July 11

Two weeks… Two continents… Many firsts

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Vasco da Gama

On 8 July 1497 Vasco da Gama, the 1st Count of Vidigueira led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 men from Lisbon on a historic voyage around Africa to India via the Kenyan coast. On 20 May 1498, the fleet arrived at Kappadu along the Malabar Coast in present day Kerala state, India concluding a breakthrough journey. Indeed, this was a journey of many firsts. For the first time, Europe and Asia were linked by an ocean route and Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea. Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia.

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Vasco da Gama’s Pillar in Malindi, Kenya.

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Vasco da Gama’s Landmark in Kappad, near Calicut, India.

520 years, 11 months and 19 days later 27th June 2018, a journey of many firsts began, ushering me into a life-changing encounter. It was certainly my first time aboard the Emirates Airline, first trip to India, first time away from family for a straight six months, first time to work within the development sector and first time to be 100% embedded into a volunteer assignment. Yes, I could draw many more parallels between Vasco da Gama’s inaugural journey to India and mine but more importantly, this will be a first amongst many opportunities to leave heart prints on the lives on persons living with disabilities.

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Bye-bye Nairobi.

Departing at 4.30 pm from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport transiting via Dubai, I landed in Bengaluru, Karnataka at 9 am on 28th June. Not having slept for 24 hrs it was my joy experiencing a perfect transfer to my temporary accommodation thanks to meticulous arrangements by Ms. Pankaja, my Leonard Cheshire colleague . The ride from the airport was full of colour, personal reflection and pleasurable conversation with Mr. Ganesh the taxi driver which dampened the 1 hour spent weaving through traffic and relentless hooting.

Bengaluru beneath the clouds.

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Bangalore Traffic.

A shared history between two nations.

An intention of putting my head down for a few minutes ended up being a total blackout for the next couple of hours and were it not for the chilly gust from the air-conditioning unit that startled me at 7 pm, I might have slept right through to the following morning. Since my Day-0 couldn’t come to an end without exploring my new neighbourhood, I headed out to Commercial Street, Shivaji Nagar to purchase a phone SIM to call home. They say experience is the best teacher when I later discovered that the two lines bought for $20 should have costed me $ 3 each at the mobile operator’s store.

LCD SARO, Bangalore.

My day-1 was Friday 28th June when I reported for work at the Leonard Cheshire SARO (South Asia Regional Office) and met a team of awesome colleagues who have been exceptional in helping me settle in. Day-2 was the start of my first weekend and the beginning of house hunting. I got to scout the famous MG and Brigade Roads as well as visiting Garuda and 1 MG malls in addition to making my first set of Indian friends beyond the workplace. A bit of over indulgence of delicious Curries and Parothas had my belt feeling a little bit tighter but helped induc restful siestas that normalized my sleep patterns in readiness for the new week.

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Mahatma Gandhi Road also known as M.G. Road.

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New in my bucket list – How to cook delicious Parothas.

Over the next week, my jet lag wore off and I managed to secure long term accommodation which I moved into the following Saturday. The Leonard Cheshire SARO team also concluded my induction culminating in a meeting with the Cheshire Homes the Regional Council Chairman and SARO Regional Representative with whom we agreed priorities for my assignment.  With appreciation of the goals ahead and the strong foundation established through interaction with SARO staff, all is now set for the work ahead and we are currently reviewing my drafted objectives.

I continue to learn a great deal about the wonderful work being done in pursuit inclusive education, access to employment and the young voices program speaking out for the rights of persons with disabilities. The magnitude of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities face is enormous but the brief exposure at Leonard Cheshire has raised my appreciation of how day-to-day decisions at a personal level can help shift social perceptions and foster inclusivity and justice.

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At my new grind.

My take home this week is that, persons living with disabilities are abled differently and overly capable in many areas hence all deserve the opportunity to realize their full potential and contribute to society.

My journey continues along this beautiful path.

Psalm 18:36 “You enlarged my path under me, So my feet did not slip”