Alvida Bharat (Goodbye India)!

Car Sold.  Boxes Packed.  Truck Loaded.  Utilities Paid.  Keys turned over to landlord.  Staff Paid.  Bank account closed.  Phones turned off.  Suitcases in hotel room ready to go.  Goodbyes said.  A few tears shed as we depart this colorful country, leaving a bit of our heart and soul here making us forever changed.  Thank you India for an incredible three year experience that surpassed our expectations.

We gained a knowledge and appreciation for other religions —

We gained an education that surpassed the school room –

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All our senses were exposed to new levels —

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Friendships were made —

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New fashion was discovered —

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Real jet lag was felt —

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And family bonds were strengthened —

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Thank you India!  You are forever a part of our lives and our hearts.

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The Mighty Elephant

The Elephant — India’s national heritage animal — has a long history in this country.  It has fought mightily in wars, even wearing armor; it has been a powerful piece of “machinery” when doing construction and moving logs from forests.  All of these massive forts and palaces that one can see all over India, have elephants in their construction history.  On occasion when I would see an elephant walking down the street, I would remind myself, “Wow, I live in India.”  When we finally got some family to visit us at the end of our journey here, we took the opportunity to get up close and personal with the mighty elephant in Jaipur.

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After taking an early flight out of Delhi we went straight to the Amber Fort where past kings ruled in Jaipur.  Our first elephant experience of the day was riding up to the top of the fort with one.  Let’s just say, they don’t move too fast and they let us know their personalities during that quick ride as some didn’t want to be behind the slow ones.

 

The real experience of elephants, though, happened that afternoon.  We had been told by many friends to definitely do “Elefantastic” when you go to Jaipur.  So we did and it was definitely worth it.  The owner, Rahul, and his family have worked with elephants for generations.  They used to have their elephants participate in the job of carrying people up to the Amber Fort like we did that morning.  The last several years, he has evolved his elephant farm and has made it a great place for visitors to come and really learn about this mighty animal.

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Since there were six in our party, we were assigned three elephants upon arrival — two people per elephant.  Each elephant had a local that helped assist us in our duties.  The first assignment was just to get up close and personal with your elephant, look them in the eye, and let them smell and look at you.  They are very social animals.  We spent a lot of time during this part feeding them, rubbing their trunks and just getting to know them.  For me, one of the surprises was the coarseness of the hair on them.  They eat non-stop, about 300 pounds of food each day, which of course led to plenty of moments having it discharged on the other end as well.  We learned how to put the food right up in their mouth and the elephant Hailey and I were assigned taught us quickly when she was ready for the next serving.

One of the fascinating things we learned while feeding the elephants is that the size of their molars are HUGE.  An elephant has six sets of molars in its lifetime, shedding them periodically.  Once the last set fall out, they basically die of starvation and malnutrition.

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After our elephants were semi-content (my elephant never stopped eating — she would try to grab at any shrub or tree even as I rode her), we got to paint and decorate them.  For any special celebration when elephants are present or annually at the Republic Day Parade, elephants are painted with beautiful designs.

 

After painting, it was time to give these creatures a bath and that’s when we really learned of their playfulness.  They loved having their trunks filled with water, drinking it and then spraying it all over us.  Elephants love having their skin scrubbed down so after we did the lower cleaning, we got on top of them bareback and scrubbed the top part of their bodies.  That’s when we got drenched — both by the elephant spraying us and the gentlemen holding the hoses.

Once our friends were clean, we got to remount the elephant with a thick padding, making the ride a little more comfortable.  We went on about a 45 minute ride as the sun was setting.

It was a fantastic “thumbs up” experience and well done by the elephant farm and their employees.  Thank you India!

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Hope Abounds

The first weeks of driving around Delhi were a bit overwhelming to be quite honest.  I saw children begging in the streets, mothers cooking little fires on the sidewalks, individuals sleeping by the roadside.  I wondered how one could ever make a difference with just the sheer number of people in this city and country.  Well, I found HOPE here in India and people that are making things happen.  Their ambition, aspirations, and desires to help those around them has been an incredible journey for me.  There are so many people bringing hope and I have chosen just a few of those stories to share.

