Please support our efforts through donations, sharing our blog with others and learning more about the issue of human trafficking.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Videos from Odanadi!

Hello everyone!

Please enjoy the videos here from the Odanadi family in Mysore :)


singing a song in Kannada to say thank you to Pareesha and me!

mini Rajnikant's (South Indian film star!)

two videos from the young brothers and sisters coming to the US!

"pump it up!"

and last but not least .. :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Daily posts from Odanadi

I apologize for not posting earlier, as things were hectic with the wedding in my family (which went beautifully!) . Here's what I had a chance to jot down while I was there, a more coherent reflection overall will come soon as well.

Day 1:

I arrived to Mysore in the early afternoon. Upon entering Parashu’s home, I was flooded with smiles and the warmest welcome I have ever received from people who didn’t know who I was or anything about me. All they knew was that I was a volunteer. They sat me down and chatted with me, both attentively listening to me. They were excited to find I was Indian.

Parashu always has a smile on his face, and his wife as well. Their two daughters are bubbly and talkative, and welcomed me with lots of love too.

Day 4 (3rd day with the girls):

I was a bit overwhelmed the first two days. The girls of Odanadi are so sweet and call me sister with love. Especially the younger ones, they want your attention, your affection. The older ones are sweet as well, but face many behavioral problems – such as aggression or anxiety.

I sat in on some cases today, which were all in Kannada – Parashu translated for me occasionally. There was a middle-aged woman with her elderly mother. Both had been involved in prostitution for many years. The elderly woman’s mother had started the cycle…and it continued on down. The middle-aged woman has a daughter who is now married to a trafficker who beats her and her brother all the time. What really hit home is when Parashu told me that the brother found clients for his sister and his mother. I have no words to describe what I feel about this – it’s almost confusing.

The family is now trying to sell a property they own so that they can move away, as the middle-aged woman is now HIV-positive, a result of being in the sex trade. But it’s a lot more difficult than they thought. The woman’s daughter’s ‘husband’ is abusing them and not allowing them to sell the property and move away (at least that’s what I gleaned from the rough translation). Both women were teary eyed, distraught, and obviously exhausted from a life which didn’t seem to be there own. Parashu had them file complaints with the Odanadi office and offered them some other resources.

Though I did not understand their language, I read their body language and could tell that there was a deepset pain. When I saw the woman’s eyes, it seemed like the innocence had been lost.

Days in between...

Spent at Odanadi chatting & playing Guess Who & Connect Four with the girls, playing with the younger ones. Drinking coffee and eating muffins at Café Coffee Day, seeing the Mysore palace. Chatting with Aude. Bartering with rickshaw drivers. Eating Rani's delicious South Indian cuisine.

Day 9

I can’t believe I’m leaving tomorrow. Today was Dharma’s first full day with everyone. We spent the day wrapping gifts for all the Odanadi kids, coloring with the younger kids, chatting with the girls. I finally got one of the quiet girls, Hemalatha, to be open with me -- we played soccer today which she really enjoyed.

I finally feel like Mysore is a home for me. I didn’t know if I’d be able to adjust but now I can’t believe I’m leaving. I’ll definitely be back.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dharma - Day 7 @ Odanadi

Odanadi – Day 7 (December 19, 2010)

Today was my last day at Odanadi (at least on this trip). I had been anticipating this in the past few days and was not sure how it would be. I finally was able to spend some time with the US7 (or five in this case) as some of them could not make it. Some of the younger children wanted to come into the classroom and see what was going on, but it was important for the older ones to have their own time. After going through some activities such as having them re-state the habits Sharon and Will had taught them, we moved to another activity where they had to make up their own animal and present it to everyone. We also did some pair-sharing and reflections on goal setting. The intent was to have them practice their spoken and written English, public-speaking and self-confidence. 

 I really enjoyed doing these activities with them and it was apparent that although some of them were not as confident, they were definitely enjoying practicing their English and preparing for their US trip! A slight hitch in their journey though is getting passports, as many of them don’t have birth certificates or don’t know where they were born, and in some cases who either of the parent(s) are. A lot of court and other official office visits have bene made and slowly but surely progress is being made for them to be able to come to the US. I’ll keep you all posted as I hear any updates on this. 

I went to meet Stanly’s wife and ended up having lunch there with them. They have a three and a half month old daughter – Himania and a three and a half-year old Honey. I spent some time talking with Kumi about her NGO – V Care Basics that uses art, such as classical Indian dance as a form of therapy. Very interesting and innovative stuff. 

