A Full Full December by Aedin Wright

I arrived November 17th so the month of December, as well as being jam packed with holidays and events, was still a month of getting my bearings here at Manav Sadhna. As I mentioned in my previous post, MS has four community centers which serve their respective communities around Ahmedabad. One main function of these centers is to act essentially as schools for the kids of that community. They aren’t technically schools - the way the education system here works is that public school is only half day. Typically, families that can afford it send their kids to some sort of schooling/activity based learning program the other half of the day. The wealthy families send their kids to private school all day. For the kids of the communities that Manav Sadhna serves, even affording uniforms and school supplies for public school is difficult, let alone the supplementary second-half-of-the-day-“school”. Therefore, the kids can come to our community centers before or after school (depending which grade they are) for further classes, activities, value based learning, homework help, a nutritious snack, and to be surrounded by teachers who care about them. 

I arrived right after Diwali break, (the Indian New Year’s celebration that leaves the city lit up with colored lights for weeks and is definitely the largest holiday of the year). It’s common that the families that live in the communities we serve have within-a-generation relocated from very rural areas and that the grandparents or extended family still are living in those small villages. Many of the students go to those villages over Diwali break and therefore there is a slow trickle of students back after the break as they slowly come back from the villages and make their way back toward the routine of going to school. Because of this, after Diwali break, the teachers go walking through the surrounding community (which they usually also live in) and visit each students’ house to check in on them and encourage them to come back soon or at all. In these visits the teachers also speak with the parents about any relevant issues - a main one is to encourage delaying marriages of young girls until after the graduate high school. So fresh off the plane, my first week of work was walking around our communities with our teachers, visiting all the kids houses. My role was mainly to distract the kids while the grown ups talked, which I was more than happy to do!   Below is a glimpse at the neighborhood, Tekra which surrounds Manav Jatan.

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We were served countless chais and so intensely welcomed into home after home I quickly understood what some of the other volunteers had mentioned about the intense generosity and hospitality of India. It was a perfect introduction to time here for the next many months and even as I reflect and write this post weeks after, I am inspired again with a desire to practice this intense generosity back. My favorite thing I learned on these trips was a handshake that every child here seems to know and love - put your hand in the ASL symbol for love, index and pinkie out with the middle two fingers closed. Then you touch index, pinkie, and thumb with the other person’s hand, then, keeping the thumbs connected but releasing the index and pinkie, swing your hand from parallel to perpendicular to the ground and enter into a good ol’ fashion handshake. Difficult to describe, more difficult to do and therefore you can imagine the high giggle to handshake ratio!

The next few weeks I spent shadowing Amy, the previous Sabarmati fellow and her newly instated curriculum. After she’s left, I will continue to rotate through the centers and work with the primary school teachers on her new curriculum. The new courses focus on phonics, or the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the correct English sounds as a foundation to build their English. I have loved every minute of getting to know the teachers, trying my hand at teaching myself and bonding with the students. I am also extremely grateful for the quality curriculum Amy has designed because it makes my role of maintaining and nurturing that much more enjoyable and effective. 

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As December came to a close, we had a very big week. First, Virenbhai, (a cofounder of MS) hosted a Christmas party at his house. There were amazing decorations and a delicious taco dinner. The next day was the Christmas show, where all the centers’ kids and teachers attend and perform choreographed dances. The other volunteers and I sang Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer along with a little dance. This was well outside of my comfort zone but I am glad I did it! 

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The next day was Jai Jagat. Yet another program that MS organizes, Jai Jagat is the name of this years’ play staring MS students. This year, eighteen students were chosen based on their display of Gandhiji’s values. These students then spent the last year rehearsing for a play written by one of MS’ board members, Nimo Patel (seriously go check out his music). The students perform in Ahmedabad, and throughout India and in three months will tour the U.S., Europe and South Africa. As a reminder, these students are their families would likely not leave Gujarat let alone India in their lifetime. The play is about a future in which world peace has come, the boarders are marked by trees, and there are no refugees as the only citizenship is the “global citizen”. The whole play is a conversation between a grandmother and her grandchildren as they curiously and confusedly ask her about what the world was like before peace, non-violence and compassion overwhelmed the earth and healed war, climate change, and inequality. It was powerful… The grandmother describes the pivotal moments in history that lead to such a shift in human relations to each other and to the earth, beginning with Ghandiji’s story. If there’s any chance you can see the show, DO. The tour cities have not been finalized yet but for updates and more information about the show, check out their website

The final piece of December was to say a very heartfelt “see you later” to Amy. The picture below is from her good-bye dinner. In the month I got to know Amy, she made me feel so welcome. I am so grateful to have overlapped with her here and am excited for her to come back! 

