There’s a saying in India when driving. You need ‘good brakes, a good horn… and good luck!’
If you’ve ever travelled to the sub-continent you’ll identify with this statement completely.
As well as the mayhem that passes for road traffic management – with an astonishing and refreshing lack of road rage – India is simply a whirlwind to the senses. A cultural assault, one might say.
Breathtaking scenery, buildings and people suffuse in a kaleidoscope of iridescent colours and piquant aromas. It was pure drama and wonder for the 13 women who travelled there recently with the Commission for Mission’s Uniting Journeys program.
The vision to make this journey had been conceived more than two years ago. It followed from a meaningful connection with the Church of North India’s Diocese of Amritsar during an education project visit in 2012. Relationships had continued and snowballed into High Street Uniting Church, Frankston, spearheading a Mother & Child Mobile Health Clinics project in the Dalit villages of the Punjab.
This vital project was launched in January 2014 and is now delivering ‘health of the community’ services to these disadvantaged families, including contraception, nutrition, family planning, environmental health and ante and post-natal care.
Of course, a desire to see this work in action was forming.
Amazingly, a few months later, Uniting Journeys invited two dozen people to explore the role of Conversation Partners in their emerging responsible travel program. The invitation had come at the same time as a request to support a group trip to the maternal health project. It turned out Uniting Journeys had been looking into India as a destination. The connections were beginning to click together as if by an invisible hand.
Uniting Journeys’ Jim Wakelam said: “We weren’t necessarily looking for new places, it’s more about deepening relationships that exist and developing those connections. New flavours are starting to come to the fore, arising from what Uniting Journeys has done before, but emerging from people’s own communities.”
So, in late 2014 a call went out to anyone interested in combining an eye-popping sight-seeing trip to North India with a three-day immersion visit to the Mother & Baby Clinics project, all combined with opportunities to talk and share experiences through the Uniting Journeys initiative. The respondents came from unexpected places – six from South Australia, seven from Victoria – but the diversity was fascinating. Many had a background in women’s healthcare, midwifery and international development – but some were simply looking for adventure or a spiritually meaningful experience on their life journey.
Desleigh Kent, from St Kilda, said of the trip: “I loved being with this group of women… it was a very special experience. Having not been to India before I expected to be rather overwhelmed, but instead felt very comfortable.”
The group flew from Melbourne to Delhi on 24 March and the itinerary took in Delhi, Amritsar, Agra and Jaipur. They joined the Palm Sunday Procession through Amritsar – an action which hit the newspapers over there. The group were as much VIPs due to the connection with what Indians jokingly call their true religion – cricket (the World Cup final was on the same day) – as for the support of the projects.
“Exploring this empowerment of women project was also about our discovery,” continued Lea Trafford. “Each one of us made the choice to go to India and give people at home an opportunity to take responsibility. It was an amazing group of women, looking after each other, talking to each other – all welcoming and responsive.”
During a laughter-filled discussion in India it was decided that the three things needed to be ideal Uniting Journeys travellers are: ‘Good company, good exposure… and goodwill.’