Day 1 & 2, 2nd and 3rd May (Tim)
A late departure from Heathrow on Friday evening, with the team flying on the over-night flight to Muscat in Oman, a few hours stop-over and then a connection to Chennai. All went smoothly and Churchill was waiting for us when we touched down. All the kit and luggage we brought also arrived safely, which was a big relief. A pretty tiring journey but we had time for a quick look around the area where we are staying and it is a different world from the one we have just left. Probably the most shocking thing we have seen so far was an elderly woman begging on the street. Back in the UK she would be looked after in a care home but here that just isn't an option. Our accommodation is good. We are staying at one of the YMCA facilities in the city and we each have our own rooms. They are basic but clean and air-conditioned, which is just as well as the temperature is in the 40s! Something else we have learned about India is to pray before crossing the road. The traffic here is crazy and I think we all agree that driving here isn't something we will be attempting any time soon! An early night tonight and then we will be going with Churchill to Christ Church tomorrow for the morning service.
Day 3, 4th May (Tim)
Today has been a chance to recover from our journey and get ready for the coaching ahead. We started off the day in a relaxed fashion by going to church with Churchill. Churchill attends Christ Church in Chennai, which is an anglican church and quite traditional. After lunch we then visited Marina beach which is on the Bay of Bengal and stretches for miles. We all had a paddle in the sea (Tim's annual foot wash?), although when we got out we noticed a lot of people putting up red flags and mumbling something about foreigners polluting the water - not sure what they were talking about. Churchill then took us to visit one of the slum areas of Chennai, which was really shocking. Conditions are really appalling and no-one seems to be doing very much about it.
One thing we have noticed in our short time in India is how crazy about cricket everyone is. No matter where you go there seems to be a game taking place, whether on the beach or on the streets. We are now back at the YMCA and having an early night in preparation for the coaching tomorrow.
Day 4, 5th May (Tim)
Our first day coaching in Chennai and after heat and sunshine on Saturday and Sunday the morning started off with torrential rain! By the time we reached the YMCA College of Physical Education (where all of our coaching is taking place this week) the pitch and basketball court were completely flooded and it looked like we would have to cancel the session for the day. Despite the rain, however, twenty kids had turned up anyway so once it stopped we put on football and basketball training for the hardy souls who had endured the elements to come along. Although it was a pretty soggy session the kids really enjoyed it and they also enjoyed Jamie's talk at the end. After lunch we then headed across to the Ahava Children's Home, which is part of the Dr John Joseph Foundation, and met kids who live there. They are a great bunch and it was nice to get a chance to say hello and spend some time with them. This evening we have a meeting with one of the leaders of a 15,000 strong church in Chennai to talk about sports ministry. More updates later folks!
Day 5, 6th May (Jamie)
My name is Jamie and I am the basketball coach on this trip to a country more known for cricket than any other sport. With me are on this trip are two men who believe in the power of sports ministry as well as me. Dan has come back for his second year to Chennai (as he loved it so much the first time) and is a very talented football coach from Warrington (up north). The other man is the one and only Tim Anderson, a work colleague of mine at Compassion. He has a great heart for the kids although it's just a shame he supports Nottingham Forest but none of us are perfect (considering I support Cardiff City).
After a fairly long journey via Muscat, Oman (courtesy of Oman Air) we safely arrived in Chennai to be greeted by our good friend Churchill. He is the man that makes sure everything ticks on the ground for Onside and a man I believe needs a PA with the amount of phone calls he gets in one day! If you don't already know, he has his own orphanage with 8 kids at the moment, allowing them to go to school, have a safe place to sleep at night, food and the love and care every child needs.
Anyway, introductions done, we got a lift from the airport and taken for our first cultural meal - McDonalds. I had one of the spiciest burgers you will ever get and the large drink I had was something I relied on heavily. We then arrived at our accommodation in the YMCA, which to be fair I didn't have the highest expectations for, but they are clean, have air-con (big plus especially with the temperature in its mid 30's) and a comfortable bed to rest our weary heads. It was just a shame that a huge Indian wedding reception was going on just outside the YMCA for the first night but it was very impressive and made typical English weddings look small.
