Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Zoo!

During the Dasara holiday, which went from October 8th to October 30th, the kids with parents spent 1 1/2 days at their homes. They then returned to KM to continue their tutoring sessions during the holiday, and to enjoy a couple of outings.

One outing was to GRS Fantasy Park, a mini-Disneyland like amusement park with tons of rides and games for the kids to enjoy. The kids had a blast and have already picked out the amusement park they want to visit next year.

The other outing was to the Mysore Zoo, where they saw a collection of amazing animals, like lions and tigers, and elephants and giraffes, as well as gorillas, monkeys, alligators, and exotic birds.

The kids brought a packed lunch made by our cook, Raju, whose food they absolutely love.

Swarana and Vishnu enjoying lunch

Harish, Nanjunda, Swarana, and Vinod resting

Harish (volunteer) with Vinod; Saroja; Divya holding Siri; and Manjula (volunteer)

video

October 23 was also Manikanta's birthday, and they brought his birthday cake to the zoo to wish him a happy day. Photos and video courtesy Thomas Smith.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Second Report Cards

Second quarter report cards came out for our kids. Most did very well again, and we hope that the focus on education and after-school tutoring is having an impact.

Big Pooja, again, got straight A's, as did quiet Surya.

Prema, finally cleared of her chronic ear infections, scored solid B+'s in all subjects again.

Manikanta got an A+ in math, and improved in his other subjects.

Venkatesh got almost straight A's despite being a non-stop talker in tutoring class. Ahem.

The other kids all got a mix of A's and B's, most showing improvements in their grades from last quarter, and with a few C's mainly in English -- English will be a focus during their summer break, when their tutoring sessions will continue.

Imran and little Pooja

Imran, brother of Parveen and nephew of Kaleem, moved into Karunya Mane last week. He's just about three years old and is starting in nursery school. Mom and dad are very poor and wanted Imran to stop wandering around the streets while they worked. Dad works when he can find jobs near the market.


Little Pooja also moved in this past week. She's four years old and dad works as a day laborer at the market. Mom and dad don't have a house but live with Pooja's grandmother in a slum area. Pooja started in lower kindergarten with our other kids.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Goodbye to Rukkhmini



On Sunday, November 9th at about 4:00 in the afternoon, Rukkhimini ("Rukkhi") one of our street moms, passed away. She was mom to Nanjunda, who live at Karunya Mane, and Danhu.

For more on Rukkhi, please see our post here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Out on bail

In the latest development for Mary, someone finally bailed her husband out of jail. After hearing of this, Mary and Aunty went to the police station to get information on the conditions of the bail, but they were told to go to the courthouse for that information.

At the courthouse, they learned that the husband has been instructed not to go anywhere near Mary. If he does his bail will be rescinded and he will be back in jail. At some point in the future (possibly months), Mary and husband will be summoned to appear in court for a hearing. In the meantime, if husband does cause any trouble, like hassle Mary or take his kids out of Karunya Mane, we are to call the police station and they will arrest him again.

Given that husband was in jail for over three months, we hope that he has learned at least one lesson -- which is to obey the terms of his bail and stay away from Mary.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Karate

The kids at Karunya Mane take karate lessons twice a week, on Sunday mornings and again on Tuesday mornings before school.

The older kids are with one teacher and the little ones do some calesthenics and jumping around with another teacher.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goodbye to Padma


On Sunday, October 26th at about 3:00 in the afternoon, Padma, one of our street moms, passed away. She was mom to Harish and Devaraj, who live at Karunya Mane.

For more on Padma, please see our post here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spotlight on a voluteer -- Madam Inspector

Getting locals involved with our work in a significant way is something we welcome. Everyone wins. Our kids get to interact with others in their society, learning from them or just casually socializing, and the volunteers see another side of society that they were not previously exposed to in any meaningful way -- the lives of the destitute, how they live, and most importantly, how they think about life.

When a street mom is so poor that her primary concern is finding enough food to eat for that day -- as is the case with the people we help -- the last thing that she is thinking about is the future, or bathing their kid, or brushing to ensure healthy teeth for the future.

One of our volunteers from the community, Anu, has taken a very active role in the lives of the kids and women. A while ago, she developed an interest in what we were doing and has since thrown herself into our work. She has opened her mind and her heart to our women, how they live, what they think about, and she takes an active role in helping them with the areas of their lives in which need guidance and support.

