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Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.

NEWSLETTER—January 2009

By Malcolm Harper

Visits To The School

I have been to PUSS three times since Uschi and I returned from our rushed visit to attend Kadambini's funeral and other memorial occasions.

It has fortunately been possible to 'adjust' my work schedule to pass through Bhubaneswar.

All goes well; the floods, which affected coastal Orissa, threatened to engulf the village but luckily the river did not breach its banks at that point, and the inter-communal strife in Orissa between fundamentalist Hindus and Christians was confined to inland areas several hundred miles from Naharkanta.

New Baby Home

Eva-Maria Elliot
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Eva-Maria Elliott with the four first toddlers at the new Baby Home

The new Baby Home, generously funded by Eileen Pirie and John McCall MacBain, was ceremonially opened by committee member Eva Maria Elliott, whose idea it originally was. We handed out little sweet bananas to each of the 365 children and a good time was had by all. The four babies, now toddlers, who had been taken in by PUSS earlier have moved in and more are expected to arrive.

Kuku is managing very competently

Kuku is continuing to manage the school and all its activities very competently. I was talking to her in the office one afternoon; three sad little girls came in. "There was no puffed rice for us today", they said. Kuku went downstairs with them, and after some discussion she came back with the three little girls all smiling; it had all been a misunderstanding. Then a few minutes later two rather older girls were brought in, in tears; “she bit me" said one, "she hit me" said the other. Kuku made peace, and they smiled warily at each other as instructed. Then we went back to discussing cash flows. Kuku is brilliant at 'multitasking'.

Three other international visitors

In the meantime, three other visitors have spent time at PUSS, helping with English teaching, music, games and so on.

Courtney Musser Teaching at Blackboard
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Courtney Musser Teaching at Blackboard

Courtney Musser was there in November and December. She worked for several years in the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague and will now join the foreign service of the United States. PUSS was an interesting interlude for her between high places. She sent us this message: "I recently spent a couple of weeks at PUSS as a teacher/volunteer and I was delighted when Malcolm asked me to write something for the newsletter. On arrival at the school, I was struck by how simple the childrens' lives are - they have few, if any, material possessions, and are selfsufficient in ways that would be unimaginable for children of a comparable age in the West. From a young age, they wash and dress themselves, their clothes and plates and keep their rooms tidy.

When the main school well runs dry, as it did on several days, despite the heavy rains that had fallen during the monsoon (students at the local management school are raising money to bore a new well; the 'Friends' may have to chip in if their efforts are insufficient) they collect water from the deeper well at the other end of the school .

I have an enduring image of the smaller children, often helped by the older ones, hauling great buckets down the road. And yet, in terms of their day to day pre-occupations and delights, there is little to distinguish these children from any others. They love to play, form strong friendships, get into scrapes, laugh with and at one another, cause mischief, dance and sing at every opportunity.

The nearly 340 girls who live in the hostel (along with the 20 or so boys) represent as many characters, abilities, dreams and difficulties as you would expect. That they are able to flourish in this way is a testament to the ongoing commitment of the PUSS staff, teachers and its many supporters.

So many memories...

I have so many memories of my time at PUSS - the peace and beauty of evening prayers (I'm ashamed to say I never made it to the morning ones at 5.30 am!), the camaraderie among the children, their energy, their delight at receiving some special attention, their enthusiasm to learn (and their skill in the English language), their beautiful songs and graceful dances (including several enthusiastic renditions of Scottish dancing - well done Alex!), the collective, joyful cry of 'Aunteeeee' as Eva Maria, with whom I was fortunate enough to share my time, and I would walk through the hostel.

To visit PUSS is to witness something extraordinary - a community that would never have existed had it not been for Kadambini's vision and dedication, which has now been taken up by the incomparable Kuku, and the generosity of its contributors.

Having been privileged to become a part of the children's lives, and having learned, at the children’s' insistence, a clutch of key Oriya words (petu, or 'fat belly' amongst them!), I am determined to maintain my connection to PUSS and support the children in whatever way I can."

Alex Davies & Sinead Wilkie Visit

Alex Davies spent a few weeks at PUSS in 2007. Last month she went again, this time with her friend Sinead Wilkie.