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With love and light, 

Aedin 

Amy's Last Days in India by Chandler Rosenberg

Wow, these last two months have been extraordinary for me in so many ways. No words can express all my feelings and emotions I’ve experienced. My biggest adventure for the last two months was going to Kolkata with another longtime volunteer to visit my orphanage and my second children’s home in November. Then I went to Vellore near Chennai to visit where I was first placed by my birth mother.

Oh, what a journey this Diwali was for me! I found my childhood novel that my mom read to me. It was made into a beautiful movie that we watched often. My mom called me her Little Indian Princess. Oh, how I miss her this week particularly. But I know without a doubt that she and my grandparents have been guiding me through finding and making connections with my children home and orphanage in Kolkata. I’ve wept so much this week out of pure joy, full of gratitude, humility, and sadness. I have been fortunate to put my pieces of my first 3 years together and received answers. I have discovered that both the Vellore and my 2nd placement in Kolkata are Missionaries of Charity: Mother Teresa's children's homes. Young and unwed mothers were getting rid of their babies more in the 70's & 80's so the Missionaries of Charity Mother Teresa's children's homes were developed to take children with no questions asked to shirk the young mothers’ burdens of having to care for their babies or doing the unthinkable which I'm sure they felt there wasn't another way. Oh, how fortunate my young birth mother made a selfless and toughest decision to place me in the children's home in Vellore. It was a miracle from God to have been chosen to be adopted after getting moved 3 times. The orphanage found my original records and I went through reading the letter my mom wrote to accept to adopt me. The older women at my actual orphanage here remembered me when I showed them my orphanage photos. We hugged and wept together. These beautiful ladies said, "we were your first mummies." I just felt so much love from them. I could get the names of the 3 women in my photos. I'll be able to connect with 2 of them. So many tender moments all throughout my Dry Creek Charity & Manav Sadhna Teaching Fellowship but this week has been by far the most memorable, connected, and getting to know my mom all over again since her passing 22 years ago. I had hell of a time obtaining this photo of the document. Let's just say I begged the sister to show me and allow for me to take this picture of this letter proving that I was placed in a Missionaries of Charity and when I left Vellore to go to the Children's Home in Kolkata. It wasn't a positive interaction. I was upset for how she handled this and treated me. But now I have my full timeline of my first 3.5 years of my life.

 I still can't believe that I've made it to my first children’s home in Vellore! The sisters fed me breakfast. I hung out with children from 2-18 years old who are all handicapped and mentally challenged. They are just so precious. I was crying inside though. Amazing sisters! Then walked around Vellore and went to the fort, Hindu temple, and the government museum. Then the social worker took me on his bike to see the female adult home. I had coffee with them and met the female residents. The hardest about this visit was that the main sister couldn’t find any records on my birth mother or which slum I came from. It was hard to not have the hopes to find such documents unlike in Kolkata. I felt a sense of loss and sadness.

It was very interesting to walk around in Vellore and Chennai amongst the people who look like me. I got funny looks when I pay the foreigner prices at the sites, lol. They start speaking Tamil to me but are puzzled when I respond back in English. They say why you pay foreigner price when you look Indian and look like you're from Chennai? The sister from the children's home in Vellore said, "although you look like you're from here, as soon as you speak, rickshaw drivers will start taking advantage of you because of your accent. So best not to speak." It's been fun to walk around with people who look like me as egotistical as this sounds who have thick curly hair and as dark as me. No wonder I get mistaken to be black. This is the first time that I don't stick out like a sore thumb.

