Thursday, April 12, 2012

Volunteer of the Week Story

This week's Volunteer of the Week (here), Adam Levine shared a very interesting story about his role in building (literally) the Shanti Bhavan community. We couldn't fit his whole story on our Facebook feature so here it is in its entirety! Thank you for sharing Adam!

"While I was at Shanti Bhaven, Dr. George (knowing that I was in the middle of pursuing my Masters in Architecture) asked me to design low cost homes that he intended to build for members of the local community. It was a great opportunity for me, and I enjoyed directly working with Dr. George to design a clean, efficient, and inexpensive house. The idea was to defy conventional practices, respond to the climate, and build something that would simply make the lives of the tenants easier.

Fast forward a few months. The architectural drawings were complete and the materials were thought out. We hired a mason to set the lines of the foundation and had the village show up for a Puja, to break ground properly on the first house. I even had a number of my 5th grade Math students come over from Shanti Bhaven to be a part of the ceremony.

Just before the ceremony, a local architect showed up, uninvited. He swiftly dismissed my plans for the building and began drawing out his own. He halted the work of the mason and even told the family who was receiving the house to not trust this foreigner (me), and to refuse to live in the house. He told them that I had violated rules of Vaastu Shastra by placing certain elements in incorrect ends of the house, and anyone living there would have ill fortune. Through a translator I realized that this man was trying to unravel our long planning, and I became afraid that the project was not going to be accepted.

The day came and went, and I went back to Dr. George with the bad news. With a smile he assured me that we would work through this problem, and that we would find a way to satisfy all parties within our constraints. After a long night of tinkering with the plans, I found a solution that I felt answered the questions brought up by the local architect that also achieved all the practical goals that we had set out to accomplish in the project. We went on to build the house (with happy tenants), and Dr. George went on to build 7 more houses following that model.

I was humbled by this project, and learned to be more sensitive in my problem solving. The 'local architect' intentionally or not helped me improve the design to better suit the people who would live there. Meanwhile Dr. George taught me too see that things are not always black and white. With perseverance and the willingness to put aside one's preconceptions, solutions can be found to any problem. I carry these lessons with me fondly."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The New Little Heroes of Shanti Bhavan

By Shilpa Raj

On the 3rd of December, the whole school was treated to a pleasant surprise.

At the school assembly, the new kindergartners stepped on stage confidently and began their well rehearsed performance. Standing in a semi circle, they went around in pairs introducing themselves in clear English and then stating the names of their favorite animals.

Using lively expressions and actions they imitated their favorite animals. For instance Kishore, said, “My name is Kishore. My favorite animal is dog.” He barked like a dog and left the audience in fits of laughter. His peer, Angel said, “My name is Angel. My favorite animal is gorilla.” Everybody enjoyed watching her beat her chest with her little fists and growl.

As the audience rose in applause, the four year olds bowed and left the stage elegantly as their teachers and care takers looked proudly on. Just a few months ago when they arrived, none of them knew how to speak English, brush their teeth, use a bathroom and tell the difference between a fork and a spoon. But today they are bright, energetic children with amazing curiosities.

Their class teacher, Ms. Geetha says, “They are so lively. Every day the first period is spent listening to the children telling me all about what they did in the dorms.When we were learning the alphabets I would say ‘A’ and give examples of words starting with ‘A’ in English. But they would scream out examples of words in their own languages like ‘Amma’ in Tamil and Kannada which means mother.” Smiling, she adds, “I love the children very much. I enjoy teaching small ones. They are a great joy.”

Besides learning their alphabets, the children watch videos, color with crayons, listen to stories, recite rhymes, and take nature walks around the huge campus. Their day begins at 7:30 when they wake up to the sound of music. After a quick wash up and dressing-up they stand around the corridor in their dorm and exercise. After breakfast, their classes begin at 9 am and end at 1 pm and in between they have a snack break and assembly.

“Three years ago financial restraints made it hard to admit new children. We missed having the little ones join Shanti Bhavan. But this year the fifteen new kindergartners so far have brought great joy and happiness to us,” says Mrs. Rajeshwari, the Head of the Residential staff and first grade teacher. The children are very cheerful and confident at Shanti Bhavan.

Hardly three months ago, the four year old Jayanthi was sleeping on the floor of her tent among the thirty other tents clumped together in a squalid slum alongside a railway track in the middle of Bangalore. A small tap a little distance away from the tents is the only source of water and all the families share a common toilet.

