Thursday, April 28, 2011

Meet Nitesh...

When Nitesh was five-years old, his brain filled with water. “His head became twice the size,” recalls his mother, “His neck could barely bear the weight of it.” Picturing Nitesh with such a heavy weight on his shoulders is difficult. Although the barely four-foot-tall 11-year old stands shorter than nearly all of his peers, he manages to carry himself with a poise and confidence of a much larger person.
Nitesh’s family, including his parents and three older siblings, relocated to Ahmedabad from a rural village in Uttar Pradesh in order to find him treatment when he fell sick. The move brought both difficulties and blessings. Although Nitesh recovered, city life presented the family with a host of new problems. Unable to afford land of their own, they pay rent for a small one-room home without electricity or a toilet. Nitesh admits that their home is small, but he does not find it a reason for stress.
“His mind is always fresh,” says his mother. Since his brain healed, no worries seem to stick in his head.”
On the other hand, many worries cycle through his parents’ minds. They are pained that their circumstances prevent them from providing their children with a more comfortable lifestyle.
“I lay awake at night and wonder how I can let my children, especially my daughters, grow up in a place without even a toilet,” Nitesh’s mother says. She considers Manav Sadhna a blessing, as they have taken care of the family in tough times, and provided her children with so many opportunities for their childhood.
Nitesh, his older brother and two older sisters are all part of Earn’n’Learn, a Manav Sadhna project that keeps slum children away from labor on the streets, by giving them a safe environment to be creative, learn, and make money for their families.
According to Nitesh, his mentors at Manav Sadhna have taught him good values such as respect and cleanliness by never giving up and always showing love to the children they work with. Nitesh explains that before coming to Manav Sadhna he used to do a lot of masti, or mischief. “I still do a lot of masti,” Nitesh said with a twinkle in his eye, “but now I’ve learned that the time for masti is after the time for learning and helping others.”
Always dressed in clean clothes and sporting smart, nearly combed hair, the four siblings shine together. “After coming here, they began to do things for each other, rather than just for themselves,” says Jagatbhai, the childrens’ mentor at Manav Sadhna.
They look out for each other with a love and compassion that gives the impression of a solid background and home life. Although their lives may not be financially solid, they have demonstrated unyielding principles and firm values.
“This is not the kind of family that puts its hand out for donations,” Jagatbhai says. “They accept the difficulties they are dealt, and continue to work hard, together, to face them.”

written with love by Pooja Shah :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Meet Priyanka...

            “I love to laugh,” Priyanka flashes a 100-watt smile, framed by a pink plastic headband and perfectly plaited pigtails. “Whenever I’m sad, I try to make myself laugh,” she explains, and through Priyanka’s eyes, there is little reason in life not to laugh and be happy. She describes her home as small, but comfortable, and with pleasant neighbors. Her two older sisters shower her with love and attention when she comes home from the children’s hostel she stays in at Gandhi Ashram. She calls her mom her best friend.
            As her mother’s best friend, Priyanka believes it is her duty to not cause her any undue pain.
“I sometimes worry,” Priyanka admits, “but I do not tell my parents. I don’t want to cause them sadness.” As an outsider looking in, Priyanka’s world is filled with reasons for worry. Her parents’ cleaning jobs have unstable incomes, and any money earned is used up quickly by the household. Until recently, they lit their home with candles because they could not afford electricity. But according to her parents, life will always be filled with one worry or another.
“Showing others our worries will not reduce our own suffering,” Priyanka’s father says.  The family follows the principle of always trying to stay positive and smiling.
“We do not get defeated by little difficulties.”

Near the beginning of the EKATVA journey in June of 2010, Priyanka decided she no longer wanted to participate in the audition process. In an uncharacteristic display of tears, she explained that her legs were tired and aching from the dance lessons. Her youthful perspective did not reach beyond a few hours of discomfort, to the fruit that her efforts may produce.
 Her mentors explained to her that pain is an inevitable part of any journey of self-growth. With patience and practice, her soreness would evolve into a realization of the great potential she holds as a dancer and person.
A few days later, 11-year old Priyanka came back and gave the auditions another shot, putting aside her fear of pain. She was eventually selected as one of the final 16 children, from the initial 250 that were auditioned.

The aches and pains haven’t stopped. But now, when she stumbles during dance rehearsal, or sometimes falls from the daring human pyramid the children build in one number, Priyanka motivates herself to practice more by imagining the professional dancer she hopes to become one day.