 The Jai Jagat Journey production was yet incredible to be part of their process. Such beautiful and ambitious youth. I was just in awe by the costumes and the many hours they have practiced. I participated at the beginning part of anchoring the peace/meditation center. I wore all white to represent unity and peace in the world. 2 teachers and I sat in silence with soft instrumental music playing in the background. This was to invite the audience to offer prayer and peace to the world and for all creatures on Earth. There were other centers in making a promise to help our Earth, gratitude, wrote love messages to children with cancer, and free hugs/handshakes, They will be touring the US the end of May and June.

Always so neat to be with Manav Sadhna family for Christmas! I shared the Bible story of Luke chapter 2 and how Jesus Christ gave unconditional love to everyone. I related how he adored children and served them to Manav Sadhna loving and serving children. Happy Christmas to everyone I love from India. Such a special and unique time to be here.

 Pardon me for tooting my own horn in this post. Here is my contribution to Manav Sadhna English programs for 3rd and 4th graders. This has been my baby for the last year. I'm proud of this curriculum and witnessing the teachers at all 4 centers flourish and gain confidence in this new teaching method and the concept of phonics. Each student will be engaged through the main learning styles, through playing games, and having fun with learning a hard language of English. Thank you to Anjalididi, Yogibhai, Jagatbhai, Calvinbhai, Shirishbhai, Earn N'Learn students, and my many volunteer friends who also contributed in putting the materials together! This would not have been possible if it wasn't for all the translating into Gujarati, cutting, laminating, sorting, stapling books, and videotaping the trainings to Gujarati for the teachers. This was a true labor of love by all those who helped!

My Manav Sadhna family! What a lovely dinner and time with my favorite humans! They held a circle sharing and said such beautiful things to me. I then gave in and shared how much they all have influenced me, allowed me to be me, was patient with my incessant questions, how they were there for me in a pivotal time of my life and how India was my greatest teacher. I cried of course.

Doing Thanksgiving the Manav Sadhna way with no oven and veg style. Mmm… pasta, homemade marinara sauce, vegetable hash, apple cobbler with ice cream. Enjoyed cooking with these lovely people, such dear friends who feel like family.

 My favorite thing to do with the centers is doing home visits. We did them to keep encouraging parents to send their children to the centers after Diwali break. These kids are from Manav Seva, so comforting to see our little ones being loved and well taken care of. They really are carefree children. Love them all!

 

First Impressions - Nov 2018 by Aedin Wright

Stepping out of the airport, I’m hit with the smell of smoke and exhaust. It’s 3:30 a.m. and I should be stumbling from the jet lag or the 32 hours of travel but my limbs are buzzing with anticipation and and the adrenaline rush of the customs line. It is dark outside and the arrivals curb is lit with fluorescent lights. My eyes search the crowd of picker-uppers and I hear my name, “Aedin?” Amy, the other Sabarmati Fellow has heroically come to pick me up from the airport in the much too early hours of the morning. I awkwardly negotiate my large duffle to give her a side hug, the woman from whom I will learn for the next month before she returns home, leaving extremely large shoes to fill. 

Amy has been in India for 12 months and in her time here has implemented an English curriculum for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at the four different Manav Sadhna teaching centers. This has meant finding a curriculum online, vetting the curriculum, testing it out herself at one center in the role of teacher, finding funds for the curriculum materials, getting the lesson plans translated into Gujarati, teaching the teachers how to teach the new curriculum, and following up with the teachers as the lesson plans progress. It has taken me two weeks to fully grasp how much work she has accomplished in her year here but in the van from the airport, it only took a few moments for me to feel wholly welcomed and realize, here was a human who genuinely cared to make the world a better place and whose actions thoroughly reflected this desire. It has been this kind of company that I have become accustomed to in every corner of Manav Sadhna, the NGO that I will be working at for the next six months to a year.  


