I have grown up living a life where the majority of the things I want to do- I am capable of doing without a second thought. Going to India and stepping foot into Mamta School made me realize something I had not been able to realize in the 19 years I've been living. What I realized is that it does not take money and time to get things accomplished- you just have to have the will power to get it done.
Stepping out of the car, and having a storm of kids run up to me, touching my feet and welcoming me to their world warmed my heart. These kids are the epitome of strength. They laugh and enjoy life more than I probably did when I was their age. I have always been concerned with the things that I do not have, instead of appreciating the things that I do. The Mamta School kids get together with no toys and make their own games. For a blind girl to dance, for a handicapped child to participate in a play takes courage and self-confidence. Feeding one of the kids with my own hand made me forget that I had forgotten to eat. Feeding him and seeing him satisfied made me happy (In the Indian culture, feeding someone with your hand is a sign of love and care).
They taught me a lesson that will stay with me for the rest of my life. If I want to accomplish something, all I have to do is tell myself that I can do it. The world will come to my feet if I believe in myself. The kids at Mamta School live it everyday. They are little angels and I respect them and their ability to fight and to live with what we would consider to be so little. They are truly amazing and have changed the way I now look at the world.
Co-President of the Aahana University of South Florida Chapter
Yesterday, we decided to visit Mamta School one last time. The kids will be doing a performance at a local show tomorrow, so they decided to do a rehearsal show for us. As the kids performed the play and their dances that they had worked so hard on, I was taken aback to how far they have come. How far Aahana has come!
Despite their difficult backgrounds, the kids live everyday with a smile on their face. As we were leaving, Mamta School's principal, Jayantikaka said, "Their difficult lives before Mamta School are unrecognizable. It is as if they have covered their pains with nothing but happiness".
His statement has stayed with me and made me realize Aahana's impact on these children is great and will grow to become greater day by day.
As our second official Aahana trip comes to a close, I wanted to announce that Aahana is now a government recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
This is a great milestone for us and we couldn't have imagined being in a better place when it happened.
As always, we thank each and every person who has decided to join us on our journey to a better future for these children!
Usha has talked about family quite a bit in the past few days. Yesterday I was on my laptop, catching up on some work I needed to get done. Usha was close by, watching me, and waiting to listen to music or lean more about computer. I told her to give me some time so she picked up a newspaper and started to try to read it. A few minutes later, I asked if she wanted me to help her learn to recognize a few letters in the Gujarati alphabet. It was a slow start, but she picked it up very quickly. Within 30 minutes she could recognize and write a few of of the letters.
It takes a lot of reminding to remember that she is only 9 or 10 years old. Because she is always caring for her 3 younger sisters, she comes off as if she has a family of her own. After she completes her work for the morning, she hurries back home to her mother who is now pregnant for the 8th time. Despite her height and her small stature, I often forget she is only around 9 years old. keep thinking she is much older than 9 or 10.
It has been a few days since I last blogged. In the past couple of days we have had meetings with the trustees and solidified the plans to build the new school. Tomorrow, we will survey the land and start to build the floor plans.
About two days ago, I met with a few of the girls I mentioned in my blog post last year (Check out the blog post here
). Unlike other young girls in their community, Manisha and Parul have supportive parents who encourage them to go to school. The sisters are in 5th and 7th grade and attend school every day. Their father told us that he will be sure to educate his daughters because he does not want them to have the hard life he had. Their friends, Kajal and Puja are also in the same boat. Their parents have hopes to have them complete middle school and then move onto high school.
The girls attend the local Gujarati school which educates children who are in standards one through eight (grades 1-8). We spoke with the principle and he happily told us that the school has sought permission from the village temple trustees to use their previously received government money to rebuild the school.
Last year, I also spoke about Teeny, Usha’s aunt, a few times. I also mentioned Sahyog Ashram, a place where older mentally and physically disabled individuals can go. There, individuals similar to Teeny receive proper care and treatment for their disability. We recommended that Jamanaben, Usha’s grandmother, send Teeny there so that she can be cared for when Jamanaben can no longer care for her.