Shilpa (on the left) began her quest of bringing HOPE to others when she met an individual with a heart condition.  She has since established a non-profit organization that now offers educational opportunities to over 200 children and teenagers.  She LOVES these children and works with their parents that live a very transient work life, moving from job to job, in helping the kids obtain an education.  The girl in blue on the right is standing in front of her makeshift home that leans right up against one of the buildings where a basement is rented to offer education.  If children old enough to attend school have to stay home and babysit little toddlers, Shilpa says, “bring them along”.  She is a complete inspiration to me and I love what she is doing here.

Thangdei (on the left) is a nurse by profession but was asked to assist with a refugee non-profit in a rag picking community.  Her husband was not happy about it as it meant she makes next to nothing but she told him, “They need me.  It’s where I should be.”  Nine years later she is a light in this community.  Everywhere I walked with this woman, the people loved her and welcomed her.  She runs a school for about 78 children trying to transition them into government school.  Because they are refugees with no paperwork, the parents have no ability to open a bank account.  Their homes lack any type of secure location to keep money, so Thangdei has started a little savings account program for them.  They will bring her their few rupees each week and she logs it in a book (to the right) and has an account where she deposits the money for them.  She is their bank, their teacher, their voice in India and their hope for the future.

It all started for Ravi (pictured on the right) in 2007 when he saw a child and a dog digging through the same pile of garbage to find some food.  At that moment he decided he was going to spend his energy serving those less fortunate.  That has led to him creating a “home” for abandoned adults.  There is no government program to take care of the elderly here in India — it’s supposed to be the family.  Well when those children decide they don’t want to take care of an aging parent’s medical bills or a brother’s mental issues, they get abandoned.  Every individual that shows up whether it was finding them personally living on a road side or the police dropping them off, gets Ravi’s mobile number tattooed on their arm so regardless of what happens, they can find a “home” to sleep and get fed.  He currently houses and feeds 200 abandoned adults and has over 3,000 individuals in India that have had his number placed on their arm.  He is bringing HOPE to so many that find themselves with no other place to turn.

Kushal, a corporate executive, met a girl with a need for a liver transplant.  In order for such a transplant to be successful, she would need to live in a cleaner environment.  That is not possible, so no transplant.  The girl is now 16 years old and doesn’t know how much longer she will live but she wakes up every day happy.  Kushal shared how her example has inspired him, “If she can wake up happy every day, then so can I.”  So, Kushal brings happiness not only to himself but many others now as he continues his corporate job and on the side runs a non-profit school that fills in a gap in his area where children above grade 5 have no educational opportunity without parents paying for it.  He is not only bringing HOPE for a brighter future through education but he has literally saved lives.  The picture of the children above (the child in green) has literally been saved by the health checkup offered at the school by finding a hole in the heart and having it repaired.  He runs one of the best non-profit organizations I have seen here and he is passionate about his efforts.

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Sujata, Kavitha and Dr. Singh (the three women pictured on the outskirts of the photo) let me into their world every week as I volunteered at their non-profit organization.  In the Hindu culture, if you have a baby that is born physically or mentally handicapped, there is a great stigma that falls on the parents due to the belief that they brought it on themselves through their own actions.  As a result, many children are abandoned or never allowed to leave their little home so that others in their community do not know about it.  This non-profit provides a place where many teenagers and young adults that have been living in an orphanage and are not capable to attend the government school have a place to go to each day.  When summer comes, they don’t want days off — they want to keep coming as it gives them stimulation, HOPE and something to do.  I have been greatly blessed to rub shoulders with these women who teach, run and fund this school as well as the students that are incredible in their own unique, special way.