“That is how I become stronger.”

written with love by Pooja Shah :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meet Vicky...

“I learned from EKATVA, that if you drop the dandiyo while dancing, you just have to continue the step without it,” Eleven-year old Vicky says. “If something is not in our hands, we have to make an effort to move forward without it.”
In moments like this, he demonstrates a clarity and wisdom beyond his years.
Vicky moves through his childhood effortlessly, with a boyish grace, despite so much that can be judged as lacking in his life. Vicky’s family, including his parents and five older siblings, inhabit two tiny, poorly lit rooms in the Shankar Bhuvan slum community.
The health issues of Vicky’s father, who suffers from tuberculosis, and Vicky’s older brother, who has periodic fits of seizures, have put an emotional and financial burden on the family. But when asked what difficulties they experience, Vicky’s automatic answer is “nothing much”.
            His parents, however, carry the weight of their poverty less easily.
            After having tuberculosis for many years, Vicky’s father only recently began treatment. He explains that he has drunk heavily for nearly 25 years. He tried to stop numerous times, urged by his children and poor health, but each time, he again took up his costly habit after a couple of sober months.
            “I used to ask him to stop, especially after he got sick,” Vicky says. “But he would always say, ‘Beta, I am helpless to this addiction. What can I do?’”
After falling ill with TB, Vicky’s father was not able to work regularly, and money became especially tight. During summer vacation, Vicky and his brothers would polish shoes on the streets to earn some extra income for the house. After one day of working busy intersections from morning till night, they would come home with about 50 rupees.
            “I had so much fun,” Vicky says, recounting this all-too-common tale of child labor as though it were an adventure.
            Although his demeanor sways between thoughtful around his elders, and playful among his peers, Vicky is rarely ill mannered. Yet, this was not always the case. His parents recall the foul language and disrespect with which he used to address others when they made him angry. Vicky too, describes how he used to threaten to run away when he did not get his way, refusing to help his mother with housework.
            “But after going to Manav Sadhna and joing EKATVA, his temper has cooled.” Vicky sits in the corner, silently and carefully scrubbing dishes as his mother describes the change she has seen in him.
            When the dandiyo sometimes slips out of his grip, Vicky manages to continue dancing with excitement, rather than regret. He draws attention to his bright smile, set below bushy eyebrows, so it’s easy to overlook what is missing from his childhood.

written by pooja shah :)

A Series on the Kids...

With the loving help and dedication of a Manav Sadhna volunteer, Pooja Shah (hailing originally from San Jose, California), we begin a series of stories sharing insight into each of the 16 EKATVA kids. She put her heart and lots of time into connecting with each child, going to their homes, meeting and talking with their families, just so that we could share with the world a little deeper insight into each child. I think she was moved through the process :) What a beautiful environment and family Manav Sadhna has provided us with, allowing us to make these very unique and precious connections. Thank you Pooja.

Friday, April 1, 2011

In the Slums, Health is the true Wealth...

When we started the process for EKATVA over a year ago we didn’t really have a chance to focus much on the children’s health. For one, we started with 250 kids that we were working with in different batches. As we narrowed the kids down and eventually finalized the sixteen for the EKATVA project we began going more in-depth into their lives. Health, being one of the most important aspects to all of our lives, became an area of focus.
A few months ago we did blood lab tests for all the kids. The result we found was that all 16 of the children are anemic. And many of them had infections detected through their blood and urine tests. During this same time, Geetanjali Didi, a dietician, had visited us to have a conversation on health, nutrition and eating habits. It was a good conversation to integrate into our journey of ‘oneness’. For if we are not clean and healthy within then it becomes very difficult to nurture a healthy environment outside.
We are attacking this health challenge in two ways: 1) By educating the kids and their families and trying to get their support (ie. eating less fried food and sugar) 2) By providing as proper nutrition as possible during snack time after practice that we can practically achieve. Currently we provide the kids the following daily snacks:
-protein powder filled milk (1 glass) or juice
-bowl of peanuts and dried pulse
-wheat glucose crackers
-iron tablets
-glucosamine in their water bottle before practice

Some of the kids have stopped eating fried food during the morning. Its difficult to help curb any habit cold turkey, but we will continue to walk on our journey very conscious of our children’s health and trying our best to plant seeds of health consciousness and sustainability into their daily routine.