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.
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.
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.
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.