November 02, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - A place to call home 

In southern India, a former Whistler resident joins a group of international students in helping a family build a place where they can dwell in dignity and safety

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We wore trendy sports shoes, sports clothes, and sunglasses.

Mr. Joseph indicated to a couple of the guys to start digging, and within a few minutes we were organized into a line, passing baskets of mud back and forth. I felt like I was working on a chain gang.

The work was hard and the sun was hot. We were extremely happy when we took a break. Richard surprised us with fresh coconuts. Using an adval, a machete-like knife, he cut the top of the coconut off and made a small hole with the tip of the adval. I couldn’t drink the sweet tasting juice fast enough.

When the coconut was empty, he smashed the shell in half and we lined up to eat the heart of the coconut. It was a total flavour burst.

After 20 minutes it was time to haul our rear-ends off the ground and get back into chain gang position.

"The job was to level a piece of ground," recalled volunteer Karin Chauta. "It looked simple, but within half an hour our opinion took a U-turn. For the whole morning all we did was transport mud in buckets. Our hands were hurting and we were covered in mud by the end of it. We were in a miserable state but there was a feeling of achievement which was satisfying. The owner was very thankful."

By noon we were exhausted and ready to quit. Actually, at break-time we were ready to quit. We kept going for another half-hour but we were a quiet bunch when we finally called it a day and walked back to the bus. We were filthy dirty and looked dramatically different from when we arrived.

I was tired; the sun, the heat and the work had drained me. Driving through the noisy streets of Trivandrum, I fell sound asleep.

The following morning we were in for a major surprise.

"As we reached the site, we got the shock of our lives, the whole place was full of mud," said volunteer Mit Shah.

In our time away, Richard and his father-in-law had excavated two feet into the ground. The entire area looked like a gigantic mole hill. We stood silently looking at the mountain of mud we had to move.

"Let’s pay to get a machine," someone suggested.

But we put our packs down and started up the chain gang again. We worked on and on and on. After four hours the entire pit was cleared.

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