Field Trip

Hello family, friends, and everyone else,

It’s my turn to finally update you on our India travels. For a while I was struggling to think what I would blog about, but after today’s wild experience my decision was easy. This morning Jeff, Stephanie, and I, Grant, woke up at 5:00am to travel to the neighboring state to visit two villages that Share Microfin is working with. We were accompanied by Mala, our manager, and Mr. Charmar, the head of operations.

Before I tell you the objective of our trip I should explain to you what SHARE is doing in these villages. Stephanie explained in an earlier blog that SHARE gives out small loans to poor women. For SHARE to give out these loans, they must have an established branch in the area. SHARE has hundreds of branches spread out all over India. Once a branch is open and operating it will hand out loans to hundreds of women in the various villages surrounding the branch. When the loans are in action, the collection process must begin. Every week, a SHARE field staff member or the SHARE branch manager will hold a meeting in each village where women will make loan payments in cash. This is where Jeff, Steph, and I come in. Our objective for the day was to witness the collection meeting, make sure SHARE is abiding by the Fair Practice Code set by the industry, and see what awareness or development programs SHARE provides or could provide in these communities, in addition to loans. 

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The first village we visited was very rural and about 12 km outside the main city of Bidar. We met with about 35 Hindu women in front of a house in the village and watched as the SHARE branch workers walked through the collection process with the women in their common tongue. Without understanding a word they were saying, we could tell that these women were very happy with their lives. We went through our checklist to make sure the SHARE workers and documents complied with the Fair Practice Code and then interacted with the women a bit more. We were given a little tour around the village and were able to see what the women were purchasing with their loans. One lady purchased a cow, which produces 9 liters of milk a day which sells for almost $5 a day. Another lady showed us that she makes her living off of a purchased autorickshaw and a sewing machine. The second group we visited was 30 Muslim women on top of a building on the outskirts of Bidar. This meeting went much like the first meeting but one thing stood out to me. The Muslim women all had their faces unveiled. Over the past couple weeks I had never seen anything more than the eyes of a Muslim woman. The fact that their faces were unveiled showed that they trust and are comfortable with the SHARE workers.  Image

After the meetings we went to the branch office and talked with Mr. Charmar about the procedures SHARE must follow through the loan process and we asked him a lot of questions. We talked in depth about the current workshops and awareness programs SHARE provides to these communities. We discovered that every week the SHARE field staff members talk to the women about different issues, which can be anything from sanitation, health, education, budgeting, banking, and etc. Tomorrow, Jeff, Steph, and I have to complete a project on how SHARE can improve or add to their current awareness and development programs.

Overall, today was a very humbling experience. This entire trip to India has been a humbling experience. I used to think that America has a lot of poverty, but it is nothing compared to the poverty in India. Although all of the women we met today live in poverty, you would have never guessed it by the big smiles they had on their faces. I think it goes to show that independence and self-reliance can make a huge impact on an individual and a community.

Thanks for reading,

Grant

P.S. Mom, my inner-you came out this afternoon on our 3-hour drive back to Hyderabad. I almost had 50 heart attacks in the car.  Indians like to turn a 2-way road into 4 lanes while constantly weaving in and out of oncoming traffic to pass the cars in front of them. I’m alive though 🙂  

P.S.S Mom, I know you were praying I wouldn’t get sick. Well the other day I did (not from the hand bowl), but the poison is gone and I’m back to normal.  No worries 🙂

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Fire Alarm!

As Anne mentioned in the last post, we appreciate all your prayers! It seems that most of us are getting over our brief sicknesses! Everyone seems to be enjoying their internships and we are learning a lot. We are all so tired by the end of the day that we rarely venture out after dinner.

John and I are working at ClinSync, a clinical research organization (CRO). CROs perform clinical trials on humans to understand side effects of new drugs before they reach the market. This important phase of research has often been noted as extremely slow and inefficient. ClinSync aims to synchronize the clinical research industry (hence their name). Since being founded in 2011, ClinSync has experienced a lot of growth and is looking to expand in the coming years. Not only will they be expanding their staff in India, but they plan to invest in other locations as well. This is where John and I come in. Our project has been to analyze the current staffing cost and compare it with industry standards in India and the United States. In addition, we are forecasting staffing costs for their expansion.

Today John and I finished up the majority of our market research. We also had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Suresh Kamireddy, one of the founders, to discuss their plans for the future.

John outside ClinSync

John outside ClinSync

There was also a practice fire drill before we left! Many new employees had their first day of training today which prompted the drill.

