This morning we all got up very early .. those of us who are living at the new site left at a fast walk – accompanied by a band of the Shaolin Masters! 20 minutes later we arrived at the Hostel.. (the original Shikshan Gram shelter where the little children are currently living. )
The staff as usual had out done themselves.. the place was decorated beautifully and the loud speakers set up to blast Malavali with our celebration! The rule is the flag must go up before 7.30.. I think we just made it! then it was time for breakfast as everyone was hungry.
After that, there was more fun and games to be had… everyone sat through speeches, some readings, and some dances and incredible human pyramids made by the boys.. see some photos here: we laughed and sang and jumped around .. many photos were taken .. and then the whole celebration was culminated in a cricket match.. much fun.
Sometimes people say .. those ‘poor children’ referring to our children here. No both the Australian volunteer teacher who is here – Gloria – and myself – long term volunteer agreed.. these children are not ‘poor’. They are very fortunate – very lucky kids – and have so much .. love, care and happiness.
Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian.. the excuse for a celebration doesn’t depend on creed or belief system here at Shikshan Gram.. a holy day – or special day of any sort simply means ‘let’s have a party’! and the really beautiful thing about having a party here is it is all so easy to organise. Let have some special food.. the addition of delicious Kari.. see it here cooking away.. made the dinner just wonderful..
Or it certainly seems that way.. as there are so many willing hands to move into action. And of course having a great loud speaker PA system that a kind donor gave to us makes partying just that much better! Music makes the world go around and just play a few bars here and everyone is up and rocking!
The children are amazing – they are so talented – and so willing to get up and share their gifts – we had classical Indian dancing – we had Bollywood, we had movie star take-off dance by Lakhan – who is 5! we had a reading of a story of Shivaji – it went on and on and the clapping and cheering shook the valley.
Finally after all the individual performances where done it was time to really rock the place – and the music went on and on and we all danced and jumped and laughed and cheered and celebrated Christmas! Next week it will be New Year and then someone’s birthday and then who knows.. but the PA system will come out again soon for sure and we will leap and jump and clap and enjoy all over again.
And for those of you in the Western World where Christmas has a tendency to overindulgence of many sorts.. there were some wonderful parallels to be seen here.. no hangovers, no unwanted underwear and socks, and no stuffed refrigerators full of excessive amounts of leftovers to be eaten for days after the Christmas overkill. Just sore feet from dancing so much.. it was fun.. and we will do it again soon! No need to wait until next year!
As I drove past the Shikshan Gram Shelter last night on my way to the new site, I caught a glimpse of a whole series of new signs.
I had been away for a week, farewelling Renee Lighton in Mumbai .. and now here was something different sprouted in the empty space beside the children’s shelter… what was it.. ah ha – a word tree… and further on .. a fence of words.. with individual words laminated and strung along the fence wire.. and here more trees.. and an alphabet painted on wood.. just at eye height for the little ones.
And today when I visited a whole series of changes revealed themselves. Now we have a worm farm – embedded into an old bathtub and filled with yummy goodies for the big fat worms to eat.
And bins labelled.. plastics, paper etc.. ready to really help the children be discerning about where they throw their rubbish.
And a new washing line.. beside the house, where the clothes are less likely to end up in the dirt.
All this may not seem to you to be the miracle that it is .. but to me it is just that. It is a miracle that was inspired by a volunteer – Renee Lighton - one who is so good at inspiring others.. who spent just a few short hours discussing possible changes with one of our very creative teachers – Satish Mankar – and he picked it up and took the ‘ball’ as they say.. and ran with it.
In just one week he created a transformation that has shifted the shelter to a whole new level – providing the children with stimulating possibilites for their learning.
I hope you are as inspired as I am with this example of a profound contribution – how just a very short time spent in quality conversation can make such a difference to people’s lives.
We hope in fact that you become inspired to visit us and discover just what is it that you can contribute to this project in the short time that you are likely to be with us?
Because we know that you too can do this .. you too can throw a spark which lights a huge bonfire. As Renee has done.. lighting up her world as she moves through it with joy – in whatever field she chooses to play.
We are so glad she came and played in our back yard!!
Yesterday we waved Renee Lighton goodbye as she headed back to Capetown. It was very hard to stop the tears flowing as we had a last hug outside the departures gate of the Mumbai Airport.
What a wonderful journey we had.. yes with only one participant but the value we found from Renee’s visit was profound.. and she gave so much and there with no thought of the weather being too hot, or being too tired, or any other excuse for delaying an action that was to benefit the whole.
It was a surprise to both of us to find that it was time for school holidays and most of the children at the Shelter had headed off on various excursions – but undaunted, Renee threw herself into teaching the young Karate Masters in Training an English class twice daily. What a teacher she is. She held their interest in the palm of her hand, playing games, laughing, singing and helping even those who’s English was non-existent to start with, and in the short space of just over a week, had everyone practicing and trying out their new skill in language. We were all singing “Head,shoulders, knees and toes” – almost in our sleep!
