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Return to India

It was planned all year, and now I can’t believe it’s over.

I just returned from my 8th trip to visit my family in India. I have been planning this trip since January of this year. Now that I’m back home, it’s hard to believe the time — so long anticipated — has come and gone. That it’s over.

Already I miss the kids so much, all those whom I love and who have made their home my home, their family my family, over the past 10 years.

10477113_10152785424353654_3490020836624865823_oThe first night I was ever in India, nearly 10 years ago, was spent in this room. The prayer room in the ashram in Choudwar, Odisha, moments after arriving. It turned my world, my idea of existence and who I am in this life, upside down. This is what I wrote in my book about my first night in prayer time with the kids:

 “It was a simple prayer, reminding me that life need not be complicated unless we made it so. A soothing peace palpable in the air filled me. I breathed out deeply. There seemed no other world outside this place.

I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go home, or if they ever had. Home is a fragile concept — far more delicate than those of us who have always had one can imagine. When a person no longer has a home, when his family is taken from him and he is deprived of everything that was familiar, then after a while wherever he is becomes home.

Slowly, the pieces of memory fade, until this strange new place is not strange anymore; it becomes harder to recall the past life, a long ago family, until one day he realizes he is home.”

Sitting with my eyes closed, chanting, “Ohm, ohm…shanti, shanti, shanti” and listening to a hundred sweet voices sing around me — I feel my true self the most. There is nothing better on earth for setting the soul right. Even after all the many nights I’ve spent here over the years since, this is my all-time happy place. I know that I am home, too.

Below is a video of prayer on our very last night. Bittersweet…leaving is always so hard.

Even though I’m sad the trip is over and I’m having my typical India withdrawal, the visit was amazing. As always, being home and being with the children (as well as my Papa and Mama!) is such a homecoming, such a treat that seems to make everything right with the world. It was also an incredible visit because of the group we had. Joining me as she has on nearly every trip was my dear friend Jody, also a long-time supporter of the orphanage over the years. I was honored to be able to take both my mother and my daughter back for their second trips — my mom Sandy went last time, in 2012; and my daughter Chandler returned for the first time since 2006, when she was only 15 years old!

Also returning with us were my boyfriend, Keith; Kathleen, who was with me on that very first trip and was making her first visit back to this ashram; Nancy, who also was on the 2012 journey; and her daughter Lindsay, on her first trip to India. And we were joined by a new friend and volunteer, Sumeet, who lives nearby in Bhubaneswar and was a wonderful addition. This group of people truly made the trip magical, for all of us and for the kids.

One of the best things about this trip, as well, was the incredible support we had from friends. Caroline Boudreaux, founder of The Miracle Foundation and the person who first introduced me to India and these children, led the charge with a generous personal donation and challenging others to do the same. We had 35 donors all told, including ourselves, and raised right at $6,000 to donate to buy much-needed supplies for the home! We were able to do some electrical upgrading, purchase school supplies and bedding, give some additional cash for items needed for the children, and put half of the money into a fund for education and future needs. THANK YOU to everyone who donated and supported this cause — you awe me, every one of you.

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Bringing in the new school supplies!

The days were filled with laughter and love: dancing, singing, ice cream parties, games, beautification in the girls’ dorm rooms, drawing competitions, eating, and lots and lots of hugs.

I will post some more blog updates about specific things in the coming weeks. Until then, thank you all again for sharing our love for these kids, and making their lives so much better. You don’t even know what it means for them to feel special, loved and never forgotten. I will close with a short video of their welcome song. Namaste.

Volunteer Travel Podcast

The Voluntary Traveler and Nola Kelsey, author of 700 Places to Volunteer Before You Die, is producing a series of podcasts on volunteer travel. The current podcast features me, and my work in India with The Miracle Foundation. Listen here, or download the podcast here.

From the Voluntary Traveler website:

Episode 6 is part 2 two of our look at the work and volunteer programs of the Austin, Texas Based Miracle Foundation. The Miracle Foundation is an organization dedicated to empowering orphaned children of India to reach their full potential, one child at a time.

Part one of this feature (The Voluntary traveler Episode #3) gave listener an in-depth look at their work and the specifics of their volunteer opportunities.

This show features an interview with author Shelley Seale. Shelley is a renowned journalist, Miracle Foundations Ambassador and 5-time volunteer. Shelley is the author of the beautifully written book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India and is also a contributing author to the anthology that inspired this podcast series The Voluntary Traveler: Adventures from the Road Best Traveled.