ClinSync is a Clinical Research Organization in India

ClinSync is a Clinical Research Organization in India

This evening we were invited to the Gandhi’s home in Secunderbad for dinner. The Gandhi’s have sent two sons to Calvin College and are members of the church we attended on Sunday. We had Indian style Chinese food which was delicious and not too spicy! We think we’ve begun to adapt to the spices (somewhat).

Dinner at the Gandhi's home

Dinner at the Gandhi’s home

Before heading to dinner, I was able to snap a shot of a beautiful sunset outside our hotel window. We’ve got a great view of Hyderabad!

Sunset in Hyderabad from our hotel window

Sunset in Hyderabad from our hotel window

That’s all for tonight! Thanks for reading!

-Bret

Middle of The Journey

Thank you to those who are praying for us and our safety.  A few of us have been sick the last few days, so please pray for good health!

Other than the illness, things are going great! We have had a week at our internships and have been learning quite a bit.  At my internship (Dinaz Fitness Center) I have been given many ideas and a lot of great advice as a hopeful small business owner.  The other internships are kept busy with a lot of different projects.

I don’t know about all the others on the trip, but I am quite skeptical about a few elevators here.  It was mentioned before about how all 10 of us, plus the elevator attendant got stuck in an elevator on our first night in Hyderabad.  Since then we have had a couple other times where the elevators don’t work.  This morning, I got into one elevator at our hotel and it didn’t move.  But I pulled open the doors and got into the other elevator. Two other students also got stuck in our hotel elevators earlier last week.  So I think it is safe to say, we don’t have the best luck with the elevators here.

On Saturday while the guys went hiking, the women went shopping with our friend Archana Brian.  She showed us a great shop with souvenir type gifts and also a small store with a lot of clothes for every day wear.  Then we went to lunch at a Chinese food restaurant and they had great food! We really enjoyed it and wanted to keep eating it, but we were too full.  After lunch we stopped by a Sari shop.  At this shop we saw so many beautiful patterns, with a wide range of prices.  There were some that were around 1,000 rupees and some that were more than 10,000 rupees (1,000 rupees is about $16 American).  Kari and I found some that were very nice yet not too expensive.

Most saris don’t come with a shirt to wear underneath it, so today we went to a seamstress and got measured to get some made for us. We are very excited to see how they will turn out all put together!

Since being in Hyderabad, we have had a wonderful driver named Sanjay.  He has been very nice to all of us, giving us information about what to do while we are here, and he invited all the students to his house for dinner tonight.  They had a great time with Sanjay and his family, they even sang a few worship songs!  I stayed back to do some work for my internship.

Mrs. Van Drunen and Archana Brian
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The students and Sanjay’s family
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Thanks for reading!
Anne

Sunday worship, sites and fellowship

Sunday was a packed day from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.  We started with 8:30 worship at St John’s church in Secunderabad (the twin city of Hyderabad).  St John’s is from the Church of South India denomination which is one of the largest denominations in India and which has roots in the Anglican Church.  The congregation we worshiped with was established 200 years ago as an Anglican Church.  After India attained independence in the 1940’s it became Church of South India.  The worship service was very nice, highly liturgical, and well attended.  We had a baptism and communion, and a social hour with food afterwards.  The members were very friendly and welcoming.  We met a couple whose two sons graduated Calvin recently and another couple whose grand nephew is a student at Calvin right now. We also met the CEO of one of the companies where three students are doing an internship.  The church has about 550 families as members.  Below you can see the classic old church building.

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After church and socializing (3 hours later!) we drove to the main two historic sites in Hyderabad… Charminar and Golconda Fort.

Charminar literal means “four towers” and is a monument built by the Muslim ruler about 400 years ago upon the founding of modern Hyderabad.   Charminar is next to a large mosque and surrounded by markets.  We went up the monument and then we all shopped for bangles in the markets.  The monument and mosque are a reminder of the profound influence of Islam on this part of the world. This part of India, with Hyderabad as the capital, was ruled by Muslims (with a little help from England) for hundreds of years until independence in the 1940’s.

View from up inside Charminar.

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Group pic inside Charminar.

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Stephanie and Jeff in a bangle shop. There are a lot of bangles in Hyderabad!IMG_0931

John doing a good job smiling in a bangle shop, which is not an easy feat for most guys.

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Anne and Kari, big bangle buyers with big bangle budgets.

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The money part at the end.

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Next we went to Golconda Fort, which was built about 800 years ago.  About 500 years ago it was taken over by the Muslim rulers that ruled this part of India for many years.  It was also the center of the diamond trade which was very important here for many years.  Many world famous diamonds come from this area and were once in this fort (for example the Hope diamond and the Kohinoor diamond which is currently in Queen Elisabeth’s crown).

