:  A trip to the Tibetan Buddhist Temple

A trip to the Tibetan Buddhist Temple              Reflection: Saturday by Sophia Glazer 

Yesterday was Saturday at Joybells! It was a really incredible day of exploring - all of the NMH teachers and the kids went out of Joybells and into Dehradun. The bus ride was really fun with all the kids - we saw more of the daily life of the inhabitants of Dehradun. I still can’t get over how cows roam the streets, the traffic and way of life are just so different from America. It was hard to see because some cows are really malnourished and their ribs bones can be seen, the farmers don’t give the cows food, they let them graze the grasses. India is extreme: loud and hot and sticky and so much inequality and poverty. After the bus ride, we visited a beautifully intricate Tibetan Buddhist temple as well as a Hindu temple. I have to say I fell in love a little bit with the Buddhist temple and Buddhist ideologies. It was great having the kids with us, we all got assigned a student to be responsible for!! 


                After visiting the temples, we headed up the mountain to the Tibetan crafts village to see women making incredible rugs. However, we got a little lost! We went through the winding mountain road for too long and came across a Tibetan Refugee Village. It was a good experience; the kids really enjoyed walking through the town and seeing all the people that lived there! Once we realized we were in the wrong place, we got back on the bus and headed down the beautiful mountain road to the correct Tibetan village. The women who worked making rugs, worked for 10 plus hours a day, seven days a week and only received twenty dollars a month. It was so unfair and really upsetting. The rugs were so intricate and it takes one month for two women to make a complete rug. It was a great day and I am always so impressed by the kids! 
India Service Trip 2017: More news from Joybells

   Settling into the daily routines of life at Joybells, the NMH students appreciate the opportunity to work with the children in the classroom and play with them when school is over. We hope you will enjoy reading the brief reflections below.  The first is written by Laura Franceschi, a member of the English teaching team. This team (Laura, Sophia, Audrey, and Leela) teaches each grade ( 2nd, 4th, 7th and 9th) for one period a day. In the 2nd grade and 4th grade English classes, the students have been developing their reading and writing skills by reading lots of short stories, books, and plays. They have also been writing and illustrating their own stories.  The 7th-grade students have analyzed and memorized Paul Revere's Ride which they will recite for the other students at our closing assembly. The 9th-grade students are reading and analyzing Lord of the Flies while they work on vocabulary building, writing, and grammar. 

      Here is what Laura has to say. 

Teaching English at Joybells    Reflection by  Laura Franceschi   

English has long been my favorite subject in school so I was very excited to teach it to kids. I wasn’t sure initially how they would respond to the classes we planned because all the kids I know from home have little interest in sitting at a table listening to someone talk at them and write on a board for an hour. I was filled with surprise the first day when I started to write a grammar lesson on the board, and the kids were rapt with attention, staring up at me. They were furiously scribbling down notes as I talked and seemed genuinely interested in the use of semicolons, which isn’t something you see every day. After I taught the lesson, I did some example sentences on the board for the kids to practice with. They all did the sentences correctly and seemed to fully understand the lesson. That day was when I realized why people become teachers. To see kids absorbing the information you are teaching, makes you realize that are actually making a small difference in their lives. It’s really special. 

         When the academic day is complete, the Joybells children and the NMH students get a few hours of rest before the afternoon activities. One on one tutoring and homework help for the older children begins at  3 o'clock while the younger children have arts and crafts, music and dance. Following this, we all meet for one of our favorite times of the day, chai time. Leela Kurzmann, who also runs a daily poetry workshop for the younger children, writes below about this special Joybells ritual.   

 Chai time at Joybells      Reflection by Leela Kurzmann

         Every afternoon around 4:30 at Joybells, the children, and the NMH students gather at the school for chai time, a time to eat biscuits and drink sweet, tasty tea. We sit on the cool steps of the gray concrete, waiting for everyone to arrive. This is a time when we switch gears from academic classes in the day to sports and playtime in the late afternoon. It is so nice to just reflect, relax and have fun.  During chai time, the Joybells girls like to weave elaborate braids in the hair of the NMH girls, sometimes with fresh flowers placed in the braids. We all fool around, singing and dancing. Although this relaxing break is short and sweet, it is one of my favorite times during the day. 



Ghana: Dance, Drumming and Culture (Departure Day)

Departure day has come. 

We spent this morning visiting Independence Square and the Artist Alliance Center, then came back to the hotel to pack for our trip back to the U.S.