I had promised the children I wouldn’t be gone for too long, so I returned to Odanadi and had them present the imaginary animal they had made up. This was a fun activity, especially as they shared the noise their animal would make :)

The day with them ended by teaching them how to play Scrabble. They found the game mildly challenging given their English abilities, but were determined to learn how to play and improve their vocabulary in a friendly and competitive way. I had some of them record video messages for Sharon Sister, Will Brother and Tina Sister and others gave me hugs and told me to come back again soon. Others asked me to not go and stay longer. 

Since it was Sunday, it was TV day and not wanting to make a big deal I said bye to all the children I could find. I don’t think they even realized it was my last day and in some way I preferred it that way. I think some of the children had assumed and/or hoped I would bring chocolate/cake on my last day. But after taking to Stanly the day before I decided that I would not do that in an effort to support Stanly and Parashur’s teaching to the children of valuing volunteer’s for the time they give and the people they are versus any material or fleeting treats they may share with the children. 

If it was a weekday and the children were all doing chores or just playing, it would have been difficult to leave. I don’t know if I could have said good-bye without crying – so the low key exit was a good way to leave Odanadi. When time and other factors allow I will go back again to spend time with the children. Words like “tunta” (naughty boy), “munga” (monkey) and “tunti” (naughty girl) will stay with me and always make me smile for the memories and the precious faces they will always remind me of. 

I’ll sign off now as I need a moment to just be and send them all my love and positivity so that their lives will be happy, safe and free from the troubles that have and do plague them on a daily basis. Every day I would tell them “nare sigona” – I’ll come back/see you tomorrow …. and I say the same to you all.

Dharma - Day 6 @ Odanadi

Odanadi – Day 6 (December 18, 2010)

I headed to Odanadi after Ode and I found a new branch that was much brighter than the seedier Internet Café I had used a few days ago. When I arrived many children were doing their weekend chores, others playing alone, some doing activities with Annabelle and Matthew the other two French volunteers, and a fierce game of Duck Duck Goose was being played by some of the smaller children in the front porch area. I noticed that one of the volunteers had made a welcome wall displaying who was who at Odanadi along with a weekly schedule for the children. It was a nice idea so that newcomers can now get a quick glimpse of things at the home.

I went to the library to check-in and walked around the house. I picked up my supplies and decided to head to the TV room for a quieter space. One of the older girls wanted to work on her English so I played a flash card game with her for some time and helped her with her spelling, shapes, colors and general grammar. Some other children started gravitating towards us, so I reached into my supplies magic bag and pulled out some modeling clay. They rather enjoyed this as it allowed them to use their hands and minds to make flowers, animals, fruit and other indescribable things with the different colors. The clay seemed to be a magnet as the soon quiet space became as loud as the playground outside! I had foam sun shapes and so some of them wrote their names on them, while others colored in books they got from the library downstairs. 

There was a lot of activity going on in there, and some of the younger children thought it would be fun to get powder on their hands and then rub it all over my face and arms when I least suspected it! I had children clamoring all over me and you can’t really get mad at them. I rather enjoyed it as they were having fun, and everyone was laughing, including me in reckless abandon. That’s just the way it should be I think :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dharma - Day 5 @ Odanadi

Odanadi – Day 5 (December 16, 2010)

Part I:

Chatting with Ode over breakfast in the garden and sharing our experiences and frustrations thus far with volunteering started off the day. The day again was overcast and I definitely have a cold now :( Despite not feeling well, I decided I had to go to Odanadi and spend time there as this exploratory trip is short as it is. Some of the younger children I think are sick too, but their energy levels remain high – something which I cannot match at this age!

I had brought some construction paper with me and a box of new crayons, so after checking in at the main gate and peeking into the counselor’s room I went to the second floor where the library and main office is located. I shared with Tom (the new Business Development and Strategy guy from the UK who just started a few days ago) the volunteer document I had received from Sharon prior to my arrival and then went to the library. Manjula one of the college-going girls asked me to help her prepare notes for a Database Management course! As some of you know, I am technologically challenged, but after fumbling through I was able to help her find most of the notes she would have to revise to prepare for her exam. I really hope she passes!

Ok so back to the construction paper! My idea in buying this initially was to do a card-making project with the children. I wasn’t sure how they would react to it, but surprisingly I found that they really enjoyed it. I made one as an example, and one by one some of the children became engaged in displaying their creative talents. Some said Thank you from Odanadi and others said I love Odanadi in Kannada. I asked them all to sign the backs so I would know who made each one. I will leave some with the children, but will bring the rest back and distribute them as thank you cards. A few of the children were ever so sweet and gave me personalized cards saying endearing things like “you are so nice sister”, and almost heart-wrenching things like “don’t forget us sister!” As I observed everything going on around me and watching the children proudly give their cards to me, something just struck me – it’s hard to explain to you all exactly what – but I had to hold back the tears because I realized I would only be here a little while longer. Without knowing it these children had reached deep inside my heart. Ugh – I’m really not looking forward to saying “see you soon!” on Sunday.

