Question: what was the first time in india like??
Leoni nelkenstock: the first five months i was in chetput in the state of tamil in sudinia. This is a village with about 14,000 people living in its surroundings. The population is very poor, the people live together in very simple huts, sometimes only in shabby houses in a small space. I lived there in a community of missionary helpers, which currently consists of 13 sisters, four of whom are novices. My place of work was the st. Thomas hospital& leprosy center in chetput. Most of the nurses work in the hospital. Only one sister and one novice are involved in the sponsorship program for schoolchildren from poor families and the "holy family home" for former leprosy patients, responsible, in which I also participated.
What was the work like there?
In the mornings i studied english with the children of the sponsorship program from 7 to 8 a.M. I was assigned to the students between first and eighth grade. I had to make them spell english words or dictate them, which is not very effective in my opinion. Even if the children can spell and write the words without mistakes, they usually do not know their meaning and are not able to form or understand even simple sentences. But learning here in india is a little different from learning here in india. At least in the free governmentschools, children are expected only to memorize, not to apply what they have learned to novel situations. At 8 o'clock i went to the holy-family-home, where i mostly worked alone. Here i brought the residents breakfast from the hospital kitchen and drinking water from a well on the hospital grounds. Then i fed a blind resident who has only one eye left. I then made the beds and took residents to the hospital when necessary. If there was still time before the break at ten o'clock, I knitted headdresses and scarves for them. For the rest of the day my tasks were very different. I accompanied the nurses on the things that needed to be done, for example home visits.
How do the residents of the home live?
Because of their illness, the residents have a life marked by contempt, exploitation, disrespect and other heavy blows of fate. Lepers are still considered unclean here, as in the bible, and are expelled. You can clearly see that they have received very little attention in their lives. Their behavior often shows that they simply need more love, care and attention. I got to describe their behavior as really animalistic and very strange.
And where in india are you now?
Since the 1. February i live in jawadhi hills in a community of missionary workers that currently consists of three sisters. They run a home and a school for mentally handicapped children and adolescents. And they take care of disabled people in the local area by visiting them regularly and helping them to live a semi-dignified life.
How can one imagine the education of these children??
The goal is for them to live as independently as possible, because they can't stay there forever. If the children are not eventually returned to their families, their future here in india will be very bleak. So often I have seen that handicapped children who do not bring anything to their families are simply not wanted. Because the children cannot concentrate for long, there is only one lesson a day, and even in this short time it is difficult to get the children to participate.
What are your tasks?
I have to say that this one hour of teaching made me sweat at the beginning. I was assigned two of the older boys. For example, I asked one of them every day what country, state, district and village we live in and the name of the prime minister. Every day he had forgotten again. With the other boy, I rarely managed to get him to do anything at all with a lot of effort. All the time he was distracted with something else. And at the same time I had to keep an eye on the other children to make sure that they did not help themselves to the teaching materials and carry them away, eat them or break them. But as time went by, the boys made small progress, which was so motivating for me. After about three to four weeks they had actually completed all their tasks successfully and I was assigned new teachers, also two older boys. But with them it is much easier. I write their names in tamil characters and then have them write them down. The rest of the day is spent playing with the children, singing, dancing, sorting rice or helping when the teacher does yoga with them.
What has moved you most in india so far??
At first it was exciting to come to this foreign culture and settle in – with the thought of spending the whole next year here. And also the people are just so different here. They have a completely different mentality, different interests, worries and thoughts and simply cannot understand you at all. I have encountered so many surprising and exciting things, but also so many horrible and disgusting things. Despite preparation for this year, I could not imagine anything.
Are you homesick?
Of course, I missed a lot in the beginning: my family, my friends, my acquaintances, and simply life in germany, with my hobbies and the many possibilities for leisure activities – something that simply doesn't exist here. Moreover, I have often wished not to be the only german volunteer in my project.
What are your plans until your departure from india??
In the middle of august i will come home again. Until then i have a lot of things planned, because until now i haven't really seen much of india, except for day trips in the surrounding area on my sundays off. At the end of april another volunteer will visit me here, afterwards i will go with her. She lives about ten hours away from me by train, near the big city coimbatore. An area where tea is the predominant crop – I've never seen that here before. Then I was invited to visit another voluntary. She lives in the state of maharashtra near bombay. We are very much looking forward to german company and to get to know a bit more of india and its culture. India is so rough and so different. I may also be visited by a school friend here. And I will spend my last weeks with my parents. I will show you the projects I have been working on and will probably travel with you to the neighboring state of kerala afterwards.