Friday, April 03, 2009

April Beginning Sambhali Trust

Dear Readers, I am breaking my update in two sections: Guest House and the Family in one section and the second section has the

Sambhali Trust:-

Finally we are called their partners, yes the Planet Wheeler Foundation (formerly known as Lonely Planet Foundation) is calling us their partners in their website.

Ms. Adriana has joined Setrawa Project for two months.

After the success of International Women's Day rally (report by Ms. Eliane and Ms. Johanna),

Holi celebration with the Soziale Initiative and the Sambhali Team, with the help of Ms.Corinne we managed to have a market stall this month at the Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur.The stall was great idea because of its big platform and we hope we will be given this place in future also, but this time it was not that successful due to off-season (less tourists). Please check the report by Ms. Corinne.

We have been asked by a dear friend to start up Micro-finance scheme in Setrawa village, we have had meetings with the women in Setrawa and they have really appreciated it. The scheme will be called Sambhali Sherni (lioness) project. We are putting together all the documents required. Please check the report on the website by Ms. Corinne, Ms. Adrienne and me.

Buisness plan (for the sewing centers establishment) by Mr. Richard for the graduating girls, final impressions by Ms. Helen and Ms. Griselda and our Annual Report for 2008 by Ms. Pinky are ready, please have a look at their reports on the Sambhali website (volunteers reports).

Dakhu came to Jodhpur, she looked healthy, happy and jolly, her husband wants to take her back but she has given up, she has refused to go with him to his house. She can cook, wash and do everything that a normal girl would do, I wish we would have found her 4 years back and saved all this time of her life when she was tied to that tree. The parents are out of their words thanking the Trust and me for helping them out with this.

I would like to share Mr. Francisco’s report with you, Mr. Francisco is a good friend and was touched by a little child with a cleft lip.

I live and work in the UK and have been travelling throughout India for the past 5 months. I was in Jodhpur , Rajasthan last week to celebrate ‘Holi’, the coming of Spring. On Tuesday, 10 March 2009 I stopped at a side stall along the road to buy a boiled corn on the cob. After buying the corn, I walked along the road and was stopped by a little girl, Shava (10 years old) and her little brother, Chordu (2 ½ years old). Shava reached out her hands and touched her mouth, then reached down to her stomach, a gesture telling me that her and her little brother were hungry.

From my travels through India , I have learned not to give children money as there is the risk that they spend it on glue, or they give the money to their fathers, who are often abusive alcoholics. The main risk in giving children cash is that it encourages a lifestyle of begging. Instead I handed Shava my corn and her eyes lit up as if it was Christmas day. I looked down at Chordu, he too was smiling – but with a difference. His smile was broken and my eyes filled with tears when I realised why.... he had a cleft lip. I felt a sense of urgency in my heart to help him – but how, I couldn’t speak Hindi and they couldn’t understand English..... I walked away and kept glancing back – they were both sitting in the dirt, eating the corn as if it was their first meal in days. They saw me looking back and instantly stood up, they waved goodbye and showed so much appreciation for what I had just given them. My sense of urgency to help little Chordu grew stronger......

I raced back to the guest house where I was staying (Durag Niwas) which is owned and run by Govind Singh who is also the founder and director of Sambahli Trust (an NGO set up to empower untouchable woman and girls). I immediately related my story to Govind, saying that I have to do something to help. He sprung into action and we both raced back to where I had left Shava and Chordu and found them standing by garbage on the side of the road.

Govind spoke with Shava, asking her where her family lived. She pointed towards a large, dusty and barren stretch of land down from the famous Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel – they were homeless, their parents and grandparents, and Shava herself are garbage pickers. We asked Shava to take us to speak with her parents and grandparents as I was determined to pay for Chordu to have an operation to rectify his cleft lip. We approached their home and were met with caution by Chordu’s family as nobody has ever stopped by their home in the dust. Govind spoke with Chordu’s grandfather, grandmother, father and mother, explaining that I would like for Chordu to have an operation to ‘fix his lip’. I was apprehensive about their response as there is much superstition and reservation about foreign aid amongst some communities in India .

We were so happy to see their faces light up and to see them bring their hands together in thanks – THEY WANTED CHORDU TO HAVE THE OPERATION!

We agreed to meet later that night to discuss the next steps. I got worried when the family did not arrive to see us. Despite their initial agreement towards the operation, their uncertainty about our motives and fear for what lay ahead meant that we had to go and locate them to continue our discussion.

When we met we agreed to take Chordu to the hospital to see a doctor immediately. They agreed and so Govind’s cousin Bunty, Chordu, his father, grandfather and I made our way to the hospital. I could tell that they had never been in a motor car before because they looked frightened and sat in silence on the way to the hospital.

Because none of us were sure about the best way to proceed with a cleft lip operation we had to try several different hospitals before we were told to go to the Rajdadeej Hospital . When we arrived, we made our way to the plastic surgery wing and entered a waiting room full of people. Being the only foreigner, attention was drawn our way, people whispered and pointed – my homeless friends felt uncomfortable.