The first week of my time in India is an orientation spent trying to understand exactly what Manav Sadhna is, what all it does, and what it means to be a value based organization. Though I have only seen the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, I’ll offer my understanding so far, as much for my own absorption as yours. First, some introduction: Manav Sadhna (Manav = Human, Sadhna = Practice) is a non-profit that is housed in the Gandhi Ashram in the city of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat in the country of India. When Gandhi moved back to India after his time in South Africa, he started an Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River where he lived and which served as a center of the Indian struggle for independence. In 1930, Gandhi along with 78 companions, began the famous Salt March in protest of British salt taxes. The march incited a mass of freedom fighters and British jails were soon full. Along with arrest, the freedom fighters’ lands were seized by British rule. Gandhi asked the British government to seize the ashram as well, in sympathy for those whose land had been taken. The government did not oblige, but Ghandi disbanded the ashram and vowed not to return until India had won independence. He never returned, however, as India won independence in 1947 and Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. The ashram was then preserved by local citizens and is now a museum and tribute to Gandhi’s life’s work and teachings. 

Gandhi’s seat where he spun cotton. You can also see one of his few possessions, the hear no, speak no, see no evil monkeys.

Gandhi’s seat where he spun cotton. You can also see one of his few possessions, the hear no, speak no, see no evil monkeys.

In 1990, a group of volunteers, inspired by Ghandi’s teachings, began sitting under the trees in the Ashram to play with children from the neighboring slums. They fed the kids a nutritious meal and taught them basic hygiene principles. This was the seed that began Manav Sadhna. Along with collaboration from nearby non-profits, Manav Sadhna (M.S.) became an organization that responds to the local community’s needs and only functions with participation of the community. It is partially this fluidity that makes M.S. hard to explain but also extremely effective. M.S. mirrors an organic ecosystem that isn’t dictated by the ego of a visionary but by the need and participation of the community. If a need goes  away or participation is not there (or if a program isn’t effective), M.S. reallocates those funds to other projects. Since its inception, M.S. has founded four other community centers throughout Ahmedabad, all in the center of slum communities where the need is greatest. My fist week was spent visiting these different centers, each of which have distinct personalities which mirror the communities they serve. Manav Jatan, a 20 minute walk from the Gandhi Ashram, is the closest center. Also located at this community center is the Paryavaran Mitra project, which aims to empower, fund, and support “rag picking women” who scour the streets in the early morning for recyclables to sell to recycling companies for an income. The next community center, Manav Gulzar is in a slum community of both Hindu and Muslims, a rare mix in Gujarat, with history Muslim versus Hindu violence. Manav Seva is noticeably more squished that any other community, with the houses and alleys about half the size of other communities'. Lastly, Manav Mitra might be the most colorful community center I’ve ever seen with an internal courtyard filled with trees. Please enjoy the professional map below. 

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Kindergarteners in line to wash their hands at Manav Gulzar.

Kindergarteners in line to wash their hands at Manav Gulzar.

After my first week of visiting the different community centers and projects under the Manav Sadhna umbrella, I can only describe my internal state as simultaneously overwhelmed and at peace. Overwhelm because this organization impacts so many lives in thorough and sustained ways. For example, many of the staff were children who grew up in the slum communities,  were taken in by the Manav Sadhna family, and were inspired to continue into a life of service. They now make decent pay (though M.S. says it could be better and they are currently trying to raise salaries), have healthcare for themselves and their families, and have strong longterm support for their families’ education (Education of the children of M.S. staff is paid for through secondary school). The breadth and efficacy of social change and positive impact is overwhelming.  


The ethos of M.S. also gives me an inner peace… Manav Sadhna is difficult to describe because it is so unlike any organization I have experienced in the west where so often there is a struggle to create good, a fight to get funding, a battle to adhere to a vision. M.S. is nothing like this. In a conversation with Virinbhai, the cofounder of M.S., I asked him what the most difficult part of creating this community organization has been? His response was that none of it was hard. There was no difficult part… To call this a paradigm shift in an understatement for my American-capitalist-conditioned brain to comprehend - I have an unbidden voice that screams within, you must work hard and suffer to succeed! So what could this wise old man possibly mean? It isn’t that Virinbhai didn’t work hard. He simply serves to the best of his ability. That’s it. He doesn’t have a vision to save the whole world or even strive for literacy for every child in Ahmedabad. He co-created an organization that simply does its best with the resources available. Day by day, they do their best and give where there is need and center themselves with meditation. And in 27 years they have created a humble but very powerful organization that impacts hundreds of lives each year. You can imagine my relief - The way I have been addressing the world’s problems has been an uphill battle without a weapon on a rainy day. But suddenly I have been told it’s not a battle at all. This new way of creating change much more resembles the flow of water that carved the grand canyon - obviously creating a huge impact but simply by flowing. My heart, which has fervently been searching for a way to ease the suffering of this world only to feel more and more exhausted at every turn, has hope for relief. I look forward to learning from this community.

