Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Update on tutors

After working with the kids for a couple of weeks, our after-school tutors seem to be enjoying their work. The tutors also create tests every week to measure the kids' progress.

Yesterday, Chaitra, one of our tutors said, "The kids are wonderful, I really enjoy working with them because they are so enthusiastic to learn! Especially that Sreenevasa, he's loves school."

Chaitra tutors the kids in 2nd and 3rd grades: Sreenevasa, Sharath, Pooja, Kaleem, and Harish.

We'll also be getting a tutor for Reeta and Baby, both age 20. The two women expressed interest in furthering their education. For Reeta, this means starting around 9th grade, and Baby starts from scratch, as she was never given the chance to go to school. It's always nice to see the kids and women want to improve themselves, not because someone tells them to, but because they want it for themselves.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What people do on their birthdays

A tradition in India is to celebrate one's birthday by feeding the less fortunate. Indians often donate rations (rice, dahl, etc.), or money for meals, to orphanges on their birthdays.

Last week, one of the rickshaw drivers in Mysore brought his mother to Karunya Mane on her birthday, as she expressed the desire to celebrate her day by giving our kids cake and other goodies. He brought his son and wife, along with his mom and dad.

Cutting the cake

Vishnu and Darshan "helping" to cut the cake

Manikanta showing off his two (!) pieces of cake

Our little Shirley tried to get in on the fun

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Update on Kamini and Mary

A week ago, Kamini's husband, who has been calling her at KM and demanding that she return home, asked for their one-year-old son. We came to an agreement with him, where he could take baby for one week, then mom has baby for one week, and they rotate taking care of the little one on that timetable. He agreed. Mom wasn't very happy, but we told her that we suspected that dad would return baby after two or three days after he realized how difficult it is to take care of a baby. She knows that dad loves the children, but she also knows that when he drinks, he's a different person.

Sure enough, after the first day, dad returned baby to mom.

Dad remains very annoyed that Kamini won't return to her. He keeps asking us to tell her to return to him. We told him that she has no desire to go back to him. He couldn't understand that and asked why not. We then told him that it's because he beats her frequently, that the abuse really hurts her, and she's sick of it. He just stood there, seemingly unable to comprehend what we just told him.

Today, dad came to Karunya Mane and asked to take their older son (three years old). We were hesitant as the boy needs to take medicine every day without fail, but Kamini said that dad knows how to administer the meds properly. This time, Kamini actually came out to talk to dad. She then said that she wanted to go with him, back home, to try things out for a while and see if he's learned his lesson.

So Kamini is back with her husband, and their two boys are with them, hopefully happy and safe. We can only hope that dad learned his lesson---it seems he was completely unaware that abusing his wife is something she doesn't like. Jury's out on what will happen next, but we're all praying for the safety of Kamini's entire family.

Mary's case against her husband (who remains in jail as nobody has gone to bail him out) is moving forward. The counselor, Ranjiini, called to tell her that before the family court hears their case, they need to meet with a counselor to discuss the status of their marriage, and to determine whether there is any chance for a reconciliation. That counselor then makes a recommendation to the family court.

At this point, Mary is very happy with her life without her husband. She is staying at Karunya Mane at night and goes to work at Aunty's during the day---all without fear or worry that she'd face a drunk, abusive husband at home. She has no desire to try to reconcile with him, as she has done all that she possibly could for the past seven or eight years, and now wants a new life for herself and her kids. With Aunty's positive influence, Mary has outgrown her husband.

We're hoping that since husband has been in jail for so long now, he'll simply agree to anything Mary demands, just to get out of prison.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Congratulations to Reeta!

Today was a great day for Reeta, as she was given a clean bill of health from the tuberculosis center! We met Reeta in January 2008; she was a young, destitute woman with no family. She came to us on the street, gravely ill---feet swollen, barely able to walk, and unable to keep anything down for days.

Our volunteers at the time, Jan and Maike, helped admit Reeta to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with tuberculosis---not pulmonary, but it had spread to her abdomen and heart.