Upon returning to India this year, I was surprised to see Teeny wandering around the village. When we asked Jamanaben if she had given anymore thought to send Teeny to Sahyog Ashram, she gave us the same response as last year saying she would keep Teeny until she is not able to.
In the past two days I spent a quite a bit of time trying to understand Usha. She spent most of the time that we were together learning how to use my camera, iPhone, and laptop.
At first she wanted to learn how to take pictures. I showed her how to take pictures on my Canon Rebel and then how to take pictures on my IPhone. Soon she discovered that my IPhone plays music. She quickly learned how to put my headphones in and switch to different songs on my playlist. Eventually she sat there on the cot with the music blasting in her ears, giggling and screaming how much she enjoyed the beat. Last night she asked to listen to the music while she dried the dishes, so I handed her the headphones and she was soon singing along (not completely) to Ellie Goulding and Of Monsters and Men. She didn’t understand a word of what she was saying, but quickly picked up on the dialect and a few of the main words.
Today she discovered how to slide to different screens, switch to different apps, and turn on the music. I was amazed at how much progress a girl, who has barely had any education picked up on how to use a piece of technology she has never seen before.
Usha listening to music on my IPhone
Today, we sat on my laptop for an hour and watched old Hindi movie clips. She sat on the cot and pointed to different video clips and asked me to read the clip names out loud. She now knows and understands words like ‘video’ and ‘loading’. Through exposing her to a little bit of technology in the past two days I have seen a tremendous amount of increase in her English vocabulary and ability to use technology.
This just shows how much technology can make a difference when it is paired with education.
Watching Hindi movie clips on Youtube
As I mentioned in many of my blog posts last year, there is still a great amount of class separation existent in the village. When Usha eats her dinner and lunch, she eats outside separate from her employer. We have told her, numerous times, to come inside and eat, but she feels shy. On my first night here I, along with my cousin’s son went outside to eat with her. She felt uncomfortable and did not properly eat. During the times I ate alone with her, she didn’t seem to have a problem.
While we were using my computer, she told me she needed to use the bathroom and was going out back. I asked her to just use our bathroom here, but she said she’s cannot. I told her that’s rubbish and to go use the bathroom we have here. She entered cautiously and I soon realized that that was her first time in her life using a proper bathroom.
Not even twenty minutes later she told me she was thirsty. I told her the water pot is there and does not need to ask my permission. She asked me to get the water for her and I asked her why. She replied by saying that she is not allowed to touch the same water jug we drink out of. Once again, I told her that to think that is rubbish and to go ahead and get the water herself. After trying to make her understand that there is no barrier between what I use, touch, and do, she still felt uncomfortable. Telling her once or twice isn’t going to do anything. She has grown up feeling and experiencing different from others.
Aahana’s hope is that one day we can work to eliminate these barriers so that girls like Usha do not feel the need to eat separately or use a separate restroom.
Part of the land that will need to be developed.
For a few months Aahana has been raising money to purchase and build the land to rebuild Mamta School. Currently, the school is run out of a rented building and does not hold enough space for the amount of kids we hope to bring to the school in the future.
I finally got a chance to see the land we were thinking, for months, about building the school on. We were growing concerned because of the increasing land prices. However, we ended up getting lucky. REALLY lucky. Within the last year, one of our partner organization's trustees, Karshanbhai Patel recovered from a heart attack and a kidney failure. After he went through multiple surgeries, he decided he wanted to donate all of his land towards a greater cause. It just so happened that we were looking for land around the same time he decided to donate the land his family has owned for years.
Rather than spending thousands of dollars on buying land, we’ll be able to put it towards the children and building the new school. We can’t believe that everything happened to work out so well and are beyond excited to get started on this project.
I can’t say this enough, but I thank you all for your continuous support! As we start our planning and fundraising process I am confident that we will be able to change more lives each and every day.
When I landed in India early yesterday morning, I couldn’t believe that it had been a whole eleven months since I last left. I got into the village around 9:00 AM and within the first hour I saw Usha. She looked at me, started smiling and let out this quiet, but excited “Ah!” noise.
