Oxfordshire Trefoil Return to Sangam
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Oxfordshire Trefoil Return to Sangam

Wearing our Saris in the garden at Sangam
On February 14th 2015 a  group of  10 intrepid travellers from Oxford Trefoil Guild and Girlguiding Oxfordshire  joined by two  members from Essex NE Trefoil Guild set off on their latest adventure to India.  One member nearly got left behind after leaving her passport at home, but fortunately she realised before leaving Oxford and was able to join the group later before everybody boarded the plane.
On the 15th February  a group of travel weary explorers, on completion of a journey which had included travel by car, coach, aeroplane and train, arrived at a tranquil and welcoming Sangam, one of the five world centres.   The biggest challenge so far had been where to store the suitcases on the train, which was not geared to accommodate large cases, but the nimble and able among us were able to climb up on to the bunks for a snooze while listening to the calls of the train staff offering ‘chi’ or tomato soup.
For some of us it was a welcome return to a friendly place where friendships had been formed and memories collected on previous visits. For others this was a new adventure.  For those of you who have not visited Sangam it is a lovely calm place where you can feel safe while you explore the culture of Pune and this area of India.  The city of Pune has grown and overtaken Sangam but this has not impacted on the atmosphere of the location itself. You are always assured of a friendly welcome, a comfortable bed and a hot meal. Relaxation included plenty cups of tea, a swim in the pool, reading while enjoying the sunshine and the odd afternoon snooze.
Thinking Day was celebrated with the local Scouts and Guides. There was a morning of music, song, dance and games while we learnt about the local culture and explored the Millennium Development Goal 8 - the Thinking Day theme about working in partnership to make a difference.  We also had the joy of running the local Guide groups meeting on the Sunday evening, language was not a barrier as laughter filled the air. We finished the evening with a moving candle lit Thinking Day ceremony around the tree in Sangam’s Thinking Day garden with participants and staff  from all around the world  and across the guiding regions  with people from Nigeria, Japan, England, Netherlands, Scotland, Australia, and the United States of America - a true international celebration .
Sangam  works in partnership with a number of local organisations helping to care for the local environment through encouraging and supporting recycling;   helping to run crèches for children who may otherwise not receive education  and organisations supporting women who otherwise would be likely to have no roof over their head and no prospects. We were fortunate enough to visit two of these organisations Ishwari supporting women learning new skills and who were running a cooperative to support themselves and Maher supporting women and children so ensuring children received education and had a safe place to live and supporting women to learn new skills while they also had a safe place to live. They had also extended their facilities to support men. There were moving stories of couples marrying and starting independent lives, of women gaining employment with the organisation as house mothers and women returning to their own communities were they were able to live independently.  We spent one day running on Indian time entertaining the children from the Crèche. Few spoke English but this was not a barrier to having fun, we learned a few words of their language as they learned a few of ours. Unknown abilities to mime and act to demonstrate what was required came into their own. They were encouraged to have fun while learning about co-operating and working together to achieve simple tasks and goals  and there were a lot of happy smiling faces.
Shopping was a bonus with a number of items including rugs and elephants (not the real thing) being bought and sent home.  The  most popular wear item of the season was the ‘ali bar bar’ trousers available from the Sangam shop, available in a wide range of colours and sizes to fit all.
The second part of our trip was spent exploring south India. A completely different experience with  Paddy fields, colloquial buildings  and Chinese fishing nets. Our experiences included a tranquil over night cruise on the water ways around Alleppey on a  type of boat (now called houseboat) once used for transporting cargo, for example rice and fish on the waterways. 
One of the group had a real love of elephants and for them the trip was made extra special when we were able to see elephants parading through the streets of Fort Kochi as part of a local festival dressed for the location. Later when we were in the hills we were able to get closer to elephants and some of us fulfilled a dream, inspired on by our youngest member, to have a  ride on an elephant. The craziest amongst us also had a personal interaction and washed the elephant who returned the favour by showering us in cold water.
Old friendship re kindled, new ones formed, memories collected and  dreams fulfilled we returned home after three weeks of unforgettable adventure.
Conny Ziekemeijjer
Oxfordshire County Trefoil PR

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