My name is Roswitha Davies. In the late summer of 2018, I visited Reaching the Unreached and travelled more widely into some lesser-known parts of South India. While I was there, I was fortunate enough to see a bore well being drilled in the village of Sangareddykottai, which is situated in an area of Tamil Nadu that has suffered severe water shortages for some years.

While I was in India, I wrote a series of e-mails to the friends and family who helped me raise funds to help pay for the well to be drilled and pumps to be installed. I hope they evoke something of the unique atmosphere of the region and also help to illustrate the importance of RTU's work to the communities who live there, especially the children who live in the Children's Villages.

17 August 2018

I arrived safely in Tanjavur in South India on Tuesday evening, having left my home 28 hours earlier!  Two flights, a bus and two taxi journeys prepared me just a little for the incredibly frenetic traffic in India! Cars, buses, tuk-tuks, lorries, motorbikes - laden with dad, mum and two small children - bikes and pedestrians come at you from all sides, not seemingly following any traffic rules. It can take 10 minutes to cross the road! 

After my long journey, I rest for a few days in Tanjavur, a famous temple city in Tamil Nadu, before travelling to Reaching the Unreached, about 4 hours West.

Tanjavur has a beautiful 1,000 year-old temple where daily sensuous rituals are being performed, involving oil lamps, flowers, singing, drums, blessings - for Hindus and anybody else. I love listening to all this and walking barefoot on the warm flagstones where pilgrims have walked for a millennium.

Today I went to other temples in the area in the Kavery Delta which is at the moment emerald green with rice paddies, some rice being harvested now. Coconuts and cashew nuts are also growing in abundance. This year, after three years of drought, there has been enough rain for a good harvest.

19 August 2018

I feel I am slowly beginning to settle into the Indian way of life, feeling less anxious when out in the traffic and learning to switch off from the constant noise. 

I am leaving Thanjavur tomorrow to travel to RTU. The floods in Kerala are daily in the news, here and abroad. RTU is in the west of Tamil Nadu state, not too far from Kerala, but on the other side of the Western Ghats mountains. This side there is no monsoon and it is not expected until October.

Nevertheless, I know that all is well in RTU, and a welcoming committee of foster mothers and children are apparently waiting for my arrival. I have bought my first supply of 'chocolates' - candy sweets for them (which my grandsons would never be allowed to eat!).

22 August 2018

I have been in RTU for only three days and am already feeling part of this lovely big family again. Here life is peaceful and well organised, everybody busy doing their job (RTU has more than 300 staff), but above all they go out of their way to make me feel welcome and in need of nothing! It is an incredible place! I know many people here from my previous visits and they are all happy to see me, simply because I have come a long way just to see them. 

The children crowd around me when I appear in their playground and ask me if I remember their names - all 120 of them! They want to see my family photos, which I can show them on my iPad. So far they have not asked for 'chocolates', which is a relief, as I don't just want to be remembered as the 'chocolates aunty'!

Although I am staying in a small guestroom outside one of the Children's Villages, I only meet the children when I go to visit them in their little family houses with their foster mothers. Although there are so many children living here, they are well behaved and seem very happy and settled, in spite of the trauma of separation, illness or death, which most of them have experienced in their childhood. They are the sweetest children I have ever met - after my own grandchildren of course!

Walking around the RTU campus I am constantly reminded of Brother James - his photo is everywhere. Everyone here is mourning his loss and his presence is very much felt.

It is very moving to see his simple grave, decorated with fresh flowers and candles every day, near the children's playground where he used to sit and watch them play. He was a very special and holy man, who will never be forgotten by many people.

On Friday I am going to visit another Children's Village 40 km away, where I stayed for four weeks on my first visit. It has not rained properly there for four years and people are struggling with diminishing water supplies. Although the monsoon rains are destroying livelihoods in Kerala, on the other side of the Western Ghats mountains, here in Tamil Nadu, it is entirely appropriate to provide people with new wells because without water life is becoming increasingly precarious. 

Father Antony, Director of RTU, has had some applications from villages for new wells, but has not decided yet which communities will receive them. In the week starting 3rd September, when I will be here with my sister, we will hopefully see a well being drilled!

28 August 2018

On Sunday I returned to the main RTU campus after a trip to the other Children's Village. The 80 children at there receive fewer visitors so I was made especially welcome and watched them playing ball games and doing amazing hula-hoop performances, which reminded me of what we did in my own, long ago childhood!

I noticed that the children were playing with just one ball. Later I mentioned this to the Manager and it was decided that apart from the money needed for the bore well, the rest of the money we raised will be spent on sports and play equipment for the children. RTU will buy balls, bats and skipping ropes for the playgrounds of all four Children's Villages. I know that they have previously had these things, but with the wear and tear of children playing with them they have to be replaced regularly, so our money is very welcome!

Over the evening meal, which I usually share with the Father Antony and his two newly-arrived fellow Capuchin priests, we talked about the caste system. It is still a reality for everybody. Castes don't mix with other castes, they live in separate areas, and even amongst Christians people sit in separate areas of the church and many refuse to take communion from a priest of a different caste. One of them said: you can change your religion as often as you like, but you cannot change your cast - it is your reality for life. Quite shocking!