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Medical Volunteering in India

I often write about volunteering while traveling – often known as “voluntourism.” I am a huge volunteer and advocate of such trips myself, having made many of them and finding that the way it enriches the travel experience, as you become really immersed in the culture and everyday lives of real people there, allows you to bring back home with you much more than you gave.

I have traveled and volunteered in India numerous times with The Miracle Foundation, out of Austin. My book was inspired by my experiences with the children in the orphanages where I volunteer.

This October, I will be returning to India – including, of course, a week-long stint to volunteer with The Miracle Foundation. This trip is a Medical Volunteer trip; while I am not any sort of medical professional, The Miracle Foundation has put out a call for family practitioners, pediatricians, dentists and dental hygeniests to come on this trip. They really have a great need for medical professionals on this trip, so if you are one – this could be an experience that could truly change your life, like it did mine.

And if you really want to know what volunteering with the Miracle Foundation is like, listen to this podcast done by my publisher, Nola Lee Kelsey, for her Volunteer Before You Die network.

Here are all the details:

The Miracle Foundation invites you to experience India in a whole new way! Join us for The Miracle Foundation’s annual medical trip. You’ll have the opportunity to give back by sharing your expertise and talents, while also experiencing India in a whole new way.

Who: Pediatricians, Family Practitioners, Dentists, and Dental Hygienists
What: Medical exams (general check-ups) and dental exams (including tooth extractions, cleanings, and sealings as required) for each of the 500+ children in our care, as well as any of the 100+ staff members who may want to participate.
When: October 23–November 1, 2010
Where: Three orphanages located in the eastern states of Jharkhand and Orissa. Because this is one of the most impoverished regions of India, the medical and technological progress seen in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore is not apparent in this area, and high-quality medical attention is desperately needed. However, lodging accommodations are comfortable.
How: Fly into Delhi, where you will be met by our travel coordinator Barbara Joubert. She will then take care of all travel details. The group will then fly to Ranchi and travel by car and/or train to each of our three locations. Very comfortable and clean accommodations are provided with delicious, home-cooked vegetarian Indian cuisine. If it would be more convenient for you to travel via Mumbai, you have the option of making your way to Ranchi, where you will also be met at the airport by our travel coordinator.

Info: For further information, contact our Travel? Coordinator, Barbara Joubert, via phone at 512.329.8625 or email at Barbara@MiracleFoundation.org. Additionally, if you are interested in getting insights from a doctor and/or dentist who has already been on one of our medical trips, Barbara Joubert can provide you with their direct contact information.

The Miracle Foundation — founded in 2000 — is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on empowering orphans, one child at a time. Based in Austin, Texas, this secular organization currently cares for 500+ children in four homes located in eastern India, offering them a depth of care that is unprecedented in most children’s homes. In addition to providing their children with nutritious food, high-quality healthcare, and a college-prep education (including English proficiency and computer literacy), The Miracle Foundation has also established a family-style living model in each of their homes. With a ratio of one Housemother to every ten children, this model allows for a long-term relationship with a trained and loving Housemother, thereby providing each child with the foundation for attachment, an essential requirement for healthy human development and something most orphans are denied. By going beyond simply providing the basic rights, The Miracle Foundation is giving their children the tools they will need to break the cycle of poverty, while also fundamentally changing the standard of care for orphanages everywhere. The funding for this work is primarily achieved through sponsorships and individual donations.

For more information about The Miracle Foundation: www.miraclefoundation.org

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Leaving More than you Take

Have you ever heard about volunteer travel experiences such as mine or others, and wondered what it’s all about? What it’s really like? What a day or a week is like and how you can get involved?

Women Travel The World, a great website dedicated to adventurous women travelers, features a story today by me, recounting my experiences with voluntourism at orphanages in India. If you really want a “day in the life” diary account, I invite you to check it out. Here’s an excerpt:

The village is remote, and it took forty-eight hours of exhausting travel to arrive at the ashram where the children live. By the time we arrived, all ten volunteers in the group were suffering from sleep deprivation and culture shock; the overwhelming throngs of people, the smells and sounds that awakened all the senses at once. The streets filled with bicycles, rickshaws, cars and cows with the constant, blaring beep-beep of the horns that rose above it all. Mostly, the frantic poverty that does not let you rest.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I felt when we turned through those gates. Dozens of children were lined around the drive in a semi-circle, waving and chanting “welcome” over and over. I climbed out and they swarmed all over me, reaching for my hands and touching my feet in blessing. In many ways they were just like other children I’ve known with homes and families of their own – except for their neediness, their raw hunger for affection, love, belonging. I was overwhelmed, lost in the sea of small bodies; smiling, barefoot children who asked nothing from me more than simply being there.”

friendshipRead the Full Article Here!

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