Monday, June 30, 2008

Being good people

On Sunday, Anu, a volunteer who lives in Mysore, visited the kids with a purpose in mind---to have an interactive conversation with them about life. They first sang a few songs and danced a bit, and then she asked them how things are going at Karunya Mane and at school. The kids said that they are happy at KM. They like school and the hitting by the teachers seems to have subsided a bit. And, they love the food that our cook Lakshmi makes for them.

Anu then told them that KM is their home and will be their home for a long, long time. Anu asked the kids who the elders are at KM who take care of them---the kids named Ramesh, Saroja, the cook, and the other ladies staying at KM. When she asked the kids how they should behave with the adults, the kids said that adults should be respected and that they (the kids) should not be rude but should be gentle with them, and should listen to their elders. Why? Because, Anu explained, they have seen so much of life and have more experience that they do.

The conversation was interactive and the kids understood the right answers.

Family ("Kutumba")
Anu then talked to them about how they should treat each other, emphasizing that KM is one big happy family with parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. While sisters assist brothers in day-to-day life and shower them with affection, brothers pledge to protect their sisters and care for them. Anu asked the kids if they will fight with one another, and they all shouted "no, never!!!" Anu then told them that fighting is not wrong, and all brothers and sisters fight---but, to say bad things to each other and to use bad language is wrong, and although they will fight with each other at times, they should care for and support each other all the time.

They then talked about one of the Indian festivals, Raksha Bhandan, celebrating the relationship between brothers and sisters, and which falls on August 16 this year. On that day, a sister ties a silken thread (a rahki) onto her brother's wrist and pledges to love and cherish him, while the brother gives his sister gifts and pledges to protect her from harm throughout her life.

Amusingly, the former street boys used to sell rahki on the street during the festival, but they did not know its meaning.

Giving Back
Anu then explained to the kids that they are provided for by many generous people from all over the world, and that their own moms and dads are busy working and earning enough just to support themselves. Their school fees, food, clothing, medicines, and everything provided at KM is free to them.

However, Anu went on, just as their benefactors show their responsibility by supporting the kids, the kids also have a responsibility. She explained that this is like "sala"---the Kannada word for "loan." When you take a loan, you have to pay it back, only this loan is not about returning money. Paying back this loan is in the form of becoming responsible students, graduating from school and college, getting jobs, becoming good citizens and making good names for themselves, and---most importantly---taking on the highest form of repayment and responsibility---helping the needy, as others are helping them.

Big Hugs
Sreenevasa then stood up and summarized the kids' responsibilities from now until they become independent. Anu then asked them, "Do you promise?" and they all responded, "we promise!!!" loudly and heartily, while falling all over Anu with big hugs.

The conversation lasted a good 45 minutes, at the end of which a first-time observer noted, "Wow, look at these kids, they sat quietly the whole time. I can't believe they were street kids."

At Operation Shanti, we have had so many good starts, like Sunday. And, we have a long way to go. Stay with us as we grow and learn with our kids, and you may learn something about yourself in the process.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


(seetha phala -- custard apple)

In their spare time between school and studying, with the help of Ramesh our manager and Ramana our handyman, the kids have been working on the yard and creating a vegetable garden. They're planting tomatoes, beans, spinach, green chili, and eggplant---all of the vegetables we use in our kitchen.

(baale hannu - banana tree and tomato - tomatoes)

They even planted a small banana tree and a few papaya trees. Since it's the rainy season, the new plantings should get enough water to grow.

(paalak - spinach)

The goal is to become as self-sufficient as we can. With a big yard and enthusiastic kids, this may be possible.

Sharath, Manikanta, and Kaleem

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hitting kids in school

An issue that we often face is the beatings that kids here get. And not just from their moms---we continuously work with them to try to lessen this behavior---but the beatings that the kids get in school from their teachers. Hitting kids is common in schools here, especially in government schools, and our kids have suffered from such action by their teachers.

Our moms were hit when they were children, and some still take beatings by their husbands, so hitting as a disciplinary action is what they know. No excuse, just reality.

Yes, kids are kids and misbehave. Yes, teachers and parents are responsible for disciplining a child. But to inflict such pain as to leave a bruise or a welt is, we think, inexcusable.

In India, it is illegal to hit a child in school. Yet, it happens often.

A recent article in a local Mysore newspaper highlighted the issue. We sent the article to the headmaster at our kids' school, as the teachers there (and in their school last year) use the stick to discipline students. For our kids, being hit brings about a different reaction---they have been abused their entire lives, so their initial reaction is not to "obey" to avoid being hit, but to run from the beater, as that's what's worked for them in the past.

