February 16, 2004 - LaCrosse Tribune: RPCVs Roger and Sondra Le Grand return to India

Peace Corps Online: Directory: India: Peace Corps India: The Peace Corps in India: February 16, 2004 - LaCrosse Tribune: RPCVs Roger and Sondra Le Grand return to India

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RPCVs Roger and Sondra Le Grand return to India

RPCVs Roger and Sondra Le Grand return to India

Le Grands return to India

By GAYDA HOLLNAGEL / La Crosse Tribune

When Roger and Sondra Le Grand of La Crosse were Peace Corps workers in India 34 years ago, they made friends with an Indian man who cooked for them.

Roger Le Grand said he met L. Daniel on his first day in India and soon got to know the man's wife and children.

"He was just a good man who always stuck with me," Roger said. L. Daniel and his family expanded their circle to include Sondra when she came to India to marry Roger in 1970, and by the time the couple left for home in 1972, they were all good friends.

L. Daniel died last year, but the Le Grands said they were welcomed with open arms when they visited his family in India in December. L. Daniel's son, a Catholic priest in Salem, Tamilhadu, India, made the Le Grands the honored guests for his parish's Christmas celebration, which included a program by elementary school children who performed pop songs, traditional dances and fire eating.

"Roger garlanded the baby Jesus," Sondra said, explaining that the ritual garlanding of the Christ child is a highly sought after honor among Indian Christians.

The Le Grands, who were accompanied by their daughters, Julia, 22, and Erica, 21, also were taken by the priest to meet the diocesan bishop. The family also went to Christmas Eve midnight Mass, which was attended by about 3,500 people, including some Hindus who came to enjoy the celebration.

"It was just a really neat experience for us," Sondra said.

The Le Grands also visited Musiri, the village in south India where L. Daniel lived and where Roger and Sondra taught English during their years with the Peace Corps. They taught both elementary school children and older students studying to be teachers, they said.
While in the village, they visited L. Daniel's gravesite and had prayers over his grave along with the priest and others of L. Daniel's family members, including his wife, daughter and granddaughters.

L. Daniel was assigned to the couple because he spoke some English and knew how to make a few American dishes such as omelets and French fries, Roger said.

The families have kept in contact with monthly letters and in the last five years after L. Daniel retired, the Le Grands have sent money to help support him and his wife. Sondra said India has no retirement benefits such as Social Security.

The Le Grands last visited India in 1978, but at the time they had no children, Sondra said.

Daughter Erica, who attends the University of Minnesota, studied in northern India last semester, so the family decided to go there and pick her up at the end of the semester.

Julia, a 2003 graduate of Boston University who works near Colorado Springs at an outdoor education camp, was making her first visit to India.

"I think she was pretty much in awe of it," Roger said.

While in India, the family also had a reunion with another former Peace Corps couple from Virginia. The woman was the maid of honor at their wedding, Roger said.

The couple said India, especially in the villages, looks much as it did in 1970.

"They still have huge overpopulation and a lot of poverty," Roger said.

The country also has had a drought for about four years so water is in short supply and the demand for water has become a political controversy, they said.

Sondra said she believes more colleges have been built and more children are going to school now than when they were in the Peace Corps.

"There's also a lot of commerce," she said.

Communication also is much more sophisticated, with telephones more accessible, they said. "We were able to call home from a remote tea plantation," Sondra said. In 1970, she said, the only way they could communicate with the United States was by letter.

Life in India seems less hectic than in the United States, Sondra said. "The wonderful thing about India is everyone seemed to know their place, to know what their life's work was and to do it without a frenzy," she said.

The country still has a caste system but it is not as visible as it used to be, the Le Grands said.

Roger said about 2 percent of the country's vast population is Christian and most of the converts come from the lower social castes.

The Catholic church in India is among the major supporters of social programs,, including education, health care and women's issues, the couple said.

Gayda Hollnagel can be reached at (608)791-8224 or ghollnagel@lacrossetribune.com

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Story Source: LaCrosse Tribune

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - India; Return to County of Service - India



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