Anu not only donates her time (and often lots of yummy goodies made in her kitchen), she encourages others in the community to contribute what they can. She shares with us her knowledge, ideas, and opinions, and -- most importantly -- her desire to help the destitute in her country. She admitted that, for a long time, she did not think about why the poor lived the way they do, the problems they faced, and why they were ... so dirty. Couldn't they just improve themselves? Get a job? Find a house? By talking to them and learning about their lives, she soon realized that it's just not that easy.

Anu visits Karunya Mane for her monthly "inspection" and encouraging talks wth the kids. She makes it a fun session, while at the same time instills in the kids the importance of personal hygiene and taking pride in keeping one's area neat and clean.

Anu checking Swarana's ears and Sinchana's teeth

Anu -- and the energy, effort, and dedication that she puts into her work as a volunteer (she also runs a full-time eatery with her husband, treats her employees as family members, and takes care of her elderly parents) -- sets the example for others in society of how to contribute what one can in a most meaningful way.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Project Food and More

In September, to expand our reach and help more destitute children and their families in the Mysore area, we began distributing monthly "care packages" to new kids and grannies in need.

The kids we help through Project Food and More have lost either one or both parents to a debilitating illness, such as HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, and who now live with a grannie or other relative who has taken on the added burden of feeding one or two more mouths. In addition to losing parents to disease, the kids come only from the poorest economic backgrounds, and we visit their homes to ensure that they meet our criteria. Click here to read about some of these families.

During our first month, we distributed care packages to 16 families and expect to receive additional lists of qualifying kids in the coming weeks from our friends at the local clinics.

The care packages contain food goodies (rice, lentils), bath and laundry soap, mosquito coils (to keep away mosquitoes carrying malaria), protein powder, cookies and biscuits, and some cash -- valued at about $25.00 (Rs.1,200). This amount represents about a 30% to 50% increase in our families' monthly income.

Given the dramatic increase in gasoline and food costs -- on the order of 40% in five months for basics such as rice, sugar, lentils -- and the extra hardship in caring for one or two additional kids for some of these grannies and uncles, the care packages are received with open arms.

For more on Project Food and More, for profiles on the kids that we help through this program, and for information on how you can be a "care package" financial supporter, please see our website.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Darshan's back...

Someone saw our poster and approached our people on the street, letting them know that he had seen Darshan in the Agrahara area (about a mile from our area) with a street worker.

Everyone rushed over there and got Darshan back!

Mom Kavitha sends her thanks to everyone who was concerned for Darshan, and who sent good thoughts to her family.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Darshan is missing

For readers in India, please please please keep an eye out for little Darshan. He went missing on Sunday the 12th, and was last seen around 1:00 pm near the tea stall, near where mom works on Sayyaji Rao road, near KR Hospital and the Nandini Milk Stand, across from Ashoka Bookstore. Friends looked everywhere for him until late in the night and mom Kavitha filed a report with the police. Posters have been put up throughout the city.

Darshan may have been taken from Mysore, so if you are out of the city area, please do still keep an eye out for him.

Darshan is three years old. He recently got his head shaved at the temple, and here is a picture closely resembling what he looks like today.


If you know anything or think you've seen Darshan since Sunday and if you are in Mysore, please tell our street moms in front of KR Hospital near the Nandini Milk stand. You can also email us at info "at" operation-shanti.org or call 99645 76830 (Kannada) or 99009 09428 (English).

Thank you for your concern.

Friday, October 10, 2008

More abuse

In September, Shelly, one of our moms, came to stay at our shelter after being abused by her husband. He often demands money from her and if she doesn't give it to him, he beats her. The abuse has been going on for a while now, and each time it happens, we encourage her to go to the police to file a complaint. Until now, she hasn't wanted to do that.

This time, tired of the abuse after all these years, she wanted to go to the police, so we took her to the Women's Police Station, which handles such matters. They did the require paperwork, then told us that the first step is to bring the husband in for husband-wife counseling. Of course, the husband would not voluntarily come into a police station, so we had to devise a plan -- the next time he showed up at KM to find her, we would keep him occupied as the police made their way to the facility.

The day after filing the complaint, the police managed to capture him, and ... during counseling, Shelly was adamant that, after years of abuse, she wants nothing to do with him. Her two kids are growing up nicely at Karunya Mane and she expressed that she also wants a better life for herself. Husband, of course, wanted her back. She could not bring herself to press charges and put him in jail, but she did say that she wanted nothing to do with him. The police let him, with the warning that the next time she complains, he'll be thrown in jail.

After Shelly went back to KM, husband has constantly asked us to tell her to return to him. We've explained to him that such a decision is her choice, nobody else's, and he'll just have to be patient to see what she decides in the future.