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From the Star of Mysore, online edition, Monday June 23, 2008

Schools have reopened. Quite a few teachers might resort to merciless punishment for minor misconduct of children. Sporadically we have come across instances of grave consequences — even suicidal attempts for humiliating punishment. The Heads of Schools should warn teachers not to indulge in sadistic punishment, says the author of this article.

By Prof. S. Dandapani

Gone are the days when school teachers would invariably enter the classroom, cane in hand, to chastise the mischievous students, and also to quieten the noisy class. Pin-drop silence was supposed to be conducive for learning. The writer recalls the harrowing experiences he had at school during pre-independence days, when the standard punishment was to stand upon the bench for failure to recite a poem or answer questions.

Invariably, mathematics and English grammar classes would send shivers down the spine because teachers handling these subjects would be short-tempered and not at all considerate towards slow-learners. The grammar book, a red-coloured one by Wren and Martin, would appeal only to the creamy layer. Whatever might have been practised by teachers in good old days, corporal punishment seems to be anachronistic in contemporary times.

Opinions have been divided among educators regarding the efficacy of punishment in reforming undesirable behaviour of students. Of course, there would always be occasions to test the forbearance of teachers by the impish or impudent behaviour exhibited by a few rebels. It would disturb the learning climate of the conscientious section of students and also affect the mood of the teacher adversely. What kind of punishment would be appropriate under these trying times is a million-dollar question! What works with one teacher or in one class might fail in others.

Of late, teachers are extracautious to desist from precipitating matters that might otherwise invite the animosity of the youth, wrath of parents, and also the reprimand of the headmaster. They would endeavor to defuse the situation and put on a facade of calmness even under stressful situations. What is wrong if he lets off his steam, at least occasionally, and creates an image of an uncompromising, awe-inspiring figure, who cannot be taken for a ride ?

However, is it not the duty of an ideal teacher to investigate the root cause of misdemeanours and deal with the situation tactfully? No student is basically bad. Peer-group influence, unfavourable home environment, obscene movies and journals, might have spoilt the mental health of youngsters. By inflicting punishment, the teacher would only be worsening the condition and make the offender obdurate and offensive.

Punishment has uniformly been a failure in improving pupil behavior. It seldom changes the deep-rooted malady. Moreover, the psychological fall out of punishment may be just as undesirable as the behaviour, for which the individual has been punished. Here is an anecdote:

Several decades ago, a teacher of mathematics gave some homework that was done by everyone except one boy. When his turn came, he stood up and declared that he didn't do it. The teacher was tolerant and asked the boy the reason for his failure, and was prepared to help him.

The boy refused assistance and asserted his right to do what he wanted. For a moment, the teacher was flabbergasted. Later, he asked the boy to fetch a cane from the headmaster's chamber. He brought it, handed over to the teacher, and was about to go back to his seat. The teacher stopped him and addressed the students:

"I have been a teacher in this school for more than a decade. Never before have I faced a situation that I face today. As a teacher, I am supposed to make you love the subject I teach. Evidently, I have failed to make this boy love mathematics. One who has failed must be punished. Let me therefore give the cane to the boy and receive punishment from him."

The boy's face turned pale. His arrogance and pride gave way to tears and repentance. He begged for forgiveness. But the teacher was adamant. With trembling hands, the boy received the cane and gently touched the palm of the teacher. He broke down and fell upon the feet of the teacher and begged for pardon. The teacher lifted him, hugged him and shed tears of joy. The cane tip not only touched the palm of the teacher, but also the heart of the boy. He turned over a new leaf. By the time he left school, he not only passed with distinction, but also received the Character Medal.

Punishment, in essence, should be Reformative and not Retributive.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Family court

From "Aunty":
"This morning [Thursday], Mary and I went to the family court to check out on divorce proceedings. we met a social worker named Ranjini who works for an NGO and has a permanent table just outside the family courtroom. We explained to her the situation that Mary is presently in. She advised us of the basic procedures. Mary needs to take some proof of their marriage. She only has one family photograph---for the time being that should be sufficient---to prove they are husband and wife. She will help Mary write an application to file for divorce. Normally, the women are asked to press for maintenance (alimony), in which case, an out-of-court reconciliatory meeting is held as procedure first, before the matter is actually taken up in court. If both parties seek divorce mutually, then the process is swift and easy. If husband refuses to agree to the divorce, then the matter will have to be fought out in the family court and may take some time to settle. She will be provided with a lawyer by the court who will take care of the case on her behalf, free. The appointment of lawyer will be made after 10 days from her application to file.

