I'm working for HELP International as a Country Director in Hyderabad, India from May-August 2010.

June 30, 2010

While getting ready for the day this morning, we heard this loud loud instrument playing outside somewhere. Having heard a similar instrument in a band last week from 1-4am for a wedding procession in full acoustics, I dismissed it as another wedding procession until Mandy told us to look out our front window. This teenage boy was standing there with his oboe-type instrument, blasting his music at our door with his ornamented cow companion. I'm assuming he is some holy man who goes door to door for money. I got a few photos and video of him so all you readers can get a taste of what we saw this morning as we gazed down from our window.


Alice is a jolly woman who is a great cook. Taylor definitely hid the curry powder from her to try to deter the 2 heaping scoops that she frequently would add into everything she made, but generally she does a great job with the curry and rice we eat every night. Generally it all tastes the same, but it's really good.

In south India, they use a lot of curry leaves, cumin, cardamon, sesame, salt, garlic ginger paste, and cinnamon and cloves to make curry. All in one pot. It is very flavorful. that's for sure. I really like it. My favorite are curries with Dahl (lentils). There are also green mangoes that they put into some of the curries.

Alice was married off at age 17 to her uncle (then 54 years old) because he was a drinker and her mom wanted her to help motivate him to change. It worked! He did change and they had two kids and sadly he died of a heart attack about five years ago. Alice is probably now about 50 years old. She calls everyone "sister" and is full of smiles.

June 27, 2010

A few days ago I went to Monda market with Alice, our friend who cooks dinner for us. As she was bargaining for potatoes I was standing by taking in the scene. The woman standing directly to my left had a big cloth grocery bag. She bought her cucumber and threw it into the bag. Then there was an immediate SQUACK! I looked into the bag over her shoulder and saw a little live chicken sitting on, in and around all of the veges. she closed up the bag, put her arms through the straps and went on her merry way. Crock pot? I am so close to becoming vegetarian.

This was at the same market. It's a shop of powdered chalks.

Some photo updates

Look who showed up! Natalie came in safe and sound friday morning at 3am. I waited patiently for her until 5:15 am when she finally came out, baggless. Nonetheless, they delivered her bags and were very thorough with their customer service. She didn't know her address or my phone number (it was in her checked bag), so that tacked on at least an hour to the process but they were really great afterward. We really blend in here.

Marie and Kiira bought a bunch of cakes for us from our local bakery, they were pretty to behold and almost tasty. A little soggy but about a expected after having eaten many an asian cake in my day.

The Charminar in old city. I love that building.

Sagar Hussain. It can be really pretty although while driving by at dusk I recommend bringing a handkerchief to breathe through to avoid the smell. I did see windsurfers in there and we are pretty sure it would be the most intense windsurfing experience because of the risk of falling into the acid water and probably having your skin melt off. That being said, it can be romantic. The Buddha statue in the middle is the largest Buddha statue in the world carved from a single rock.

I love hyderabad! We watched the world cup heart breaker game (well part of it) from midnight to 3am at Jane's house and although it is tragic the US is out, I hope Ghana goes far.

We said goodbye to five members of our team who are going off for two weeks to a rural village in eastern india to do research for SKS microfinance. It's going to be an amazing experience for them. They may get published on their website as well! If it happens I'll definitely put up the link.

Chennai--In Marie's words

This weekend we went to Chennai. We decided to take the twelve dollar and twelve hr bus ride. It sounded like a great idea. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

We left for the bus Friday night with plenty of time to spare. It also happened to start raining pretty hard while we were waiting for our shuttle to take us to the station. By the time our shuttle came, the rain was coming down in sheets and the streets were little festering rivers. We ran to our shuttle, with vague hopes of staying dry before we sat for twelve hours. Needless to say it didn't work and we got soaked. The shuttle it’s self was a cozy little green rusty van meant for twelve people. There were in fact more than twenty, us being six in the trunk space. We also happened to be the only women. So there we were driving away in a sketchy van full of men.

We got to the station without trouble and boarded our super ghetto, non A/C bus. The windows leaked and we continued the entire night to get soaked. We kept stopping for our fellow passengers to take smoke and pee breaks. I mean all the time. We’d been on the bus for two hours and hadn’t even left Hyderabad. Kristen asked about the stop and the bus driver told her that we were all waiting for the gentlemen off the bus. They got back on right after she went back to her seat. I think they got the hint, but then promptly started smoking next to the no smoking sign! It was ridiculous and nauseating. I could deal with wet, the smoking and peeing but then the worst film I have ever seen was started at 11 pm. Who wants to watch a crappy film starting at 11?! Well someone did because the volume was uncomfortably loud, as in my earplugs only softened the deafening noise. I eventually fell asleep on and off for the remainder of our stormy night. A fight broke out in the middle of the night. Apparently our driver was going to leave a few men taking an extra long pee break.

