Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Link to photos and THANK YOU

All of my photos from the trip are available online.

A big thank-you is due to Girl Scouts of the USA and Blackhawk Council of Girl Scouts in Madison, WI. To GSUSA for selecting me to represent the US at this conference and for paying my travel costs, and to Blackhawk Council for chipping in for some of my program fee.

The experience was truly once-in-a-lifetime. I look forward to maintaining friendships with the women I met at Sangam, to continuing my involvement with Girl Scouts here at home, and to moving forward with my advocacy plan.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Last day in India

Mark and I are looking forward to being home, but will be sorry to leave India. Our visit to the Taj Mahal and (especially) the Agra Fort were fantastic, and we got some shopping in as well. Now for the long trip back . . .

Thanks for following our trip!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Taj at night

I think I'll skip the details of the 24-hour train ride from Pune to Agra. Suffice to say that the train was not what you would call sanitary. Although we've been on solid ground for several hours, I still feel like I'm moving.

The discomfort of the train was washed away with a nice warm shower at a very nice hotel in Agra and dinner at a rooftop restaurant with a view of the Taj Mahal ($6 total bill). The evening was made more special by thousands of Diwali fireworks going off around us as we ate.

Tomorrow we're heading out to the Taj Mahal at 5:45am, to try and avoid some of the crowds that will be associated with the holiday.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Diwali - the major Hindu holiday - is tomorrow. This has meant a lot of activity in the city as people prepare. They are buying new clothes (colorful saris), flowers, lamps, and special food. Houses are also cleaned out, and water is swept out of homes onto the streets in a symbolic cleaning. This holiday means fireworks are being exploded at all hours around Sangam, which adds to the general din of truck horns, cawing birds, Muslim calls to prayer, and the buzz that comes from tens of thousands of people living in a small area.

Happy Diwali!

The day of contrasts

One of the most memorable and moving things we've done so far was a visit to Kayakalp, an organization designed to help improve conditions for women working in the red-light district of Pune. I won't go into too much detail, but I visited the interior rooms of places that I never thought I would see, and met several HIV-positive "peer advocates" who work in this district and for Kayakalp. (A related article.)

One of the most touching aspects of the trip was our visit to the "creche," where children ages 1 month to 6 years spend time with caretakers and teachers away from the activity of their mothers. I entered the room with the children first, and was greeted by a sea of faces - all smiling, each child wearing an identical uniform. All of the children who looked to be one and older greeted me in unison with the Indian greeting and hand motion, saying "Namaste." It was overwhelming! They all sat with such rapt attention and good behavior as we sang some silly Girl Scout sounds and the quickly caught onto the words and the hand motions. We all aggreed that we hope the program succeeds, so that these children might have the opportunity to have a life outside of this horrible neighborhood.

End of the seminar

For those of you who have been following this site at all, you will have noticed that Mark has had much more free time than I have, and thus his "comments" on by blog entries have been longer than mine.

The seminar comes to a close today with the participants finishing our advocacy plans. I have really enjoyed this part of the event, particularly learning about the programs my fellow participants are planning. Several are focusing on very serious issues in their home countries, including human traffiking, HIV/AIDS and adolescent pregnancy. The topic I have proposed is "Blackhawk Girls Make Healthy Food Choices," which aligns with GSUSA's "Healthy Living" advocacy work, addresses the serious childhood obesity problem in the US. My plan will focus on changing council policy to require all troop leaders to participate in nutrition training. I believe that it is critical that adults model positive eating habits for children, and since adults are most often the suppliers of childrens' food, they must be the first people to make the healthy food choice.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Two eye-opening days

Days 1 and 2 

Yesterday I arrived at the Mumbai airport around 1:30 am, and was met by two gentleman who drove me 3 hours to Sangam. Traffic was relatively light, and consisted mostly of smallish semi trucks painted orange with the words "Honk OK Please" on the rear bumper. (I learned later that motorists don't often use their mirrors, making honking before passing manditory.)

Sangam was guiet when I arrived, and I didn't have time for a nap before our very busy first day began. I met staff and fellow participants from more than 25 different countries - far and a way the most diverse group of people I've ever been a part of. (It makes our talk of the lack of diversity in Wisconsin seem all the more important).

Many of the Sangam staff live on-site, and pass their jobs (cooking, cleaning, maintenance, administration) onto their families when they leave. The WAGGS staff are extremely dedicated to "Guiding" (what most countries call Girl Scouting), and several staff members are here as volunteers.

Our schedule revolves around activities to help us reflect on leadership and advocacy. I hope to develop an advocacy plan for Wisconsin during my time here.

Today we visited a shopping area and saw a fruit and vegetable market, "bangle alley" for bracelets, and many of us purchased material for a sari, which will be handmade for us by tailors. The grand total for my beautiful garmet will be less than $50.

Sangam is an oasis in a sea of people, dust, water buffaloes, rickshaws (talk about a wild ride!), and poverty. Most of the people we saw today seemed to be going about their business happily enough, although there is also a lot of suffering in this area. It is a luxury to come back to Sangam for calm, clean water and food, and the company of many very intelligent women from around the world.

Internet Issues!

The internet has finally begun working after two days, and suddenly it's time for dinner. My apologies to those of you who actually were planning to follow this blog!

I'll endeavor to get to the computer soon to provide updates. This is an amazing place!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Preparing to travel

I was just thrilled when I learned that I was chosen to represent Girl Scouts of the United States of America at a seminar at Sangam in Pune, India. I happened to see the opportunity in a council e-newsletter, and nominated myself.

I visited Our Chalet (another World Association of Girl Guides and Scouts center) in Adelboden, Switzerland about fifteen years ago, so I'm very excited to be taking a trip to another world center. I hope someday to also visit Pax Lodge in England and Our Cabana in Mexico.

There was lots to do before the trip. I researched Sangam and Pune, sent away for a travel visa, made appointments for immunizations, communicated with the event planners, purchased lots of small but important items for traveling, researched train travel, bought train tickets online, and reserved a hotel room (and more). There are always a lot of things to consider before taking an international trip, and it is important to factor the cost of these into a trip budget.