She will be going to meet Ranjini at 10 am tomorrow morning with the photograph and write out an application as step one. She will guide her throughout thereafter. Her phone number is also a helpline number for women. I think she helps women who need shelter and any other legal help. It would be interesting to learn more about women's issues from her. I will try and meet her again next week and be with Mary as far as possible during the case."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Today, Mary met Ranjini again, who helped her with the application and then introduced her to a lawyer. She indicated that she wanted no alimony from her husband, just to be free of him. In the process, Aunty and Mary learned that husband is still behind bars, as nobody has posted his bail (2,000 rupees). They requested that the police notify them if he is freed, for Mary's safety.


Today, one of our street moms, Kamini (name changed to protect her identity), came to our morning program in tears, her kids in tow. Last night, her husband hit her---and badly---on her face and head a few times. Her head hurt a lot, she said. She then told us that left the house and took her kids with her. They slept outside last night, near a temple.

Kamini has come a long way in terms of taking care of herself and her kids, and her general demeanor and how she carries herself in her life has improved dramatically. Today, her reaction this time was a little different---in the past when husband hit her, she just sort of accepted that husbands beat their wives on occasion, and all of her friends accept that such abuse is just what happens if a wife upsets her husband. Rarely do they want to report their husbands to the police. Today, Kamini looked disgusted with him and then asked if she and her kids could stay at Karunya Mane for a few days, saying "gandha beda," "I don't want my husband."

We asked Mary (the woman filing for divorce from her abusive husband) if she would talk to Kamini since they are both at KM, and share with her the abuse she endured from her abusive husband and what she is doing now to finally free herself from the situation.

There's a lot written about the belief that many destitute Indian women have regarding their status as second-class citizens behind the men in this society. Of course, many men believe this as well and perpetuate the inequality through abuse, dictatorial marriages, and the dowry system. A few women, in their hearts, may not believe this to be true, but for them to actually do something about it in this society is difficult, given social pressures.

We aren't sure if Kamini will ever leave her husband, or whether it even matters legally, since they may not be offically married (often, the destitute just sort of live together and have kids but never get married for the record). In any case, we are beginning to put the idea in her head that it is perfectly acceptable, and in fact possible, to leave an abusive, alcoholic husband, especially with Mary setting an example.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A sewing machine

The other day, while waiting with Baby for her medical checkup, she told us that she knows how to sew (called "tailoring" in India), and then later that same day, Reeta expressed interest taking a tailoring class, so that she can learn a skill. Reeta is quite eager to be able to take care of herself once she's fully recovered.

Since kids tend to lose buttons and break zippers, as well as rip their clothes often, we decided to get a sewing machine for the women to use. The machine runs on a foot pedal and requires no electricity, and even came with its own table.

(loading the machine into the ricky)

Mary and Saroja (see below; the manager's wife who takes care of the little ones) both know how to sew quite well and are making good use of the machine to fix up the kids' clothing.

Happy birthday (again) Sreenevasa!

Well, Sreenevasa decided that he wanted his own cake for his birthday, today. So we figured why not, since he's likely never celebrated his birthday before---at least not the official way---and the kids do love cake! After cake, they went right to studying.

Kaleem, Harish, Nanjunda, Sreenevasa

Parveen, Anand, Arvind, Pallavi

Sinchana, Parveen, Anand, Arvind

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy birthday Jeevan and Sreenevasa

Sunday the 22nd was Jeevan's fifth birthday, and his third week at Karunya Mane, and in school. Since this coming Wednesday the 25th is Sreenevasa's birthday (age 13), we celebrated both boys' days with a little cake and a whole lotta singing. Jeevan's mom also came to visit him on his birthday, and Jeevan was very happy to see her.

Sreenevasa in green shirt.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Running away...

Yesterday our worst nightmare came true, as four of our boys ran away from school. After having their lunch -- and then very conscientiously washing their lunch boxes and putting them back in their book bags -- they each walked out of the school grounds, heading for the city.

That Venkatesh, Lokesh, and Nanjunda ran away was actually a real surprise, as these three were in boarding school last year and they never ran away from there. Venkatesh and Lokesh have sisters staying at KM with them, and the three boys are good students and good kids.

It turns out that the other boy, little Manikanta -- really our riskiest kid in terms of the running away factor (just because he's had absolutely no guidance and support during his nine short years and because he's lived freely on the street during that time, going wherever he wants, doing whatever he wants) -- was the instigator, encouraging the other boys to "come with me, let's go see a movie!"

