Inspiration for Canadians Sharing Locally and Globally
We took inspiration for our charitable work and the establishment of Canadians Sharing Locally and Globally from the progressive social development we saw when we first visited south India in the winter of 2000. It all started with an unexpected invitation from friends in Canada in the fall of 1999 to visit an impoverished rural area in South India. They wanted to show us some important humanitarian initiatives that were being undertaken by a small local organization as it was creating great changes in nutrition, skills development, job creation, and agriculture in the very poor rural countryside.
As South India appeared to be “on the way” to Australia, where we were going for our wedding, we accepted their invitation. After thirty hours of travel from Ottawa, we arrived at the airport in Chennai a little after midnight. It took us another four hours to make our way from the airport, through small, sleeping villages in the early morning light. We arrived in Thirumalaikodi, a small rural village near Vellore in Tamil Nadu state, where we were warmly greeted by our hosts.
Once there, we settled into one of four rooms in a new but unfinished building. We were quite surprised by the lack of many common amenities such as toilets, telephones, or Internet access. We met a handful of other international travelers who were also visiting Thirumalaikodi with an interest in supporting humanitarian assistance in the area. Once we were accustomed to our jet lag, we excitedly toured the immediate village and countryside.
From what we saw, we felt the basic needs of the rural population were very great and were not being met well. The needs were always related to living in the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity to break the cycle. Much of the land was very arid and many people were getting by with barely enough food for their daily needs. The nearest hospital was the famed Christian Medical College in Vellore, but getting there was difficult for most of the villagers who needed medical assistance. People did not have the necessary funds to pay the transit fare, or the medical fees. There was also a suspicious of a modern hospital with practices and procedures many people could not understand. In the village the lack of basic amenities such as clean water, medicine and sanitation created serious health risks for the poor. As we began to understand the extent of the difficulties local people faced, we realized the tremendous importance the humanitarian initiatives held for the future of Thirumalaikodi and the surrounding areas. With this gradual realization, we go involved in all of the programs we could find.
One of the programs we saw provided full-course, traditional South Indian meals that were served hot to approximately 200 poor people every day. For many of the recipients, their circumstances were such that it was their only substantial meal that day. We assisted with the serving of the food, which was much like volunteering at a North American soup kitchen, except that the food was served on banana leaves and eaten by hand. We decided to support the nutritional program by helping to serve the hot meals whenever we could.
Other programs at the nearby orphanages provided for children who were there, sometimes simply because their parents were unable to take care of their daily needs and provide basic necessities. We excitedly decided to support this program as well. We provided the children with gifts, entertainment and brought lunch whenever we could.
One of our favorite programs is the nursery school that was being housed in a home in the center of the village. At the time of our first visit, the Thirumalaikodi Nursery School provided early education for about thirty five preschoolers while their parents worked nearby. These children were all first generation learners in that they were the first in their family’s history to receive a formal education. We felt that early education would surely break the cycle of poverty for these children by helping to prepare them for a better future.
Another humanitarian program offered vocational training to men and women so that they could learn new work skills, such as carpentry, landscaping, sewing, office administration (including computer training) and teaching. The skills acquired from these training programs allow participants to supplement their family income and improve their otherwise pure subsistence living off the land.
Despite the feeling that we were roughing it, we enjoyed our adventure in this small community with its different sights, sounds and cultural experiences. Most of the people we met spoke Tamil or Telugu, but linguistic challenges aside, we felt very welcome and a little like celebrities. Less than a week after arriving, we celebrated our wedding in the local tradition right there in Thirumalaikodi. To our astonishment and delight, people from the village guided us through the entire traditional ceremony and acted as loving stand-ins as parents and siblings for our families who were in Canada.
For our Honeymoon, we spent time hiking in the arid hills nearby where we learnt about plans for much needed reforestation. The ancient native forests were cut down to provide firewood for cooking. As a result, the main crop on the hills was grass which provided feed for the various livestock. The loss of trees on these hills caused severe erosion of the soil and led to hotter temperatures.
