Monthly Archives: April 2014

Finishing the Goat Bank

The most recent update from our LEAPYEAR2 group, who are in India right now working with an organization to set up a goat bank for children of the red light district. For more posts and many more pictures, check out their blog or Facebook Page.

image3A few days have past since I posted all about our adventures in getting the goats to the goat bank, and now its time to share with you all the beautiful conclusion to Passion Project’s direct involvement with Guria and the Goat Bank project.

I left off the story right after we finished milking the goats for the first time as we crashed into a deep and very long sleep. I’ll jump ahead now two days to our final evening in the village. We woke up early to help milk the goats and to take them outside of the bank to let them graze.

I can tell you with certainty that I am not cut out to be a goatherd. I played at it nicely, I even had a staff-like stick, but those clever goats knew that I was no authority to be reckoned with. I just wish that something exciting had happened while we were letting them graze because, “This one time when I was herding goats in India…” sounds like a great way to start a story. Although, depending on how you feel about epicurean adventures, one (exciting, to my way of thinking) thing did happen, we got to eat wild, fresh, raw chickpeas. Delicious, but a lot of work.

Once the goats were well grazed (if that’s not a thing that people say it is now) it was time to load up a few goats for distribution and head from Jakhanian to a very small village about an hour and a half away. Once again we had the pleasure of sharing the back of a truck with the goats, but six goats in the open air is a very different, and much more pleasant, story.

We arrived in the village and waited a while for the chosen women to gather from their respective villages, two from three different villages. When they arrived Ajeet made quick work of numbering the goats and having the women draw numbers to ensure that the distribution was a fair process. And then came the really fun part.

We each took turns presenting the six goats to the women. It was truly an amazing moment, standing under the hot sun, doing the one thing that all our hard work has been focused toward. The while presentation lasted maybe fifteen minutes.

It was not a stately affair, just a happy one. After taking one final group photo it was back to the truck for our journey back to Jakhanian and from there home to Varanasi.

Standing in the back of the truck watching the wheat fields go by provided a beautiful image of our time in India. When we first went out to the Goat Bank the fields of wheat we’re all green. Seeds had been planted and nurtured well before we arrive and were beginning to really show their fruit. Now, as we completed the project the fields were golden and in the process of being harvested. I can’t imagine a more fitting mirror for our time with Passion Project.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us and this project. Every donation, kind word, prayer, and thought has helped us make a real difference in one little corner of the world. It feels like a victory, except we can all share in the triumph. It is humbling to take part in bring a project like this to completion, because it helps me understand just how much I can do by saying, “I can’t do this, but together maybe we can.” Thank you.

This is won’t be the last you’ll hear from us. We still have thoughts and stories to share as we head back home to work on perk fulfillment and LEAPYEAR retreats, so stay tuned.

Appreciating Mothers

From a student in our TERRA group working in a birthing clinic in Peru.

photo 1Working with obstetricians in Peru is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I tried to focus on the process of birth the whole time rather than the logistical aspects that were really hard for me. Over the past few months, I have been present at 15 births. It is something that everyone knows is a part of life, but actually witnessing it is something that I will never forget. First of all, women are freaking amazing. Each and every one freaked out in the beginning stages of their labor and said “no puedo” (I can’t) uncountable times. Of course, each of them did. One second, there is a woman on a chair in agonizing pain, and the next something incredible happens and there is another human in the world. It is not as smooth as that may sound, but I promised no bloody details.

Every reaction and situation is different. Some women are 45 and having their 7th child, others are 15 and having their first. Some sob and clutch their child to their chest, others tell the doctors to take it away because they don’t want to see it. In hospitals and clinics in Peru, the women aren’t allowed to have their husbands, boyfriends, mothers, friends, or any other loved ones in the room during the process. There is always an anxious crowd outside of the building mostly made up of mothers and husbands and I guess I’ve felt guilty at times for being allowed to attend the births when the most important people in their lives aren’t. The part that made my heart absolutely sing is when the women wanted comfort and reached out to me to provide it. The photo of me holding the woman’s hand is one that I sneakily took so that I would never forget the feelings that I felt when I was even a small part of comforting someone doing one of the most beautiful things in the world.

Appreciate your mothers, people. No matter how you got here, whether it was through a birth canal or a c-section or even another woman’s body, I can guarantee you that it was the most special and challenging day of her life.