Since then, Shelly has shown no signs of wanting to return to him. She stays at Karunya Mane and recently took a job as a house cleaner in Gokulam, a wealthy suburb of Mysore where many yoga students stay while in India. She's quite happy to be earning an income so that she can pay back the money she borrowed from her friends, and enjoys being productive again. We hope that she continues to work there, as it is steady work with good pay.

Another unfortunate aspect to Shelly's story is that many of her women friends on the street refused to take her side. Instead, they blame her for her husband's current misery and for breaking up the marriage. They have told us to send her back (we constantly explain that we can't do that), and claim that, "he did not hit her all the time, just sometimes. So why doesn't she return to him?" and that "he has no money, she should come back to him." They also want their money paid back immediately and we explained that it will take time for her to repay them, but that she has every intention to do so. The women refuse to ask the husband for repayment, claiming that Shelly took out the loans, not him -- even though everyone knows that she did so only to give the money to him and avoid being beaten.

We can't guarantee that Shelly won't return to her husband, as many women in India have the belief that they are nothing without a man around, no matter how he treats her. But she now has a couple of good examples of women who have put their foot down against abusive husbands -- Mary and Kamini -- so we hope that she finds her way. We encourage her to continue to work for her earnings, to take care of herself and her health, and to not forget the horrible things that he did to her.

Lunch visitors

A few Saturdays ago, a group from a family foundation came to Karunya Mane, as they wanted to serve lunch for the kids. The food was delicious and plentiful.

Enjoying ice cream!

After lunch, several young IT professional related to the foundation played a few games with the kids and hung out for a while.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tulsi plants

All Hindu families worship the sacred tulsi, or basil, plant. It is also a medicinal plant and is planted in the courtyard of Hindu houses. Women worship the plant twice a day. In the morning after bathing, women go to the tulsi plant outside the house. They offer water to it, raising a small copper or silver urn toward the sun and pouring water while chanting the "navagraha mantra," a chant of the names of the sun, moon and the planets. The tulsi puja ends with holding a few leaves of the plant in the palm and pouring water over the leaves. This water is drunk from the palm and is supposed to strengthen the immune system.

On the Tulsi Puja day in the Hindu calendar, the plant is adorned with flowers and gooseberry branches.

Karunya Mane tulsi plant installed and cared for by the residents

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dasara

In India, the Dasara festival is as big as Christmas in the West. Dasara, offically a 10-day holiday, is celebrated on the occasion of Navaratri, a holy day that commemorates the triumph of good over evil. It is also when kids get a three-week vacation from school.

The last day of all the celebrations is called Vijaya Dashami. On this day in Mysore, a huge and very grand procession goes through the streets of the city, with an idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari riding in a golden seat atop an elephant.


Here is little Sowmya during our morning program, watching the elephants practice procession walk up and down Sayyaji Rao street.

At Karunya Mane during the vacation, the kids will watch the procession on TV. Also scheduled for them are trips to the zoo, GRS Fantasy Park, and the Infosys campus.

Friday, September 19, 2008

First report cards...

The kids received their first report cards a couple of weeks ago, reflecting the first three months' performance at school. Highlights:

Pooja received straight A's!

Venkatesh received all A's except for two B+!

Prema, who fought chronic ear infections for years that affected her learning, received straight B+'s!

Manikanta and Kaleem received a couple of A's, mostly B's, and one C+ (in English) -- so they're getting extra English tutoring on Sundays.

Considering this is Manikanta's (age 9) first time ever in a classroom, and that just a few months ago he wandered the streets and sniffed shoe polish with his friends, we're quite pleased to see him make such efforts in school.

The rest of the kids did equally well, with the majority of the grades being A's and B's, and just a few C's.

Our three older kids, who all were put back to 5th grade, struggle a bit more with their schoolwork, as it is the first time in their lives that they have had to really study... but their teachers say they work very hard and are interested in their schoolwork.

Considering that for some this is their first year in a structured school environment, and that the others are still overcoming their years of developing bad study habits while living on the streets, the kids are showing great effort in their schoolwork. KM, with its excellent staff and after-school teachers, and healthy and structured living environment, seems to be having a positive effect on the kids. A good start.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A new name for Baby

Baby came to us this May (see post here) and has become a real joy to have at Karunya Mane. At about 20 years of age (she doesn't know her birth date), she's a very pleasant and cheerful woman, is well-mannered, and helps out however she can around the facility.

