Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.
Treasurer Dr. John Fielding visited PUSS
Our indefatigable and indispensable Hon. Treasurer Dr. John Fielding visited PUSS in Orissa in November. This is what he found. Thank you John, and please, everyone, heed his call for continued support, and mark Friday June 17th in your diary, for our annual charity recital.
Smiling happy children, their bare feet scampering across the playground, brilliant clothing dazzling on the washing line as the balmy breeze soothes the heat of the day. A pigeon flutters it wings across my window, cows lazily meander their way across the road, peace reigns.
The motor rickshaw charges its way through the traffic, a lorry on inside its exhaust belching fumes into the air, the bus in front inches from us, motorcycles weaving in and out, more horns. a cow ambles across the road, the traffic slows, more horns, violent braking.
Road side vendors, everything for sale, fix memory card, sell papaya, mend rickshaw. The construction site, building everywhere, sand, concrete, noise, a lady lifts piles of stones in a basket above her head. Her children 3, 4, 6 who knows, thin dirty, malnourished scamper around the site.
The rickshaw moves off the main road, fields, cows, peace. A village, we pass some shacks, filth, dung, dirt. A lady gracefully emerges. Her pink sari, spotless, we swerve around a bend and pull to a halt. She approaches, Kuku, a small bow, her hands clasped together, 'John welcome', children run to me, flowers are thrust in my hands, I am anointed, a little red dot is placed on my head, an honoured guest?
Children seated maybe 100, 200, or 300. Kuku makes a short speech of welcome. I reply thinking quickly. How can I express my feelings? I hand her some modest gifts, Belgian chocolate biscuits and some soap. 'I will give biscuits to older children who do well in exams,' Kuku says. This is Kuku, giving, loving, cherishing.
I had the privilege of visiting the school for two weeks in November last year *. There are currently just over 420 children from differing backgrounds. They are all desperately needy. One child's mother, but under what provocation, had murdered her husband and was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Her father dead, now left to scavenge on the streets, a police officer contacts Kuku. Can you look after this girl?
Many of the children at Puss come from the hill tribes. As India rapidly expands, their way of life is under threat. They have for centuries been eking out a simple existence by growing whatever crops they can. Their diet is very poor with a lack of protein. Medical and educational facilities are modest. Poverty, starvation and frequently the loss of a partner forces them to seek whatever work they can in India's rapidly expanding cities, often doing back breaking toil as labourers on construction sites. There is no one to care for the children. A single parent may have no alternative but to lock a 3 and 5 year old in a corrugated iron shed for 12 hours a day or let them run wild on a building site. These are the children that Kuku and Puss saves.
Nandankanan Zoo Trip
On my first day in Orissa the school had its annual outing in 10 busses to the Nandankanan zoo a few miles outside Bhubaneswar. This was followed by a picnic where we all had a delicious meal of chicken curry followed by fruit. The girls looked spotless in their white dresses.
On the bus to the zoo
*) Trustees pay their own expenses
They were all incredibly well behaved and as if by magic all 400 were safely accounted for and on the busses when it was time to leave.
The next day it was a pleasure to be taken around the school and to see the magnificent new personal computing facilities which were generously donated by Mike Trup, a new Trustee and member of the FoCO committee. I watched the children operate a number of programs such as powerpoint, word and paint. They seemed to have very quickly picked up the use of menus. Hopefully this will help some of them to secure office jobs when they start work. I also saw the new polished stone-topped tables and chairs also donated by Mike Trup. The children now no longer have to eat their meals sitting on the floor and this has led to a great and very welcome reduction in the incidence of scabies.
I taught some classes at the school and met all the teachers and many of the students. I was extremely impressed by the dedication of many of the older students who willingly gave up their annual treat a trip to the zoo to study for exams. Many of them were still studying at ten in the evenings.
PUSS has achieved much in the last 20 years. But much remains to be done. Despite considerable increases in teachers' salaries they are still very low. Teaching facilities are by European standards, primitive. Blackboards are old and very small. There is desperate need for basic items such as maps and globes, work books, simple musical instruments, and basic sports equipment.
Costs Continue to Rise
Costs continue to rise. Food which constitutes about 60% of the school's total costs, increased by 13 % in PUSS's most recent financial year. Kuku discussed with Malcolm and me increases in teachers salaries, which have remained fixed for the last 2 years, to bring them a little closer to market rates.
There have also been considerable increases in the cost of essential medicines for the children's health. The school's 'house mother' who acts as the school's nurse dispenses medicines to the children each day. A doctor, one of the PUSS trustees, visits on a weekly basis, and sick children are taken to the local hospital when necessary.
Until recently the school has received a subsidy from the Indian government for rice, one of its largest expenses. However officials have ceased paying this and as a result I accompanied Kuku on a visit to the Collector, a senior official who arbitrates in such matters. He seemed to rule in favour of the school but it is likely to be some months, many visits and letters to officials before the subsidy is reinstated, if all goes well.
Money has been promised from local sources for a wall round the school and progress is being made in completing the necessary paper work. It is unusual for a child to leave the school but occasionally a homesick girl may wander out, or a local village youth may try to wander in at night. Visits by parents or relations are encouraged but are not always possible because of distance or cost, and many of the girls don't have anyone to visit them. Bulari, the six year old with HIV continues to make progress. But she is very thin and gets tired easily.
It was fascinating to see the school and to observe the enormous achievements of Kadambini and more recently Kuku. I hope I have been able in the above to give just a little idea of just some of the difficulties and challenges which the school and its management faces.
Gift Aid Donations
So I do ask you to give, and to give generously. As the trustees bear all the operating costs of the trust every £ you give goes directly to the children. Even better if you "gift aid" your donation, government tax breaks turn your £1 into £1.25. Higher rate tax payers benefit further as they can also claim back the difference between the higher rate and the basic rate.
My sincere thanks goes out to all those who have so generously donated in the past. Please do consider increasing your donation if you possibly can. Help Kuku to help PUSS to help deprived and destitute children.
John Fielding, January 2011
We are very pleased to accept donations online to our charity through CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation Charities (www.cafonline.org). If you are a UK taxpayer then 28% is automatically added to your donation. For more details, see the Guide and please donate what you can.
© Friends of the Children of Orissa