Bringing the Goats Home

The most recent update from our LEAPYEAR2 group, who are in India right now working with an organization to set up a goat bank for children of the red light district. For more posts and many more pictures, check out their blog or Facebook Page.

we-adore-the-babiesWell, I think this is the post that we have all been waiting for, the one where I can officially confirm that there is indeed a small herd of goats inhabiting our goat bank! It was quite a limit-testing adventure to get them there, but it feels so amazing to look at them grazing and think back on when Passion Project 2014 was just a dream. But before I get into the nitty-gritty details I have a few pictures for you that I’ve been promising for a while. I’ll have a few more of the other section of the indoor mural in a day or two, but for now, here’s a glimpse of the finished murals  (for pictures, visit the Passion Project Blog).

With that out of the way I am happy to get down to the business of sharing our adventure.

Our day started out much like any other day would, aside from the fact that we knew today was the day we were heading to the goat fair. The funny thing was, we had no idea where exactly we were going, just that we’d be going there by overnight train and arriving in the early morning.

The first surprise of the day came when we found out that we would be responsible for carrying the money for the goat purchasing, along with the Guria employee, Umashankar, who was going with us. Now, five thousand dollars is a lot of money, but when its converted into Indian Rupees it becomes 300,000 rupees. With that much money, the only safe place to carry it is on your body somewhere. For those in the group with a money belt this was a little awkward, but doable. But let me be the first to tell you, girls, never leave home without your money belt, because no matter how it might sound, fifty thousand rupees tucked in your bra is NOT comfortable.

So with money in our undergarments, and an adventurous spirit in our smiles we set off for the train station with Umashankar and our goat expert (I must confess, we never learned his name, he was always referred to by ‘goat expert’ whenever anyone mentioned him to us). When we arrived at the station, I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. It was really happening and I just didn’t want to mess anything up! We had been given very specific instructions, to see everything and enjoy it, hand over the money when needed, hold the goats as they are purchased, tie ribbons on the mama and baby sets so they don’t get confused when we arrive, and above all don’t let people figure out who you are with or the prices will skyrocket.

While I was stressing about that, our train departure time had come and gone, and we were still standing outside the train station, waiting. We waited and waited until Amit, another Guria staff member arrived, and then we ran. We ran into the station, up the stairs, over the tracks down to our platform where they began arguing with the train officials. You see, our tickets hadn’t been purchased much in advance, and so we never made it off the waiting list. They kept arguing until the train started to pull out of the station at which point we were just told, “Run”. And again we ran and hopped right on to the moving train.

Since we were still on the waiting list we had no seats, but after some searching and quite a bit of arguing with the police on the train, Umashankar found one sleeper berth for the four of us and someplace in another car for him and Goat Expert. This is where the fun really begins.

We napped on and off (but mostly off), and played road trip games until two am when our train was supposed to arrive at whatever station it was that we were getting off at. We still didn’t know where that was, but we were awake because we’d received a phone call at midnight telling us our  train was (miraculously) on time. We needn’t have bothered though, the minutes and the miles ticked by until we could scarcely keep our eyes open and finally, at four in the morning we disembarked.

After a short nap on the train station floor we were off in a rickshaw to the goat fair, and finally we found out where we were, Etawah, for those of you interested in tracking our journey on a map. After a quick breakfast of subjipori (stewed veggies and fried bread) we were settled a little ways off from the fair to watch the goats come in from the surrounding areas while Umashankar and Goat Expert set off to buy goats. This was the most action we saw all day, but we were glad to be out of the way. Above all else we wanted this day to be great for the goat bank.

Soon however, even our presence outside in the town was causing problems, so we spent the rest of our day in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, trying to stay out of the way.

Around three o’clock in the afternoon we finally got to meet our newly acquired herd and set off on our journey. At first they tried to keep us all crammed into the upper rack of the truck or the cab, but with only men allowed on the top of the truck it soon became too cramped and we got our wish, to ride in the bed with the goats. I hope the pictures I’ve included give you a sense of the back of the truck, unfortunately it was already dark outside and the truck was covered by tarps, so those were the best we could do (for pictures, visit the Passion Project Blog).

I’ve been struggling with how to accurately describe this experience without coming off as whiny or sugarcoating it and I’m not sure that I’ll find the balance so I’ll begin with a disclaimer: This may have been one of the hardest things I’ve done and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. However, much of it was not at all pleasant (and in retrospect quite a bit humorous). So please, as I describe our journey in the back of the truck please know that I write this all with a smile and a grateful heart.

