Monday, June 4, 2012

Learning to Give from Chandani


We had a wonderful, close-knit interaction with our Manav Sadhna family at Stanford University the other day. While we sat in a circle, we asked the children to introduce themselves and mention their favorite part of the tour so far. Many of the children said the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge, but what truly touched my heart was what 13 year old, Chandani said. She said it was the love she has experienced from all the volunteers and families that have opened up their homes for all 25 of us. While speaking with a karyakarta (staff that has dedicated their life in service) I heard an even more moving story about Chandani. A week ago, Chandani burst into tears after prayers and bhajans. When asked what had happened, she said she felt so overwhelmed that she was receiving so much love from all the people and felt sad that she was not doing anything to give back for all that she has received. It is truly an amazing story to hear this from a girl that lives in a very small home with a family of 5. Hearing about this incident has deeply touched my heart. I hope to remember it forever as it makes me realize how much more I have to give back. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Jam Session: Downtown Chy-town!

On a small stroll to visit Buckingham Fountain next to Michigan lake, right after a beautiful 3 hour service activity at a Food Depository...we stumbled upon two street musicians....And while our parking tickets were expired for our 2-15 passenger vans in the middle of downtown, we ran over to the musicians and the following  unfolded...it was a great experience for the kids' second day in America.





Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We were coming back from a walk today outside in the beautiful Chicago weather.
There was a nice man, Bob, mowing the lawn on our way back. The kids were
asking us 'what is that?', 'what is he doing?"....Explained to them the concept of a
lawn mower...they were thrilled....the kids rarely see grass in the slum areas or
even at the Gandhi Ashram. We then asked Bob if the kids could try mowing the lawn.
He was awesome...he totally gave them the drivers seat. Here's Dharmaji mowing 
lawn for the first time....yipeee!!! I also mowed :)



Friday, April 27, 2012

Ekatva Girls Rap on Stage!




This EKATVA journey has truly been a beautiful one of great learnings from small things.

1 month ago, one of my closest friends and bandmate from our Hip Hop Group Karmacy, Swap,  was coming to Ahmedabad. We had always had a dream to perform in India together, but never had a chance. So we organized a concert at Natarani Theatre – this was two days after our children’s and EKATVA visa interviews in Mumbai.

I had never really shared with our kids my hip hop years and was excited to share with them for the first time a little taste of our past. Four of the girls, Bharti, Nikita, Krishna and Payal (four girls who in the beginning of this EKATVA journey, were more timid, fearful, protected) stepped up when I asked them if they would like to learn a rap and perform on stage the night of our performance. They were excited! And it was a challenging song that Swap and I wrote, called Horizons, that included English, Gujarati and Spanish…

On our way to Mumbai and our way back (even after the news that we got our visas), the girls stayed focused on the task at hand – 3 days to memorize a full hip hop verse 
– a Culture, Style, Language and Art form they had never been exposed to.

3 Days later at Natarani theatre, they shared with us not hip hop, but in reality: Courage, transformation and inspiration, by just getting on Stage in front of 250 people.

Watch Here:    http://youtu.be/YrPxTPxQPYo

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Beautiful Day in Mumbai

It was a beautiful day yesterday. Our 16 kids, 16 of their parents, our 7 staff and the rest of us, came to Mumbai in a bus for our visa interviews a few days early. So yesterday we spent at Juhu beach, playing in the waves and getting wet, building sandcastles, drawing lines in the sand, collecting shells, taking photos and then went to Govinda's restaurant, where Radhika's family  (a dedicated volunteer to Ekatva) treated all 43 of us to a beatiful Vegetarian lunch at the ISKON temple.

After lunch we went airplane watching and finally got back to the hall where we relaxed and rested. 'Twas a beautiful day indeend.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ekatva Family Gathering :)



As the last leg of this beautiful journey takes its course, we gathered today, with our loving parents to discuss next year’s children’s education plans as well as the upcoming EKATVA tour to America and the UK. It has always been a blessing to have the parents so closely involved in the EKATVA journey. Even when we had our big Bombay show and tour, we brought the parents down to Bombay to be a part of the show and audience. And the pleasant surprise that we usually get in our Parents’ meetings is that most of the brothers and sisters show up as well. Almost 60 of us, one big family, got together, cleaned the Manav Sadhna prayer area, cooked food, did prayer together, ate together, cleaned dishes together, and then reflected on the past 2 year journey of our kids and discussed the upcoming EKATVA tour.