Our group at Independence Square

As we are about to leave for the airport to catch our flight back to the U.S., we asked students for some final reflections. 

Annika Voorheis ’20: “I miss it already and we haven’t even left!”

Ellie Flynn ’20:  “ The people at Dagbe made the trip!”

Megan Hrinda ’19: “I will cherish these memories forever.”

Ella Bathory-Peeler ’19: “This trip taught me so much about Ghanaian culture and art. Our teachers at Dagbe helped me grow both rhythmically and technically. I can’t wait to go home and use my new knowledge in my art.”

Natalie Foster ’20: “ It’s an experience I will never forget.”

Anna Martin ’18: “There was never a dull moment with this group and I’m so happy I could share this experience with them.”

Laura Bertrand ’18: “This was an experience I will remember forever. I will definitely come back to Ghana in the near future!”
Ghana: Dance, Drumming and Culture (Day 7, 8, 9 & 10)

This post documents our much-awaited performance (video link included), saying good-bye to our Dagbe family, visiting the historic UNESCO World Heritage site, Cape Coast Castle and Kakum National Park.

Day 7

The day of our performance finally came.  After a brief dress rehearsal in the morning, we dressed into our costumes and performed three pieces (two dances and a percussion piece).

Dancing Tokoe, accompanied by Dagbe staff and Kopeyia School students

Natalie Foster ’20 recapped the order of events leading up to our performance and
her feelings regarding the experience:

“The performance at Dagbe was really fun.  I always get excited about them. Performances are one of my favorite things about dancing.  I messed up a few times, but I remembered to smile and I had fun, which is the most important part.  The “girls” in the performance wore blue and white wrap skirts and a lot of jewelry.  The “boys” (I was one) wore kind of sumo wrestler wraps.  We watched as people came and sat in the chairs Emmanuel had set out. I got some nervous butterflies.   We all wore Dagbe shirts on top.  We first danced Tokoe, then drummed Gahu, then finally danced Gahu.  After we finished, Dagbe staff went and they were incredible.  The local school dance company also danced and they were great.  All in all, I felt pretty great about our performance.”

Playing Gahu
Ella Bathory-Peeler ’20 similarly reflected on what she learned from the experience:

“Thinking back on our performance, we made some mistakes but it didn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would.  I realized that it wasn’t as much about the performance and the final product, but our experience and growth.  Seeing our teachers perform [as well] was truly amazing and made me appreciate how lucky we are to have been able to study with them.”

On this day we said our farewells to our teachers and new friends at Dagbe and then began our seven-hour journey from the Volta Region westward to Cape Coast in the Central Region.

A picture of our NMH group and Dagbe staff

While this was a long travel day, we were delighted when we finally arrived to the breath-taking views of the Atlantic Ocean at the Anomabo Beach Hotel.

Relaxing outside of our beachfront cottages

Patio view of the Atlantic

Day 9

Today we visited Cape Coast Castle, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, due to its prominent role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama visited this same site in 2009.  

Laura Bertrand ’18 shares her observations:

“Today we went to Cape Coast Castle, a.k.a. one of the biggest slave trading sites to the U.S.  Seeing the slave dungeons were really hard to see and think about how 200 people squeezed into such a small space in the dark, having no idea where their family is, or if they will stay alive.  In one dungeon there was a black woman sitting in the corner with her head in her arms.  Apparently she was a researcher trying to experience what it was like being held in the castle.  As we were walking out, I heard her humming “There is a Balm in Gilead,” which is an African American spiritual we learned in NMH Singers this year.”

Megan Hrinda ’19 also reflected:

“It was hard to go around and see the little room the slaves had.  The guide also would turn off the lights to give us a more accurate representation of being in the dungeon.  A thousand men were kept in such a tiny space in their waste, while white men were lounging upstairs.  It makes me sick…The tour was amazing, seeing all the different holding locations and cells.”

We wrapped up the evening discussing what we experienced at the castle, its historical significance, its relevance to today’s enduring racial tensions and injustices in the U.S., and modern day versions of slavery still occurring worldwide today.  There was a particular concern for what we can do to help address the long-standing problems whose roots can be traced back to the earliest days of colonialism and the slave trade.

Day 10

Today we visited Kakum National Park. We hiked through a rainforest with our park guide, Sampson, who taught us about the history of the area and about medicinal properties of the trees and plants we saw.  At the top of our hike we went on a canopy walk suspended 30 meters above the ground.
Our group on the Kakum Canopy Walk.