April Goodbyes by Aedin Wright

April draws my time at Manav Sadhna to an end. Leaving is an emotional prospect for a few reasons. I decided to go back to the US a few weeks earlier than planned because of a death in my family - this way I will be able to spend some much needed time with family, grieve, and find closure. On the other hand, it means leaving my Manav Sadhna family early. The prospect of leaving India was always sad, but now, rushed and topped with the anticipation of going home to confronting loss, feels at times a bit overwhelming.

While the present is a bit of a commotion, I had a wonderful talk with Anjaliben, - Yes, I’m feeling torn between two wonderful families, but alternatively, how wonderful is it that I have two homes to be torn between? I have felt so supported by my community here since my grandfather’s death: I’ve told stories about him at our volunteer meeting, read his poetry, and held silence for him and lit candles at prayer. While I look forward to being with my family, I also see that I am in a beautiful place to process grief. For this I am acutely grateful. 

Though my grandfather’s passing colored the past weeks here, I am surrounded by such vibrant life I cannot help but reflect on how the world continues forward, dancing, honking, shouting, and singing, just as it did and always will. It’s a lovely current to be held in, just to relax and float, letting others buoy you.  

So let me show you just how I have been buoyed! Above are the kitchen ladies dancing around some very large pots of dhal and rice at Mishu’s birthday party. Sunilbhai, the director of Manav Seva has a daughter, Mishu, who just turned three. A feast was held for her birthday celebration for the community around Seva in her honor. Hundreds of kiddos and some of their parents came for a big meal and some raucous dancing! We helped serve the food along with the Boy and Girl Scouts of India.

Left to right: Me, Mooneyben, and Emma after we collected our ~5kgs of recyclables.

Left to right: Me, Mooneyben, and Emma after we collected our ~5kgs of recyclables.

On a different project, last Saturday I went “rag picking” with paryavaran mitra (friends of the environment). Paryvaran mitra is a project that aims to help the rag picking women who comb the streets for recyclables and sell them to middle men, who sell them to recycling centers. The paryavaran mitra project took out the middle man so the sisters get all that the recyclables are worth. Among other things, the project also provides the sisters with money management, loan aid, groceries and supplies, and covers their children’s school expenses. The volunteers at Manav Sadhna have an opportunity to go along with the sisters early on Saturday mornings to help pick up the recyclables and get a glimpse at the exhausting work the sisters do most mornings to make around 200 extra rupees in order to support their families, which is usually in addition to another or several other jobs. It was an extremely special opportunity to spend with Mooneyben, who was very welcoming and showed us the ropes - we wanted to pick up the most dense and abundant items to get the most money for our time. Plastic bottles are easy to spot and make 23 rupees/kg, paper is very condensable and goes for 25 rupees/kg but can be too dirty to recycle. Such a puzzle because, of course, Mooneyben has to carry everything she picks up but also is paid by weight. Despite our knowing that this is an excruciating job and the sisters wouldn’t be there is they had a choice, Emma and I had a really good time. We made a game out of it and got very excited when we found a good stash of plastics or paper. It was also lovely to walk around in the cool air before the city had woken up. In the end, it was a keen reminder of how nuanced and complex our interaction with poverty is as outsiders. For example, a key outcome of having the volunteers help the sisters, as the directors explained to us, is that other locals see the volunteers picking up trash which has much more of an impression on them than seeing just the sisters pick up trash - this way they pay attention and potentially think about littering and recycling. Further, this spurred our conversation about the fine line between recognizing the saintliness of our friends in the communities we work in and tokenizing their experience of poverty.

Poised at my manicure station!

Poised at my manicure station!

Next, we had an event for earth day at the new Paryavaran Mitra center with displays on water and soil filtration and the recycling process. Two other volunteers put the event together and we had out own self-conducted experiments on charcoal water filtration! We also had a “spa” area where the sisters who pick up trash could receive manicures, which you can see I was quite excited about! They consisted of a soak, hand massage, and nail painting. It was so lovely to hold these women’s hands, a much more intimate experience than I had expected. The event lasted around two hours and about forty sisters attended and the festivities concluded with pani purri.