Dilreen — the woman in the middle — is bringing hope to a slum community that has over 300,000 people living in it with NO running water, no sewage system, very few children attending school, and young women looking for something to do with their days.  So, this incredible woman works with an organization that has set up a small school in the back part of this slum.  Yes, I had to walk through many tiny walkways to get there — past the animals digging through the trash and the evident smell that toilets are lacking in this community.  I loved every minute of it because this lady is bringing hope here to so many.  Not only do they provide educational opportunities to get children able to test into the government school, but they also provide vocational training to women that want a skill.  They have more women than sewing machines and room to teach tailoring classes.  But above all, they have the only toilet in the place.  It is kept locked and is for student use only as she is trying to teach the children hygiene — the proper way to use a bathroom, wash your hands, be clean.  Since there is no running water, she has someone standing in the water line with jugs (notice the picture to the right) for when the water trucks come each morning so they can fill the toilet with water to be used each day.  Cleaning a toilet will never sound like a chore again to me.

WP_20150413_027Rosie — pictured standing in the center– opens her home every day to help teach young women to learn a skill.  The size of her living space is a small room but she straightens her bed and pulls out the sewing machines Monday-Friday for about twenty women (ten in the morning, ten in the afternoon) to come and learn a useful skill.  Many young women are not allowed to go out and find a job and some are not even allowed to leave their little neighborhood area.  So, these women look to find a skill they can do in their home — piece work and tailoring which can help bring a little extra money into the home.  More than the money, though, is the HOPE it brings to know they can create something beautiful, that they have skills and knowledge that is beneficial.  Rosie opens her home on Saturdays as well to teach a class on women’s issues to those that are interested in the community.

I could share MANY more stories of people that have inspired me. Now, three years later, I don’t drive the streets of Delhi feeling hopeless about the things I see.  Instead, I think of the man who follows street kids home to meet their parents and work with them to get them enrolled in school, I think of the smiles on the faces of women as they work to create those clothes that will say “made in India.”  HOPE is everywhere and good things are happening.  Thank you India for the experiences that have inspired me to look for ways to bring hope to others, to never forget that helping one person can lead to helping many.

Dinner Hour

Dinner hour in India is not the normal 6:00 pm that I grew up with in the US.  India definitely enjoys a late dinner — something that could be found beneficial to us early eaters when it came time to finding a table at a restaurant.

The typical Indian eats dinner anywhere from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm.  With my church volunteer work I had the opportunity to teach youth — both American and Indian — a class two nights a week where we studied the scriptures.  It would start at 6:30 and end at 8:00 pm.  The American youth would arrive having had dinner before coming, the Indian students were heading home to eat their dinner afterwards.  It still fascinates me today the difference in our meal times.  We have asked them how they wait that late to eat dinner and their response is, “Don’t you get hungry before you go to bed if you eat that early?”

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When this beautiful Indian family had Tyler and I over for dinner, they were very aware of our observed dinner hour and insisted upon serving us much earlier than they eat.  Their daughter is the only one that ate with us because it was too early for the others.

 

Another interesting fact for us Americans, if you are invited to dinner at someone’s home, you chat and have social time before dinner.  Dinner is the last part of the invitation and once you have eaten, it’s time to end the party.  We have attended some various events and parties– the Indians know and love how to throw a party — where Tyler and I were coming on midnight still wondering what time dinner was really going to be served.  Not until the end of the event.  There is no lingering after the meal.

A common knowledge about Indian food is that it is all about the spices and whenever we would be invited, they were often conscientious about not making it too spicy for us.  When you order a Domino’s Pizza here in India, there are no packets of parmesan cheese that accompany that pizza — it’s packets of black pepper and chili flakes.  Also, when sitting at a restaurant table and you observe the salt and pepper shakers, the pepper shaker will always have the larger number of holes in the top — the opposite of an American restaurant.

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Notice the condiments tray at this Italian restaurant — no parmesan cheese but there is plenty of spice — Tabasco sauce, red pepper flakes, chili flakes and the pepper shaker is the one with 5 holes.

