Two hearts in my chest

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SANNI Foundation gave me the chance to attend a three-monthly social internship at St. John’s in Trivandrum, Southern India. I still remember how nervous I was before this adventure and that I would have liked to ask the pilot to turn around. But when I arrived at St. John’s together with Father Jose and the children welcomed me so joyfully and brightly, my excitement was back immediately. The priests, nuns and staff at St. John’s made me feel very welcome in their community and were always on hand with help and advice for me in any situation.

In addition to my task to develop a variety of online marketing activities, I tried to spend as much time as possible with the children, who I had taken to my heart right from the beginning. To look into their bright eyes every day and to see their joy of living, which they radiate despite of their hard fate, has touched me greatly. I was overwhelmed by the fact that right from the beginning both the children and even myself had no mutual reservations. In the everyday life I quickly forgot that the kids suffer from the severe disease HIV/Aids. However, due to their weakened immune system, they are many times more susceptible to diseases of any kind than a healthy child and I experienced during my time at St. John’s that a cold can quickly become a strong bronchitis or even a dangerous pneumonia. But the caregivers are well aware of this and they educate the children to responsibly deal with their illness and teach them how to prevent and deal with diseases.

As a white European one appears a little ‘exotic’. Since neither the English of the children and even less my Malayalam skills were sufficient for a conversation, it was quite a challenge to communicate with each other. But we had a lot of fun to learn each other’s language and it was a pleasure to watch the great progress of the children. On top it is amazing how well you can understand one another without words. I was able to quickly integrate into the daily life at St. John’s and even got a nickname – “Ana”, which means elephant in Malayalam, what mightily amused everyone and made us laugh a lot. In the daily routine I participated in the morning yoga classes, accompanied the children to the meals, held daily English classes, and supported them in their favorite activities: dancing and singing.

Especially the excursions we made Î will never forget. To escape from the daily life and to do something special was not only a highlight for the children, but also for the teachers, priests, nuns and myself. For example, we visited an Indian circus, played a cricket tournament against the Boys Home or went for swimming in the sea. Thereby a normal bus ride can quickly turn into a small disco, where everybody is singing and dancing. Things and activities that are natural for us have a much higher priority there. I am eternally grateful that I can appreciate many things differently again and I hope that I will never forget that.

In addition to the Children’s Home I was also able to gain insights into other impressive projects at St. John’s, which are largely financed by the SANNI Foundation. Besides numerous visits to the associated community hospital, where every day 200 people get affordable medical help, I also became acquainted to the Leprosy and Tuberculosis stations and I was able to convince myself of the self-sacrificing work of the doctors and their assistants. I supported the HIV-hospital,the woman empowerment program and I accompanied the doctors and assistants to some of the 43 diabetes-camps through which people from remote villages are supplied with essential medicine.

Without the protective and guiding hand of Father Jose St. John’s would not be what it is. Father Jose is the most impressive man I have met so far. He lives for the sick and needy people, and works very hard to give them a better life and more importantly a better future. He puts his own needs always in the back. Father Jose has taken me straight to his big heart and made me feel as a member of the St. John’s family. But only with the help of the other priests, nuns, doctors, and a variety of other helpers he can handle the variety of tasks. Together, they are a great team for which St. John’s is much more than just a job.

At mealtime all priests, nuns and the other helpers came together, and the ladies from the kitchen always prepared an extra dish for me, as the hot Indian is quite a challenge for a European like me. In the afternoon, I was invited regularly to tea and often they surprised me with some special sweets. During mealtime we talked about our day, the upcoming events and discussed about the problems of children and patients. But most of all we laughed a lot, made several kind of bets or we let off steam in cricket or badminton game.

I am extremely grateful that I was able to make this wonderful experience and was able to get to know the Indian culture. The people at St. John’s became more than just friends, for me it feels like a second family and I still think about them every day. I can hardly await visiting them again and to hold them in my arms! Since I have visited St. John’s two hearts are beating in my chest: one for my German and one for my Indian family.

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