Given a difficult and unfair early life, Baby never got an education. She did learn to write her name in caps -- BABY -- but was never given the chance to go to school. The people she worked for said that she wouldn't have been capable of going to school and learning. It is what "they" say here about many of the lower class/caste destitute kids who work in their homes or in their shops.

We don't believe in such thinking, and as proof of the human spirit's desire to improve oneself, one day while getting a checkup from a doctor, Baby told him that she wanted to stay at Karunya Mane and get an education. He relayed this information to us, and Baby now attends tutoring class every day at Karunya Mane, and is quite the avid student.

Baby and Reeta have become good friends while at Karunya Mane, taking tutoring class together and hanging out. A few days ago, Reeta gave her friend Baby a most amazing gift -- a real name: Sandhya. Sandhya, an auspicious word in Sanskrit, means "twilight."

Sandhya and Reeta with their teacher

Sandhya is healthy and she's gained noticeable weight at Karunya Mane. In addition to her educational efforts, she participates in group activities with the kids, including birthday celebrations, karate class in the mornings, and arts and crafts on Sundays. We suspect that after years of being someone's unpaid servant -- basically from the age of 10 to 20 -- Sandhya is finally getting the chance to enjoy a childhood. Unfortunately in India, being forced into child labor at an early age is more the norm than the exception for over 100 million children in the country.

Sandhya at Sunday arts and crafts

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Art with Lise and Tom

Sunday art continues with our current volunteers, Lise and Tom, and Crystal. They've been engaging the kids in all kinds of creative activities...

Tom with the kids while painting hand puppets. Vishnu (in orange shirt) had a great time painting his little white cup red!

Sumitra concentrating...

Vishnu showing Arvind how to clean the brush in the water cup.

Manikanta, Jeevan, and Lise


If you'd like to donate art supplies to Operation Shanti's kids in India, please see our friend Tracy's blog here (see bottom of page) for sending art supplies to her. She's holding a donation drive in anticipation of her upcoming trip to India in early 2009 -- and plans to carry with her a suitcase full of supplies for the kids (as she carried a suitcase full of shoes for the kids in January 2008!).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Family visits

Every couple of Sundays, Jeevan's mom -- also Asha's aunt -- visits her son and niece at Karunya Mane.
Jeevan is four and attends nursery school with the other kids. He's a happy, mischievous little boy who loves when his mom visits because she brings him all kinds of yummy snacks. He was quite malnourished when he arrived but he's now gaining weight and his asthma doesn't act up as much in our cleaner environment.

Asha has had a tough life -- see more on her at our website here.

This past Sunday, little Nanjunda's mom, Mangali, visited her son at KM. She doesn't visit him often, and she is usually wandering from her husband's house to her mom's house, to the street. Before Nanjunda came to KM, she used to drag him wherever she went, and last year he missed out on school because she never stayed in one place long enough to enroll him.

Nanjunda, who just celebrated his birthday on September 1, was very happy to see mom. He sometimes wakes up at 1am, crying for her.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Krishna's birthday

The Hindu god Krishna (flute-playing, blue-skinned, lover of Radha) celebrated his birthday this year on August 30. In honor of Krishna's birthday, the first graders at the kids' school dressed up as Krishna and Radha.
Manikanta (left) won first prize for his outfit, and Devaraj (right) won third prize.

Divya and Pooja as Radha

Prema as Radha

Shanti as Radha

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spotlight on a volunteer

Three years ago, Matt from Manchester came to Mysore to practice yoga, and to volunteer with Operation Shanti and our Street People Program. Matt was an immediate hit with our boys as, in his late 30's at the time, he still possessed those kid-like qualities that children so easily relate to.

Matt with the boys three years ago on the street

This year, the same boys that Matt hung out with three years ago, plus a few new ones, are now at Karunya Mane. One of Matt's duties as volunteer this year was to play soccer and cricket with the kids on Sundays.


Matt also got to know the other kids at KM, teaching Divya and Shanti how to tie their shoe laces on Independence Day, and helping the three newest kids -- Vinod, Netra, and Swarana -- during their move-in at KM.

Matt also spent time on the street in the mornings, and the little ones sure did enjoy him.

Matt and Saumya

The younger kids didn't really remember Matt from 2005, as they were all of one year old then, but the older boys remembered him immediately -- especially Venkatesh, with whom Matt developed a strong connection. Matt's support for Operation Shanti doesn't stop with just spending time with the kids -- he created the site Shanti Shirts, a fundraising vehicle, and sponsors Venkatesh through our sponsor program.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inspection!