The next morning I woke up around seven, very grateful we were getting off at eight. Eight o’clock rolled around and we were still in what looked like never ending rural territory. It was never ending because Chennai was still 175 km away. They started another equally awesome and audible movie at eight. Who does that? We had one bathroom break for women, yes they do specify, around ten (and a million for men before that). Thank goodness!

We finally arrived in a city that looked the same as Hyderabad regretting our decision to leave home. I got off the bus first and was mobbed by a bunch of cab drivers. It was a glorious welcome, I stood on the almost bottom step of the bus with a lot of arm reaching for me and lost it a bit. . . I was yelling something to the effect of don’t touch me or talk to me. The first part worked, but the second not so much. You are such an easy target being white and blonde here. After fifteen minutes of negotiating a price to our hotel and trying to be robbed by small children of everything I own we got in these delightfully untrustable men’s auto. They wanted to stop everywhere except our hotel. They tried to milk us for money left and right. After two separate gas stops our auto decided to “stop working”. Please we’re not stupid. The other driver wanted us six to climb in the other auto there was no way we were fitting. He generously offered a stop next to him. I informed him I would not sit anywhere in his auto if my life depended upon it. I hailed two different autos for us and we left after a huge argument and not paying them. He picked the wrong group of very self-empowered girls to mess with that morning. We’d had it with Indian men and they were icing on the cake. So we got our way and drove peaceably to our hotel. We checked into the VGP Golden Beach Resort. It was probably pretty cool at some point in time but was now pretty ghetto fabulous. The best way to describe it is a white trash small town version of an Indian attempt at Disney Land and old Las Vegas. Since it’s not tourist season anymore (Summer is over) we only saw one other guest.

We put our stuff down and went to the beach. It was the most intense beach I have ever gone to. The waves destroyed us. They knocked us over like bowling pins. The undertow was really strong. The security guard warned us either we had 30 minutes to stay or in 30 the tides would weaken. Neither piece of information was correct. I neglected to put sunscreen on my back and consequently turned about as red as I’ve been before. The lines of my make shift swimsuit are really crisp. We went to dinner at a lovely restaurant that was infested by mosquitoes. I have 30 bites on my feet alone. That’s actually why I’m awake at 3:30 am writing this. I couldn’t sleep because my back hurts, but mostly my feet are so itchy.

The next morning we had our continental breakfast especially prepared for us. We had the huge dining hall to ourselves. Breakfast was okay. I’m just grateful they had toast. Otherwise I would have skipped the meal all together. Starving is better than eating rice sometimes.

We spent the morning at the beach again. I learned from the day before and lather myself first in SPF 70 and then in SPF 30. About an hour in I did the same thing. I still managed to get my legs and arms pink. I don’t know how because when I went to shower off I had to scrape a layer of white crap (sunscreen) off of my skin. I didn’t get it all off the first time even.

We tried for an hour to go 25 km back to Chennai to catch a movie before we loaded the bus. First we went in the opposite direction to a cinema that was sold out. We were starving and decided to go in anyway. We had to buy our stupid little ticked to go in. You can’t do cash at food courts, you have to have a card with money on it first, then you pay only one cashier for the entire thing. It’s stupid and really bureaucratic, thus being a widespread established Indian tradition. We ate an interesting lunch and decided to leave. They wouldn’t refund us initially. It took a lot of pulling teeth to get our money back off of those stupid cards. After that whole ordeal we spent a long time trying to find the cinema, which was located on the main road, but our auto driver wouldn’t listen to us and asked seriously 25 people how to get there. The only option was Robin Hood. In desperation, we took it. We had to peace out early to get to our bus on time. Unfortunately, two of our group had left a little earlier to get airtime for her phone. So in our time crunch we had to find the only other white people in a huge mall. It only took ten ish minutes thankfully. It’s harder than you think, by the ay. We left and arrived at the bus with enough time to find a toilet and buy a roll for dinner. It was a true Sykes vacation food wise.

This bus was a lot more comforting upon arrival. It was slightly nicer, we weren’t the only women, and there was a child. It came and boarded on time. We were feeling really pretty good. We only made one unnecessary stop, which I nipped in the bud. I didn’t want to roll in four hours late again. No crappy movies were in sight, that all changed when ten pm came to. Whoever is in charge of the movie selection should die. He, and yes I can honestly say it was a man, picked a horror film. Why? That was all I could ask. Like the first set of films, I tried to avoid watching. After we fell asleep it started raining. I got sprayed through my closed window for a better portion of the night. It was the most painful bus ride ever. My back hated me. My feet were fine because they were too swollen to have any sort of feeling. We took the long way home and arrived at noon again. So each time our 12 hours turned into 16. We just can’t win.