We later learned that this was Reeta's third try at TB treatment. TB is easily cured but to do so, one must take the medicines consistently for at least six months. Being a destitute, Reeta had no home base and complying with treatment was nearly impossible for her. The government tuberculosis center, which distributes free TB medicine, allowed her into the program on the condition that we take responsibility for her treatment. After Reeta was discharged, we brought her to Karunya Mane, where we could be sure that she took her medicine properly---and stayed off the streets.

About a month after Reeta arrived at KM, we found her three-year-old daughter (who was taken in by hospital employees during Reeta's admission, who were reluctant to give her back and actually told the little one that her mom had died) and brought her to KM. Reeta and Sinchana have been with us since.

Now that she's healthy again, Reeta is thinking about continuing her education. She passed 10th grade a few years ago, but lost all of her documents after her husband left her and she became homeless. She is also learning how to sew during nightly lessons with Mary.

Operation Shanti's battle against TB:
Won: 6
Lost: 1
Lost (AIDS patients): 3

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kids at the cave

Last Sunday, Jamanagiri Swamiji, one of our directors, invited the kids to the garden inauguration ceremony that was held at the cave (his home).

Swamiji transformed the "slum" area near the front of the cave and Nandi Bull, a huge tourist spot in Mysore, into a beautifully landscaped garden for the public to enjoy.

Sharath, Devaraj, Surya

The kids, as they always do, enjoyed their field trip to the cave. Our arts and crafts teacher, Bobbi, and her helpers, Dana and Heidi, and our English tutor, Sofia, also joined us to help keep an eye on the kids.

After the inauguration ceremony, the kids and the hundreds of other guests were fed a nice breakfast of wongi bhat (green pepper rice) and kesari bhat (sweet).

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Operation Shanti believes that education is key to a child being able to improve his or her life. We focus a good portion of our efforts and funds on providing our kids with the opportunity to get an education through good schooling during the day and through quality tutoring after school and on weekends.

Vaibraj with Latta, Divya, Shanti, and Sumitra

Recently, we arranged for after-school tutors for ALL of our kids (except for the tiny tots). The tutors, each assigned five children, arrive at 5pm to help their kids with their homework and lessons for two hours a day, five days a week.

Mamata with Parveen, Surya, Arvind, Jeevan, and Anand

Making available this tutoring to the kids is, we believe, similar to what other kids receive at home from their parents.

Our kids sure like their new tutors, all with several years of experience as tutors and teachers and each with the interest and desire to help the underprivileged.

Shoaib with Lokesh, Nanjunda, and Venkatesh

Seeing these kids coming home from school, then being diligent and disciplined with their homework... it's hard to imagine that just two years ago, most of them aimlessly roamed the streets.

One of our tutors, Shoaib (above), manages a fabric shop located on one of the busiest streets in the city. During his first visit to Karunya Mane, the boys recognized Shoaib, as they used to sell their wares (pens, Qtips, other trinkets) in front of his shop when they lived on the streets. Upon seeing Shoaib, they asked him curiously, "Why did you shoo us away from your shop?" Shoaib finds it quite amusing that he now tutors and provides guidance to these same boys, who really enjoy his company.

Venkatesh three years ago, working with his mom after school

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Home visit from Asha Kirana

On Thursday, a counselor from Asha Kirana Hospital, the charitable HIV/AIDS clinic where a few of our people are registered, came to Karunya Mane for a home visit. She wanted to stop in to see how our women are doing, and counsel them on taking their medicines properly, practicing good hygiene, and eating well.

Saroja, Ramesh, Ramana, and Asha Kirana counselor

While at KM, she talked with our staff and gave them a tutorial on HIV/AIDS, what it is, the ways that the virus can be transmitted, and equally importantly, how it is not transmitted, as there are many myths surrounding the disease in this country.

The counselor was quite pleased to hear that everyone at Karunya Mane---kids, women, and staff---enjoys the same high quality meals and clean drinking water.

Saroja, little Siri, and Asha Kirana counselor

Friday, July 11, 2008

The beds!