It is a very large fort on a hill.  Below is a view of part of it from the bottom entrance area.

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Kari, Stepanie, Jeff and Seth.

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The women posing with one father’s children.  We saw a lot of Muslim families today.  Muslims in India are allowed to have more than one wife.

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Calvin College capturing Golconda fort!  You can see how far up on the hill the fort extends.  The structure in the background is the main palace of the fort.

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In the evening we were kindly invited to a couple’s house where we met with three high school students and their parents who are interested in attending Calvin College.  This couple’s son just graduated Calvin.  We also had a delicious dinner and our host told us about their work among displace Christians in India. Christians are sometimes persecuted, displaced or killed in India by Hindu extremist.  Of course it is illegal, but it still happens and is not always fully prosecuted by the police.

Here we are with our host in her home.  It was a delightful and educational evening.  We are being blessed by many Christians in India.

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A busy week of learning

The students have completed the first week of their two week internships, and you have been able to read a b it about that on this blog.  We have also been busy with many other India learning opportunities in Hyderabad.  Below I post some photos from the past few days, with some explanations.

Anne has gained the confidence of the owner of the dance and fitness studio where she is interning.  The owner invited her to teach a Zumba class. Below you can see Anne in the  blue Calvin shirt.DSC08076

We were invited and treated by the owners to eat at Dil Punjabi, and upscale restaurant in an upscale mall.  The were very gracious to spend a big part of the Sankrati India holiday with us on Tuesday.  at dinner we had a talk from another Christian business person, who talked about making career choices.

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We visited the big residential development, Lanco Hills on Tuesday, and were hosted by one of the senior managers, who is a Christian.  Here we are on the helicopter pad roof of the tallest building, 34 floors.DSC08066

Grant with one of our hosts.

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One the way up to the helicoptor pad we had to pass through a dark hallway.  The students all whipped out their cell phones and we snapped this pic.DSC08062

At Secunderabad Club where we flew kites and enjoyed good food., thanks again to some Christians who spend part of their holiday with us.DSC08060

Our gracious hosts and club members (on the right)

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Amit serving Bret, Jeff and Kari some biryani, the local rice dish.DSC08050

We had fun practicing cricket at St John’s Cricket Club.

Here the club director, John, is teaching us the basics.

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John’s brother Leonard, with Leonard.

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Grant bowling

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John being taught how to hold the ball by a young man.DSC08047

Bret batting

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Most of the cricketeers with our hostsDSC08048

Saturday the guys went hiking out in some rural areas while the women shopped.  Bret was suffering from food poisoning and rested in his room.

The guys with goats

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Seth and Grant on top of some rock we climbed.

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We ran into a monkey colony, and the alpha male did not back down, so we did.

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Saturday evening we ate at Paradise Restaurant.  We took autorickshaws quite a ways for that.  Below we see Bret enjoying the ride.

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All together for dinner in Paradise.

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India! Woohoo!

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If you’re following this blog because you know me (Jeff), Stephanie or Grant I have a little update on our internship. If you’re hoping to know what’s up with Seth, Kari, John, Bret, Anne and the VanDrunens…sorry. Steph, Grant and I have been working at a microfinance company. They give loans to women in poverty so they have the chance to create an income generating business. Our first task was to put together a concise and visually appealing flowchart of their business process. This sounds simple but having never worked in a microfinance company before, the process was all new to us. The first step was to understand their process well enough to isolate the most significant aspects of their process. That was the most difficult and time consuming process. After that we added some pictures, arrows, colors, etc. and a few hours later we had a beautiful graphic display of the process. Feedback is pending.

Our current project is to research the many information systems available to microfinance institutions and present them to a few coworkers – not sure who yet. They seem to be happy with their current system but would like to be more aware of the other options on the market. Gathering information on the topic has been brutal. Google is great but it doesn’t know everything and communicating over the phone with Indian companies has resulted in lots of confusion on both ends of the phone. We have until the end of the day Monday to put together a presentation and there are still a lot of gaps. We plan on getting as much done as we can and providing a list of tasks we were unable to complete. While it’s unfortunate that we may not be able to complete everything they hoped, we are glad not to have run out of things to do. One of our goals is to add value to the organization and that is something I am confident we will achieve.

Our last project is still unclear. There have been hints that we might get to go into the field and see some of the women who have been impacted. I speak for the three of us when I saw we’re excited for that possibility. It would be an excellent change of pace from the office work. Although doing an internship may not be the most exciting interim trip, I appreciate this unique opportunity. We get to engage in a part of Indian culture than tourists never could. Enough about work; the weekend is here!

