Volunteering at Belaku

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My Introduction to an Amazing Land

I have been in Bangalore for three weeks now, and life here is gradually becoming easier.

My living arrangements are grand.  I have a room with private bath and balcony in the condo of a retired Indian couple, Shanti and Anil, who are warm and charming and treat me as one of the family. The condo is just over a mile from my office so I am able to walk to and from work, which is great except for the traffic, noise, pollution and broken or non-existent sidewalks.  These walks are made even more aerobic by my heavy breathing caused by panic at the sight of oncoming traffic – and if you think texting while driving is bad you should see texting while motorcycling.

The organization for which I am working is Belaku Trust, belaku meaning light in the sense of enlightenment.  The trust helps women and children in ten villages about an hour outside of Bangalore.  Assistance is given with medical care, education, nutrition and issues of social justice and women’s empowerment.The trust has developed income producing projects in three of the villages; one village does block printing, one paper making and one embroidery. The products I have seen are of very good quality and design.  Here is a link to see pictures of their work.  http://picasaweb.google.co.in/KanakapuraIGP Clicking on any of them will bring up pictures of all designs in that category.  Their products are sold locally at craft fairs, house parties and in a few shops.

I am currently engaged in several different tasks, the one which interests me the most being market research to expand the sale of their crafts.  I also am working on a number of other things, such as finding and pricing a sewing machine and backup generator, organizing photos (a task for which I am particularly ill-suited), looking into the feasibility of raising chickens in the villages, trying to organize some environmental education for the children, occasional small editing jobs and last week, a day escorting visiting patrons on a tour of the villages.  Life is anything but boring here.

Office routine is interesting, too.  Work starts at ten and coffee is brought around for everyone in late morning.  Sweet tea with milk arrives on our desks around four.  Lunch is quite a feast.  Everyone brings something from home (or we can order out, if necessary), we all sit around a table where the dishes are set out and everyone has a bit of everything.  It brings a nice communal feeling to the office, a chance to chat a bit with co-workers, as well as an opportunity to taste many things.  The number of people at lunch varies, since some office workers may be off in the villages and/or some of the village workers may be in the office for the day, but there are usually between eight and twelve at lunch.

My free time has been busy as well.  Last weekend I hired a car and driver and traveled with Elizabeth, a young American volunteer, to Halebid and Belur to see the temples there, which were amazing – particularly Halebid.  On weekday evenings I have tagged along with Saras several times to local things of interest and last week attended two performances of an international contemporary dance festival.  Both dances, although beautifully executed, were totally incomprehensible.  Shanti has promised to take me to a traditional Indian dance where, she says, they explain the story prior to the dance.  Today, Saturday, I went with Saras and Elizabeth to a museum exhibit of photographs on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, then to a millet fair designed to promote good nutrition, followed by a small craft fair.

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