November 28, 2010

Life lessons

Just as every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. Here are my adventures on the matter. I considered the SSL weirdos, attic dwellers on the ground floor (blasphemy strictly in violation of the code) and overall morcha kind of people. I was no better being a science dude, fourth floor dweller (it would be an attic if it had a roof, that distinction left for the biology guys and gals). I spent most of my time huffing and panting, walking up the enchanted stairs to class and down, cursing the mornings, the 4th floor and Statistics.

My association with the SSL started in my second year because I was told that the Rural Camp was a quick and simple way to get a social service credit. So before deciding to apply for the easy way out I walked around to the office to confront the creatures that inhabited the room under the stairs. Man was I wrong about those people! There was a magic about the place. I walked out of that office after applying to be a sub-secretary at Project Care, a post I later got.

Rural Camp became my first proper interaction with the SSL, since PC would only come at the end of the year. It is an experience I will not forget. The QQ’s, the entertainment sessions, the jokes and the fatigue weren’t the memories I retained. It’s a feeling, this sublime feeling that one can’t describe, a feeling that is felt differently by different people but it’s a feeling that is just absolute bliss. You learn things without being taught, you see things without looking, you come back with empathy and compassion you never possessed before. These lessons in humanity were reinforced during PC.

I will always admit, I learned different lessons in life at different times and places and through this journey called life I will learn many more, but at SSL and Xavier’s I learned to be a good human being. To Father T and the rest of my ‘SSL peeps’, I will always be thankful.

- Akshay Thiagrajan.
SSLite for life

November 25, 2010

Fun Factor

   The first few days at college were rather boring, if not disappointing. I was lost. We were just having a look around the place when I first stepped into the little SSL office and registered as a member, not too sure of how I would be able to help. At that time I was a bit nervous, now walking into the SSL comes naturally and I owe it all to my first SSL project - The Exhibition and SSaLe.

   On a normal evening when I was whiling away my time in front of the TV, I was asked to volunteer for the Exhib. I was hesitant but I still said yes. The next day we had a little meeting and suddenly I knew so many people! And amazingly, they knew me too! Ever since that day, I never felt lost again. We would be working till around 8 in the arches, laughing, gossiping and so much more. I kept going back to work every day, not because it was imposed but because I always wanted to. It translated into more fun than I had ever imagined. Getting to work on this sort of project in one's first month at Xavier's is honestly the best thing one can hope for. It gives you an unparalleled sense of belonging - to the organisation, the college and the people. The things we came up with in like such a short span of time were amazing.

   From brain-storming to actually making everything, it was just a beautiful journey! That’s when I realised, we have some of the most amazing seniors. Not remotely close to those typical scary, bullying ones you expect. They were warm and welcoming not only in the beginning but also throughout the Exhib and even after. The suggestions we put forward were always appreciated, and they’d help us make them better. They treated us wonderfully. At the end of the event they showed their gratitude in the form of a very cute hand-written, personalised note!

   Now when I come home early in the evening and while away my time in front of the TV or the computer, I actually miss the Exhib, the work, the staying back and everything else. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people and made the most beautiful friends, all while contributing to a social cause.
                                                           - Siddhi Pathak.

November 5, 2010

The SSL and I

   In the four years of my life at St. Xavier’s, this is the first time that I have been associated with the SSL. I met some of the most genuine people in college here. Among the plethora of organisations in college where one witnesses one-upmanship and power hunger, the SSL is a place where I have observed these sentiments the least, if not none at all. We have archetypes in college. There are people that are musically inclined, the photographers and the teachers’ pets, to name a few. However the SSL is truly a diverse group of people that welcomes everyone – painters and writers, the old and the new, with open arms. In my rather brief association with the SSL, I have realised that everything that is conceptualised eventually falls into place. For example, the two hour workshops end up having a full house irrespective of the publicity, as everyone spreads the word. This collective spirit is what drives the SSL. The leadership is enjoyable as nothing is ever imposed and flexibility is believed in. Like all other clans, the SSL sure knows how to party and have fun, especially the Exec Comm! (wink, wink.)