For dinner we returned to Tabla but got Chinese food this time. Yes, Chinese food at an Indian restaurant. It was delicious but still spicy. Even Chinese food here has an Indian flare. I suppose in the U.S. restaurants Americanize a lot of foreign foods too.

Here’s a picture of us at dinner taken by one of our wonderful waiters. Notice the lack of Professor and Mrs. VanDrunen. We’re out of the “nest.”

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Our last event of the evening was to watch Slumdog Millionaire. If you are not familiar, it is the story of an Indian boy who wins a million dollars on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” He is being questioned on how he knew all the answers because foul play is suspected. The movie flashes back to stories about the boy’s childhood that have given him the knowledge to answer all the questions. It’s an entertaining way to learn a little bit about Indian culture.

On a completely unrelated note, Ann taught a Zumba class today. My sources tell me she did well. Here she is in action.

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Thanks for reading. I think I speak for the whole group when I say we appreciate you thoughts and prayers.

End of internship week 1

It is Friday afternoon, the end of the first week of internships.  The internships are going well.  I am very pleased that all the students are actively engaged with the people India and with real business projects.  These internships are the primary learning method for us to learn about India, business and Christianity in India.  All the interns have a chance for significant interaction with a Christian business person in India.

The three students at a large microfinance organization are working on flow charting their loan origination process, identifying alternative management information systems and looking into specific local loan originations.  The two students at an information technology firm are working on a cost accounting project.  The two at a contract research outsourcing firm are looking at staffing cost compared to industry and country benchmarks.  The intern at the fitness and dance studio is engaged with the owner and looking at market, staffing and finances, and teaching a Zumba class.

The Indian Workplace

While our day was spent at our individual internships learning about business in India, our evening was filled with learning as well! Although we took a little break from the Indian culture by having Pizza Hut delivered and eating all of our pizza in a hotel room, we then did some exploring! We had been invited to a salsa dancing event and so 6 of us ventured out and learned how to salsa dance! We found plenty of locals that were very eager to teach us and had a great time once we got the hang of it!

Here is a picture of Anne and our gracious host Jeremy teaching us to dance!

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But the real adventure involved getting home! We had to do some major bartering with the auto-rickshaw drivers and had to completely walk away a couple of times…in the end they chased after us and agreed to our deal of 50 rupees per rickshaw! But of course once we got to the hotel they tried to charge more, we pretty clearly look like foreigners who would fall for it, but Grant wouldn’t accept that! He told them he knew it was 50, handed them the bill and then we all walked away, making it safe and sound inside of our hotel for the night.

Also, we saw HUGE bats…but again, we made it home safely!

As for our internships and the Indian workplace . . . here is the SHARE Microfin team!

Share team

After a few days at our internships, there are already some major differences that we have all realized! First of all, time is a little bit of a different concept here in India. When someone says they are going to be with you in a few moments, it usually ends up being closer to an hour. This definitely took us all by surprise our first day, but we have already learned to expect it. Another difference is the schedule of the workday. The workday starts pretty late as employees usually show up around 10:00am. You can imagine their surprise when Americans showed up at 8:30am our first day! This means that lunch isn’t until 1:30 and the day ends a little bit later than the typical American workday. Another surprise was the bathroom experience at our workplaces. Let’s just say I carry extra toilet paper in my bag… It look awhile for some of us to learn, but over time we learned the purpose for the hose in all of the bathroom stalls; I think we will stick to toilet paper!

We have also come across a few other challenges being Americans in an Indian business. The biggest challenge being names. Some people have names like Ben and David, but for the most part names are more like Ramalingeswar and other things that are extremely hard for us to remember, let alone pronounce. It can also be difficult to understand some people’s English through their accents, but we are getting better everyday! We just have to ask them kindly repeat things and people are always very gracious! Another difficulty is attempting to turn down service. Whether they want to bring you tea, coffee, water…  it is almost offensive to decline, but there is only so much tea we can drink without having to make more trips to the bathroom than we would like.

Our workstations at SHARE Microfin, filled with tea, biscuits and water of course!

Tea and coffee

 

We have already learned so much and we have only been here a week! I know I speak for the rest of the group when I say that I am looking forward to everything else we have yet to learn! Thanks for reading!

Steph Malinowski

A Week in Review

Since today was unfortunately not another festival day, it was back to work for us!  We got up, ate breakfast at the hotel, and took cabs to our respective internships all before 9am. The remainder of everyone’s day was filled with talking with our bosses, IT market research, flow charts, accounting, or interviews with dance studio owners. As interesting as these might be, I thought that since we have now been in India about a week it might be about time to share some of the interesting things we have learned or observed about the Indian way of life that are very different from home!