Having a proper bed can make the difference between a good night's sleep---and being rested enough to study well in school the next day---and body cramps and a stiff neck.

Our kids now sleep on fifteen steel-frame bunk beds and kid-resistant mattresses (since we have a number of little ones). The beds also save us a lot of floor space. The girls are on the ground floor, the boys are on the top floor.

Ramana (above left) helped assemble the beds, which are sturdy and should last for years.

The big kids sleep on top and the little ones sleep on the bottom, with safety guards in place to prevent the little ones from rolling off during the night. The adults, who have slept on the hard surface of the sidewalk for most of their lives, prefer to sleep on cotton mattresses or yoga mats on the floor.

Thanks to all of our generous donors in Mysore and around the world who helped us secure the beds and mattresses for our kids. They absolutely love sleeping on a real bed, some for the first time in their little lives.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Socializing with the kids

An aspect of life that our kids have missed out on since now is the kind of socializing that we all take from granted with other members of our society. The kids, having spent most of their lives on the streets of Mysore, mostly interacted with their fellow street kids and the adults living there. The basics of interacting with others socially can be a bit foreign to them.

Now, the kids attend school with students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, which is helping them learn to socialize with their peers. We also welcome people from the community to visit with the kids on Sunday afternoons at Karunya Mane.

Several groups of young professionals from nearby IT firms have done just that. This past Sunday, a group from SOften, a socially conscious organization consisting of young, proactive employees from Infosys talked with the kids and played games with them.

The group played a version of spin the water bottle, where the recipient of the bottle stood up and sang a song to the group.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Educational posters

Our friends at SWARG brought a few educational posters for our walls. A sampling:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Moving out of her house

On Friday afternoon, when we knew that husband would be at work, we took Kamini to her house to help her get some of her things. She gathered up her clothes and some of her kids' things, and then went to talk to her landlady about the deposit she had put down, to make sure that landlady doesn't give that money to her husband, but returns it to us, as we had helped her rent the house.

Husband had called Kamini at Karunya Mane the night before. Kamini refused to speak with him, but let their son talk to dad. He then showed up on the street on Friday, where we work, demanding that we tell her to return home. We told him that she has no desire to return to him. He then said that if she doesn't return home, he'll vacate the house. To which we said fine.

We talked with Kamini about starting a little nonprofit flower "business" at Karunya Mane, as she's skilled at making and selling flower leis for a living. She's quite enthusiastic about doing so, and we'll help her sell the leis in the afternoons to the neighborhood homes.

Husband came to KM on Saturday and tried to push his way into the gate. Security and the manager shoo'ed him back outside. He threatened to return, take the kids away and make them live on the street if Kamini didn't return home with him. Kamini adamantly refused to leave KM, but was visibly shaken. We reiterated to her that she has our full support, and encouraged her to have faith in her strength to live without this man.

Unfortunately, many women in India believe that they can't survive without a husband. Even if the husband doesn't work and does nothing to care for the family, women hold fast to the belief that they need their men. Mary has the self-esteem to take care of herself, happily, without her abusive husband, and we are counseling Kamini to help her develop her self-esteem as well. It will take time, as she's spent her entire life believing that she's not smart and not strong enough to take care of herself, but her own progress and self-improvement to date proves otherwise.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kamini after a week

After a week at Karunya Mane and away from her abusive husband, we talked to Kamini today about what she was thinking and how she was feeling.

She told us that she and her little ones are very happy at KM. We asked her about her feelings toward her husband, and she emphasized that she wants nothing to do with him. She told us that he has a good side in that he goes to work daily and he loves the kids, but when he drinks (which is often), he gets nasty and beats her.

Kamini said that her only worry now was the trouble that her husband would cause us when we are working on the street; she started to cry, worrying for our safety. We told her not to worry, he will not do anything with a lot of people around.

Earlier, we had gone to the Mysore law court to meet a social worker named Ranjini. Ranjini is stationed outside the family law court and her specific job is to help women with domestic problems---she is helping Mary with her divorce case. She explained to us that the Domestic Violence Act covers even women who are living with a man and making a home together but are not legally married, often the case with poor people in this country. Kamini would be covered under this provision.