Before I left I also got to a stopping point with the highschool english curriculum. I was able to finish an outline and action plan so that the next volunteer who works in this role will be able to hit the ground running.

The next days were full of goodbyes and lovely cards and more celebratory pani purri. I cannot express how held in love I felt in my last few days - everyone was so thoughtful about how difficult it must be for me to leave. They sure know how to send a lady off at Manav Sadhna! With heaps of lovely words while you’re overwhelmed and slightly embarrassed in the middle of a circle, posters of Gandhiji quotes, lots of Gujarati food, and all the cards so you can have a thorough cry in the airport while you read them.

I’m publishing this post as I’m in the airport in San Fransisco, not quite home to Oregon. I feel light… Light because I left at least one atrium and ventricle in India (remarkable I’m standing!), it’s got to be at least half a kilo of heart I’m missing. But also light because my time at Manav Sadhna gave me a peace. As Virenbhai said to me once,” meditation is service for the mind and service is living meditation”. Working and living for others removed some of the weightiness of isolated & egoic thoughts from my shoulders like dusting the cobwebs detachment from my bones. MS will always be with me, regardless of how soon I can go back (hopefully soon!) and I am so grateful for all I learned and all those I met and connected with in my time there.

Love and light,
Aedin

March Travels by Aedin Wright

March was full of anticipation and actualization as my mom, dad and friend came to visit for the last two weeks of the month. We spent one week in Ahmedabad where I got to show them my teaching and the centers, we got to play with colors on Holi and I got to introduce them to all of the amazing people I get to work with every day. 

We visited Manav Mitra on Holi where we taught review for the upcoming exams. My mom and friend Mitch had a great time seeing me in the classroom and took many covert videos of the action. With this exercise, the teacher says three words, two of which rhyme and one of which doesn’t. The kids listen and raise their hand when they hear which word doesn’t rhyme. When a student answer correctly, the teacher writes the three words on the board and the student comes up and circles the non-rhyming word. The kids love coming up to the board!

The next day, Dhuleti, we spent at Manav Sadhna playing with colors. It’s a comical arch - we started so gently touching each other’s cheeks and forehead with bright color powder with an exclamation of “Happy Holi!” Over the course of hours, the soft color rubs turned into water hosing, mud throwing, and carrying one another into mud puddles for a loving tummy mud rub. All volunteers and staff had quite a ho down, even GeeWee, MS’s dog joined in!

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From Ahmedabad, we headed to Jaipur where we saw examples of the great and respondent architecture of India’s past at the Amber and City Palace. We also visited Galta Kund, affectionately called the Monkey Palace. We were told the monkey’s would have no interest in you if you didn’t have food but we chose not to feed them and just observe. At one point, a money was playing with a water spigot, trying to drink the non-existent drips from the tap. After the monkey swung away, I went to the spigot and turned the nob so just a trickle began to flow. The monkey came back and drank for some time and then came over to me. She took my arm and swung herself into my arms… She spent five minutes cleaning my hair, playing with my nose and looking into my sunglasses… It suffices to say I have never been so honored with anyone’s attention in my life.

From Jaipur we made our way to Agra where we saw the Taj Mahal and then to Rishikesh where we took in the glory of the Ganga river and the foothills of the Himalyas.

Now I am home and safe in Ahmedabad and am looking forward to buckling down and working through the next hot months on the curriculum for 6th-9th grade english classes, feeling refreshed and buoyed by time with my family.