To get to the slum one has to leave the tar road and take a narrow mud lane which is scattered with garbage. Inside the tent Jayanthi’s feeble grandmother slept on a wooden cot while her parents, her younger brother and she sleep on the mud floor. The cooking was done in one corner of the room, filling smoke. Their few belongings lie in another corner.

At Shanti Bhavan, Jayanthi no longer has to lie on the floor, eat just ragi once or twice a day, or shiver in the cold. A big smile shines upon her face as she goes about playing on the grounds, learning in class and shaking her hips to the sound of music.

“Jayanthi is very caring towards others. She will console other children when they cry. She is very bright. She loves to draw faces,” her class teacher Ms. Geetha says.

Her neighbor, Jamuna, who also comes from the same destitute slum, is just as happy as Jayanthi in Shanti Bhavan. Little Jamuna has finally brought smiles on her mother’s face. Ever since Jamuna joined Shanti Bhavan, her father tormented her mother and demanded that the child be returned home. He would ask her angrily, “What kind of a school have you put her in? Bring her back.”

Two months after Jamuna joined Shanti Bhavan, her parents visited her. Jamuna’s father was shown around the school building where the older children were having their prep. He smiled and kept silent. His silence spoke of his acceptance. His wife cried when she saw him return and kiss Jamuna affectionately. Both of them were very happy when Miss Geetha told them that Jamuna was a fast learner, loves meeting new people and is very talkative.

As for Jamuna’s peer, Samuel, Christmas is finally round the corner. When he arrived he asked his housemother with tears in his eyes, “When will I go home?”She answered, “When Christmas comes,” trying her best to simplify that the holidays will be starting in December. Ever since then he asks occasionally, “Has Christmas come? Has Christmas come?”

With only a week left for the holidays, the children are overjoyed and thrilled by the excitement of going back to their parents, grandparents, siblings and friends who they had left behind. Yet, they are simply happy spending their days with their friends in Shanti Bhavan.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Teacher Comments

Below is what some students had to say about their classes and the wonderful teachers that lead them!

“I never thought a man as big as Nick could dance like an excited 10 year old!” – Puneeth Kumar

“Dancing is a lot of fun. A new volunteer named Nanja teaches us. She is an amazing dancer!” – Anjali

“Nick teaches us History. He makes the class really fun.” – Aravind

“Darius takes Civics for us. He too is very just and kind.” – Aravind

“I forgot to tell you about my new English teacher who is also our coordinator. Her name is Ms Rahil. She is a very good English teacher. Even though I am bad at English, I really enjoy her classes. However, she is also very strict.” – Naveen

“Rahil teaches us English and her classes are nice.” – Ashwath

“Mr Nick and Darius make our history and civics classes fun.” – Papitha

“Nanja is an awesome dancer and taught us 3 beautifully choreographed dances.” – Papitha

“A volunteer named Nanja teaches us dancing. She is really good. We have learned 3 dances to really cool songs.” – Vijayalakshmi

“I enjoyed Nick and his puppet Michael the most” – Anushya (about Children’s Day)

“There are also some volunteers who are very fun and talented. One of these volunteers Nanja takes dance classes for us.” – Lakshmi

“Rahil is the volunteer coordinator. She is fun and dances really well. She takes English classes for us. Her teaching is fun. We watched a movie in her class. We all like her.” – Nandini

“Rahil is currently the volunteer coordinator. She is very positive and kind!” – Sunil

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Diwali Celebrations at Shanti Bhavan

"Boom! Bam." I thought I was going to turn deaf. Who cared? It was Diwali after all.

Everyone was so excited from morning. It was a holiday and we slept in. For breakfast we had idlis and hmmm well, I thought I'd rather skip the day’s events and head straight to the celebrations at night.

We were all ready for the evening's show. Unfortunately it started drizzling so we had the cultural program, organized by the children, in the assembly hall instead of having it outside in the dining hall like last year. There was so much fun watching children of different age groups dancing to music varying from Tamil folk dance to Chris Brown's 'Kiss Kiss.'

After the programme was over, we had a quick dinner of vegetable pulav and got ready for the most awaited part of the day. Everyone gathered on the lawn outside the dining hall and waited for the grown-ups to equally distribute the different kinds of sparklers and crackers.