So what did we accomplish in this time:
Brought the level of English language to a remarkable state with only just over a week of instruction.
Reviewed the set up and layout of the existing shelter and provided substantial recommendations for making the school there more effective.
Conducted training sessions with Satish Mankar the teacher at the school.
Purchased furnishings and set up the guest space at the new site to provide accomodation to overseas volunteers.
Researched and purchased books and training manuals for the teachers at the Shelter School.
Donated funds for the continuation of the building project.
Commenced training and collection of necessary materials for the compost heaps at the new site.
Set up new Facebook page for the Shaolin Training – which is to play a large part in assisting the Shelter to become self sustainable.
Conducted marketing training and review of marketing materials for fund raising efforts.
Conducted two introduction meetings with students in Mumbai to promote the Shelter and spread awareness of the work there.
The days were so full – we played and laughed and laughed some more.. and all the while were so privileged to spend time with the young Masters as well as Satish, Yogita and Arybal and his family. We did a road trip extraordinaire to the Ajanta Caves over two long days.. and hiked all over the valley around the new Shikshan Gram site.
What a wonderful three weeks we have had. We thank Renee deeply and I know that she will join me in thanking all those who helped make this time a memorable and extraordinary experience.
The learnings from being in this simple and peaceful space will continue. We know Renee will be back.. and we invite you to come and join us and discover what it is that creates this field of attraction to this place of the heart.
The monsoon rains are still with us today.. the land around the new Shikshan Gram site is vibrantly green – and the crickets are screeching their legs together.. seemingly in joy for the steady beat of the huge rain drops.
A couple of them came into my room the other night – uninvited because as they started their racket neither Satish nor I could hear ourselves speak!
Since I was here last in April – the building is almost unrecognizable .. it has grown so much .. and perched right on the top they have built the guest house for me. Including a bathroom with running water and a flush toilet!
What a luxury ..and what joy it was to return to a welcome that overwhelmed me.
The place is buzzing with energy .. thirty young people are living and working here.. training to become Black Belt Karate Masters – and to support the Strong Village Project – the far reaching vision of Satish that sees the possibility of working with the children of the rural villages to educate them, and give them role models that are strong, healthy and respectful to their rights as human beings.
You will be hearing much more about this project in the coming months as it comes to fruition.
And so I have returned home.. to my Indian family … who live the principles that they teach.. that of respect for all human beings and teaching and living by example. It is with great gratitude that I write today as it is rare to have an opportunity to live and work in a place that is so filled with laughter and joy while going about the work that is here to be done with selfless and total commitment. That commitment is seen in every face and and in the energy they put into every task that is presented.This young man had just completed the gruelling workout required for the grading for brown belt from his
Karate Master Sensai Aryabal – 2nd Dan Black Belt.
Being students of the Shaolin Temple in the Shaolin Martial Arts Training Project is not easy.. they are up at 5.30 .. for a 6am meditation followed by sometimes as much as three hours intensive work out on the training ground.. and then they work on the building project.. these young people are amazing! They are our future leaders.
In the middle of the monsoon, a fine morning is very unusual.
For the rains to hold off for almost a whole day, just about unheard of. But last week on the 28th, a group of very important visitors came to Malavali to visit the children at Shikshan Gram. And the rain held off.
This was a day of bringing together the links the have been formed many years ago – as friends came together to join forces. Maya and Akhil Shahani and 30 sudents from the Shahani Centre of Management brought Paul Dunn and Masami Sato from Singapore to visit. Paul and Masami are the creators of a wonderful concept and organisation called Buy1Give1 which supports and helps thousands of underprivileged people throughout the world.And the Rain Gods smiled and took a break to allow them all to go up to the new site to see the construction and to have a great demonstration by the Shaolin Volunteers.
The project was explained in depth to the visitors and the Maya and Paul and Masami planted a tree .. to show that under the shade of this tree, the project would grow and flourish.
As Nandini recounted when Paul and Masami visited the children at the current premises:
“The kids were in their element. The degree of excitement,love and happiness cannot be explained or written about.
It moved Paul to tears!!!!!! He had 60 of the kids vying for his attention and affection. It was hard to say good bye! I hope you will be back soon, as we await your next visit impatiently!!!!!
A very big Thank You to Maya and Akhil for making this visit possible and loads of blessings from the little ones to all of you who are trying so hard to make a difference to their lives!”
At this time we are unable to accept donations from overseas - however our application for the necessary permission - the FCRA - is in process. Stay posted and we expect to be able to accept your kindness soon.
Attention our Valued Indian Donors
In order to ensure that all your valuable donation reaches us please when possible donate directly to our Indian bank account.
Bank of India, Branch JM Rd PUNE,
a/c Naisargik Shikshan Sanstha
Acct No: 0518 1021 000 000 2
We thank you for your invaluable contribution and pledge to utlise all funds to enhance the lives of our children.