Manikanta is having the hardest time adjusting to KM and to school, as he's never gone to school before, even though he is nine. His mother would beat him and put chili powder in his eyes whenever he went home without enough money for her from his begging. He'd then run away to the street to hang with his friends for a while, until he gathered some money to take home. This continued for years for Manikanta.

This year, while we were moving our kids -- many of them his friends -- into Karunya Mane, Manikanta insisted on coming with them. We told him that he has to go to school if he stays at KM, and he agreed. But of course, he could not know how drastic a change that would be for him. So he's struggling a bit, and we are doing what we can to support and guide him as he goes through this transition.

We went to the city to where the boy's moms work to look for them, but they weren't at their old stomping grounds. Then we went to the railway station, since that's an obvious place they'd go. Even though they may have had no money, they are street smart and know how to get onto trains without a ticket. And, yes, there they were, sitting together on the sidewalk outside the train station. Just sitting, and waiting ...for what nobody knows... They looked embarrassed, sheepish, and like the guilty little boys they were when we walked up to them.

Our kids have lived for so long on the street without much guidance or support that, in some ways, they are mature for their age, as they know how to survive with very little. Yesterday, while on their little adventure, the boys bought a pen for 30 rupees from someone, then turned around and sold it for 50 rupees, netting a 20 rupee profit. So although they know that being at Karunya Mane and in school is better for them than living on the street, their old habits and ways of life remain. It'll take time for that to dissipate from their thoughts, and in the healthy, supportive environment of Karunya Mane, we are sure this will happen. They have come such a long way since when we first met them on the street three years ago. The next step will just take time -- years for some of them -- and patience and understanding on our side before they realize and believe in their hearts that they are no longer street kids.

We hauled them back to KM and had a good long talk with all of them. They were all very apologetic and said they won't do it again. They know what they did was wrong, that is certain. Whether they'll do it again, only the future will reveal... we sure hope not.

Update on Mary

Finally, after two attempts (!) Mary's husband has been arrested and put in jail. The first time, confusion abound as the police who caught him did not realize that there was an order for him to go to jail and not just the overnight lockup, so they let him go free. Everyone was a bit tense for the few days that he was roaming free, as Mary's safety was at risk.

Then, he showed up at her place of work looking for her, even though this was the first place where the cops had come to pick him up a few days earlier. They kept him occupied while the police came and finally took him away to jail. He can be bailed out, but if he goes near his wife during his bail period, bail will be rescinded and he'll be back in the can, without bail.

He also pawned her ration card (identification card used in India, like a driver's license) for 800 rupees at a pawn shop. Doing so is illegal, and many loan sharks in slum areas conduct a similar practice with the poor who need money. Before her court case can continue, she needs to retrieve her card for identification... she's informed the appropriate government office, and they are handling it. Hopefully this will not take a long time.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Art with Bobbi

Bobbi, a new volunteer, wanted to help out at Karunya Mane but wasn't sure what she could contribute. We suggested that she spend some time with the kids doing arts and crafts activities, to allow them to explore their creativity. Although she admitted she had no real exposure to teaching kids arts and crafts, she was willing to give it a shot with a little project each Sunday.

What a great job she did on her first Sunday, having the kids make their own name tags, complete with lots of stickers and stars and sparklies and hearts and sea creatures. She had expected maybe eight or ten kids to participate, but when she got there, they ALL wanted to make their own name tags.

Pooja and Latta with their name tags

The kids sure had a great time, and Bobbi was touched to be able to bring such fun and creativity into the kids' lives. We've found that volunteers who are willing to go beyond their comfort zones and spend quality time with the kids maybe get more out of the experience than the kids do. Let's hope the world sees more people like Bobbi, willing to give their time and energy to kids who need their attention and love.

Sharath, Kaleem, Asha, Sreenevasa, Nanjunda with Bobbi

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy birthday Umesh!

One year ago today, little Umesh was born to mom Kavitha and dad Rudra, and brother Darshan. Umesh has been a happy and healthy baby since birth, with mom taking excellent care of her second son. Today everyone celebrated Umesh's day with a little birthday cake!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mango season!

We're quite busy with our kids at Karunya Mane, but we are also still going to the street every morning to visit our moms and kids in the Street People Program. Unfortunately, a couple of the kids weren't yet ready to go to Karunya Mane, even though their older siblings are there now. Saumya wanted to stay with her mom for one more year. And Jyothi's parents said they want her to start at KM next year.

And little Mohan, who is two years old, will be heading to KM next year to start tiny tots school.