We also visited a few notable tourist sites and continued to meet many kind and helpful people who offered us their warm hospitality. Three weeks later, we boarded the plane for the return journey home. Once we got home, we found ourselves reflecting on our travels in India. We recounted our experiences with other Canadians who had also taken an interest in the area. We laughed about the culture shock we experienced, noting how our friends and family responded to the stories we relayed. We also realized the incredible opportunity that this work presented to us, the opportunity to serve others in need. New friends, new stories, new ideas, new hope for a small Indian community – and the next thing we knew, we were planning another trip to India!
On our second visit in 2001, we were astonished at the extent of the changes that had taken place.
• Free meals were being provided to larger numbers of people in need.
• The reforestation program was underway with the result that the formerly barren hills we had hiked over, many acres were now covered with small native trees and bushes.
• Small shops and buildings were sprouting up in the neighborhoods.
• A two-room clinic which provided medical help to women was inaugurated allowing local women help to deliver their babies. At the time of our first visit, most births occurred in the home. No wonder the infant mortality rate was high then!
• We also noticed that more children were enrolled in the nursery school and a small grade-school was established for young children, most of whom were first-generation learners.
• A program was created to provide financial support to children going to the school and more funds were being raised to expand the facilities.
• There were programs offering safe vocational training for women with no skills or family support, financial support for young couples to get married, and programs to help raise the income of families living below the poverty line.
These improvements meant to us that more and more people were receiving improved nutrition, better medical services, and better education that offer better opportunities for employment and self-reliance. These opportunities created positive changes for men, women, and children, as well as their extended families and communities. There are also many people who are now able to speak English.
We were so impressed with the extent of the changes that had taken place in such a relatively short period of time that it motivated us to become actively involved. We wanted to help build on the successes of these programs which were so critical in helping to improve the lives of the people in these communities. The whole experience was like a new awakening for us; we called it a “Vision” as we made the decision to become actively involved and contribute to the 100-year humanitarian development plan we could see that was underway. Sharing our experiences in India with people in North America nurtured our desire to return to the communities we visited in India, and we have continued to remain involved and engaged in the sharing experience ever since.
We have returned almost every year since 2001, and in each visit, we are amazed at the extent of the changes taking place. We saw and participated in the expansion of programs; the construction of new buildings; establishment of new businesses and yes… helping more people to speak English and to understand more Tamil.
Our experiences in India inspired us to support the charitable programs we saw through the establishment of Canadians Sharing Locally and Globally, a registered Canadian charity. In choosing the name, we wanted to correct the misconception that we were going to India to “help” others because the experience is actually much more than that. What makes our trips to India so special is the sharing that takes place in both directions. That is, while we assist in providing better opportunities for the current and future generations in these communities, our awareness and hearts have been opened as we see the significant impact our work has made. Being able to share these experiences in Canada and engage others in sharing their time, talent and ideas has built on the momentum to assist with social development in South India. The reality is that through Canadians Sharing we are now better positioned to work personally towards bringing communities together to do even greater things. We believe that we can volunteer as a group and work together to help others in need … and have fun while we’re at it!
As an entirely volunteer-driven organization, Canadians Sharing offers North Americans and people around the world the opportunity to get involved in these successful humanitarian programs. As a registered charity, we are able to issue charitable tax receipts to Canadian donors. Every dollar donated from anywhere results in more food, cooking items, medicines, medical equipment, clothing, materials and equipment for vocational training and education, trees and shrubs for the reforestation program, and scholarships to assist the poor in the villages around Thirumalaikodi, Tamil Nadu, in south India.
As we continue to expand our network and meet people from India, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, USA, France, and beyond, we recognized that they too are all sharing their time, talents and skills to help improve the lives of others. People from all over the world have been drawn to share in this way— our name highlights this concept of sharing.
We have expanded on our nine Indian humanitarian and one international disaster relief programs with the donations received to date. What we find really remarkable as we became engaged in these programs, is the outpouring of love, gratitude and hope that is being generated from both donors and recipients. It is through love and hope that we continue to build the organization by inviting volunteers from all over the world to share. Through this process of sharing, we are helping to build better lives for us all, but especially to provide better opportunities for those less fortunate.
Without the help of organizations like ours,
relief from the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity might not come in time. All of the volunteers at Canadians Sharing extend our heartfelt invitation to you to come share with us, so that together, we can reach out and offer more help and hope to those in need.