Love and light,

Aedin

February Routine and Travels by Aedin Wright

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The keys of my laptop bounce up lovingly against my fingers, mirroring the bumpy Indian road three meters below, as I ride along in this two story sleeper bus from Jodhpur back home to Ahmedabad. My sleeping compartment, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, is roughly the size of a coffin and smells like one too. (Though I doubt Dracula and the like get motion sickness in those things.) All this said, it’s actually quite cozy and with my window open exchanging the mothball scent for fresh country air, I feel as if I’ve discovered the Indian version of the Knight Bus. I spent this past weekend in the blue city, a ten hour drive north of Ahmedabad, with two other volunteers from the Ashram. Three days filled with the intimidating Mehrangarh Fort, refreshing gardens, Rajastani food, and the unanimous highlight, the people of Jodhpur. Monday, March 4th was Shivaratri, the Hindu festival in celebration of Lord Shiva. As we were walking through Jodhpur’s old city we were invited by several little girls to come back to their house that evening to celebrate. It turned out their vision was this dance party on their front porch!  

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I’m not sure where I get it, perhaps growing up in a non-community-oriented culture or it’s my skewed performance of extreme-politeness, but I am disposed to say no to invitations. Maybe I don’t want to be a burden or it’s my ego really wanting an even more earnest invitation, but it means I am not comfortably a YES-woman. But o-boy, timid had to go in my time at Manav Sadhna and in India. Firstly, I am continually surrounded and inspired by the boldness of Indian people - sure, I’m painting broad strokes but new friends from Ahmedabad jokingly say about non-Indians that we’ll need to get used to the forward comments and stares because it’s just part of the culture. And thank goodness for that. My squirms from being stared at or from the incredulous, “why aren’t you married?”s or the semi-frequent exclamations of how pink my skin is are now humble reminders not to take myself too seriously. I more and more see the innocence behind these interactions rather than anything personal. 

And secondly, the preciousness of my time here (deemed so partly because of its limited duration but mostly because of the invaluable and unique teachings that spring forth in abundance every day) prompt me to push myself further, to benefit from every opportunity that presents itself. To do this, I’ve needed to practice letting go of apprehensions about being a burden or worries about being different and in the way. The result; well, this was certainly not my first impromptu dance party with strangers in my time in India!

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While our time in Jodhpur was time away from Manav Sadhna, I feel like it’s deepened my appreciation of Indian culture and history, which this translates back to my time in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad has grown so quickly and I rarely spend time in the old city, it’s easy to forget how old this country is. In Jodhpur, however, the  ancientness and therefore the cultural depth is highlighted with every turret and stepwell. Greater awareness of simply the time for accumulation of culture and complexity and bygones makes every moment here richer and I am excited to keep this perspective in Ahmedabad.  

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Speaking of Ahmedabad! This past month I have felt a wonderful routine develop. I have kept with the English Club for the teachers in Tuesdays and Saturdays. Meetings have ranged from conversational tips to brainstorming ideas for how to improve order and effectiveness in the classroom, all in English of course! I am still rotating to the four different centers in the morning for 3rd and 4th standard English classes. In the afternoon, I either work on the curriculum for the 6th standard English classes or am writing the final phonics exams for the 3rd and 4th standards, which are coming up in two weeks along with the end go the school year! Time has truly flown. Here is the wonderful Poojaben asking her students questions about the book they’ve just read as part of the phonics curriculum. Students are showing clear improvement with the routine of the new modules, picking up patterns in the activities, and are always excited about playing the vocabulary games. It’s been a blessing to watch the kids take to the new material. 

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There were two big events this month. First was a  Science Fair in which all of the centers participated. It was held at Manav Gulzar and the participating students each had various projects they had been assigned to present. To the left are the burgeoning chemists who stole my heart with their chemical explanation of why static electricity makes your hair stick to a charged balloon. 

The next event was a community gathering at Manav Mitra (below) where we cooked for and served the surrounding community. Funded by a local business man, the day was in honor of his six year old daughter’s birthday - instead of putting money towards a birthday party, her parents have been throwing a community  gathering that feeds several hundred people each year. We also had the help of the Indian Boy and Girl Scouts as well as their performances of some lovely budgens (prayer songs).  As you can see below, the decorations were all out and the food was even better!

