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


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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Update on Mary

Last week, Mary and Aunty talked to the police and Ranjini about her divorce case. The police were preparing the case, and her court date is likely one year from now given the clogged legal system. She and husband do have to go through one round of counseling, as a requirement, but Mary remains adamant that she wants no part of him in her life.

The police also said that, if found guilty, husband (who remains behind bars as nobody has bothered to bail him out) could get up to seven years for assault and battery. Aunty asked the police what would happen if she went to bail him out -- the policewoman simply said, "then the responsibility for he does next to Mary is on you."

The thought that the man could be in jail for seven years took a while to sink in, as -- although he clearly deserves it given what he's done to Mary over the many years of their marriage -- during seven years, many things could change. Aunty commented that his neighborhood would be different, his kids would be grown, and Mary would have by then moved on to a new life.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Four new kids

We're up to 31 kids... this week, Vinod, Netra, and Swarana joined us, they are brother and sisters. And little Jyothi (Latta's younger sister) also came to Karunya Mane this week.

Netra (upper kindergarten), Swarana (lower kindergarten), and Vinod (2nd grade), are new to us, and we met them through one of the moms in our street program. Their dad is a day laborer at the market and their mom sometimes washes pots and pans at restaurants. They have six children, and Netra and Vinod were obviously underfed and quite thin. Mom and dad struggle to care for their kids and, except for their one-year-old, asked if we would take their youngest. All three kids started school this week with our other kids.

Jyothi had been scheduled to move in this past May -- the same time that the other kids arrived, along with her sister Latta -- but at the last minute, her parents hesitated and then decided to keep Jyothi with them for one more year. Recently, mom got a job as a cleaning lady (more on that later) and instead of hauling Jyothi with her to work every day, she asked if she could send Jyothi to KM to start nursery school.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sushila three years later

Three years ago, we met Sushila on the streets of Mysore. She was probably 20 or 21 at the time, and her two little ones, Vishnu and Pallavi, were the first that we met. Back then, Vishnu was almost a newborn and Pallavi was about three years old.

Sushila used to beg for a living, and cooked for her kids right on the sidewalk. Her husband had been put in jail for something he didn't do (we believed her because one day he was out of jail with no explanation), so she was alone. Sushila could not breastfeed baby Vishnu because she was quite malnourished, and the first time we saw her, she was crying because she had no way to feed her little baby.

Pallavi, Mom and Vishnu in 2006

We encouraged Sushila to work and not beg, to learn to make strands of jasmine flowers like the other women did, which brought them decent wages during flower season (May to September). At first, she could not bring herself to do much with her day, and watching over two kids was more than enough for her. She was illiterate, had managed to run away from a man who had "kept" her, and had little hope for a better life.

But Sushila slowly changed for the better. She learned to trust us, and we helped her and her husband find a house to rent. She then let us send little Pallavi to boarding school in 2007, and then take in Pallavi and Vishnu at Karunya Mane this year. During early 2007, she taught herself to make the strands of jasmine flowers and has become quite adept at it and at selling the strands during the season. Sushila is much healthier and happier these days than she was three years ago, grooms herself well, and earns her own money.

Sushila and husband visit Pallavi and Vishnu at Karunya Mane every month, and are quite proud that their kids are in a good school and are staying in a nice environment.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


A couple of Sundays ago, the Bobbi art project of the day was kites... putting them together, tying the tails onto them, and the flying them. Did they fly? Yes!

Bobbi and Asha flying their kite

The conditions were perfect -- a strong wind and lots of space. Our big yard sure came in handy.

Even little Vishnu got to fly his kite!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Visitors from Kennesaw, Georgia

A few months ago, a woman named Vanessa from Kennesaw, Georgia in the US emailed to tell us that she would be visiting Mysore on a study abroad program with her college, and that she wanted to bring a few things for our kids.

In July, she and her group made it to Mysore after stopping in Delhi for a few weeks. They met the kids and brought a suitcase full of goodies for them. The kids mostly enjoyed getting to meet the new people. Vanessa's short dreadlocks also got the kids' attention, and she even let them touch her hair, resulting in many giggles from the girls.

Amusingly, Vanessa wore a "Yes We Can" t-shirt from the campaign of one of the current US Presidential candidates. As we took these photos, she and her friends got the kids to chant "Obama! Obama! Obama!" Vanessa sent us an email recently, saying that "India was an experience of a lifetime. The two ladies that came with me both say that visiting the orphanage was the best part of the entire trip."

Our kids have that effect on people.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

After 13 months...

This past week, one of our street dads finally agreed to be tested for HIV. His wife tested positive about a year ago, and although he's seen her health dramatically improve with proper care and guidance, he's refused to be tested, until now.

Dad recently got sick and suffered from vomiting, tiredness, fever, and other symptoms for over a week. Being so miserable finally got him to agree to go for testing and a checkup. When we took him, the doctor said, "finally, you caught him, yes?" "After a year..."

Unfortunately, dad tested positive. Fortunately, we now know, and he can be properly counseled and treated. Interestingly, wife told us that since finding out his status, he has stopped his drinking (let's hope that he's stopped for good).

Why the hesitation to be tested for so long? Fear, stigma, misinformation, as well as the sense that these young men have of being invincible.