I met Usha last year when she was at our neighbor’s house washing dishes. I was automatically drawn to this young, skinny girl washing dishes while her employer’s daughter who is around Usha’s age sat just a few feet away doing school work.
Usha, her sisters, and mother do work around people’s homes in our village while her father works as a laborer. As mentioned in my blog posts last year, she has never attended school and neither have her sisters. Her oldest sister who still lives in the village has been married since she was 13 years old. In a couple of years, most likely by the time she is my age, she will be living with her husband’s family.
As Usha sat washing dishes, I sat next to her and updated her on my life while she updated me on hers. When I met her last year I was always the one inquiring about the details of her life. However, this time she was the one asking me questions about my life.
During the time I spent with her during my past visit, a friendship was formed. It has become a bond tied together by the different lives we live.
I brought out my laptop and showed her a map of where I lived in London and where I traveled during my time abroad. I then showed her where the United States is located and some pictures of my life there.
A little while later we left for Mamta School. As I got out of the car, I saw a little familiar figure standing in front of the steps looking at me and smiling. It was Nathji- one of Mamta School’s students who is an orphan that was born with part of his arm missing. As I walked past the rooms, I saw the same familiar faces I got to know so well during my previous visit. I also spotted a few unfamiliar faces as well. We had sixty students enrolled at the start of this school year, but currently have 48 children. Many of the children return home and never come back.
We stayed for a couple of hours and I familiarized myself with some of the new students and teachers. Among the new students, I met Palak, Rahul, Jaydeep, Maypal, Sailesh, Smit, and Rajudan. Since Mamta School does not go to the high school level, there were 18 older students missing so I was unable to meet the new ones.
Maypal, the newest and youngest addition to the Mamta School family
For the past two years, we have been supporting children with special needs, but have also been trying to find ways to bring education to young girls who are unable to attend school. Although the government provides funding, free education, and books to the families, they still do not go to school. Last year I mentioned giving scholarships to the girls, but slowly found that the government provides a large amount of funding towards the education of the poorer families. However, many of the teachers do not teach well and just go to make money.
I wanted to start something for girls like Usha because in two years, like her sister, her family will be arranging for her marriage. At least twice a month I would like to keep an educational session that enables to learn about sanitation, nutrition, and hygiene. As they get older and have their kids, my hope is that they apply these teachings into their life own families.
I met with Prakashbhai Kalal, a teacher from the neighboring village who was born and raised in a poor village in the mountains. He brought himself out of poverty and is now an English teacher in the neighboring village’s high school. Rather than using the traditional teaching methods like his colleagues, he uses his laptop, camera, and projector to engage his students. I was inspired and grateful to hear him talking about the positive effects of his teaching methods.
Prakashbhai gave me insight on ways I should go about these education sessions and I found that my only struggle would be finding someone who would be just as committed to this as we would like them to be.
In last year’s blog posts I talked a lot about the temple trustees and their lack of support for the government school. One of the first things we noticed upon our arrival to the village was the cricket field located in the front of the village. The field takes up a large amount of land that could hold two large schools. When we asked my cousin’s son why they decided to give land to build a cricket field rather than expand the school, he said he wasn’t sure. The only thing he knows is that the partner who gets paid for letting the teams play on the field is the son of the head of the village. To read more about the village temple and school, read my blog post from December 29, 2012
A few days ago I mentioned the temple trustees weren’t allowing the village school to build a bathroom and were also thinking about knocking down the school. I wanted to find out more; the kids that Aahana will be working with in the future will be coming from this school. When I went to the village school for the second time today, the teachers and principle showed us the damaged walls and ceilings. I know how that school is old because my dad went to it.
The teachers told us about the check they received from the government to rebuild the classrooms as well as the bathroom. According to the school teachers and principle, there has been a case between the temple trustees and the government because the temple won’t allow them to rebuild the school on their land.