Despite Marie's satire, it was a fun trip.

Our Projects

I know it seems like all fun and games over here in Hyderabad, but I promise we've been working really hard.

Here is a rundown of the projects we are working on:

1. Prajwala Video Screenings at Local Universities

Problem: Sex trafficking is a huge problem throughout the world—and especially in Southeast Asia. A “culture of silence” surrounds this problem, making it difficult for people to become aware of its prevalence and ways to fight it.

Short-term Objectives: Students at local universities will become aware of the problem of sex trafficking and commit to do something to fight it.

Long-term Objectives: The “culture of silence” regarding sex trafficking will be broken. Everyone in India will know about this problem and how to fight it.

Project Summary: We plan to host screening events at the local universities in Hyderabad to show and discuss Prajwala's award-winning video Amika. This project will involve planning the event, coordinating screening times with the universities, advertising, and hosting on the actual event. We would also like to use surveys to get feedback from the universities.

Partner Organzation: Prajwala is based in Hyderabad and fights sex trafficking throughout Andra Pradesh. They work to prevent, rescue, and rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking. This is the first time HELP has partnered with them.

2. Prajwala Public Awareness Campaign Kits

Problem: Sex trafficking

Short-term Objectives: Prajwala will be able to use public awareness campaign kits to raise awareness about sex trafficking both locally and globally.

Long-term Objectives: The “culture of silence” regarding sex trafficking will be broken. Everyone in India and throughout the world will know about this problem and how to fight it.

Project Summary: We plan to create public awareness campaign kits that Prajwala can use to raise awareness about sex trafficking both locally and globally. Kits will include quality information sheets, posters, flyers, brochures, petitions, and powerpoint presentations that Prajwala can use to raise awareness. Many people ask them for ways they can get involved but they have no deliverable to send to them. Ideally people will be able to start a club or group.

3. Village Profiles

Problem: Many children are suffering from child labor. The MV foundation is the forerunner for combating child labor but they don't have very many profiles of the villages they impact. They need data from the key stake holders to document their impact as an organization.

Short term objectives: write village profile reports with full days of interviews with the government officials of the village, parents, children, children employeers, and teachers.

Long term objectives: increase awareness and have some important data for the MV foundation to use in their presentations and to further their studies.

Partnering organization: The MV foundation (see post below)

4. Bridge School English Classes

Problem: The kids are generally doing a great job in the MV foundation's bridge schools (18 month boarding school) but could always use some variety and improved english.

Short term objectives: Give the kids a chance to learn with actions and songs to improve their english and help them continue getting excited about learning.

Long term objective: Contribute to the MV foundations structure and schools, specifically in helping them get excited about english.

5. Hysterectomy Awareness Campaign

Problem: In some rural villages in India there are traveling doctors who pocket money for surgeries. For common stomach illnesses and aches they will recommend women get hysterectomies. In some areas it's estimated that 1/10 women have undergone this surgery. Thus causing health problems for the rest of their lives as well as inter-marital problems. Women currently trust these illegitimate doctors.

Short term objectives: We will host a training meeting for 6-7 other grass root NGOs in how to increase awareness about these doctors and then give them kits and commit them to spreading awareness to their villages they work in.

Long term objectives: When these other NGOs are on board, they will be able to reach about 5,000 other women and people. With the major push to be to get a second opinion before they undergo surgery.

Partnering Organization: CARPED. They have successfully brought the issue to light and have been able to mobilize 700 women in their jurisdiction who have undergone this surgery.

6. 1/4 acre homesteads

Problem: Villagers aren't getting balanced diets and are frequently not able to make ends meet and get enough nutritional food to their children. Many do not have much land to grow things on and don't know how to farm in small spaces.

Short term objectives: Put in a model 1/4 acre garden in the land for the future community center that CARPED has bought.

Long term objectives: Create a way for them to buy their own gardens, provide trainings and nutrition classes within the trainings.

Partnering organization: CARPED

7. Vermin Compost

Problem: there isn't much composting done in the villages. Waste is thrown at the roadside.

Short term objectives: train and teach villagers through a model community center compost pile.

Long term objectives: Sell the vermi compost for pretty good money

Partnering organization: CARPED

8. Beehives

Problem: The women with hysterectomies are too weak to do much hard labor for income generation

Short term objective: start with one beehive at the community center for training and offer a subsidized fee for women to buy and start their own beehive

Long term objective: Allow a lot of the women who have undergone these surgeries to work together and become a major provider of honey to Hyderabad

9. MFI's

Problem: poor people do not have access to short term capital to jump start small business ventures.

Short term solution: A few members of our team will do a variety of projects with different MFI's including analysis, research, and field studies.

