SAP Community Cares

Monday, January 07, 2008

Beyond holiday - putting a little "community care" in the luggage

Just as I was putting finishing touches on my personal end-of-2007 vacation itinerary and finalizing SAP TechEd '07 Bangalore plans, I met with James Farrar, who is VP of Corporate Citizenship at SAP and author of the sustainability and CSR blog: Wisdom of Clouds. This coincided with a growing interest of the SAP community members in such matters and plans for the launch of a new area under the Business Process Expert Community called Corporate Social Responsibility.

I was very excited about the inauguration of the website: SAPfeedingknowledge and our SAP Community initiative to help provide "Food for Points".
But here I was ending the 2007 year with personal plans for a full month's break/vacation itinerary and the longest hiatus ever from my engagements with the SAP SDN and BPX community....or was it to be so? Was I to be a voyeur or an emissary in my travels, or a bit of both.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd, 2007, my 16-year old son, Dahn and I set out for Bangalore with further plans for Cochin, Madurai, Vietnam and Cambodia. Upon arriving in Bangalore, we had arranged to link up with my dear friend of (gasp) 35 years, Naomi Tocher. Naomi is a Kiwi who, ever since we met volunteering together on a kibbutz in Israel those many years ago, has dedicated her life to working in social services and of late heads support services for interpreters and translators in New Zealand. Naomi, Dahn and I had been formulating our travel plans together. Naomi had almost apologetically suggested we detour a bit from the usual tourist stuff and get to interface with locals. She had many personal contacts from within the Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee resources she worked with, and so was able to broker some "home stays". She also raised the possibility of our visiting a Children's home outside of Madurai and perhaps a rehabilitation hospital in Cambodia and made the tentative arrangements.

We agreed, never guessing how the worlds of exotic adventure travel and a more humanitarian and human set of experiences would coincide.

What follows are some journal notes from one of the most intriguing, disturbing, inspiring and moving trips I have ever had the privilege of taking. And truly, thanks to all those that contributed to this enriching journey: family, friends, work colleagues and the SAP Community, which in this hyper-connected world of ours is also a combination of all those entities.Especial thanks to the generous, brave, kind and helpful people of all those places we visited. I hope to tell some of your stories.

December 1st, 2007

We call the Illam "Children's Home" (orphanage) in Nilakottai near Madurai and ask if we can visit and what we can bring. School supplies? Books? They modestly say fruit. So armed with the only shopping bag at our disposal we head off for the market to buy 70 kilos, one for each child we visit.

We are greeted by Mr Khader, the head master of the school. We are welcomed and introduced in the most delightful way. You can see more photos of our day with the students here.
Everything resonated goodness. The foundation DHAN associated with the school has a microfinance program at work helping empower women in the community. The school absolutely indoctrinates the children with the goals of professional achievement. And these children, many of whose families, if they have any, are so destitute that they cannot afford to have them schooled, are also imbued with a pay-it-forward education. Each child successfully completing this program has vowed to help another child achieve those goals as well.
And if I understand it correctly, this whole project started through an individual's vision and dream. Her name is Jean Watson, and she is a 74-year-old Wellingtonian (New Zealander) who spends some of her time with her community in India. I've just finished speaking with her by phone in Wellington and thanking her for the gift she unwittingly gave us as well. As I write this, my friend Naomi shares her correspondance with Jean.
Naomi writes to Jean:
"We received a beautiful welcome from the children, Gero, some teachers and Mr.Kadher. After a traditional welcome, the children danced for us, showed us around their home and talked with us. We sang them a song and began to teach it to them. We had a scrumptious lunch - the cook is a real find. We also visited the lush garden at the back of the Ilam and learnt of your future plans for it.
I promised to bring back love to you from everyone at the Illam and let you know about the visit. They talk about you all the time and are looking forward to you being back with them.Jean, you are a real inspiration. I am so impressed by your foresight and your commitment to follow through on your vision. And what a satisfying result it must be to have a houseful of such lively, happy and talented children. I am particularly impressed by the encouragement given to each child to be successful in their life, and even more by the "obligation" that they will help another child."

Genromani volunteers as a teacher and Mr. Khader encourages the students who engage with us, to share with us some of their dreams and aspirations: computer engineers, teachers, health-care givers abound in the breathless and excited gaggle of grins and curiosity about us. These kids have lofty goals. And they make us believe they will attain them. We came to bring gifts. The truth is we received them. Amazing what ordinary people can do....feeding knowledge.

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