Lots of Love,

Aedin






Let the Academics Begin! by Chandler Rosenberg

The centers have officially began teaching their curriculum mid July. Manav Sadhna has been fortunate to hire a sixth teacher. Her name is Intolerant and she will be teaching the prathama class for students that need more help and taught in smaller group for 3rd-5th standards. The centers have began their health and hygiene lessons for the value based curriculum. The teachers have taught about how to bathe themselves particularly when water maybe hard to find. The students are learning about combing their hair, brushing their teeth, and the importance of taking care of their feet by wearing chappals (sandals). A local donor provided backpacks and notebooks to all the children at Manav Mitra. There were a lot of parents that attended the beginning of the school year meeting. In the meeting they discussed the purpose of having the center in their community. Another reason for the parent meeting is to teach the parents to engage their children in conversation about what they are learning and how the value lessons are influencing their children.  

 

I’m nearly completing my “Reading A-Z” phonics material work. Yogishbhai and Jagatbhai, coordinators for Earn N’Learn, did all the precutting, laminating, and cutting again for all 30 lessons each for 3 centers. I’ve enlisted a few volunteer friends to help sort the phonics cards to organize for each lesson. Thank you to Manav Sadhna for investing, for seeing the benefits of this curriculum, and trusting it’s impact on these little one’s education.

 

The 3rd and 4th students reviewed English letter names, sounds, and the actions that goes along with them. Several of the 4th standard students are remembering the “Humpty Dumpty” nursery rhyme and the phonics picture cards that sound the same on lesson 1. I’m very pleased that they retained a bit from last February and March. The 3rd standards are just beginning to learn this method but are excited to be engaged and their response has been positive.

 

Gauri Vrat festival is a Hindu celebration to honor girls and young ladies. They dress up in their best dresses and saris. They fast for 5 days to be blessed with a good husband in the future. They do not eat anything with salt, eating mostly fruit, nuts and drinking juice. The teachers celebrated these young girls by doing mehindi and giving gifts to them. At the end of the week the teachers and the girls did Garba dancing, a traditional  Gujarati folk dance, at each center.

 

I’ve been invited to help teach a couple of English classes for the Jai Jagat journey 16 kids. The teachers are wanting to create an English curriculum for the kids but being engaging and interacting to develop their English oral language. The purpose is to help the students to build their confidence with their conversations such as being comfortable with introducing themselves, sharing any thoughts, asking questions, etc. both for the show and if any travels happens such as a tour for their production. We did a quick review on letter names and sounds. The last class I had them read short comic stories of basic conversation skills concepts such as how to express feelings, adding numbers, and understanding parts of a book. The kids then acted out the comic story. They each had a speaking part and acted them out for the other groups. They seemed to have enjoyed this way of learning and being engaged.

 

I celebrated my 31st adoption anniversary on July 21st. It causes me to reflect on my life journey up until now.  I’ve learned a bit more about my adoption story since obtaining my full file from WACAP adoption agency in Seattle back in August. I learned that I was born in Vellore, India which is close to Chennai at the south end of the country. My birth mom was too young to take care of me so she made the hardest and the best decision a young mother could make. She placed me in a children’s home in Vellore in 1984. Then I some how got moved to another children’s home in Calcutta. Then finally got placed in my last orphanage to be eligible for adoption in 1987. I learned that my adopted mom, Joni Jensen, was infertile because she had Turner Syndrome. She also didn’t feel the need to be married to have children. She did the bravest and the best decision a young person could make in their life. Not only adopt one child from India but adopt my brother from Bulgaria. It’s my intention to visit my children homes and orphanage in Vellore and both in Calcutta the end of October for the first time.It’s surreal to be in India serving and teaching children who live in the slums. I’m very humbled to lead this incredible journey and humbled to be serving at Manav Sadhna. Thank you to both of my mom’s for providing life and a strong foundation for me. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for either of you.