On Saturday, our friend Anu went to Karuya Mane for the kids' first inspection. It's something that we are implementing to help the kids maintain proper hygienic habits, like brushing teeth, keeping nails short and clean, and keeping their personal areas clean.

Anu, as usual, made her visit a fun one for the kids. Earlier that day, the first graders dressed up as two Indian gods, Krishna and Radha, in honor of Krishna's birthday, and a couple of them won prizes for their costumes. So they all congratulated the winners, then Anu asked them if they like winning prizes. All of the kids screamed "yes!!!" She then asked them how they can become winners. They were quiet for a bit...

Lokesh came up with the answer and said, "If we work towards it!" They then talked about cleanliness and germs, and how germs find their way into our bodies and what they do to us, the importance of washing, bathing and keeping all their body parts clean.

Snot!
The kids stood in two lines while Anu looked at their hair, noses, ears, fingers and toes. They laughed and joked at some of the runny noses. She told them that she always had a runny nose as a kid and when the snot slid down, she tasted it (ugh! but come on, who didn't as a kid...???). It was salty -- yuck! They all laughed and many owned up that they had tasted it too!

Anu then told them why their noses run and why it is important to wash the gunk off and keep the nostrils clean -- when germs that cause colds enter our body, our body and the germs fight each other like a war or battle. Some germs die and some of our body soldiers die, and all of the dead ones are expelled with the snot. So it's good to blow and wash our noses -- and not lick it.

Worms!
She touched on the importance of washing hands, and keeping finger and toe nails short and clean by scrubbing with soap. She then discussed how worms enter the stomach. Anu asked who has had worms (very common in India) and several said yes. She then explained to them how they can avoid getting worms (not sticking their fingers in their mouths) and how the worms suck our blood when they lodge themselves in our intestines.

Pearly White Teeth
Anu also spoke about brushing one's teeth properly, and that even the gums and the tongue should be cleaned thoroughly. The kids were told they should brush their teeth in the morning, as well as before going to bed. Incidentally, Nanjunda has a great set of pearly teeth. The kids applauded him and listened quite attentively (except for Manikanta, Sharath and Sumitra...). Some of them have crooked teeth and some have old stains, but overall, their teeth were not so bad, considering many never brushed consistently until they came to Karunya Mane.

Anu closed by telling the kids that they should keep their trunks clean, their clothes folded and that when she visits next, she will take a look at the trunks. Her "inspections" will be once a month, and after a couple more they'll become "surprise inspections"!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kirtan in Carlsbad

If you're in the Carlsbad, California area, check out the Feed People kirtan fundraiser at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, featuring Govindas and Radha, Sequoia Neptune, Tim Miller, Mike Hannum, Heidi Hagen, and more.

August 31, 2008 from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm, at 1905 Calle Barcelona, Suite 218, Carlsbad, CA. Call 760-632-7093 for more information. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Independence Day birthday

On India's Independence Day (August 15th), the kids -- as did all kids in India -- got dressed up in their white school uniforms and went to school for a half-day of ceremonies and games.

Front of the line -- Jeevan, Arvind, and Anand.

Ramesh and Saroja number the kids from 1 to 31, to keep them organized, and they all get in their place in line whenever going somewhere. The littlest ones -- Swarana, Parveen, Vishnu, and Sinchana -- get a ride to school on his scooter.

Also on Independence Day, we celebrated little Vishnu's birthday! He turned three that day and enjoyed cake, cookies from Santosha Cafe and Matt, and lots of birthday decorations. Vishnu also got a birthday card all the way from the U.S. -- from Tracy Cox in California!

Manjula helping Vishnu light his candles.


Vishnu blowing out his candles while everyone sings "Happy Birthday" to him.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trees and more trees (and an update on the garden)

In an all-day affair on a Sunday in August, the SOften team from Infosys arrived at Karunya Mane with 56 trees to plant on our grounds (we're so grateful), as part of their charitable environmental efforts.

Sreenevasa got to plant the first tree...
The kids and the SOften team worked together to dig holes and plant the remaining trees (mango, papaya, neem, and many others) both inside and outside of our fence.
Prema and little Nanjunda helped carry dirt...
And Kaleem and Manikanta made sure this little tree was comfortable in its spot.
On a similar green note, here's a recent look at the veggie garden, where tomatoes, okra, green beans, garlic, radish, carrots, and more... are flourishing.
Compare this to the site when we first saw it a year ago February.
Okra from the garden -- great for sambaar.