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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!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dharma's Day 1 & 2 at Odanadi!

Odanadi – Day 1 (December 12, 2010)

To say I was super jet-lagged would be an understatement. After reaching Hootagally Village and taking a warm bath, Pareesha and Ode took me to Odanadi. We walked on to the main road, stopped by a mini-supermarket, crossed the busy road and then took the side road to the center. The main gates were locked when we got there, so Pareesha and Ode shouted for Rashmi the security ward to come and open the gate. Small boys and girls started running out one by one – sister! Sister! They shouted as they climbed all over them. They looked at me tentatively and asked – “new sister?” “What your name?” “How long you stay sister?”

 I took out my camera and started taking some photos and they loved it. They all posed and asked for individual and group shots. One energetic young girl Teju particularly liked posing and kept asking for more and more, until Pareesha said “sako sako!” (enough in Kannada).

I got a tour of the center, met one of the house mothers Uma and some of the other younger and older children. A group of them sat transfixed in the TV room watching a Rajnikant blockbuster, while others played freely in the yard. Jatti (a calm boxer) and Lizzie (the lazy golden lab) also befriended me and Lizzie particularly fawned for attention and even posed for the camera with Pareesha!

 One young girl – Kaveri – Stole my heart. I said hi I’m a new sister and she just ran to me and hugged my leg (she could only reach so high!). It just melted me. That was my orientation to Odanadi.

Odanadi – Day 2 (December 13, 2010)

Day 2 started a little slower for me. I slept ok, but my body ached from so much travel when I woke up. Late morning Pareesha and I made our way over to the center with supplies in hand. The first task was to check and sort through the clothes etc we had couriered from the US. It was strange to see the bags we had packed in the US sitting there in the house mother’s office – but we opened them and started separating things out. Most items were there except for (sadly) 6 stuffed toys – but we spent a few hours along with the house mother, accounts manager and teacher making sure every child would get something by wrapping an item each like a gift. We will distribute these to all the children tomorrow as early Christmas presents. We’re so happy each child will get something.

After taking a late lunch/snack/errand break we returned to find some children busy coloring the Dora the Explorer book we had brought from the US. We joined in and spent some time in the library. A few more boys were there also and I got to meet a few other girls. We were looking forward to working with the older girls who are part of the US7, but they got delayed and were busy all day taking care of logistics related to the SU trip. Otherwise they are in college until 5 or 5:30pm so it’s not as easy to find time with them. While waiting for them we sat in the courtyard and chatted with whoever was around and played with Jatti and Lizzie. Some girls started doing some gardening, while another came up to me and wanted me to help her with her Hindi! I obliged and we had fun trying out various phrases and she teaching me a few key Kannada words also. Appu stood out to me – a mini Rajnikant in the making with beautiful eyes. A little mischievous but ever so sweet!

It soon became dark and Stanly dropped us back to Parashur’s house. We try to leave every night by dusk so walking home is still safe and then most children occupy themselves with other activities and playing and catching up with the school-returned children.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Exciting announcement about donations & update!

Greetings from Odanadi! Dharma and I wanted to officially announce that we successfully raised about $7,000 in donations thanks to the generosity of our family, friends, and colleagues. We could not have done it without your support!

Today, Dharma and I sorted through all of the clothes and toys that she shipped over from the U.S. We managed to wrap over 50 presents to be given to each Odanadi child. We can't wait to see the looks on their faces as they receive their early Christmas gifts!

Please stay tuned for blog entries from me and Dharma about our experiences at Odanadi, and further information about what the founding directors are up to. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Article on our trip!

A brief post to share a news article that was published in the UMD Campus PublicAsian newspaper this week!

Alum travel to India to combat trafficking

Friday, December 3, 2010

Signed, Sealed and (almost) Delivered!

We are so thankful to those of you who donated clothes, toiletries and toys for the children at Odanadi. A few days ago Sharon and I got together to sort through the items and pack them to be shipped to India. We ended up packing about 60 pounds worth of supplies into two bags! PHEW!

I got drenched in the tornado warning on December 1st transporting the bags to campus for DHL to pick-up from my office, but thanks to Tracy and Matt who helped bring them into the office, it will all be worth it. 

As of today - the bags were at London Heathrow (how exciting!!). I'll post again once they reach their final destination in Mysore where Pareesha will receive them. I know the children will be happy to receive these gifts from generous people like you!

A few pictures are shared below from our fun sorting and packing night - enjoy!

all the supplies pre-packing!

Sharon keeping track of the inventory

weighing them!

Giving the bags a warm departure :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dhanyavadagalu (Thank you in Kannada!)