 

One of the biggest benefits for those of us that like to eat an early dinner — no wait at the restaurant if you get there by 7:00 pm.  By 9:00 the restaurants are packed.  Many nice restaurants do not even open until 7:00 pm and they will not take reservations past 8:00 pm as it becomes “first come first served” due to the volume they have coming after that hour.  Lunch at a restaurant also gets busy around 1:30-2:00 pm which makes someone having lunch at noon the first ones in the restaurant.

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So how did we all do when it came to adjusting to Indian food?  You are seeing Hailey’s choice at any restaurant — Naan.  The rest of us definitely found some favorite dishes and some favorite Indian restaurants. 

 

We had the opportunity to dine with several different Indian families here and I LOVED their hospitality, their desire to have you in their homes and their generosity.  Even if it wasn’t a meal time and you dropped by a home they were always wanting to offer food and drink regardless of their economic circumstance.  I hope to carry that generosity and enthusiasm forward as I leave this beautiful country.

After I leave India, there will be things that I will never forget and then there are things that I don’t want to ever forget. On the top of the list of “things to remember” are the women I have met here along with the incredible challenges women face in India. As Americans celebrate Mother’s Day and the many women in their lives, I want to share some of the hardships that women in India face, and a few things I have observed and been inspired about:

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  • Married life in India for a woman is much different.  For many women, marriage means you move out of your home and into your in-laws home.  A woman shifts roles by doing many tasks and assignments that are given under the direction of her mother-in-law.  You can then understand why there is concern from the bride’s parents that things feel good to them before marrying off their daughter. Among the more affluent and educated people, I see more nuclear households happening.  Some that live with their in-laws choose to work outside the home telling me it has brought them relief to create a life out from under the scrutiny of their in-laws. For many women, there is constant pressure for the woman to keep her in-laws happy.
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The woman to the left in yellow is a sewing instructor at a non-profit organization helping girls learn a skill.  She had sewn this “pant suit” and wanted to wear it to their celebration.  Her husband wants her only to wear saris so there was a big problem at her home that morning.  She explained that until she had convinced her mother-in-law that it would be okay to wear, her husband would not approve. The mother-in-law has great power in the marriage relationship.

  • Women work VERY hard here.  If you walk through any community or neighborhood, I have observed that the women rarely get a break and they are constantly working.  I see men sitting around everywhere, but never a woman.  If the woman is married to a man and caste that is involved with building, she works just as hard, and just as long as the men, carrying bricks on her head, doing all sorts of manual labor while watching that toddler sit in the pile of dirt day after day until they move to the next work location.  After dark, she starts her little fire on the sidewalk and cooks the dinner.  I have never seen a man cook dinner over that fire.  Our maid is the sole breadwinner of her family and has never been allowed to marry because her parents cannot lose her income.  She has a brother that doesn’t work, a father and mother that are both frequently sick and unemployable so she provides the food on the table each day and the rent each month.

 

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This woman works all day helping make pottery right outside her door.

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This woman works in construction everyday with her husband.  Notice the two children — one on each side of her — talk about bringing your children to work with you!

  • Women are not treated with the same respect as men.  This incredible country has had women leaders in the highest positions, have some of the brightest women I have met, and yet, they are often treated differently than men.  One of the expressions I heard at the beginning that amused me was when I would talk with a mother who had a daughter and she would say, “I love her like a son.”  It took me a while to figure out why she would express it that way, but have learned that she was stating that she placed as much value on that daughter as she would a son.  Finding out the sex of an unborn baby is against the law here because so many people will abort a female fetus because it does not bring the same value to the family as a son.  I have witnessed so many individuals trying to help the value of woman be elevated — ensuring there are educational opportunities for them, and skills to be learned so they find value and meaning personally.  “Eve teasing” and rapes are a constant concern for women here in Delhi and many parents just will not let their daughters walk outside their homes after it gets darks for this reason.  I have had some very frank discussions with educated, Indian women about this problem here and they have concurred that as hard as it is to admit, it really comes down to women still being looked at as a piece of property instead of an individual.
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This girl of 8 years old cooking, stays home to watch her sibling, cook for the family and sell what she can to bring a little to the family.  She is not allowed to go to school.