It’s all a blessing and all God’s work we are humbled to be a part of.

Love.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

True Tests in Oneness...




The other day two of our Ekatva girls, Dipmala and Payal, got into a tiff during practice. They were not talking with each other and you could see the distance they were keeping from each other with negative vibrations. I asked Dipmala what was wrong and she said that Payal had been giving her dirty looks and speaking behind her back about her. Bringing both of them together, they had a heated back and forth and then we finally ended the conversation with a hug (which was kinda forced) and finished practice.

After practice I had individual talks with both Payal and Dipamala into the night. Though they were both upset and sad, it was beautiful to see their ability to accept feedback and share their thoughts openly. I left it at that for the night. I was definitely hurt and sad that two of our girls felt such negative energy towards each other. But a constant reminder from our kids, that as much as we try to share a positive spirit of ‘oneness’ we are still kids and human beings J

The next day, I saw Payal before practice and asked her how she was doing and feeling? She said the following: “nimesh sir, do you know what I did today. While Dipmala was sitting down in tuition class, I came behind her and put my hands over her eyes. Then I  placed a chocolate in her hand and opened her eyes. She saw me and started smiling and then we both hugged each other. She took a bite of the chocolate and gave me the other half. We are friends again.”

Ekatva, the spirit of Oneness, is not a space of perfect being and love. It is more about being tolerant and forgiving. That is love.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tour of and Performance at a Pharmaceutical Company


In January we went to Marck Biosciences Pharmaceutical Compnay’s Annual Cultural Show program, to perform for the company’s 1000 staff and employees.


But, we arrived early to give the kids a tour of the Factory. 




Was a great learning experience. How products are Manufactured, Systems, Processes, Machines, Technology, Labor,  Production, Packaging, Distribution, Marketing, and Safety.




The kids observed with their safety outfits on and asked questions, observed and absorbed. A beautiful learning experience, that then led to a fantastic outdoor performance in the Gujarat cold winter weather. 



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ripple Effect :)


A cute lil 14 yr kid came up to me being inspired by the mesmerizing and energetic performance by the Ekatva kids and said, " Didi, I wish to gift these kids, the money I have been saving for a year." After having a conversation with her mom I knew about her hobby of designing and creating wedding invites and envelopes. These savings were from the money she earned by selling the envelopes. This lil act of hers touched my heart n I felt glad that the show has started sowing the seeds of love and compassion and there are many such invisible ripples being send out. :)

Exploring the creative side!



While in Anand for Ekatva dance tour, one of our dear friends invited the kids to Flo Art Gallery to bring light to their creativity and teach them the art and craft of clay. We thought this was the best opportunity to involve our kids in activity that would help them develop skills using their senses; convey their emotions and ideas creating a beautiful experience. As we reached the studio, we observed the beauty in the warm and lush green ambiance featured by pond, palm trees and thatched huts. It was fun experience for kids to visit the gallery and have a glimpse of different art work displayed in form of sculptures and murals inspired by traditional Indian forms, pharaohs of ancient Egypt and wild tribes of Africa. After touring the gallery, kids enjoyed exploring their imagination, planning the color to paint their Ganesh idols made of clay. They experimented variety of colours in fun and interesting environment at the production studio behind the art gallery. Each one was engrossed in the process of painting and learning and within no time, the painting space started looking very artistic!
Deepest gratitude for all those who made the Anand Ekatva Show a super duper hit :))

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Family Behind EKATVA - Part 2: Nilamben

Wonderful Big Sister - Nilamben

You can see the spirit of paying back to the community alive in her and being put into practice each day through her work. As a young child, she always dreamt of joining the army and serving her motherland. With her family not being supportive enough to her aspirations she took up teaching.