They are 18 and 17 years old; their letters speak for themselves: Alex wrote to us on her way home: "Once again I am sitting on the plane from Bhubaneswar with tears in my eyes after saying goodbye to all my wonderful friends at PUSS. This was my second visit and sadly this time I could only stay for two weeks. Before I arrived I found it hard to imagine PUSS without Kadambini and Patra but Kuku is doing a fantastic job at continuing their amazing work.

They are both obviously still very much on everyone's minds but I was very glad to see how happy the children were. Christmas and New Year at PUSS was lovely and I felt I was truly amongst family - and Santa (a padded and bearded Munda tribesman) even put in an appearance!

I was very pleased to see that the girls had remembered the Scottish dances I taught them last time and they were equally pleased to see that I remembered the Oriya that they taught me.

The four toddlers have moved into their new home – the Kadambini-Bhagaban Shishu Gruha (Children's home) - a fantastic new development for PUSS. I look forward to meeting the new babies that this will allow PUSS to care for next time I visit.

PUSS is starting 2009 with a positive outlook and with the help of their supporters I know they will leave the sorrows of 2008 behind and work towards a brighter future for all the children in their care. I wish them the best of luck."

And Sinead wrote: When my friend Alex suggested that I might travel with her to India for Christmas and New Year I jumped at the chance. I thought it would give me a chance to see a different culture and would be a good experience for me. In the first week we had various little adventures traveling around northern India.

However, the real adventure began when we arrived at Bhubaneswar airport. We were greeted by a group of very excited girls who all brought flowers for us. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of this gesture, especially as these girls had never met me before. Little did I know just how kind the girls and the staff at PUSS are.

Throughout the two weeks I spent at PUSS I was made to feel like one of the family and everyone did everything in their power to help us. Kuku and her husband Bapi welcomed me into their home with wonderful hospitality. Kuku is an amazing lady who works extremely hard for PUSS and never thinks of herself. I am in awe of her strength as it seems that she has done a great job in keeping together the lively spirit of PUSS in a year that was so difficult for both the school and herself personally.

Kuku will obviously continue to bring the school to ever greater heights. Nevertheless, she is only one person and although she does an amazing job there will always be many difficult problems and the school needs as much support as she can get. Kuku is doing her best to deal with the present water problem, for instance, but it is one more thing she has to cope with. I thank the people at PUSS immensely for their kindness and hospitality and I hope that there is more I can do to help them in the future."

Silver Jubilee in 2009

Uschi and I plan to visit PUSS again at the end of January, Kadambini actually started PUSS in January 1984, as a small day school for a dozen "untouchable" children who would otherwise have received no education.

January 31st 2009 is thus the silver jubilee of PUSS; we are going to attend the celebrations, to sit in on a PUSS management committee board meeting as invited observers, and generally to enjoy being part of a wonderful institution.

We are all too aware that times are hard, not only in Orissa but even for those of us who are so very much more fortunate. You have responded very generously to the need for more funds to cover the increasing costs of basic commodities in India, to support the new baby home and to cover all the other expenses. Please keep it up.

FAQ - How Can I Bequest to PUSS

Finally, not to end on a gloomy note, several supporters have told us that they would like to leave something to PUSS in their wills.

My own solicitor proposed the following: I give to the Friends of the Children of Orissa Registered Charity number 1074935 care of The Old Farm House, 37 Filgrave, Buckinghamshire, MK169ET (the sum of in words and figures) for the benefit of Palli Unnayan Seva Samiti of PO Naharkanta District Khurda Orissa India Society Registration number 105020030 or in the event that my trustees shall be satisfied that such registered charity is no longer active in the alleviation of poverty then to such other charity as may be actively involved in Orissa in India in pursuing those purposes as my trustees shall think fit. You may of course prefer to take your own solicitor's advice.

A bequest of this kind can apparently be added to an existing will as a codicil or can be included in a new will. And, of course, the Chancellor will knock the value of any such bequest off your estate when he figures out how much death duty you (or your heirs) owe him! On this cheerful note, do have a happy new year, and many thanks for what you do.

Malcolm Harper

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