“If you are practically minded Shunem needs your help” was the statement in the Spring 2012 newsletter of the Shunem Home sent out to ecclesias. Shunem is a home set up and run by Christadelphians, near Hyderabad in India. That started the idea of going out to India as both of us (Paul and Shirley) have spent many years on various practical projects over the years and really enjoy working with our hands. So there it was an ideal project in an exciting location, seed planted!!
Ever since our oldest Daughter returned from her Shunem experience over 4 years ago, Shunem and India have held a fascination for us both as we heard accounts of a place so different from our own but importantly a extension of our spiritual family so this opportunity was not to be missed. The home mostly looks after children whose parents have leprosy so the children are unable to live at home, but also has some elderly residents too.
Leprosy is a bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and can cause severe damage to the body. Faces, hands and feet all show the damage as a result of leprosy and therefore people can recognise a person who has suffered leprosy very easily. There is a strong social stigma connected with this type of leprosy in India leading to them being disowned by their family and most cannot find a good job. Coupled with that children of these patients would also grow up to develop leprosy and so the cycle of suffering, unemployment and poverty would continue without the intervention of places like Shunem.
We were privileged to be part of a great team of Christadelphians drawn from across the UK who worked with such enthusiasm in temperatures that were at times almost unbearable! But we were also able to enjoy fantastic fellowship and new experiences together. By working together we gained a real sense of achievement as the work was completed. Working in the girl’s dormitory, cleaning, scrubbing and painting in extremely warm conditions was exhausting but the look of delight on the girl’s faces made it all worthwhile and is one of my lasting memories.
Teamwork made even the most unpleasant job fun! The storeroom was pretty grim and once the rats had been chased out we got to work transforming the room. Despite being on our knees scraping the floor of years of grime we managed to see the funny side of it and felt a real sense of achievement as we watched Jenni who runs the home, replacing all her ingredients in a spotless storeroom, although the unfortunate gecko who was found stuck to the floor was less impressed!!
The need to be practical was essential, the tasks we took on ranged from the more technical jobs such as arranging for the construction of replacement concrete ramps and building new partition doors to divide up a large room through to painting and decorating.
One of the lovely aspects of working at Shunem was the sheer enthusiasm of the children eager to help. Even if sometimes we had to reign in their keenness rescuing the occasional brush or roller or replacing the hammer with a screwdriver to fix a screw! They were such hard workers and so determined to finish the work.
The hard work of the Shunem staff was so appreciated by all the team, despite a few misgivings about curry every day! Jenni and her staff pulled out the stops to produce lovely “westernised” food to suit our delicate palates! But palates adjusted and we all enjoyed to a greater or lesser extent the wonderful spices on offer even if curry for breakfast was only for the very brave!!
It was great too, to be able to relax and take a few minutes out to talk to the elderly residents, children or staff, leading the readings or summarising a Bible reading as a thought for the day for the children. One of my abiding memories is of an elderly Brother sitting outside his room each morning Bible in hand surely a lesson for us all. The children are of course a what makes Shunem such a special place; it is difficult to get to know them all in such a short space of time but their enthusiasm for such simple pleasures, such as pots of bubbles brought by one of the other volunteers was infectious. It is also difficult to compare life styles of our children and we only had a very small snapshot of their lives but contentment with what they are able to share at Shunem does seem very evident.
Despite the early April temperatures of 42’+, it was a very exhausting, but greatly rewarding made all the more enjoyable by being able to fellowship with so many and recognising the pleasure the projects were bringing to the residents and staff.