Women are the same around the world — they love their children, they love their families and they have an innate ability to want to nurture and help others.  I have been amazed at the women here in India that I have met that have sought after those feelings inside to help those less fortunate around them.  Founders of non-profits that have battled social norms to better society for individuals that are cast off and thought less of due to birth defects and disabilities.  They will often tell me, “how could I live with myself, if I didn’t help them.”  I love the spirit of the Indian woman who has an alcoholic husband, is beaten, yet still smiles every time I talk to her, is working hard to ensure her children get an education and make her little home as nice as possible.

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There is an incredible story behind each one of these smiles — stories that might make you wonder what makes them smile.  The women of India are beautiful, strong and resilient!

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At a recent fundraiser, I purchased a photo of a woman sitting in the dirt with her child.  My daughter asked me why I would want that picture.  Well, let me share why — I don’t ever want to forget — forget the great spirit of the women I have met here, the determination, the hard work, the grit that I have seen.  I also don’t want to ever forget the life I have been dealt — one that put me in a country and a home where I was valued as a woman, where I was given the same privileges as a man, where I have conveniences and opportunities that are incredible.  Thank you women of India for opening my eyes, of increasing my understanding of what happiness really is, of not getting caught up in silly artificial things, of being grateful that we share the great role of being women together.

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Some of the most beautiful women I know here — including their mothers that have raised them.

Finding New Freedom

Can you imagine the desire to be able to sit up and look at someone in the face?  Can you imagine the need at an age way past walking as a toddler to be able to move yourself around freely?  There are THOUSANDS of individuals in India that desire those freedoms and Tyler’s hope to bring some of that freedom to individuals here in India came to fruition this past month.

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This child had never sat up on his own before.  It was an entirely new perspective for him and his parents were excited for the freedom for him as well as themselves.

 

In a country that has so many people with so many needs, one would think it should be easy to show up and say, “hey, we want to help.”  Well, it wasn’t an easy journey, but Tyler stuck with it and the smiles were payday for him.

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This girl had a spinal cord injury and lives in a village making it difficult to use a normal wheelchair.  This gift makes her life so much better!

 

One of the largest hospitals in India, AIIMS, has people show up weekly from within the city and faraway villages all over northern India, having a need for a wheelchair.  It can be due to a spinal cord injury later in life or being born with a disability like cerebral palsy.  They have a long list of people with needs, but lack the resources to help.

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This gentleman showed up wondering if he could get a wheelchair fit to him.  He has taken old bicycle parts, and created something that gets him around.  This man’s positive attitude towards life was infectious.

 

Most of these individuals are too poor to have the funds to purchase a wheelchair.  And if they do have some resources, the quality of wheelchair they can receive does not necessarily help them.  For example, one can buy a basic wheelchair for a decent price, but the type of wheels won’t help that individual get anywhere trying to move around the terrain in their village or even the bumpy sidewalks of Delhi.  So after much research, and lots of investigation and some corporate help, Tyler was able to create a new partnership and bring joy to some individuals.

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This boy was so happy.  He had a twin brother that was born without a disability and the mother had carried this son everywhere until this day.  His brother was so happy for his disabled brother that you would have thought it was for him.  This boy had the mechanics of that wheelchair down very quickly, loving the freedom.

 

Motivation India has an incredible program that fits the person to the wheelchair and their needs.  The social worker at the hospital had worked diligently to select the individuals that would be able to receive one of the wheelchairs.  We showed up to watch the fittings happen.

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One of the wheelchairs waiting to be fitted to the lucky person.