We asked Ranjini's advice on Kamini's situation. She said that we should first ascertain what Kamini wants to do. If she chooses to leave him, she should then decide on what she wants from him---alimony, visitation rights for dad, protection. Under the Act, the court must rule on her case within three months.

Ranjini also said that Kamini may today want nothing to do with him, but later she may miss him and want to go back. At this point, the government offers counseling to both the man and the woman, such as helping the woman recognize the signals that the man is about to beat her, and working with the man to stop his pattern of abuse. Often, poor men have had no proper support while growing up, are emotionally immature, and learned to abuse women because they saw their fathers beating their mothers. The only way they know to express their frustration or anger is to beat their woman.

When Kamini was twelve, she ran way from home because her stepmother abused her. She stayed with some friends, and then lived on the street, where she met her husband. Kamini expressed to us that she feels really stupid for making bad choices when she was young, because she had taken up with this man after many people had warned her not to go with him.

Kamini said that this last beating took place during the time her son takes his nightly medicine. She told her husband to please wait before he laid into her, so he could give the boy his pills. Her husband had gotten angry with her because she was sitting with her sister-in-law, as they were making their flower garlands to sell. He doesn't like sister-in-law, so he beat his wife for interacting with her.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Divya and dad

If you've been to Mysore...

Have you ever wondered where the countless little girls wandering the streets of Mysore come from? Do they have parents? Where do they sleep? How do they get food? Why aren’t they at home? Like many street girls in Mysore, Divya has just one parent, her dad Ramana. Divya's dad sells peanuts for a living from his little green bicycle. And Dad and Divya, who is six years old, ride around on that bicycle, a semi-wobbly bicycle that many poor Indian men use for their jobs. Divya lost her mom about six years ago to a heart attack.

Operation Shanti met Divya on the streets near KR Hospital, where we work every morning with our street kids and moms. Dad and Divya came to meet us there one day. Dad had brought her to us, with her clothes packed in a duffle bag and her school bag. Then, Dad asked us if we could take Divya in at Karunya Mane, our facility for destitute kids in Mysore. Dad wanted Divya to continue her education and to live in a proper environment while he worked on the streets to earn his living. Since Divya met our criteria, we took her to Karunya Mane to live, and enrolled her into school.

Divya and dad used to sleep near a restaurant on Kalidasa Road. Last year, they stayed in a rented a house in Lalithadripura, a village near Chamundi Hill, but were evicted when Dad couldn't make rent (such houses are usually one-room structures). Divya was enrolled in the government school in Lalithadripura, but after losing the house, getting her to school on bicycle every day from Kalidasa Road was nearly impossible.

We feel a pang of guilt whenever we take in a new child at Karunya Mane. Ideally, kids should grow up with their parents. Although our kids are well taken care of at Karunya Mane, those who have parents may see their moms or dads at most once a month. Parents miss out, most of the time by choice, unfortunately, on experiencing the magic of their kid's childhood experiences.

We immediately saw that Divya’s dad was different. He started visiting her often and, while at Karunya Mane, began helping out around the place—digging our vegetable garden, assembling the bunk beds that we recently purchased, and making two very deep pits for our new sign. Sometimes, the parents of our street kids can be a challenge to manage. Fortunately, Ramana is a caring dad and a hard worker.

Since good labor can be a rarity in India, we offered Ramana a job as our night security man; timely, since the existing security guard had been a no-show for three straight nights. Even though Ramana has no experience in this capacity, we are certain that he'll pick up his duties quickly. He was very happy with the job offer, which comes with a steady stipend, free lodging at Karunya Mane, clothes, three meals a day, and—most importantly—the chance to see Divya every day.

In a city where numerous kids are abandoned or abused by their parents, and where countless deadbeat dads often drink their days away instead of working to earn a living, meeting families like Divya and Ramana gives us enduring hope that what little we do is helping a few change their lives for the better.