She has been a Teacher to 1st through 4th graders of the Balsanskar project and 5th to 7th graders of the Ashramshala Residential School based in the Gandhi Ashram for over 2 and half years. She has introduced creative methods of teaching and is currently designing the Value-based/Education curriculum for all Manav Sadhna education projects.

Being a constant learner, with a quest to recognize her inner potential, she always tries to grow through her involvement in various projects. Presently she is actively involved with ‘Swagyan’(self understanding) project, an experiment in alternative education initiated by Stanford University in collaboration with Manav Sadhna.

In EKATVA, her caring and consistent support has created a healthy developmental environment for the EKATVA kids. She understands the behavioral changes our kids are going through with the onset of puberty and sensibly handles issues related to it. She manages and supports all of their educational needs including having personal relationships with all of their teachers and principals. When on tour she personally prepares study schedules for all the kids wisely managing their time so their academics do not suffer.

She has proved to be an amazing, multi-tasking bask stage specialist as well as  'wardrobe supervisor’ maintaining all costumes and jewelry, ensuring their proper labeling, storage, laundry and dry cleaning between performances. Along with Naynaben, she is the main backstage support for the 8 girls in the show - A challenging task when 8 girls are changing costumes back and forth for a 90-minute non-stop show.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Family Behind EKATVA - Part 1

Ekatva has been such an organic journey. Each day for the past few years, a family of 7 Staff Members from Gandhi Ashram-based NGO, Manav Sadhna, have made the EKATVA pilgrimage a reality for our 16 children.  Whether supporting and managing the children's health, education, emotional ups and downs, family relations and problems, and as important, the full creative production of the EKATVA show, the Manav Sadhna Staff and EKATVA Family members have been behind each day, each interaction, each step.

Now with the tour coming to fruition, and for children who have rarely ever left their homes, without such a family there is no way that such a journey can become a reality. For this we share and celebrate the love and journey of our EKATVA leaders and children's caretakers.

SHIRISHBHAI - a Real Coordinator - born and raised in Gandhi Ashram has been working with Manav Sadhna since its inception, mid 1990’s. Currently, he is working as All Project Coordinator, performing all administrative task: handling email correspondence, updating websites,scheduling team meetings and maintaining status reports. He manages all the essentials of local and international volunteer recruitment, right from assessing Manav Sadhna’s need to enrollment of volunteers, their residency, building rapport with them and maintaining their databases.


For Ekatva tour in particular, he has been managing Logistics, booking the show venues, arranging stays and travels, understanding and running the technical elements of sound and lights for the show. He has been helping with getting the passports for the kids and staff, applying for their visas and other administrative work involved therein. He efficiently understands the kid’s and their family’s mindset and need by organizing regular meetings with them at Gandhi Ashram and quite often visiting their homes. He has become an integral part of kid’s life, enjoying the ‘small yet beautiful everyday moments’.


JAGATBHAI - The Truest Big Brother - 
is an extremely creative person who believes in creating healthy community through Art!!! Since Past 13 years, he has been dedicatedly providing value based education to slum kids by giving lessons on arts and crafts through Earn and Learn Project (www.earnlearn.org). His distinctive rangolis, creative flower decorations and ingenious stage set up enhances the beauty and elegance of each of our Ekatva performances. His aesthetically designed hand props and masks for the performers make the show visually appealing.


He has been a big brother for all the kids. Having unplanned dinners together with kids family once in a while, celebrating occasions and festivals with each other’s family, comforting the kids in their difficult moments have created synergy and inter dependence in their relationship and helped to resolve a lot of children’s problems. He has been encouraging the kids, cheering them in their journeys and enabling them to maximize their potential through regular interactions and one on one counseling sessions.




NAYNABEN - Our Team MOM!