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February saw the development of a schedule but also, as always, was full of changing plans, going with the flow, and unexpected gifts. I am especially grateful to the kids of Manav Sadhna for inspiring me to be sillier, dance more, and always keep my heart open to strangers and new possibilities. 

Love and light, 

Aedin 

January Flow by Aedin Wright

The month of January has been full of academics, pedagogy and a new schedule. In the past week I have been ruminating on how exactly to write this post but my day today has presented me with the perfect narrative arch for just such a post! I have had the most quintessential Manav Sadhna day through which to weave the tail of my new happenings. 

My day began at 5:30 this morning when my two roommates and I woke up for our morning ashtanga yoga practice and meditation. I have been dabbling in asana (posture) yoga for ten years or so and I have always felt a sense there was some sort of answer in the practice to a question I didn’t quite understand but knew I was asking. However, I have never practiced too regularly and always came upon a mental wall. I studied the yoga sutras in school and found yogic philosophy beautiful and helpful, but could never connect those teachings to the westernized workout classes I called yoga. 

In coming to Manav Sadhna, I wanted to make the most of my precious time here. I therefore created several personal intentions, one of which is to learn about meditation and mindfulness and increase my sense of grounding. I created this goal after arriving here and in conjunction with MS’s ethos- from the moment I got here, I was encouraged to meditate. “Meditation is service for the self. Service for others is living meditation.”,- one of the first things I remember Virenbhai (cofounder of MS) telling us at the day long meditation retreat that happened my first week here. Like asana yoga, I have been trying meditation for about ten years, but I always seem to hit a wall. 

At the beginning of January, my two new roommates arrived, one of whom is a very experienced ashtanga yogi and practices every morning for two hours followed by meditation. In awe and a bit confused, my other roommate and I asked a lot of questions about such unusual behavior but have come around and actually started practicing the same practice with her guidance. It’s difficult to describe the gratitude I feel for this practice having come into my life… We’ve been practicing for almost three weeks but I felt from the first day as though my body and mind were returning to something they had done before. Of course, to feel grounded in life is a continual process but I feel like this practice was meant to come into my life when it did and it’s a perfect example of the magic of MS to bring people together in just the ways they need. 

After yoga and meditation and breakfast, I left for Manav Mitra on the back of a fellow teacher’s motor bike, part of my weekly thrills. At Mitra, I worked with Komalben in 3rd standard. Our class is about 25 students, age 9 and 10. However, Komalben lost her voice today so I had the challenge and pleasure of leading the class through rhyming and phonics - I will admit I was quite nervous not to have a translator, but, as everything just tends to work out here, this was no exception. An older boy, Miru, who has outgrown Mitra (only a primary school) but still hangs around the center to help in any way he can, came to our rescue. My shaky Gujarati combined with Komalben’s whispering to Miru and his shouting the instructions to the students gave way to an entirely and somewhat surprisingly productive lesson. 

Komalben walking around the class as they play a phonics game.

Komalben walking around the class as they play a phonics game.

When morning session was over, I wondered out of the community around Mitra, through the neighborhood, past a woman selling fruit on her cart (where I stopped for some bananas and pomegranates) to the main road where I caught a rickshaw back to MS for our daily communal lunch. I arrived a bit early so I thought I’d spend the hour working on the curriculum I am creating for the older students’ English classes. Shortly after taking out my computer, my friend Anundi came to sit by me. Anundi is eight year old and we met because she sells souvenir bells outside MS with her mother. Every day for a month she came up to me and other volunteers, asking us to buy her bells, asking us for chocolate, asking for food by gesturing with her fingers together to her mouth. Westerners respond differently to beggars and street vendors when they first come to India but I think it’s natural to be wary or even try to distance yourself in your mind from their life situation. Perhaps it’s even difficult to make eye contact, let alone heart contact. It was and is for me at times. But the rituals of MS encourage remembering that we are all connected, we are all sisters and brothers on this one earth. Of course, we all know this and in the comfort of our clean places of worship or yoga mat or wherever, may truly feel compassion for all humanity. But it’s different to practice. How many times have I walked past a person with a sign asking for help and tried to avoid their eye or driven just around the block because it’s raining and I’m cold so for those moments chose to forget the 28 million climate refugees this year alone and my role in their suffering? Countless. Because it hurts to feel connected to the rest of the world.  But being connected to the rest of the world is the only thing I have ever known to truly ease my own suffering.