 

When Tyler first approached Motivation India, they had done some work in south India and said, sure, we can do it in south India.  Tyler, said “no, I live in Delhi.  I want it to happen in northern India.”  After finding the right partner to pair them with — AIIMS hospital, some individuals that have never been able to sit up and look at someone in the face on their own, or move around without being carried, are finding new freedom.  It was a great way to bring a desire that was planted in our year one here in India to a reality in year three for us.

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After the fittings, there was a little “celebration” and acknowledgement of the event with the doctors and board of the hospital.

Jugaad जग

Jugaad, a Hindi and Punjabi word that we have both seen and heard here in India and one of the things I have learned to greatly admire about the culture.  The closest word I can think of that we use is “jerry-rig”.  It means to be innovative and work around the problem.  It is often used when creating something out of very meagre resources.  I must admit that it has taken me time to appreciate jugaad.  At the beginning, I think I was more critical than appreciative and it has been one of the blessings of living here so long — I have grown to appreciate the people’s ability to “just make it work.”  Jugaad can be seen as a survival tactic — like connecting those electrical wires like there is no reasoning behind any of it — but it can also be seen as innovation — making do with what you have.

Jugaad is seen daily as you travel in the city.  It can be a guard’s plastic chair with a broken leg propped up on a bucket so it is still functional, to an auto rickshaw that has wires tying it together.  I want to just share a few things that have taught me about jugaad and the incredible human spirit here in India.

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One sees Jugaad everywhere in transporting things here, like this motorcycle.

 

Construction:  NOTHING goes to waste when construction is happening.  The rebar that was in the old building is taken out and carefully reused.  We have a couple of different construction projects happening on our street right now and it is fascinating to watch all the jugaad occurring.  Below is one picture taken out my window catching the assembling of bamboo poles to make the scaffolding for the side of the building.  Notice the flip flops on the feet.

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Non-profit Groups (NGOs):  This is where I have seen the most innovative jugaad and have really been impressed by it.  I have visited at least 20 different NGOs these past couple of years and I am continually impressed with how they “make do.”  A few examples below:

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Oil cans used for cooking have been turned into herb and flower pots at Lotus Petal Foundation School for poor children.

 

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A waste bin has been created from newspapers for a classroom at Ritinjali, an NGO that runs a school in a slum area.

 

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Old cassette tapes are woven into fabric and sewn into bags and purses by Very Special Arts India, an NGO that works with disabled teenagers.

 

Rag Pickers:  The rag picking community in India ensures nothing goes to waste.  I have walked through the homes of these rag pickers and let’s just say their entire structure is jugaad!  This group of rag pickers each has an assignment — one is plastics, another paper, etc.  As they dump out bags of trash, they sort accordingly.  I believe my trash is gone through 3 or 4 times before it reaches the rag pickers.  First, the maid will take whatever she wants.  I have heard stories of some people seeing their maids take out potato peelings to supplement their food source.  Second, the guards.  I notice our milk jugs, etc. out by the guards dishes so I know they are using them for something useful.  Third, the trash collector.  He picks things up in his bicycle wagon and goes through it before he turns it over to the rag pickers.

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The Market Place:  Even in the market, jugaad is alive and well.  At the fruit and vegetable stand I shop, they pack certain types of fruit like kiwis and mangoes into bags that have been folded and pasted out of paper that is meant for recycling.  Tyler has had very interesting sandwich wrappers at times from all the jugaad.

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AWA:  The organization in which I have been involved, has an incredible woman named Charlotte who does a lot of magic to make jugaad happen for many NGOs.  We have a thrift store that funds the projects we support for non-profits.  Anything not worth selling there, goes to “Charlotte’s Web”, as it has been fondly named, and she sorts by NGO needs.  Shredded paper goes to one NGO that makes bags out of it.  Socks with no match go to another NGO that works with individuals with one leg.  Eye covers that you get on the airplane so you can sleep better go to another NGO that sews them into coin purses and sells them for a few pennies.  This incredible woman, my friend now, inspires me as she has lived here many years and is in her late 70s, still working to bring good to her part of the world.

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I love the innovative spirit, the will to survive, and the creativity that can be seen.