As she returns home to the UK, The Revd Sarah Miller shares a final reflection from her USPG Journey With Us placement in Madurai, India.
Appropriately, I write my last Journey With Us reflection in Mumbai airport as I await my connecting flight to Heathrow and return to the UK. I left Madurai this afternoon, waved off by kind friends from Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary (TTS), my home for the last six weeks of my placement. I developed English conversation groups for the Masters and PhD students. Around thirty students met each week in small groups, developing their confidence with spoken English, sharing their academic interests and research and getting to know each other better. The groups reflected the diversity of the TTS postgraduate community: students from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and from the far North Eastern States of India: Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalia and Mizoram. In one group each of the six members spoke a different mother tongue.
All five groups want to continue to meet, taking it in turns to lead discussions. Philip, a PhD student from Kerala asked me to help him with English corrections to a 15,000 word assessment paper, a theological perspective on ecology and sociology. It took a meticulous ten hours, towards the end we speeded up and he was making the corrections himself. During the course of our meetings I had an insight into the challenges of student life at TTS, where the daily routine revolves around collecting water in buckets for washing. The water shortage in Madurai is so severe that it only comes through the pipes in student accommodation for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. The practical issues also include regular power cuts (so no fans to temper the heat or recharge computers and phones) and mosquitoes which infiltrate rooms at night, another cause of poor sleep. Despite these and other challenges the students are enthusiastic, highly motivated, and committed to their studies. It was a privilege to work with them and share their life.
I visited a project of TTS, Arulagam, meaning grace in Tamil. It is home to around twenty women who have suffered violence and abuse and are rebuilding their lives in a safe, supportive environment. They learn traditional weaving techniques and I was fascinated by the old wooden looms, clacking rhythmically as towels, mats and bed sheets were created in bright colours. Tailoring was also taught and products sold – beautifully worked napkins, bags, purses and table cloths. One of the women, a long term resident, had just married the son of the tailoring teacher. Women stay at Arulagam for as long as it takes them to become independent or return to their families.
Just before my time at TTS I was invited by Revd Dr Sadananda, General Secretary of the Church of South India Synod to visit CSI Centre in Chennai and had a stimulating five days there. I visited all the departments which resource CSI including Pastoral Concerns, Mission and Evangelism, Ecological Concerns and Social Empowerment. In the Youth Department I met two young men, Ashish and Manish who had just finished a three week CSI placement in a Rohingya refugee settlement near Chennai. They had befriended the young people there and learned about their lives and aspirations. They said it was both heart-breaking and inspiring. The Rohingha people had experienced such trauma and hardship and yet they could still hope for the future, including the hope that they would eventually return home to Myanmar.
I return to the UK having rediscovered the country of my birth, which has welcomed me warmly. India has exhausted me and cared for me, challenged me and soothed me, infuriated and charmed me. It has allowed me to share and develop my passion for communication and to experience the lives of contrasting communities. India has taught me to trust that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, despite uncertainty and apparent chaos; that bright sun always follows the rain, however dark the storm; that companions are always provided for the journey.