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India – A Different kind of Christmas

10 January 2017

(ANS – Nilavarapatti) – Marie Degenhardt celebrated a different kind of Christmas this year. She is doing a development policy volunteer service at the Don Bosco Care Home near Salem, South India. After three months on the spot the 18-year-old reports on her experiences so far.

For the girl, born in Peitingerin, Bavaria, this year there are neither cookies, nor a Christmas tree, let alone an Advent calendar: “Instead I spent the Christmas time at 30 degrees under palm trees in the sunshine".

Since September, the 18-year-old calls Don Bosco Care Home in Nilavarapatti her own home. In this institution in the state of Tamil Nadu, southern India, she is doing volunteer service for one year, together with another young German called Anna. "The project near Salem was founded in 2010. At present, the Salesians of Don Bosco offer a home to 63 HIV-infected boys and young men,” the high school graduate says.

The special feature is that the Care Home is one of the few homes to receive HIV-infected children and adolescents, and to accompany them until they can finally get a job and provide for themselves. Until then, the Care Home provides the patients with medical assistance, free education, psychological care and especially protein- and vitamin-rich food, which strengthens their weakened immune system.

Explaining further Marie Degenhardt says: “My task and that of my fellow volunteer, Anna, is mainly to be there for the boys. Since many of them are half-orphans or some even full orphans, it is important that they have a person to whom they can turn when they are not feeling well. Someone to listen to them and care for them”. But it is clear to her that no one can replace one's own parents. Nevertheless, she wants to give the young people aged from 6 to 22 her own special attention and affection.

Marie Degenhardt helps them with the morning jobs: sweeping, watering the plants and feeding the animals. Then she accompanies them to the nearby schools. "In addition, we teach English to the little ones who are part of the project."

It falls to the volunteer also to take tuition, to organize the different afternoon programmes as well as to keep the medical records. For example, she has to check the blood condition, the medicines and the weight of the residents of the home and feed them into a software to be tested. Marie also accompanies them during their visits to the hospital.

"In the actual situation in which these youngsters find themselves, a doctor or a nurse would be necessary," the 18-year-old says. The only way to finance it, in the view of the Director, would be to replace the outdated and hence extremely expensive electrical system with a cost-saving solar system; to replace the gas heating with a firewood heating system and to install a ground water pump.

For the Christmas festival, Marie set out to "teach the boys, Silent Night, Holy Night." In return, she and Anna will be attired in a sari, a traditional Indian robe. "Even these small gestures which form part of our everyday life at the Don Bosco Care Home are indications of our interest in getting to know and to experience a different culture”.

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