You meet her, observe her and can only marvel at what she does.
She has been overseeing the finances and serving as Chief Accountant and Financial Advisor at ManavSadhna since the beginning. Her valuable insight about foreign regulation acts, financial wisdom and management skills have helped to utilize the foreign contributions wisely. She closely monitors Ekatva’s day to day expenses and entire Ekatva tour budget. With her gratifying personality she has established beautiful interpersonal relations with local and international donors.
I had an opportunity to stay with her and know her better during the Ekatva tour for ‘Karjaat-Mumbai performances’




Her warmth is radiated in her each and every action. She understands how simple things mean so much to kids. She would wake up the kids gently, give them head massage, do their hair neatly, take care of their nutrition, talk about their family and pamper them so they don’t miss the love they get from their mom. At the same time she will frames rules for them and make sure they follow them, sees to it that they wash their clothes in spite of travelling and rehearsals, pray before they go to bed. She is quite firm and strict when they throw tantrums ;)
She is one of the 2 main back stage support who manages make-up, hair-styling, 5 Quick costume changes under 90 minutes for 8 girls. With all these chaos backstage, she will make sure that kids stay on the script and dance sequence throughout the show, carry their requisite masks and props and are fed in between with some glucose.

She will never let you miss your mom,when she is around 

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Name Is Sanjay. What Is Your Name?



After our trip to Mumbai, the kids have realized how important the English language is. They really wanted to learn more English! So Dipaliben has loving decided to volunteer her time to help the kids grow in their English skills :) 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jagriti Yatra: 450 Social Leaders share the EKATVA Spirit


What happens when you take 450 social leaders, innovators and thinkers and put them on a train across India to interact, learn, inspire and involve themselves in the happenings of this beautiful country?...You feel a spirit very close to that of Oneness. Jagriti Yatra - People from all walks of life, all parts of the globe, ended their 3 week trip around India at the Gandhi Ashram today and spent their final hour of their pilgrimage with our EKATVA Family and Manav Sadhna.

Our little ambassadors shared parts of their EKATVA performance bringing about an energy and spirit beyond imaginable within the Harijan Sevak Sang Ashramshalla, that Gandhiji had started many years ago. We bow down to the Higher Power for giving us all these opportunities to give and receive, share and learn.

Love.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Full Circle: Gandhiji's Legacy Connects to our Kids



What a blessing it is to serve and grow and learn in Gandhiji's space. Yesterday, our EKATVA kids welcomed Gandhiji's grandson, Arun Manilal Gandhi, as he and his Global family made their annual visit to the Gandhi Ashram and Manav Sadhna.

Arunji, has spent a good portion of his life carrying his Grandfather's message forward in the modern day, in so many different ways. We were blessed to have a beautiful interaction between him, his son Tushar Gandhi, and a family of 30 other professors and students from around the USA. The interaction involved sharing about the life of service rooted from Manav Sadhna and the Gandhi Asrham, as well as the EKATVA journey.

Then the children performed a half hour show for the entire Arun Gandhi US Family.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Beautiful Show Day (Bombay)...

Nerves are at an all time high...Who is going to be in the audience? Will we have a full show? Do I have all my costumes ready or might a strap unbuckle on stage? Will I fall in the middle of a dance or forget a step?

I have done my fair share of performances back in the day, and the questions running through your head are endless right before show time. But even today, I have yet to find anything that gives you the same adrenaline rush you get when the heat of the lights hits your face, music chimes in your ears, and ahead of you are hundreds of anxious bodies here just to see your performance.

Bombay Nehru Center - The seats were filled with an array of family, friends and specifically pointed NGO (non-governmental organizations) staff members from around the city. For this show, we wanted to share the message of Ekatva (oneness) with like-minded individuals from this fantastic city, and thus, had started a marketing campaign inviting various NGO groups to our show from Akanksha to Pratham, to Health Centers that housed disabled or mentally challenged children.

To my delight, I peered out the side of one of the big red curtains before the show began, and we were packed! I quickly ran to the backstage dressing rooms to spread the word to the girls who were in the midst of doing their hair, putting on their ornate jewelry, or setting up their elaborate costumes. Priyanka gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek telling me how this was going to be so much fun as Bombay was such a great city that taught her so much. I watched the girls from the corner of the room and felt a little gulp in my throat as I knew this would be the last performance I would share with the kids in India - It was time for me to head back home to the states.

