New Beginnings

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.

Life is Full of Celebrations!

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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