We began our journey at 4:30 in the afternoon. At 6:30 we made our transition to the back of the truck with the goats. We arrived in Jakhanian at 8:30 the next morning. Here are some of my thoughts on those fourteen hours:

I feel like I understand goats on a very deep level. The first couple hours I remember feeling some fear about these creatures that could bite me or hit me with their horns, but that soon melted away into annoyance at the stubborn ones, empathy for the small scared ones, hope that the pregnant ones wouldn’t give birth, more annoyance at the pushy ones, and a wish that they would all just lay down.

Goats + Long Drive + Covered Truck = Getting peed on, pooped on, stepped on, and headbutted, but also cuddled with.

If anyone would like me to expound on the olfactory pleasure of our time, feel free to email me, otherwise let me just say that it will be too soon if I ever smell a goat again.

Goats seem eerily human at times with the noises they make, their little teeth, and their penetrating stares.

I could go on (and on and on), but those are the highlights, so I’ll jump back into the more human elements of the story.

Around 1 am or so we went through a police checkpoint. Our instinct was to get down and hide, and it turns out our instinct was right. Unfortunately, Sarah Rose was riding in the cab of the truck, and there was nothing she could do to hide. So, seeing a white person they stopped the truck. It was a long time before anyone made it back to where we were, but we could see Umashankar arguing with a police officer. It was very stressful, and maybe this is fanciful, but I think the goats felt it too because they were completely still and silent.

Eventually some men who spoke English came and demanded we remove the top slat of the tailgate so they could talk to us. They gave us the third degree about who we were, where we had come from, where we were going, and who the men were who we were with. They said that they were just worried that we had been kidnapped. I don’t know if that’s the truth, or if its because of the small bribe that Umashankar slipped them that they let us go, but I’m going to believe that the police really would have helped us if we had indeed been kidnapped, even if that’s wishful thinking.

At about three am we made a stop for a bathroom break at a small roadside restaurant. Even though we had no money, the proprietor (who was surprisingly busy for three am) sat us down and proceeded to fill us with chai, rice pudding and papadum. It was bizarre, but the kindness was a welcome feeling after our unnerving encounter with the police. I can only imagine that it was pretty bizarre for him too, to have four dirty, white travelers appear out of the night, use the bathroom, and disappear again.

After that our trip was fairly uneventful until we finally reached our destination, Jakhanian, and we could finally show the goats their new home.

After the unloading it was time to milk the goats, and get them their medicine to get rid of any stomach problems (I didn’t grasp a more specific reason, though I’m sure there was one). And then we finally got to head for bed. After being awake for at least 50 of the last 55 hours, bed seemed like a distant memory. It was so nice to sleep, if a little torturous, because for some reason I could only dream of goats.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll fill you all in on the adventures of the next few days, including the first distribution of goats from the bank, very soon.

Scuba Certification in Honduras

The following update was sent by a member of the TERRA group who is pursuing his Master Scuba Certification in Útila, Honduras.

SCUBAEverything is going excellent here on Utila. I’m almost a week into the Instructor course and next Sunday is the end of the course, then Tuesday and Wednesday an examiner from the States comes in and evaluates us on all the skills and presentations we have been learning about. So hopefully a week from this Wednesday I will be a certified instructor with an active teaching license! Then from there I will start my master scuba diver training internship. This is where I was start getting certified to teach specialty certifications. So I am very excited to begin that. All the work for the Instructor course is pretty stressful, everyday I have to prepare skill and knowledge presentations. Everyday I wake up at 5 and don’t stop working until 9 or 10. So it’s taxing, but it’s an incredible experience. Hope everyone is loving life and soaking in everything that surrounds you.

You’re only lost if you’re not where you wish!

Bird-watching in Pennsylvania

Another update sent in by a member of our TERRA group, who is working in a mountain raptor sanctuary.
Red Shouldered Hawk in flight (North Lookout Derby Hill) 3Starting the spring migration count here, that means 9-4pm up on the mountain identifying and counting all of the migrating raptors and other birds that pass by. On weekends I’m also presenting programs on raptor identification, birding with binoculars, and how scientists here at hawk mountain trap birds safely and put various tracking units on them (From leg bands to radio/satellite telemetry units). Pretty cool and interesting stuff. I feel all official; I get a radio, vest, shirt with patches, official looking hat, and all sorts of various and sundry duties to accomplish both for the visitors and science.

I’m loving it here, I’ve learned so much about raptors, conservation, and raptor identification its making my head spin (in a good way). Love you all and hope all is well.

(The picture attached is a Red-Shouldered Hawk, one of my constant companions on the mountain.)