   Some of the most memorable moments of my college life have been with the SSL. One vivid image that comes to my mind is that of the children at Navjeevan hugging us and not letting us go. It takes just that one hug to keep them happy. Be it action or taking the initiative, the SSL has done it all. The Bicycle Collection Drive and projects like G. I. Joe are great initiatives that have been undertaken with a lot of passion. To me, the SSL doesn’t preach much. It just acts and sets an example. That has been the greatest lesson for me. I truly respect all those that are silently working for a cause. The SSL has many such heroes. If one needs to give an example of unconditional love, I have one: Aaron’s love for the SSL! His brownies, enthusiasm for Rural Camp and general ‘being there’ attitude is phenomenal!

   All in all, there is a selfish reason to be a part of the SSL. The Blood Drives, Project Care, the Exhibition: they just make you feel good. Many people say that there's nothing that matches up to the feeling of helping someone less fortunate. They're all speaking the truth. Being an SSL-ite uplifts you, and the people around you. Whether it's studying in Fr. Terry’s haven, chilling in our little ‘office’ or looking forward to an 11 day long, cellphone-free camp, I feel happy and proud to be associated with the SSL!

- Kshiti Gala.
Project Secretary, Workshops.

The Bicycle Project

SSLite for life

   As I begun to write this a host of brilliant and the most amazing memories rushed past me. It really does feel like it was just yesterday. The SSL was always special for me. I knew about it heard about it even before I joined college. When you’re coming from a family like mine where almost everyone from your parents to your uncles and aunts who have been a part of the SSL as either General Secretary or well Project Secretary it gives you a complex instantly because you’re expected to live up to that and I had pretty big shoes to fill.

   I wasn’t instantly drawn towards the SSL. It was more like a direct order. So I did. Initially never really hung out there much. Then Rural Camp happened, and something magical took place. The reason I say magical is because I suddenly found myself doing things I would never thought I could. But I will get back to that a little later.

   What is the SSL in a nutshell? Well the answer is quite simple. Fr. Terrence Quadros S.J. The heart and soul of one of the longest running institutions on campus. Although now he considers himself old I would say he could still give any teenager a run for his money. What I think he’s been able to do with the SSL is quite amazing. The SSL is not, I repeat, not an organisation that does work and tries to change the world and make a huge difference. I believe it changes the people we are and in fact empowers us to take on and change the world. It has also introduced me to some really amazing people who I would otherwise have never met, people who have definitely made an impression on me.

   Rural Camp that’s where it all began for me actually. I went without knowing anyone. I was the only JC, that too in my FY, so it was kind of scary actually. But I came back a changed person. People always ask you how Camp changes you, what it’s all about. My own brother who will be going for Rural Camp this year asked me the same thing. I refused to tell him. Well it’s also kind of hard to explain. The best way to understand is to go for one yourself.

   Being Rural Camp secretary in my year was amazing, a lot of hard work I might add, but immense fun. The afternoon river sessions to the work in the pit and of course, the bogs (for those who don’t know what the bogs are have a word with this years General Secretary of the SSL Aadi Rungta who was Bogs Secretary in my year.). Then of course there are the Quotable Qoutes (QQs) which form a very integral part of Rural Camp. An example (Terry to another girl while working in the pit), “I will get behind you and give it to you from the back.” I don’t think he’ll be too happy I wrote that.
The simple food, those entertainment sessions and so may other things. Rural Camp somehow is a reminder of the way the rest of the world lives and an eye opener to all. It’s something I always looked forward to every year of college.

   As I wind up I remember Terry narrating another story to us all about a dream he once had. In that dream an angel appeared to him and granted him a single wish which was that hence forth he would meet only the most beautiful people. Well I honestly think that dream came true; through the SSL. I have to say that in my years as a student in college and a member of the SSL I have come across only the most beautiful people. The friends I have made I know will last for years to come.