Screams of excitement filled the air. The smaller kids lighted their sparklers, and the older ones preferred the crackers and missiles. The night turned into day, as darkness was replaced by the light from all the lighting. It was such a joy to watch the kindergartners who are new to the school light their first Diwali sparklers and scream with joy as they whirled it before them. Seeing their excitement reminded me of my first Diwali night long ago in Shanti Bhavan when the loud sounds and lights scared me.

As I stood next to my friends, turning a sparkler, I realized that this was going to be my last Diwali at school before graduation, and my classmates and I were ready to make the most of it.

Unlike me, those who were adventurous lit crackers and sent rockets into the sky. I stepped back to see them fly into the distance and burst into different colors. We were having so much fun.

I wished Diwali night would last forever. It was a very special day for me because this festival of lights had brought teachers, aunties, children, some of the graduates, volunteers, and the support staff together. It was a day I will always cherish in my heart.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Student Poems

I am from
I am from the eyes of my mother,
the tears of my sister,
and the words of my uncle.

I am from the broken thumb of my grandpa,
the burning clothes of my mother,
and the cuts on her hands.

I am from the light in the dark,
the flowers in Shanti Bhavan,
and the warmth of my aunties.

I am from the letters of the alphabet,
the colors of the rainbow,
and the days of the week.

I am from the hopes of my family,
my grandpa selling cucumbers,
and the dusty roads of Tamil Nadu.

- Puneeth Kumar, 9th Grade

A poor woman in the street
sitting and waiting,
mostly hoping,
someone would buy the deep fried fish
she has pinned her hope on.

A drunken man who made her his wife
with a promise of a better life
washed it away with his bottles of liquor.

Trucks go by
Buses honk
Vendors push their half empty carts
her eyes darts all over the passers-by
someone would buy the deep fried fish
she has pinned her hope on.

I stay at home
waiting for that knock that I have grown used to
she enters looking tired
I see the lights of the vehicles in her eyes
and the dust of the street on her hair
I see hope in her smile
but this time it's not pinned on the deep fried fish
It's pinned on me.

- Venu, 5th Grade

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stories 1

The kids were asked to answer the question: What was your first experience with art? Here are some of their lovely responses.

The first time I sat in the art room, I knew that art would turn me into someone great. Our first art teacher came into the art room and told us to sit down. She gave each of us a paintbrush, some paint, and a piece of paper. She shifted our desks into a circular shape. In the middle, she kept one desk, and on top of it, she kept a flower vase. She told us to try and paint a picture of the vase. It looked really complicated. As I started to paint bit by bit, I could see her staring at me with the corner of my eye. As I looked up and turned to her, she smiled at me. When I told her that it was difficult, she just kept smiling and then said, “Try, try, try, until you succeed.” As I kept those words in my mind, I started to paint. When I finished, I went and showed it to her. She said that my painting was the best. I was so happy! Then at dinnertime she came up to me and said, “Saranya, I cut a piece of your painting.” I was shocked. Then she said, “Please don’t be sad. The piece of your painting is going to be stuck on Dr. George’s birthday card! “ I felt that art could do a lot for me in my life.

By: Saranya

Shanti Bhavan, 6th grade

When Mary Mitchell first came to Shanti Bhavan, she played us songs from Dhoom Machale and Titanic. I loved her way of playing the piano. I loved the way the music that she played kept my friends happy, interactive, and excited. In my mind I thought one day, I will get to play the piano and I will be like Mary. In the 5th grade I said to myself, “You will never get to play the piano,” and then I heard the word “piano” which distracted me from my negative thoughts. It was Mrs. Ruth asking us who wants to learn the piano. Eighteen hands shot into the air. All eighteen hands restlessly waiting to be chosen. Then Mrs. Ruth saw me and asked, “Yeshwini, do you want to play the piano?” My heartbeat was 5X more than the normal heartbeat. All seventeen eyes looked at me eagerly waiting for my answer. With an excited voice, I said, “Yes!” Then Mrs. Ruth smiled at me and wrote my name on the board. I was full of mixed feelings. I wondered how easy or difficult it is to play the piano. At 4:00 pm, Mrs. Ruth called me and told Katherine to be my teacher. After my first lesson, I thought playing the piano is not as easy as you think. I walked out of the music room with a tired mind. Till now, I try my best to get to the level Mary Mitchell plays and I know I will.

By: Yeshwini

Shanti Bhavan, 7th grade