It's mango season in Mysore now, the only benefit of the scorching hot weather season... and Mohan is one kid who sure loves his mangoes. We're not sure what's more fun for him---eating the mango or getting it all over his little face!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Teaching kids how to give

A woman, Sylvia, who had spent the last several months in Mysore with her husband and their two little ones called us to say that she wanted to donate a few items to us, as they were heading back to London soon.

Sylvia told us that her little girl, Maya, just had a birthday party and received many, many toys. She suggested to Maya that she donate most of her toys to the Operation Shanti kids. Maya, who is only four years old, happily agreed. She and brother Rahul visited Karunya Mane with mom one day and shared the toys that Maya donated to our kids. There were puppets, yo-yos, puzzles, dolls, stuffed animals... and more! Thanks to little Maya for her generous heart at such a young age!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Update on Yashwini

Yashwini was admitted to the hospital about a week ago, as her feet were completely swollen and she couldn't eat. The doctors said that her lack of activity led to edema. She normally isn't the best eater, and has been tired lately---a side effect of her ART. After staying in the hospital for about two days, she insisted on going to her house for a day, then, she promised, she'd come back to Karunya Mane. We encouraged her instead to come directly to KM, but she was quite adamant about going home, as supposedly her blind mother was visiting.

We took her to her village but there was no mother, an apparent misunderstanding or miscommunication. She insisted then on staying home until Sunday, three days away, after which time she would return to KM. She lives with her sister and next to her brother and his family, but nobody is willing to take care of her, insisting that we take her with us. But it's hard to take someone when they're not willing to go. Her daughter went with her husband to Bangalore, for how long nobody knows. As Yashwini can barely walk, someone has to be near her at all times.

We returned on Sunday, at which point she cried and insisted on staying home for two weeks, until the 22nd of this month. There wasn't much we could do, even though, again, her family insisted we take her. We reminded her to continue to take her ART (which she is doing) and to eat healthy and practice good hygiene.

Often, the poor are difficult to help when they are sick, not only because they often don't take their medicine properly. The family is often unwilling to help, the patient lives in squalid conditions yet insists on staying there, and he or she may not have the knowledge or capacity to understand how bad his her her health condition really is.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Playtime at school

We snuck a peek one day at school to see what the kids were up to, and they seemed to be adjusting well to their new surroundings. We caught them on a Saturday after classes were over (Saturdays are 1/2 day schooldays in India), enjoying outdoor activities with their friends.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Divya at Karunya Mane

Our latest kid addition to Karunya Mane is little Divya, a six-year-old girl who lives with her dad on the streets. Her mom died about six years ago of a heart attack, according to dad. Divya and dad used to live in a rented house and she went to first grade last year, but dad ran into money problems and couldn't make the rent (300 rupees a month, or $7.00).

Dad sells peanuts on the hospital grounds, and gets to and fro on his little green bicycle. Dad saw us on the sidewalk with the other kids, and brought Divya to us, saying he just wanted her to stay in a good place and start going to school again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

May 2008 e-newsletter

Our May 2008 e-newsletter is out.

Kids in school

May was a busy month. During the month, 26 kids moved into Karunya Mane, and we evaluated the two neighborhood schools. We chose the Sri Sai Saraswathi Vidyakendra school, a twenty-minute walk away, for our kids. The school has facilities for kids from age three up to 10th grade, so even our little ones---Vishnu, Sinchana, and Parveen---are attending tiny tots school!

The kids that had previously attended school all took entrance exams. Everyone was placed two or three years behind where they would have been had they continued school elsewhere. We agreed with this decision, as it will give them a chance to catch up and learn the material properly. If they show improvement, they will be promoted to the next grade during their first school year.

It's nice to see the kids walking to school with their new school bags (more on that later), and then returning "home" in the evening. They all seem happy to be at Karunya Mane and in a nice school, and certainly enjoy each other's company. And even little Vishnu sometimes gets a "ride" from Nanjunda!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Operation Shanti Sponsor a Kid Program

For what comes to a little over $1.00 per day, you can sponsor an Operation Shanti kid living at Karunya Mane for a year. For more information, please see here:

Operation Shanti Sponsor Program

Group photo at Karunya Mane in May

In mid-May, we moved twenty-six kids into Karunya Mane. One day, we tried to take a group photo, but kids being kids, they wanted to ham it up and goof around instead. Here are two of the attempts.

As you can see, Chumi (right side) thought that she could maybe show her little tummy and get some attention. Sinchana (left side) wanted to stand off to the side and her mom Reeta (left side) snuck into the kids' photo. Most of the boys saluted the camera.

Second attempt; not much of an improvement, but you get the idea:

To meet all of the kids (if you can't come to Mysore), see Our People.