Tomorrow I will have a day off from Odanadi so I can see some Mysore sights, recoup and reflect. I’ll be back there this weekend in full force though and plan to spend a good amount of time with the US7 working on various activities to improve their English, and increase their public speaking and self-confidence skills. Note I said plan – things don’t always go as you hope or happen when you had anticipated, and in India this rings even more true, so you just have to go with the flow :)

Part II:

At dinner I asked Parashur more about the background of some of the children that I have been getting to know. One young boy was freed from bonded child labor; another was left by his mother as a baby as she had been raped by a village elder and a man who came forward to marry her (once she was rehabilitated by Odanadi and helped with getting a job) did so only on the condition that she come sans son. One of my favorite young girls’ mothers is a sex worker and Odanadi rescued her so that a second-generation of sex workers would not be born - this is a similar case for some of the other younger girls also. One of the older girls who has bonded with me is creative and keeps asking me for a chocolate cake party on my last day. I was shocked to learn that she was raped by her father, and also suffers from Schizophrenia and another social disorder. Some of the children do act up or argue and fight with each other, but given what their young eyes have seen and no doubt they have physically and emotionally experienced it’s really humbling to see them live each day and treat you with so much love and affection.

Ok, I’m getting a little teary writing this. Perspective. That is definitely what I have gained thus far and the impetus to keep giving unconditional love and treat everyone with respect. It will come back to you ten-fold - the universe is keeping track. If any of you have any inclination then book a ticket to Mysore and spend some time with the children at Odanadi. You will not be sorry you did.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dharma - Day 4 @ Odanadi

Odanadi – Day 4 (December 15, 2010)

Pareesha left the evening of the 14th so it was a little strange not having her around in the house or at breakfast. I made my way to the Internet Café though so I could update the blog and share some photos with all of you.

Today was a rather low key day. I spent most of the day in the library doing various activities including using flashcards with some of the younger girls to teach shapes, colors and numbers; played carrom, a traditional Indian board game (with Somya, Pallavi and a new girl who had just arrived at Odanadi) after years and found out how rusty I was. Somya’s team (above) won every game and she is definitely the Carrom Champion.

I tried lunch today for the first time at the center with the other volunteers – a simple dish of rice and sambhar, which the children eat a variation of daily for lunch. It was a nice way to bond with them all and to learn more about how each of us ended up sitting at a meal together in Mysore.

Post-lunch I went back to the library and continued with some activities, and also distributed the rest of the gifts the children who go to school did not receive the day before. I had been feeling a cold coming on all day so my energy level was low, which is in contrast to all the children who asked for single shots and posed photos in the courtyard as I was on my way home. Some of the children are mischievous, some quiet, some so sharp, and others I haven’t had the chance to get to know yet. One thing for sure is that they all need love, affection and attention.

Dharma - Day 3 @ Odanadi

Odanadi – Day 3 (Tuesday, December 14, 2010)

With supplies and snacks for the boys in hand we headed to the main Odanadi site to wait for Stanly Brother. Around 11am, along with a new UK volunteer Kathy we headed to Mandiwali (?) where the older boys stay. The boy’s site is located in a lush and serene plot of land about 15 minutes drive from the girl’s site. We met Raju and Ramesh two brothers who stay there, along with Kumari the house mother.

The boys living situation is in stark contrast to the girls. They live in huts and have no electricity, yet they are enterprising growing their own vegetables and even selling them to the house mother for a discount!
For many years some neighbors under the influence of land grabbers had filed a legal case against Odanadi, basically stating that they did not want a house/building built there. Very recently, the court ruled in favor of Odanadi and plans have been drawn up for the boy’s future home.

Stanly showed us the markings for the foundation and the lay of the land. I eagerly await the completion of this building – but it will cost about 70 lakhs (approx $150,000) and an additional amount for a compound wall to run the perimeter of the plot for safety and other reasons.

You will be happy to know that we gave a check to Stanly (and Parashur) on behalf of all of you lovely supporters and donors. The share for Odanadi India ended up being about Rs. 94, 500 – which is amazing! It will go towards building the foundation for the boy’s home :) But, as you can tell, Odanadi still will require a lot of funds to make this dream a reality.

We also had fun distributing the gifts we had packed the day before!