If I had fruit on me, I would give it to Anundi, but I didn’t know her name. I didn’t stop too long. I always had somewhere to be. A month ago, another volunteer and I were walking into lunch at MS and Anundi came up to us as she usually did, and, upon her asking for food, my fellow volunteer told her she could get lunch inside. We didn’t know if this was allowed but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. She came to lunch and we became friends. Anundi loves piggy back rides, almonds, and coloring in my notebook. We’ve talked to her mom to try to get her into school or at least the earn and learn program. I’m embarrassed that I ever avoided her eye and now look forward to seeing her everyday. Anundi, incidentally means “the one who is always smiling” - and it’s true, she’s always smiling. 

This afternoon I was scheduled to go to Manav Gulzar for English Club - a new venture I created to teach the English teachers English. There are now bimonthly meetings with all the English teachers! I am particularly excited about this because I soon became discouraged about creating an English curriculum when I gained more experience with the teachers to find their English is at a much lower level than they themselves would like. Typically, the English classes are entirely in Gujarati with only the specific English vocab words spoken in English. For perspective, a student in year nine who has been in English class since year one, can rarely speak a whole sentence properly on their own, and same for the English teachers. I’m therefore very excited at the prospect of getting to the root of the problem with the English classes because the students will only ever be as good as their teachers. I hitched a ride to Gulzar with the Rabi and the Imam - an intentional duo from Israel and the U.S. who are lovingly referred to as “the Rabi and the Imam”. They are traveling the world and teaching about unity and compassion as two typically opposing identities proving that differences are surmountable with love and compassion and faith. Upon arriving to Gulzar, I found my class was canceled as the teachers had forgotten and scheduled another class… not an entirely uncommon occurrence. Just how 9am Indian time is actually 9:30am, you never really know what is going to happen here until it is happening. Quintessential moments. But even more so is the idea that the universe gives you exactly what you need when you relax into the flow of things. So with the canceling of English Club, I got the opportunity to participate in the Rabi and the Imam’s values class - a deeply inspiring talk about the importance of listening to your soul and honoring the uniqueness that only you bring to the world. The Imam said there is only one person exactly like you and a very specific reason you have been incarnated. You can find your reason for being on this earth by listening closely to your soul. This sentiment was catered to adolescent ears but all the same, made a deep impression on me and I feel grateful for hearing them on this day. They then asked me to speak, if I had anything to say from the heart. The best I could do was to say, the most precious gift I have been given in this life is this connection to my own soul, that it shouts loudly above the chaos of life. We all have this gift and our soul becomes louder and louder the more we listen to it and head its advice. Each time we’re reminded of our soul’s importance is a gift because it is a practice to listen. This is why I am grateful to exactly the way things turned out today, because I got an opportunity to remember.

The Imam and Rabi holding the one earth flag as they teach about unity.

The Imam and Rabi holding the one earth flag as they teach about unity.

January has brought me heaps of work with creating a new curriculum for the older students, English classes for the teachers, all in addition to maintaining the primary school English classes that Amy conceived, but I couldn’t be more happy with feeling busy and useful. Every moment that isn’t spent doing these works is filled with unexpected but perfectly timed lessons and adventures. As ever, I am overwhelmingly grateful to be here. 

Love and light, 

Aedin 

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.