The following morning we woke up to have our first of many lovely Indian teas. If they know one thing and how to do it well its tea. We also had an omelette and toast so no curry for breakfast just yet. While Tim had a lie in (still feeling the jet lag from our journey) me and Dan went with Churchill to Christ Church. It is quite a traditional church but impressive all the same, with huge pillars at the front which made it look like a government building and a steeple with the words 'Jesus Saves' written in big letters for all to see. The Pastor spoke with great conviction and passion about the love of God and the power he has. I think sometimes our pastor's can be too timid when we speak the Word of God but you could tell this man believed what he was saying. It was great to see.
Following church we had a tour around Chennai and after already being on an Onside trip to Kampala there are similarities and differences between each place. Chennai certainly has more development but also feels busier in parts, with the driving something of a spectacle. Churchill soon taught us how to cross roads - put your hand out and pray you don't get hit. The amount of motorbikes and tuk-tuk's out-number the cars here as they weave in out of traffic playing a game to get as close to each car as possible without falling off. There are some huge new developments in Chennai mixed with obvious slums near the river and the beach. As we went to the beach we looked out over the Bay of Bengal while taking in the sea breeze on a sandy yet dirty beach. We also witnessed some of the temporary accommodation that became permanent for the people who were affected by the tsunami in 2010. The poverty was so evident in buildings made of palm leaves and anything else they can find. It certainly puts everything else in perspective and I hope it always remains in my mind to appreciate just having a roof over my head.
Day 5 & 6, 6th and 7th May (Tim)
Against all expectations rain has again caused problems for coaching, meaning that numbers have been reduced, but the kids who have come along have been great and the coaching has been a lot of fun. After the training session yesterday we visited another beach which was really beautiful but it is quite hard to process seeing so much poverty beside so much wealth. Yesterday we visited the orphanage which Churchill runs and met the boys that live there. They are a great bunch and it was nice to drop in and say hello. It is very clear to see how important orphanages like this are as there doesn't seem to be any kind of government welfare.
Today after our coaching session we visited the American International School where Sebastian (Onside Head Coach in Chennai) works full time as a football coach. The facilities there are terrific and the contrast between where we are coaching and the facilities at the school are huge. Dan took a coaching session with the kids there which seemed to go well.
Although our coaching sessions have been affected quite badly by the rain it has given us a chance to look at different projects and work that is going on in Chennai and get an insight into a lot of the social problems the city has. It really has given us a lot to think and pray about and seeing the poverty first hand is heart-breaking. We have some more meetings and visits planned tomorrow after morning training so hopefully that will be useful as we look at different ways to expand the Onside programme here and also get more involved with other social action projects in the city.
On a more personal note, everyone is keeping well and really enjoying the trip so far. Hanging about with Churchill has been great and a lot of fun, although he definitely shouldn't be a racing car driver. He tried to beat a girl on a scooter away from a set of traffic lights earlier today and she left him a cloud of dust. Naturally we haven't really mentioned this to him (much!).
Day 7, 8th May (Tim)
Another coaching session this morning and numbers getting slightly better, although the weather is still a problem. One of the things which has been great about the trip is the people we have been meeting. We have met people of real faith doing remarkable things with very little resources. Today after the training session we visited a church in one of the slum areas and they are interested in starting a sports ministry in their area. We are hoping to be able to organise buses to bring their kids in to our camp tomorrow so that they can join in with what we are doing. After that we visited a refuge for abandoned women. This is a place where women who have lost their husbands or been abandoned can go and receive some financial support to get by. It is pretty sad but it is also good that there is at least somewhere they can go and receive some help. We then visited a home for children with learning difficulties. It was a pretty hard visit but we set up some games with them (pictured right) and I think the kids enjoyed having us come in to see them.
Day 8 and 9, 9th and 10th May (Tim)
As our time in Chennai comes to a close our focus has been the final 'Competition Day', which was held today (Saturday). This is an opportunity for all of the kids to come along and take part in a football tournament, playing for prizes and generally having a fun day. Everything ran very smoothly and we had a good turn-out. It has been great to see everyone participate all week and then come together for this final event. As the day came to a close it was with sadness that we said our goodbyes. Even though we had only been in Chennai for a week we made a lot of friends and we will certainly miss the place. We are now heading back to our accomoodation for the long journey home. India has been an amazing place to visit and I will most definitely be coming back!
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog and hopefully see you out here next year!