A 23-strong group including 14 parishioners from the Church of the Holy Name, Greenisland, is currently helping out in an orphanage in India.
The group travelled to Chennai, formerly known as Madras, on August 1 and will be in India for three weeks.
Their base is the Little Hearts Orphanage, home to 100 disabled children who have been picked up off the streets or dumped at the orphanage door.
Greenisland parishioner Peter Regan has visited the orphanage before in his role of treasurer for ACTS Ministries who fundraise for the orphanage.
Speaking before this latest trip, Peter said India was quite distinct in every way, including sights, sounds and even smells. But many of the things he witnessed during his 2006 trip to Chennai were disturbing.
“I saw whole families sleeping on the streets. I saw people with leprosy which you think of as a dead disease, and I saw many children who were undernourished,” he said.
“India is a real contradiction. You can see a Porsche, yet a little further up the road there are people who are starving.”
Fundraising for the trip began in earnest in November, and there have been parachute jumps, sponsored walks, quizzes, auctions, bag packing and other innovative activities to raise money.
Peter said: “I was surprised at how many people wanted to come on the trip. As well as working in the orphanage they will be working in the school attached to it for the dallat children [dallat is the lowliest position in the Indian caste system] and helping out in the local church and in the slums.”
With temperatures in the forties every day, it will be hot, dusty work.
Among the group is Alan Wright, known as Arf, a youth worker at Greenisland parish, and a number of young people who attend the Realway Drop-in Centre, run by Greenisland parish at the local railway station.
Arf believes the trip will not only benefit the young Indians. “I am looking forward to seeing our teenagers lives changed by going to Chennai, to seeing the impact the place has on them,” he said. “I think they will enjoy looking after the children. It will be something very different for them. Many of those in the orphanage have mild mental problems, but they interact well and the young people will be playing with them, giving them attention and feeding them.”
Also in the group are newly-weds Dave Frazer and Beth Williamson, from Greenisland Baptist Church. They were married on July 30, and the Channai mission trip is their honeymoon!
Although the trip is only for three weeks, Greenisland parish endeavours to support the orphanage all year round, and 10 of the children who live at Little Hearts have sponsors from the Co Antrim town.
Peter sponsors a girl named Gemini, who is now 23. “The people from ACTS visited her home with toothpaste, soap and other basics. Gemini was sitting in a corner. They told her mother the girl did not look well,” he said.
“In the Hindu religion if you are born into poverty they believe you are cursed, you must have done something in a past life. The mother said Gemini was the curse of the family. They took her to the orphanage, she was just a bag of bones.”
Gemini now lives happily in Little Hearts . Mentally she is very bright, but she is confined to a wheelchair.
You can follow the group activities in India on their blogspot http://www.greenisland-india.blogspot.com/. A full report on the trip will appear in the October edition of Connor Connections.