                                                                - Keegan Crasto.
                                                                  Assistant General Secretary, 2009 - 2010.

November 3, 2010

Had I known how to save a life

“A child’s mind is like wet cement, whatever falls on it, leaves an impression.”

   Influencing the mind of a young child is perhaps one of the million things that most of us take for granted. Unfortunately it is also one that has the most far reaching consequences. Even more daunting is the thin line of balance that one treads while interacting with children who are less privileged than we were. Children who have experienced more adversity than most adults can afford to ignore throughout their lives, children who may have been robbed of their innocence due to fate, but are vulnerable to the repercussions of our callous actions all the same.

   Is over protectiveness the answer, or a superficial sense of normalcy?  Would these children be eager for our attention or resentful of our assumed role as caretakers and self-righteous preservers? In our quest to answer these complex questions the SSL held a workshop on ‘Caring for Children’ on 11th August, as a prelude to the Project Care visit on 14th August to Dolours School, Marine Lines. The session was conducted by Ms. Raheen Jummani, a clinical psychologist and child counselor who has had tremendous experience in therapy for underprivileged children across diverse sections of society.

   The workshop did not deal with jargon or psychological concepts and theories. We were instead called upon to consider our childhoods, to consciously remember each injury – mental or physical – that someone had unintentionally caused and every warm gesture that lightened our days. This simple but effective exercise drove home the point of being able to throw our preconceived notions and prejudices aside, and establishing a relationship that is based on our own experiences as children.

   Ms. Raheen stressed on the importance of honesty while working with a child. Children have a tendency to become attached to any person who gives them the requisite care, love and affection needed to win their hearts, however short the time period. In such a circumstance, it becomes vital to explain to the child the sudden absence of a volunteer or replacement with a new, unknown person.
She warned us of over enthusiasm, encouraging us instead, to listen more than talk and observe not just the obvious, verbal clues to a child’s personality but also the more subtle ones. A refreshing point that was brought to our notice was the necessity of knowing when to give up in case a certain child seemed unable to respond or take to your personality. As frustrating as it may seem, children may harbour extreme likes and dislikes, leaving a volunteer with no choice but accept the situation as beyond remedy and move on.

   However the essence of the workshop could be summarised in the inherent need to trust your instinct. As we learned that day, taking care of a younger person, being sensitive to a person’s needs and background cannot be taught in the four walls of a classroom, it must be acquired through experience, through a keen sense of observation and through an earnest desire to be able to help. Working with a child implies an immense responsibility, the responsibility that you undertake with the power to shape a life, the power to influence a budding mind, the power to bring a little light into a life that has probably seen more than its share of miseries. You could be careless with this responsibility, decide that it doesn’t amount to much and let the consequences follow or you could make a conscious decision to care for the child, respect the trust placed in you and to honour the duty you have committed to.

“Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate”

                                                                                     - Nikita Saxena (SYBMM).
                                                                                        Project Secretary, Workshops.

November 2, 2010

Bringing smiles - Project Care

   My opinion about children in general has never been too favourable. I always thought they were a little evil. For instance, when they sit next to you in the train, they could punch themselves in the eye and start wailing so that everyone around thinks that you did it. However this opinion of mine turned less severe after I volunteered for Project Care organised by the SSL in my FYJC, four years ago. Ever since, I have always looked forward to it.

    Project Care is one of SSL’s prime projects in which children from an NGO(s) come and spend time with college students for two days, doing various activities. Prior to the event visits are undertaken by the volunteers to the centre where the children go to school, or live. Each child (generally between 6-10 years of age) is paired with one adoption volunteer who is a college student. The children spend the next two days with their Bhaiya or Didi participating in games, workshops and random jam sessions. And take my word for it when I say it’s one crazy, super-duper, funky monkey, loop-de-loop, fun- filled experience!