Five minutes later, a very helpful, fluent English speaking hospital assistant approached us. He looked at us and smiled as Bunty explained to him that I wanted to pay for Chordu to undergo surgery. The hospital assistant looked at me and smiled, saying that it was not necessary for me to pay for the surgery. I looked at him confused – he smiled again and said that an organisation known as ‘The Smile Train’ offers the surgery for free. The surgery usually costs US$250, but the incredible work of ‘Smile Train’ covers all the costs. I was stunned and so, so grateful. He went on to say that Chordu would have to return to the hospital on 27 March 2009 for an assessment, he would then have the operation on 28 March 2009 and return to his family on 29 March 2009 ! I was speechless – this was simply amazing! It was at this point that I noticed the Smile Train posters on the wall depicting pictures of children before and after their operations. I grabbed Chordu’s father’s hand (he was carrying Chordu) and lead him to the poster with excitement. I showed him the pictures, he put his hand to his mouth in shock and then smiled and called out to Chordu’s grandfather to come over too. They were in disbelief that little Chordu would have a perfect smile by the end of the month! They turned to me and drew their hands together in thanks, they were delighted!

The hospital assistant recorded Chordu’s details in the registration file and handed us a bundle of flyers written in Hindi to educate people about the free cleft lip/pallet operation offered by ‘Smile Train’. He asked Chordu’s father to hand the flyers out to inform others of the good work that is being done. We all left the hospital smiling and truly grateful for the incredible work that is done by ‘Smile Train’.

We drove back to Chordu’s dusty home. His father and grandfather jumped out of the car and spoke with his mother and grandmother. I stepped out of the car and was immediately greeted by them, they fell at my feet and touched them with respect and gratitude. My eyes filled with tears and I drew my hands together in respect for them. Bunty told them that he would return to their home on 27 March 2009 to take Chordu and his father and mother to the hospital for the assessment. They were so grateful for this. When we returned to the Durag Newas guest house, I told Govind what had transpired. He was so happy to hear the news but warned me that families were being evicted from the dusty stretch of land where Chordu and his family lived.

I headed to town the next day with my girlfriend Chloe and our new friend Sandriene from Holland . We bought food and clothing for Chordu and his family. They could not believe their luck when we arrived with all the bags! Chordu’s sister, Shava was always smiling and welcoming. I had spoken with Govind the day before and said that I would like to pay for her to go to school. Govind said that he would meet with me the following day and that we would speak with her family to see what we could do to make my wish come true. True to his word, Govind met with me and we headed to Chordu and Shava’s dusty home again. Upon arriving at their home, Chordu’s father and mother informed us that they were served with an eviction notice and had nowhere to go – I was devastated at this news and instantly decided that I would pay for accommodation for the family. Govind made a few phone calls on his mobile phone and asked me to jump onto his motorbike with him. We raced to view a one roomed house not far from their dusty home and I instantly signed up to pay rent for one year at the cost of Rs 9600 (110 pounds).

On the day the family was to move in ( 13 March 2009 ) we were informed that after I had met them and arranged for the operation and their new home that Chordu’s grandparents travelled over 400km to visit a spirit medium in their village to seek advice on Chordu’s pending operation. The spirit medium told them that Chordu will die during his operation unless they paid him Rs 11 000 (approx 120 pounds). The belief system in rural India , and Rajasthan in particular, means that this foresight is taken very seriously and villagers rarely deviate from the advice given. The family therefore decided not to proceed with the operation unless we paid the spirit medium’s protection fee. We are in the process of working with the family to raise these funds.

Unfortunately, Chordu’s grandmother also went on to say that they will not move into the new home that I have acquired for them as they believe that I am part of a missionary organisation and possibly trying to convert them from Hinduism. It’s so sad to see that there is still so much distrust and scepticism when it comes to helping others.

What I have learned from helping to organise a cleft lip operation:

· Language barriers mean that it’s easier to help others when you know and TRUST a translator. Working with a translator is extremely important, not only from a language point of view, but from a belief point of view too. Communities being targeted by Smile Train have extremely low levels of literacy. Written promotions do not have the reach and impact that is needed. I believe that an ‘on the ground’ translator is required to educate people. Education is freedom. People need to be educated and shown that there is help out there and that there are good people and organisations in this world who are willing to help without a price tag associated

· Belief systems are strong and often raise questions in people’s minds, at times preventing help from others. It is important to break through these barriers without offending their beliefs. As the belief systems are strong in India and so sometimes the traditional approach overrules conventional western understanding, their belief structure needs to be understood and a common ground formed

· Many people try to get involved when helping others as they try to see what they can get out of the situation – in many cases they want money!

· It’s important to ‘be on the ground’ and not simply walk into a situation, speak with people and walk away expecting things to change. It is important to follow through with what has been started.

· Remote villages need to be targeted as these people have the least education and awareness.

I hope you have liked the information and hopefully will not take soo much time in posting again.

Take care and all the best


Govind and The Rathores.

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