Some more generous souls to thank :)

Minaxi and Atul (and Kusha!)
My dad's sister, her husband and my lovely cousin. Always fun to hang out with and I've already been booked by my uncle to plan Kusha's wedding whenever it happens ;)

I have known Isaac for some years and he is a gem. I've seen him evolve in so many ways and I'm so excited to see what life has in store for him as he graduates.

Nisha  and Sachin
 Mother to Sahil and lovely wife to Sachin- Nisha is my cousin from Atlanta. A genuinely nice person who is beautiful inside and out.

Kart and Neha
 Kart and Neha are some of my closest friends.  Neha is creative and talented and Kart has always amazed me with his analytical and coupon finding skills ;) I've known Kart since my college days and I consider him a brother. 

 Where do I even start with Rahul? He is the Jack to my Karen! His wry sense of humor is an acquired taste, but his taste in music, the arts and outlook on life in general is why I put up with him and him me :)

 One of the inspirations for why I am even going to volunteer in the first place. Sharmila is a good-hearted, spunky and animated sweetheart :) I hope she finds her journey ahead fulfilling and adventurous!

Rita and Sanjay
 Rita auntie and Sanjay uncle are family friends who live right here in the DMV area.  They have two active young children.

KK! One of my South Asian daughters from AASU at UMD. I miss seeing her around regularly, but she's working hard in law school right now. She's a smart, sassy and beautiful young woman :) 

I had the pleasure of meeting Pam this summer at the OCA Convention in TX. I feel like I have known her for a number of years already. It was amazing meeting her and talking to her about so many things. I look forward to seeing what she does next!

Hyo is a talented student at UMD. She was kind enough to donate some much-needed supplies for the children at Odanadi. She really is so insightful and good at what she does. I can see her shaking up the APA non-profit world in DC soon :)

I would also like to thank my Dad's former colleague who wishes to remain anonymous and Raju Kaka, my dad's cousin brother who is a successful business man in NJ where he lives with his wife and two children.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Generosity = reaching our goal :)

Thanks to the generosity of donors we have reached the personal goal of $5k we set for our trip prior to our deadline. This is very encouraging!

We are still accepting donations however through December 8th, so please consider Odanadi as you give thanks and look for a way to contribute to a worthy cause.

Friday, November 19, 2010

India-based human-trafficking syndicate busted

A very recent story!

India-based human-trafficking syndicate busted -, Philippine News for Filipinos

The generosity continues :)

I am running out of ways to say thank you to all of the generous supporters of our volunteer trip. I feel so blessed to be able to work with survivors of human trafficking in Mysore this December, and everyone's encouragement motivates me to keep going.

As of this post we have $885 more to raise to reach our $5k goal by December 8th, 2010! I'm hopeful we may even exceed the goal!!

Not pictured below but also to thank heartily are: my mum's work colleagues (anonymous), my mum's supervisor Edward Stewart, and Dr. Bhojraj - my parent's doctor.

A former student and now friend - she is a founder of the Thai American Alliance, a dancing diva and a soft-spoken and beautiful young woman :)

A fierce young woman and former student who I had the privilege of working with at UPenn. Now a lawyer in CA - I'm excited to see where life takes this gorgeous lady!

Julie and James (and Ellie)
Julie is my former boss, but more importantly dear friend and colleague. James is an England soccer fan, was Irish in a former life and Ellie is their cuuute daughter. They are due to have another girl in the next few weeks!

I am blessed as a number of former students have been supportive of this endeavor. The notion of paying it forward rings true all around. Karen always makes me smile and she is a wonderful soul .. just don't smile and look at her otherwise she'll think you're laughing at her ;)

I met Will this past summer at the OCA Convention in Dallas. He volunteered at Odanadi in August 2010 and I continue to be inspired by his passion and belief in the cause!

Brandt is a college friend of mine. There's no really easy way to describe him, except to say he's an acquired taste, and lines automatically erase themselves so he can step over them :)  

Another lovely young woman who does things with heart. She also rallied friends and family to the cause and gifted me a box of daily supplies for the children at Odanadi to use. Sending her positive wishes as she looks for a job post-graduation :)
Pravina and Suresh
My dad's sister and her husband. I grew up with them in the UK and now we are practically neighbors here in the US. My aunt gets a glow on her face whenever anyone mistakes me to be her daughter ;)

My darling aunt (mum's sister). I'm SO inspired by her; a survivor of breast cancer and now recently diagnosed and battling another form of cancer - she kept pushing to want to donate without once thinking about how she felt. Please send your prayers her way - we all need her positive soul and smile in this world <3

Umesh and Amita
My second parents (dad's brother and his wife) are always supportive of any endeavor that I take on. I can't imagine a time in the US when they haven't been around; combine that with their three children - my cousins and it's always a fun time!