As was customary, before the curtains opened, we all gathered on stage and together recited a prayer. Nimeshbhai reminded the kids of their good fortune to be able to spread such a beautiful message to this astounding audience. He ensured all of them knew that this opportunity did not make them any better than anyone else, but rather, we are, and will always remain, one with those around us...Thus the name the the show, Ekatva (Oneness).

4:00pm - It was showtime and a beautiful one indeed!
From lights, to cameras, to a packed auditorium, we had a beautiful performance that day. While the show was running, no small mistake or missed step seemed to matter. What mattered was that these kids were on a journey to spread their love, and I can attest to the endless love they planted in my heart alone, it was more than anyone can ask for in a lifetime.

I could not put in words on a blog how each one of these sixteen kids touched my life - It is something that can only be experienced. But as they drove away on the bus that night back towards Ahmadabad, I knew they took with them a piece of my heart that will always follow them wherever they continue to spread their magic. I am blessed, and more importantly, a better person to have spent this precious time with them.

117 days till they make it to their first American City...Let the countdown begin!



Ekatva T-Shirts!

Virenbhai, one of the amazing founders of Manav Sadhna (see blog posts on his background below), made fantastic Ekatva t-shirts back in the States and was rocking them around the Bombay streets - You could be sure he was spreading the message and his love everywhere he went! Check him out!

A New Way of Learning!

The beauty of opening up your heart to new people and their new ideas is that you not only get to experience new adventures, but you begin to build a wealth of knowledge that allows you to connect with many people of varying backgrounds wherever life takes you - In essence, it makes you less ignorant of the world around you and appreciate our differences. By introducing the kids to
new experiences daily while on tour, it is one of Ekatva's goal to expand their understanding of the world outside of Ahmadabad so they continue to grow as individuals with a vast array of knowledge. Nimeshbhai's itinerary was accomplishing just that.

We spent a day at the Shishuvan School in Bombay during the tour. This school has a very different learning environment from that of a traditional school enrolling kids from a generally higher socio-economic status just based on their higher tuition fees. The school does not believe in the use of textbooks to teach children, but rather they have implemented a very hands-on applied learning approach to teaching. The students help develop the curriculum by asking specific topic-based questions each year that the teacher uses to come up with plans that are suited to the children's interest in learn various modules and to the depth they desire. They strongly believe learning is a shared responsibility between the students, teachers, and the parents, and specifically cater their modules for interactive involvement (http://www.shishuvan.com).

It was really a neat experience to walk down the halls and into each of the classrooms watching the kids in action. From the American music teacher reciting Christmas carols, to the arts and crafts room that used all recycled material to come up with new projects, and the history room painted with various pictures of animals to help with learning - It was a sight to see.

The Shishuvan kids greeted us in their Multi Purpose Room where kids at the middle school level had put together a flawless PowerPoint (They do PowerPoint at this age, what happened to typewriters?!) telling us the various activities they do throughout the school year. Their ability to speak in front of large groups was rather impressive as most of them did not seem to hesitate to get up in front of the classroom. The Ekatva kids also shared a bit about themselves and our spokeswoman, Bharti, introduced the team. The kids were soon paired up with the Shishuvan students for our special tour of the school led by the children, for the children. Just as excited, the adults followed them around as well.

We ended the day with a short performance for the kids and staff at the school and we had quite the roaring crowd - Always making our performances that much more fun! Thanks to the Shishuvan school kids and staff for a allowing us the opportunity to experience a new way of learning!

If you ever get out to Bombay, put this on your list of must-see places as these superstars would crumble the Bollywood gang any day...Oh, and don't forget to have some tricycle fun while you are out there, I know we sure did!!




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Smiles!

Nothing is more beautiful than seeing kids smile, laugh and dance - We were lucky enough to experience just that at the St. Judes Cancer Center in Bombay. The kids and staff visited the center one afternoon and did a variety of activities with children diagnosed with cancer from laughing games, to making origami hats, to bringing a part of the Ekatva performance to their own living room! Take a peek at the mesmerizing smiles below and how beautifully the Ekatva and St. Judes children truly became one family that day! Thank you to St. Judes and all of our coordinating friends who made these memories possible!



