 

I was also invited to teach a value lesson to the Earn N’Learn students at Manav Sadhna. Because I’ve been reflecting on my blessings that God has bestowed upon me and my heart has been full of gratitude, I decided to do my value lesson on this topic. I shared my adoption story and said that I’m thankful for my mom’s and my pets at home and explained why. I had them talk to a partner about what they were thankful for or who. I showed a YouTube video of when we serve others with love and kindness, it changes our emotions to positive feelings and filled with gratitude for what we have in our lives. Then the students and the teachers wrote a letter to someone thanking them for how they have helped in their life or the students could choose to write a list of the things and people for what they are thankful for. I’ve been enjoying teaching older students for a bit which is different for me.  

New Beginnings by Chandler Rosenberg

It was World Environment Day June 5th. It was another positive experience to go rag picking with the Paryavaran Mitra (PM) project and other local volunteers from companies and from Swagyan at Gandhi Ashram. We picked up recycled waste on one of the main streets in Ahmedabad on Ashram Road at 5 am. These group of women are some of the most enduring and resilient people I know. In morning, PM organized the walk with our rag-picking sisters where participants did actual rag-picking witnessing the tremendous efforts these amazing souls put in everyday ensuring cleanliness our city. Every single participant was filled with loads of emotions and resolutions after this enriching experience. This simple act encouraged us to rethink our lifestyles from the a waste management perspective.

I did a two-day training on the Reading A-Z phonics program for three teachers from Manav Mitra, Manav Jatan, and Manav Seva in the comfort of my own home. I presented the basics knowledge, the reasons, and the vocabulary terms of phonics. They worked hard and asked numerous questions to seek to understand this teaching style better. They had fun learning and playing the games. It amazes me that these teachers are willing to not only learn English along with the concepts of Phonics but also to teach and learn a new teaching method. These teachers inspire me every day! Such a privilege to do this.

I did my first day of sitting in silence, meditating for a few hours, reading, reflecting, fasting all day, and participating in iftar at Manav Sadhna with the families from one of the centers in the slums to break my fast. Such a lovely way to spend my day. I read and reflected on one of my new books, "The Forty Rules of Love." There are countless profound passages from Shams Tabriz about how God isn't just found in temples, churches, synagogues, or in mosques but He is in everything and in everyone. Shams was one of Rumi's (a famous Sufism poet) closest confidants. I strongly resonated with Shams belief in that God is all about love and compassion. “The Path to the Truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind…Knowing your self will lead you to the knowledge of God.” Wow! This speaks to my heart and my love for my God. Just because I left an organized religion doesn’t mean I stopped believing in God. As Shams eloquently states, “To each his own way and his own prayer. God does not take us at our word. He looks deep into our hearts. It is not the ceremonies or rituals that make a difference, but whether our hearts are sufficiently pure or not.” I truly believe this. Shams was said this to the judge of Baghdad in 1242 A.D. because of his skepticism of Sufism. He was trying to find and connect with Rumi. But I will say that being in India has helped me light that fire of beliefs and reaffirms my relationship with God more. I'm really learning a lot about my breath, using body scanning in my meditation to release the tension and relax while sitting. I'm figuring out how to calm myself down by understanding that everything is temporary by saying "this too shall pass."

Walked to the Hanuman Temple on a military base camp. It was so much fun to hang out and get to know the students from Earn N’ Learn program. Incredible kids, they work by making cute greeting cards, crafty photo albums, and pictures frames, etc. to help provide for their families. They work and also get tutored, and taught English all after they attend school in the mornings. Then they help at home to take care of siblings, chores, and do homework after a long day of school and work.

Eid Mubarak festival: celebration to end Ramadan of the month long fast and Hanuman: Hindu festival. Manav Gulzar has the Hindu temple and the mosque next to each other in the center. A celebration of putting in the Hanuman (monkey statue) and Lord Shiva statues in their temple. I danced, served food to about 2,000 people, and then ate the delicious food. Such an extraordinary experience.

