Coldbrook couple bound for India

Nancy Kelly
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Terri and Ben Gale left Nova Scotia for India on New Year’s Eve. The Coldbrook couple will spend three months providing English language training to locals in the Varanasi region.  - Nancy Kelly, www.kingscountynews.ca

On New Year’s Eve, when many people were making preparations to  party the night away, a Coldbrook couple will begin an 11,000-kilometre journey to northern India, where they will provide English language training to locals for the coming months.

Ben and Terri Gale will leave Halifax, bound for their ultimate destination of the city of Varanasi, located in India’s Uttar Pradesh State. Given the 18-hour travel time and 9.5-hour time difference from their home, it will be Jan. 2 when they arrived in Mumbai, from which they continued their trek to Varanasi by train.

Located on the left bank of the Ganges River, Varanasi, with a population of more than one million, is widely known as the religious capital of India. It is also known for its role as an established transportation hub between India’s cities, particularly for trains.

The couple will be volunteering their time to offer language training skills to adults and youth associated with the DARE mission, an organization that finds food and shelter for the children who populate India’s railway stations. They first became acquainted with the mission five years ago when Father Abhi, who co-ordinates the mission, visited Nova Scotia.

When they met Father Abhi, Ben indicated he would be interested in traveling to India and volunteering with the program after he retired. Father Abhi didn’t forget Ben’s commitment when he made a return visit to Canada this past spring.

“No, he hadn’t forgotten, and wasn’t going to let me off the hook. The rest is history,” laughed Ben, who is now retired. He recalled Father Abhi’s steely resolve to see the couple bring their skills to the children and support workers of the region’s DARE program.

“Learning English is seen as a key to children’s success,” said Terri, adding that there is a desperate need for people who can teach English as a second language.

For Terri, who recently retired from a career in the banking industry, this will be a return visit to India. Four years ago, she travelled to the country’s southern region of Goa, where she visited Father Larry Pitcher, then serving as pastor at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Berwick, where she and her husband worship. 

“It was an incredible trip and opened my eyes to so much,” said Terri, adding the circumstances of the country’s poor, especially its children, left an indelible impression on her.

“They live in box cars, on garbage heaps, and in many cases, kids are put out to work by their family,” said Terri.

“It is so heart-wrenching.”

She characterized life in India as “an extreme contradiction.

“It is utter chaos, from the constant noise and the poor conditions that many people live in. Yet they possess an innocence and a goodness that is hard to explain. They simply cannot imagine our lives and experiences. It was very humbling to me.”

The Gales are no strangers to international travel, having visited many Caribbean and Central American countries. They have seen poverty in its many extremes and have no illusions about the conditions that will surround them during their time in India.

“We are ready for a lack of infrastructure, like running water and power. You have to prepare yourself to being exposed to poverty and all that comes with it,” explained Terri.

For most of their three-month trip, they will be living at the mission’s parish house, along with Father Abhi and seminarians, and travelling to area railway stations “where the kids are.” While they will be working approximately one hour a day with the train station children, Ben and Terri’s work will focus predominantly on educating their caregivers and support workers.

“Our goal is to help them learn to speak English clearly,” said Ben, by focusing on grammar, pronunciation, possessives and verb tenses.

“Then they will have these skills, which they can share with the children after we return home,” he pointed out.

Giving back to the community, whether close to home or far from it, is second nature to the Gales. The Newfoundland natives were both raised in Roman Catholic homes in which charity and good works were expected.

“My mother established the first St. Vincent De Paul Society in Newfoundland. She believed and taught us that you are given a life, not to take, but to give back,” Terri explained.

For Ben, the trip is an opportunity to share his knowledge, skills and good fortune on a global scale.

Terri agrees, noting the trip is a way for them to give back and give thanks for the “charmed life,” they have been fortunate to lead.

In the weeks leading up to their trip, the Gales visited Catholic parishes in Wolville, Canning, Kentville and Berwick to solicit donations for Father Abhi’s DARE mission.

“The work he does is 100 per cent privately funded, he receives no government support whatsoever,” explained Terri. Whatever they raised will go with them to India and be donated to the mission. They are also taking vitamins for the children donated by Mader’s Pharmacy in Coldbrook.

“People have been very generous,” said Terri.

Both are looking forward to their “big adventure,” and to having a chance to do some touring in India. Had the season been right, they might have made the trek to Nepal, which is located to the north of the region.

“Maybe we’ll get there next time,” said Ben.

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Recent comments

  • Shawn & Janice Monahan
    January 09, 2014 - 22:02

    Hey Ben, fantastic to see you guys in your new calling! We remember you fondly as the kindergarten teacher for our kids Erin & Ryan at St. Peter's. You both are "special" and we would love to contribute financially. Stay safe and please share your stories! Love to talk soon. God Bless you both.

  • Ben
    January 09, 2014 - 01:10

    Thanks Nancy....our work has started and we are adapting.....great story!