Shopping - Truly A "Giving" Moment!

Budgets were set - 300 rupees each were doled out to spend at an outdoor market in Bombay, and sixteen kids were soon bustling through the colorful booths full of clothes, shoes, jewelry and more - Their first lesson in buying and spending within a budget had began.

Pause the story for a quick minute, and rewind to about a month prior...One of the slums of Ahmadabad was heartlessly bulldozed by the Government to move forward on a Riverfront project. Unfortunately, Vishal and Vicky, two of the sixteen Ekatva children, had families that resided in those homes before they became rubble overnight. The families got very little notice as to what was coming, and one unfateful morning were barricaded outside their slum neighborhood as they watched their homes and most of their possessions being turned into rock.

If you ever got a chance to meet these two kids, the first thing you would notice is Vishal's vibrant smile and Vicky's endless ability to make anyone around him smile. With a pair or two of underwear and minimal clothing left, Nilamdidi and I took them shopping for some basics before the tour began. After buying some toiletries, they refused to let us get them anymore than one additional shirt and one pair of underwear each - they said it was all they needed.

Now fast forward one month back to the bustling streets of the Bombay market. The kids were excited. I ran to and fro with the girls as Priyanka wanted a dress for her little sister, Nikita wanted a shirt for her elder brother, and Chandani wanted a watch for her mother. Everyone was in full fledged shopping mode and the most amazing part of it all was that every child seemed to be shopping for their families - someone's mother, brother or sister - before they even began to think about anything for themselves. Most were left without any cash by the time family shopping was over - But they did it all with a smile. That is what they wanted.

Often times I think of most of the kids I know and as soon as they have ample cash at their disposal they get the hottest XBox 360 game in the market, and shortly thereafter, they have their eye out for what's coming next. As adults, more than we probably tend to admit, we do the same. The truth is in this cycle of greed for our own needs, we often forget to pay our gratitude for what we are blessed to have in our hands today. If we took note of our fortunate lifestyles more often, I truly feel our greed would also subside and desire to serve others would grow. These kids exemplified selflessness in their lack of greed and that morning was a beautiful example of that very trait.

I jumped on the bus as everyone's shopping had culminated. Bags shuffled and the kids were laughing and sharing stories about what they bought. I caught a glimpse of Vishal sitting in a seat on his own with no bags around him. I took the seat next to him and asked, "What did you buy Vishal?" He looked at me with that heart-wrenching smile and said, "Nothing Didi, I looked but I didn't need anything, so I didn't buy anything." My heart immediately melted and images of his bull-dozed home ran through my head. I remembered how few belongings he had left after the horrific tragedy that had just occurred one month prior. And yet, he still needed nothing?! He had clothes on his back, food on his plate, and a fantastic smile that kept him going - What more could he ask for?

The opportunity to spend that one moment with such a selfless child was well worth my entire Manav Sadhna trip. It is always amazing what a child can teach you in just a moment in time, and Vishal's lack of need for ANYTHING in life touched my heart more than I could have ever imagined or hoped for. Thankyou for the beautiful reminder Vishal!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nimesh's Fantastic Performance!

Couldn't help but share this one - He's our rapping superstar!!

(Full music CD's available upon request)

!!! video

Dharavi Slum School Performance!


The kids visited a fabulous school in the biggest slum of Bombay, Dharavi, and gave the children there a small taste of our Ekatva performance. The kids were loving it and ended the day with a free-style B-Boy dance off. These kids were talented!!

Caught a short clip of some of the kids tearing up the dance floor - Enjoy!

video

Curious Bharti and the Ripple Effect


One of the beauties of children lies in the capacity of their curiosity - In essence, it is limitless. As the noises of the various park animals and splashes of the running river filled our ears in Sanjay Gandhi National Park - We stopped to watch a beautiful bird across the water that we had just learned about from our fantastic friend, and tour guide for the day, Rushikeshbhai.