Long term objectives: Help a few MFI's continue to improve their programs.

Partnering organizations: Trident, SKS

10. Grant writing

Problem: Some of these NGOs are not raising much money to support their programs

Partnering organizations: The rescue foundation and CARPED

11. Career Workshop

Problem: many people have a hard time selling themselves and finding work

Objectives: help people find jobs through a series of weekly classes and curriculum

Partnering organization: The LDS church


Low sodium salt. Why didn't I think of this?

Downstairs Tailor

So I'm having the woman downstairs make a dress for me. When I was asking about some options and trying to describe what I wanted, even with photos, she handed me a stack of pictures for "inspiration." She said I could choose from those designs and then she'll make it for me. I gingerly agreed and went on my merry way home to sit and look through the stack. There are some that are so amazing that I can not refrain from sharing them with the world.

Which should I order? It's such a hard decision. We may just have the whole team get matching ones for unity's sake. I also may just have these be my wardrobe for life. I'm pretty sure these are the most versatile outfits and would fit in at a disco, church, for laying out at the beach, for business meetings, and while playing sports.

Our House

the A/C room


Sign of our street

The MV Foundation

MV foundation. Of the children who reach school in India, 58% complete primary education, the others drop out. Estimates of child laborers in India vary from 8.4 million (national sample survey ’04) to 12.67 million (census 2001) in the 2001 census in India the total population of children from 5-14 year old was 253 million. 87 of those children did not attend school. Although it has dropped from 50% in 1991, there is room for improvement in the child labor laws.

The MV foundation is at the forefront in the fight against child labor and has really impressive results. We have been meeting with them on and off and are going to start some internships with them this week doing advocacy work and helping them prepare for an august meeting where 16 different NGOs from around the world are being flown to Hyderabad to meet with the MV foundation and learn their best practices. In one district back in 1996 there were about 40,000 laborers. Now, there are 5-7,000.
MVF has found a really innovative way to fight child labor. They work structurally in a top down approach through advocacy to the government and making no excuses for child labor. They also work on the ground going door-to-door, village-to-village. They provide schooling for children and they have enough best practices research and backing to have a replicable model.

How it works: a village volunteer will go door to door and ask about the children and find out if they go to school or if they work. They then have multiple community meetings to get people sensitized to facts such as, in an average month, a working child will work 28 days, a working mother will work 21 days and a working father will work something like 4 days. Ironically, the father makes twice as much as the wife and four times as much as the child.

As they help parents realize how important it is to educate both their sons AND daughters to fight the cycle of poverty, mentalities change and they are able to send their kids to a free “bridge” school.

These schools are usually 18 months and are an intensive learning experience boarding school for these kids so that when they “graduate” they are able to go into their own age group’s classrooms.

Throughout the years, almost 50,000 children have been put through bridge course camps and over 400,000 working children have been mainstreamed directly into formal schools.
They are really impressive.

here is a picture Caroline took on the way

Mumbai and the rescue foundation

Last week Matt from the office was here visiting and Mandy came from the states. We left Taylor and Mandy behind and went to Mumbai and to the Rescue Foundation. They are really amazing. We spent two to three days with the organization. They The Rescue Foundation is an anti-sex trafficking organization located in Mumbai. They are a really impressive organization that rescues girls from brothels and repatriates them. The organization is really interested in us working with them but our ability to work with them might be limited by the distance (and 18 hour train ride). How we might contribute:
• Social Venture competition
• Fundraising and grants
• Carpentry
• Helping with a laundry business
• Documentary

The pictures with all those girls in it are 46 girls that were just rescued on May 10th. You would have no idea that a month ago they were being brainwashed, drugged, and forced into prostitution. It breaks my heart but also gives me a lot of hope knowing there are organizations like this around.

Some of the photos show their Bolsar home. A german man donated 50 acres of land and other european organizations have worked with the solar panel, a bio diesel plant, a cattle farm, and a big compost pile that they are going to work on.

If you want more information on the organization, go to their website or watch one of the many documentaries they are featured in:
1. The day my God died
2. Brothels to Brides
3. She created
...there are more but I forgot their titles right now.

Their executive director is this very inspiring and humble. She loves all the girls as if they were daughters and goes to each brothel bust and asks the girls to come with her. The rescue foundation rescues about 1000 girls a year.

We are going to a conference about sex trafficking tomorrow and are really excited about it.
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We took a train with a TON of people on it. Luckily they had an all women's cart. They also left all the doors open so it was breezy.

While we were driving (EVERYTHING is two hours away), a little boy came up to our window and this is what he wanted to sell us.

Mumbai is a much more developed city than Hyderabad. It was really fun to see it. we also stayed with some other foreigners. The Lees were so hospitable with great food and she even made cookies, so I am forever sold on their family.