Rules of the Road: Riding in a car is an experience in and of itself here in India. Cars do not follow the lanes at all, but rather swerve in and out, honking excessively. In India, people do not use their mirrors or turn their heads to see what is around them, instead the person to the side or the back honks to make their presence known. This results in a lot of noise on the roads! Once we realized this difference in the usage of horns, there became a little more order in the midst of what seemed like chaos. Surprisingly there are not too many accidents that occur, although we have had small collisions with a motorcycle or two!

Another challenge on the roads is crossing them. In America most people cross at the crosswalk, while in India most people cross in the middle of the road regardless of how much traffic there is! This is a skill we are slowly acquiring! (Don’t worry parents; we are staying in groups and still crossing at sidewalks when possible.) When we told one of our cab drivers about this he informed us that on the rare occurrence someone does cross at the crosswalk, it is called a “Zebra Crossing” because of the black and white lines painted on the roads at the crossing.

Bobbling Heads: Something unique to Hyderabad is the head motion that many of its residents seem to have. If you can imagine a bobble head- that is pretty much exactly what it is. We have affectionately dubbed it the Hydera-bob. This can, however, lead to some confusion, especially when asking questions. Due to the language difference and accents it is sometimes hard to understand even a “yes” or “no”, which is further confusing when their head might be going a different direction altogether!

 
Excessive Service: This may seem like a dream come true, and in some ways it is! Since coming to India, we have not needed to pull out our chairs to sit down, open a door, retrieve our toast from the toaster, make our coffee, serve our own pizza, pour our own water, or even press our own elevator buttons. There seems to be at least a 3:1 ratio of server to customer. Quite the opposite back home! As we leave breakfast each morning, the staff will all line up to say thank you and wish us a good day! The staff at our hotel and at restaurants see to our every need and jump right in to help if we even reach for something. We might be getting a little spoiled in that regard! Watch out friends and family, we might expect a lot when we get back!!

That’s all for now! Thanks for keeping up with us on our adventure in India 🙂

A Holiday

India has a lot of holidays, and today was one of them, so we got a day off after one day of work. Some members of Business Siva were kind enough to arrange some activities for us, so it ended up being one of our most tiring days yet.

In the morning we went to the famous St. John’s Cricket Academy where we given some coaching and got to try out batting and bowling. Cricket is by far the most popular sport in India, and quite a few boys of all ages and even some girls were spending their day off practicing it. We used a softer practice ball because the regular ball is even harder than a baseball, so there we no injuries thankfully.

The primary activity of today’s festival is kite flying, which is serious business here in India. Thousands of kites are flown across Hyderabad. The primary purpose of kite flying is actually to duel with other kites, and try to cut their string with your string. There is quite a bit of technique involved, and in parts of the city there is betting and sometimes even fighting over it. We were very kindly invited to participate in a much more sophisticated and civil environment at the Secunderabad Club. This club is one of the oldest and most exclusive clubs in India, with a 20 year wait list to join if all requirements are met. We were invited there by Amit and Munmun, the couple who recently started a restaurant, and were at our dinner on Sunday night. It was a very fun experience, and I personally was able to take out three other kites.

Later in the afternoon we visited with another member of Business Siva at real estate development and infrastructure company called Lanco. At the site we visited, they are building a fully integrated community, with 30+ story residential buildings, one of the largest malls in India, and office buildings primarily for tech companies. The residential are all that they have made a lot of progress on because of recession in 2008 and some local political problems. It is an enormous project, though. We were able to visit a couple of apartments, and even go to the helicopter pad on top of what is currently the tallest building in Hyderabad.

Finally, we went to a large and pretty upscale mall called Inorbit Mall to eat at Amit and Munmun’s restaurant, Dil Punjabi. The food there was amazing. We all decided it was the best food we had had in India, and we could see why they were doing so well. At the end, Grant gave us a good laugh and a good memory. They brought us all out bowls of water with a slice of lime in to for us to wash our hands in, but he took a spoonful as if it was soup, much to the delight of our Indian friends. It’s a good sign though, because it means he’s ready to eat whatever they put in front of him.

Grant being taught the proper stance by coach Leonard.

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I started getting the form a little bit.

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Here are the guys with some of our friends. We were wearing far from the proper attire of all white and a collared shirt.

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A picture of the kite festival.

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Jeff is being a good neighbor, and using his height to help a young boy.

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A view from the top of the tower. Those are the residential buildings Lanco is putting up.

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All of us at our dinner tonight.

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