June 18th was the first day of Manav Mitra (new name instead of Kiran Center) opening back up after 2 months of kids going to their villages for summer break. I was so excited to see them again! They were so cute in their paper hats. I learned 2 Indian dances and dressed up. I wore my blueish green sari and learned 2 Indian children dances. It was so good to see my kids at the center I began my first 4 months. This center is still under major construction and won't be done until July 8thish. Kids are still attending while this is going on. We will use this time to build connections and fun with them while all this is going on. Renovation will look so nice.

School's out for summer! by Chandler Rosenberg

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Manav Sadhna decided to change Kiran Center’s name to Manav Mitra which means human friend in Gujarati and Hindi. They wanted to change it so it aligned with the rest of the centers names: Manav Seva. Manav Gulzar, and Manav Janta (Tekro Community Center). Manav Sadhna also purchased the building. They are renovating three more rooms in the back part of the center. One room will be converted into a teacher and storage space. The wall will be knocked down to make one bigger room for a class. It is the hope to have the Vidhyadham students 6-10 standards to join the center in 2 years. The local architect has been working hard in 112 degrees Fahrenheit heat in preparing for this new renovation and trying to complete this by the beginning of school on June 13th. Manav Mitra has been fortunate to hire 5 new teacher candidates that will begin when the teacher trainings begin on May 23rd. I am excited to get to know them and have a strong teaching staff at Manav Mitra!

Manav Mitra had a fun end of the school year celebration in inviting the parents with their students to share their snacks with each other. There were about 50 parents that came and the teachers also asked them if they have seen the effects of the value-based education lessons in their children. Ajaybhai asked if their children use manners, clean up after themselves, sing hygiene songs, and discuss what values they have learned this year with them. Teachers also gave out summer gifts of badminton and little water soaker toys.

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I was invited to train the teachers on how to make and incorporate games into their lessons. It was a fun experience to watch the teachers adapt a classic game, “Snakes and Ladders,” into values and math concepts. Thank goodness for understanding and patient education coordinators who are will to translate and make me feel included in this training. They had a good discussion on what questions to use on their “Snakes and Ladders” game board. It was fun to watch them play and get competitive with each other. The idea is to use this as an assessment tool at the end of a unit and have the students develop their own board game in small groups. Then swap the boards with another group to play. The education coordinators also invited a national guest speaker on how to see the best in our students and in each other. Teachers presented different ways to teach values and examples of various academic lessons to review the process of a lesson and the flow of timing in the classroom. We also went to see a Hindi movie, “Hichki” which is an inspiring movie about a teacher who has Tourette’s syndrome but has the passion to overcome this and goes onto teaching the toughest class at a school. Then all the teachers enjoyed a nice lunch after the weekend of training was finished.

It’s been a whirlwind of changes in the last couple of months. Several of the volunteers have left to continue on with their lives in various parts of the world. That is one of the challenges being a volunteer of Manav Sadhna. The connections with volunteers is amazing and it’s hard to say goodbye to them. I’ve met so many incredible people. It is incredible to think that young volunteers are wanting to serve and make this world a better place to live in and be as young as they are. An older volunteer taught me that age is just a number that you aren’t too young or too old to serve one another.

Now we are preparing for the next school year which will begin on June 13th but the first academic teaching day is on July 17th. A few of the Manav Mitra students have been helping us in preparing by making newspaper hats as a way to greet the students back to school.  I have been meeting with Anjaliben to discuss the phonics curriculum. We have changed some of the phonics images to align with Indian culture images such as cricket bat, cricket ball, Indian bride, etc. I have also been going through the lesson instructions to see what to simplify and have the education team translate into Gujarati. We are also planning to have me do the phonics training with the 3 teachers that are teaching the English, one from each center: Manav Mitra, Manav Seva, and Tekro Community Center. I will be training on each concept of the phonics curriculum by discussing the reasons behind phonics, the concept progression, modeling for the teachers, then have them teach each other each concept. I will be still rotating to each center at least once a week to guide the teachers through each lesson. We really only have 24 teaching days as there are other center guest visits, field trips, holidays, and school functions to consider throughout the year. We are also planning on having at least 2 more training sessions in August and October to train the rest of the concepts as they get more challenging for students to understand. The point is to develop a strong foundation for the 3rd and 4th standard phonics curriculum to sustain once I leave. I really hope that the next teaching fellow has a strong education teaching background to be able to continue the teacher development, phonics curriculum training, and teaching.