Above are pictures of the school's ceiling. Just last week a part of the ceiling landed on one of the teachers. They’ve stopped using more than half the classrooms, afraid that the ceiling will collapse on the kids. I kept thinking, if this was America, the trustees of this land would have no choice but to give that part of the land up, especially since it’s putting the kids in danger.
We went to the temple and asked to talk to Jayantibhai, the president of the trustees. He wasn’t there, but I asked a few questions to two of the men (also trustees) who were in the office. My dad’s neighbor, an elderly man and temple trustee (who is also distantly related to me) came with us. I felt like they were beating around the bush with every answer they gave me. The elderly man, who I call Dada (grandfather), wanted the school to be there and he was asking the other trustees the same exact thing that I wanted to know. Dada also told me that it isn’t in the trustees’ hands, it’s solely the president of the trustees who has been making these decisions and the other trustees have no power.
The new temple they're building
As we were leaving the area around the temple, there was some type of building being built. I asked, “Dada, what’s this they’re building?” He said, “They’re building a temple for Lord Rama”. I was dumbfounded and it took me a minute to get it straight in my head: So they’re building a whole new temple on the land, but not willing to give the land to rebuild a collapsing school? Dada said there needs to be change, but nobody is willing to actually step in.
One of the trustees who was already sitting in the office said something to me that hasn’t left me since then. He said, “None of the Patel kids are here…they’re all going to school outside [of the village]…those other kids in the school aren’t going to do anything…” I knew what he meant, he meant what a lot of people told me when I started visiting the Ravars. Why are you trying to help them? Those kids aren’t going to go to school, and if they do, they’re not going to do anything with it. I had no words at the time and now looking back, feel like I should have said something.
Manisha, Paru, Kinjal, Puja…These are a few of the names of the girls I know who want (and their parents support them) to be educated straight through college. Even though it isn’t, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure they have the education they need. I found a really good quote the other day and thought it described Aahana’s mission really well: Do not educate children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up, they’ll know the value of things, not the price.
Parul holding a baby
Puja and Manisha
I ended this evening by going somewhere I’ve wanted to go for days. For days, as I was leaving the village I was able to see around three to four makeshift tents through the temple gate. I had never seen them before and wondered who those people were. Today I finally had the opportunity to go there and take some pictures of the people who lived in those tents. They were four families who came from Rajasthan (a state north of India) to work on making a new road throughout our village. Building a road here isn’t what I thought. The men manually dig into the ground while rocks are ground in machines. The cement is made by these laboring workers who get paid close to nothing for their day’s work. I took a few photos of them and thought I'd share some of them.
As the first Aahana trip nears to an end, we would like to thank everybody for their continuous love. If you are interested in working with Aahana click on the Get Involved tab and share why you’re interested.
Thanks for reading! :)
One of the girls from Rajasthan. She's around 19 or 20 years old
Looking back on my year I’m so grateful that it has both started and ended in the same place: India. Every day here is a learning experience no matter how small. Throughout this past year, the most valuable thing that I've learned is summed up perfectly in this Yoruba proverb: “However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source”
As we go into the New Year, I thought I’d share a quote that I stumbled upon by Ellen Goodman: “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential.”
Over the past year, I’ve found my greatest strengths and possibilities within my source and hope to continue to this upcoming year. If you haven’t already, I hope you walk through the rooms of your lives and find a great deal of potential within your source throughout this upcoming year and years forward.
A picture a took today from the roof of a house in Ahmadabad
I went to Mamta School for the last time today. I’ll be leaving in two days and have a few other things to get done while I’m here. When we arrived at Mamta School for the first time I didn’t think I’d leave feeling as sad as I did when I left today. I expected to learn about and get to know each child, but I didn’t expect to get as attached as I did. Mamta School is less like an institution and more like a family. It is Jayantikaka who is the reason for this. He’s dedicated his whole life to uplifting children like those in Mamta School and has changed the lives of countless amount of kids. Throughout the past year of talking to him about Mamta School and then working with him while in India he’s become a figure that I look up to.
I already can’t wait to be back next year and hopefully show other Aahana members what I’ve experienced here at Mamta School.