When I talk about the happy children in RTU, there is also a very painful side to the work of the staff there. On the day when I returned, there had been two admissions of new children. One 9 year-old boy was brought in a tuk-tuk by his father who was dying of AIDS, begging RTU to take care of his son. The boy's mother had already died. The man was very ill and weak, unable to walk. The staff now have to help this boy to start a new life in a children's home, after all that he has lived through.

I am now about to say goodbye for now to RTU and travel back to Tanjavur, where I started off two weeks ago.

Tomorrow my sister Lioba is arriving from Germany, and we will travel around  the area for a few days and then back to RTU together. I am looking forward very much to sharing my India experience with her!

2 September 2018

I left RTU last Tuesday and travelled back by bus to Tanjavur to meet my sister Lioba, who arrived from Germany on Wednesday. We had not met for 18 months so you can imagine how lovely it was to see each other again! We are travelling around Chettinadu, a small, fairly unknown region of Tamil Nadu near the Eastern Coromandel coast, not far from the southernmost tip of India.

I discovered this area on my last visit to India but then only spent a day here, promising myself to come back. The area was populated for centuries by the Chettiars, a merchant caste, who traded with Burma, Indochina and other South Asian countries. They established banks and became rich, and in the 19th century built themselves huge palatial family mansions and temples in over 90 villages, furnishing their houses with the most exquisite items from all over the world: marble from Italy, glass from Venice, teak wood from Burma, even steel from Manchester!  These mansions are very beautiful, evoking the splendour of a bygone age. 

We are staying in one of the mansions, which was renovated by two French architects and turned into a hotel. They have also set up an NGO which is raising awareness of the importance of these houses and the need to preserve the Chettiar heritage. They are working with a team to apply for Unesco World Heritage status for the area to help protect these houses, some of which have been abandoned and are in a poor state of repair.

This is one of the restored, exquisitely decorated rooms in Chettinadu Mansion, a beautiful peaceful space.

Lioba and I go out every day by tuk-tuk to visit nearby villages. We have been able to visit some of the other Chettiar mansions that are open to visitors. We have also been to many local temples and shrines of minor Hindu gods. These are often located in Sacred Groves. They are very spiritual places, away from the hustle and bustle of Indian life.

These horse figures, standing outside a temple, are offerings to the local village gods.

On Tuesday Lioba and I are returning to RTU - and 120 children! I hope that the bore well might be drilled next week!

6 September 2018

Brilliant news! Today our well was drilled in Sangareddykottai.

A huge drilling machine arrived and work began at the middle school (which has 112 pupils) at 9 am. We saw the first water at 11.30 am! It was a very emotional moment because it is never certain that the water will be in the spot the diviner has calculated. About 10 men drilled in the boiling heat until 3.30 pm, reaching down to 600 feet until good, strong water  - though very grey looking - came up.

The teachers and students clapped and we each had a celebratory drink from a tender coconut. Lioba and I sat in the shade of some trees in the school yard and watched each stage of the drilling, getting thoroughly wet and full of grey dust. The children put on a dance performance for us and I gave them a little chat about Wales and all my friends who had helped to raise the funds for the well. The well will have a sign: Wales Water! It was a very emotional day for me! Brother James certainly guided the drilling from above. He had been a diviner himself!

The school needs 500 litres of water every day. The government only supplies water to a tank in the school grounds once a week, so before the new well, when this water ran out the headmaster and some of the boys had to walk to the well in the village centre and carry water back to the school in heavy 25 litre flasks. The new well will mean they no longer have to take time out of the school day to carry out this task and there will be plentiful, clean water for all the pupils and their teachers.

Now Lioba and I are sitting on the veranda of our small ' bungalow' i.e. room (very basic and quite a culture shock after our luxury Chettinar mansion hotel!) enjoying the peace and quiet of a balmy Indian night and, just occasionally, chasing away the mosquitoes.

13 September 2018

A lot has happened since my last email! Watching the bore well being drilled and seeing the hoped-for water gushing out of the dry earth last Thursday was certainly the emotional highlight of my RTU visit! 

A lot has happened since my last email! Watching the bore well being drilled and seeing the hoped-for water gushing out of the dry earth last Thursday was certainly the emotional highlight of my RTU visit! 

The RTU water engineers worked hard at the village school to put a pump down in the well, build the necessary pipes from the well to the water tank up on the roof of the school and connect a switch board to the electricity. They worked extra-fast so that the well would be ready while I was still here! A week after the first drilling took place, I cut the ribbon at the tap in the wall and crystal clear water came out and was collected in a pot by three pupils. It was a very emotional moment when I was asked to taste the water, one I will never forget! 

A sign was attached to a wall and now the school every day has plenty of ' Wales Water'!! The pupils were taught to shout out in chorus, 'Wales Water'! It did bring tears to my eyes! The opening ceremony was followed by a tender coconut drink, dances by some students and a poetry recitation in English.

What an adventure! Soon I will be home, but I want to thank you, my lovely family and all my friends, for providing the children of Sangareddykottai with fresh water every day!

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