   There is usually a session at the BPT gardens where there are many games like sack races, tug-of-war, and throw-the-water- sponge-at-Jason. The mela which takes place in the Woods even had a jumping jack for the kids one year. There are trips to interesting places like the Nehru Science Centre, Planetarium, Traffic Park etc. We have workshops, skits, magic shows, dance performances and a lot of great (free) food!

   The best part about Project Care is the interaction with the children. Their innocent questions and gestures often remind us of how simple the world can actually be. A child-like light returns to everyone’s eyes. At the same time everyone gets a sense of responsibility towards their children. By the end of two days, adoption volunteers start referring to their randomly assigned child as ‘my kid’ and become concerned about whether their child has gone to the loo, wants more water or food and try to grab an extra samosa for their child. More than anything, we realize how privileged we are to have so much in our life and become thankful for it.

    In one of the years, one of the volunteers ran all the way till VT station chasing the bus which was taking the kids home. That is the kind of bond we form with the kids and so we even go for pre-visits (before PC) and post- visits (after PC) to the NGO. Project Care is one amazing experience and I suggest you all do it for putting a smile on so many faces apart from your own.                                                                                                                                                                      
R Parvathi. (TYBA)

Exec Comm note: Abhay, the ex-SSLite mentioned in the last paragraph took it upon himself to make this a tradition that he practised until he passed out. He tries to come back for Project Care every year. We miss you Abhay.

Outsider, inside. (Team Building 2010)

This is a piece written by a Xavierite who was an outsider w.r.t. the SSL but became an insider. 

   The Team Building Camp is a getaway organised by the SSL every year. It really is a brilliant initiative. The Team Building Camp of 2010 was a huge success right from the time the registrations opened. Out of a number of applicants, only about 40 were selected on a first come first serve basis. These included a mixture of students from SYJC, FY, SY and TY degree.

The most striking factor right from the beginning was the amazing cohesiveness and familiarity shown by all the members of this big group. Though Fr. Terry sat quietly, maybe revising all the tips and knowledge that he was going to unload on us, all the students in the bus had an amazing time singing songs, playing the guitar and even dancing!

   We reached in a couple of hours or so at the St. Xavier’s Villa. The Villa is a cluster of four buildings, three of which are dormitories while one serves as a mess and conference room. We had a session with Fr. Terry as soon as we had been assigned our dorms and finished with unpacking. The weather at Khandala was simply marvellous – slight rain followed by a cool mist and occasional glimpses of sunshine. I believe hardly anyone slept before 2 A.M that night. Naturally, I can only give you first-hand information of what happened in the boys’ dorm. All of us camped in one room and sang songs and played games. Even after we went to our respective dorms, you could tell that hardly anyone was sleeping. An advantage for us, the room accommodated 3 cots so we talked through the night.

   By and by, everyone slept and woke early next morning. A full day of fun and learning awaited us. A few campers had organised a walk in the morning after which we had breakfast followed by sessions with Fr. Terry. No words can describe the amount of fun had and information gained in these sessions. Fr. Terry was in his element, enlightening us on topics such as mixing with everyone, giving equal voice and importance to every member of the team to understanding our parents and family. He had organised many games emphasising the point which he was making and each one was different and as interesting as the previous.

   In the evening we had the Talent Night after dinner where each and every one of us had to perform something, anything. This just showed what true qualities of encouragement and oneness everyone had imbibed. No one was booed and nor anyone’s performance commented negatively upon. This really was the highlight of the camp. Fr. Terry performed too! He gave us a wonderful rendition of “Perhaps Love” by John Denver and Placido Domigo where he beautifully he sang both their parts.

   The next morning most of us slept much more than we had the previous day. After a homely breakfast, we had a few sessions with Fr. Terry followed by dinner and ultimately, departure time.

It really was a brilliant experience and I really enjoyed myself and made many new friends. Looking forward to next year’s camp!

                                                                                          -  Yash Gurjar, FYBA.