As I sat there next to Bharti she noticed tiny movements in the water that made numerous circles throughout the river. She looked at me and asked what those circles were called in English. It was always amazing to see Bharti taking advantage of any chance she got to learn more English. I repeated the word "Ripple" a few times to her, and she looked elated as she quickly took a mental note of the new piece of information she had just been introduced too. As she skipped away repeating the word over and over again, I called out to her to share her new learning with her other sisters and brothers as well. That's exactly what I heard her doing.

The next day we were welcomed to the home of a Manav Sadhna family member for lunch. Bharti noticed on one of the tables there was a quote by Mother Teresa that read, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can caste a stone across the waters to create many ripples." She quickly grabbed the frame and walked towards me to help her understand the meaning. As we sounded out the various letters in the sentence, we were able to read the English quote together. And soon thereafter, she was able to translate it into Hindi knowing that she had just learned one of the key words in that message the prior day. Bharti was beaming with a smile at her ability to read and understand the quote.

"Main Nimeshsir ko jakar bathaon?" She excitedly asked me if she should go share with Nimeshsir, and I asked her to share with the whole family, as it was a great quote that everyone ought to hear. Initially, a bit nervous, she agreed to reading the quote in English first, and then translating it into Hindi for everyone in the room.

She held my hand into the room. At this point, we had gathered a crowd of about 30 people and all eyes were on Bharti. Her nervousness quickly subsided as she began a beautiful recital of the quote and the translation thereafter - Not a glitch her in voice and with the confidence of a politician. It was a beautiful moment and I was smiling like a proud parent. Upon finishing, I asked her to tell everyone who said the quote, she replied, "Apne (You)!" That gave everyone a good laugh and I was the lucky girl in the room to receive a heart-filled hug from Bharti, our new spokeswoman!

A few days later, Sanjay sat next to me on the bus and told me how he wanted to get better at speaking in front of big groups...Bharti truly started her own "Ripple Effect" without even knowing it!



ND Studios Magic!

After culminating our memorable journey in Karjat, we said our goodbyes and jumped on a bus towards our next destination, Bombay. Many folks compare Bombay to the LA of India - bustling, diverse, and home to all the film stars of the Bollywood film industry. It would have been a shame to skip out on a tour to get a glimpse of how it all went down in Bollywood town...So the kids had an opportunity to see just that.

ND Studios is an artist-run multimedia production company where many big box films are shot ever year. For any Bollywood buff (me included!), it was like being a child in a candy store when you ran across the set of Jodha Akbhar and the row of elephants that definitely played a part on the last war movie you watched.

Music and performance have been a part of the children's lives long before our Ekatva tour had begun, but their interest in spreading a beautiful message through art has only gotten stronger as each performance has allowed them the opportunity to really feel and see the difference their talent makes. Though the productions via Bollywood/Hollywood often have varying messages, they serve as a form of art that has touched lives of millions around the world. Their hard work and dedication to spreading messages was apparent just by seeing the elaborate details that went into each of their sets.

Though we did not unfortunately spot Aamir Khan or Priyanka Chopra in action, the kids enjoyed their day there as they re-enacted the Chandalika scene at a nearby well (take a peak at the video below!). I also caught some great shots of them behind bars and climbing royal elephants. Seeing their fantastic smiles as they experience these new places quickly made every hardworking late night worth doing ten times over again!






video

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cleaning Day at Matheran Hillstation with our Rockstars!

Along with beautiful people, Karjat is home to a scenic hillstation called, Matheran. It is one of the few places in the world where vehicles are not allowed, thus making it quite different from other hillstations and very peaceful despite the endless monkeys that have made it their home.

The kids set out on the nature-esque tread towards the top of the hill approximately 3000 feet above sea-level. Along the way, each of them carried black garbage bags and collected trash. Lucky or unlucky for Vicky and the bag of chips he had in his hand, a monkey swept by and grabbed it from him when he least expected it - Let's only hope he knows a thing or two about sanitation after he fills his stomach on Uncle Masala Chips!

When we stopped for a quick snack at the top of the hill, I was reminded we had quite the bollywood Rockstars in our own group of kids - Take a peak at our own monkeys wearing their favorite hats striking poses at my camera in this perfectly placed setting on top of a hill!


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