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Life is Full of Celebrations! by Chandler Rosenberg

There were so many events and celebrations that happened in the months of February and March. I attended my first Hindu wedding. One of the Manav Sadhna staff members invited the volunteers to attend her celebration. There were six weddings that took place at the same time in an open space. The bride was all ornate with gold earrings, bangles, mindi, and the finest sari I’ve seen. There was a swami that officiated the six weddings with Hindi mantras and traditions. I was told that there are usually 100 weddings simultaneously so they all can share the cost of the venue and food. The Hindu wedding is all about the traditions of sacred rituals to ask for blessings upon their marriage and health.

 I went to visit an amazing school for children and adults with disabilities! They do so much there! They have a Rehabilitation center for children recovering from Polio surgery. They also have a senior citizen housing for only 1500 rupees a month. They actually have a special education specialist on staff. There's 50 staff members including teachers. They have 30 of their own cows and goats to get fresh milk from. All ran by donations from UK and US. They also provide the same salary as the government does which is hard to match when running on donations. They installed solar panels and have their own recycling water and filtered system. Just in awe with all that this school provides! I'm going to try to volunteer there for 2 weeks some time in July or August.

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My first time meeting the beautiful parents of the students who attend Kiran Center. We had such a great turn out! I talked about being a volunteer, my teaching in the US, and why I'm here. I shared my appreciation for sending their kids to our center. And how much I enjoy being with them. Our amazing teachers reminded them about continuing to teach values at home, the importance of hygiene, dental, clean dishes for snack time.

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Celebratory visit to the Mother Goddess Ambaji Temple with several members of the Manav Sadhna family. We gave thanks to the Hindu Gods for blessing us. The FRRO (Indian Gov.) approved all the donations from the US and from UK donated to Manav Sadhna to gain access to these major funds for all of the people we serve and projects that we do. Which means I will get financial help with my phonics curriculum.

We first threw color just amongst the volunteers and a few Manav Sadhna staff then we went into the closest slum that I teach at called Tekro. At first, I was nervous to go into the community because of how aggressive men can get here especially when they get intoxicated. But I felt safe being with our group. The kids and the men were hyper! We got thrown into mud and water fights. It was a blast though. We ate popcorn and dates as those are the snacks they eat with kids for Holi.

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It was such an honor to be amongst the women of Manav Sadhna and the communities that we serve in for International Women’s Day on March 9. We helped prepare lunch for 800 women at Manav Sadhna then joined the rest of our teachers and staff for a movie showing of ‘Pad Man.” It was such an inspiring biographical movie based on Lakshmi Prasad who built the machine to make sanitary napkins for women in remote villages in India. I felt so empowered being there with my colleagues and friends who are all working for similar social causes.

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All the centers held Math fair at the Community Center for the first time. I was so impressed by the presentation skills, knowledge, and their displays. I walked around with a group of the 3-5th standard students from Kiran Center. They asked questions and were intrigued. This is the best way for a student to learn about the subject. If a child is able to teach the concept to his/her own peers, they absorb the information better. There were some fun math games and creativity. This was also a great way for the 6th standard students to look forward to doing these types of projects and get innovative with their education.

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I had the opportunity to go at dawn with the Paryavaran Mitra (Rag Picking Women’s group). I went with one of the leaders of the Kiran Center Recycling Center, Jessie-ben. We walked the streets picking up trash and hauling the bulky bags around. She was hard to keep up with. I was moved by her story and how dedicated she is to provide a better life for her two daughters. Jessie-ben has been working for Paryavaran Mitra for eleven years. She shared with us some of her stories since she began this job. She also shared with us how Manav Sadhna provides interest free loans for her daughters to get into college as long as she continues to work. I cannot imagine doing this for six hours of the day, seven days of the week, for your entire life to earn about 200 rupees a day. But it provides a life for her and her two daughters. I am once again humbled by the resilience and bravery these women face every day.

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