Malcolm Harper reports
I was able to visit PUSS in October, and again in December, and I shall be there again later this month. I must admit to being quite shameless in my acceptance of invitations to give talks or attend meetings in India, so long as they are accompanied by an air ticket.
Families are contributing
One heartening and rather unexpected development at PUSS is that some of the children's families are contributing to the costs of their children's attendance. Kuku and Kadambini before her did their best to ensure that all the children who were admitted were from more or less destitute families, or from no families at all, but people's circumstances change, even in India, abandoned mothers re-marry, prisoners are released from jail, and desperately poor people become rather less poor.
One legless beggar, for instance, whose wife died long since, has found a new 'pitch' outside a temple in Bhubaneswar. He says he is 'earning' the equivalent of between two and three pounds a day, and he insists on paying five pounds a month towards his daughter's schooling. A mother whose husband had deserted her and was working as a cleaner in someone's house for her keep and about a pound a month, no accompanying children allowed, has got a proper job as a cleaner in an office, earning about thirty pounds a month; she too wants to pay something towards the schooling of her two daughters at PUSS, and is paying five pounds a month for each of them.
About twenty families are now supporting their children in this way. Kuku held a meeting for those whom she judged would be able to pay something, and they were happy to make a contribution. The 'fee' covers under a third of the total cost, and it seemed unlikely that any would be able to pay much more, but 'every little helps' and poor people value their self-respect as much or perhaps more than those who are better-off.
The PUSS school gets good results, and we are working to make them better, and the children are happy and well taken care of. It is inevitable, therefore, that some families will try to 'freeload', and to place children there when they could actually afford to keep them at home and even to pay the very low fees charged by some private day schools. Kuku is determined to continue and indeed to reinforce her efforts to stop this, but it is not always easy, and it is hard to expel a child because her family have misled the school about their ability to pay. Such are the dilemmas of running a school such as PUSS.
Septic tank emptying
On my last visit I was also able to help with a more mundane but more urgent task; septic tank emptying, or as we call it in England, 'poo-lorries'. PUSS needs eight to ten lorries three or four times a year. The city of Bhubaneswar provides this service free to government offices and schools, and for a hefty charge to private homes and businesses; charities such as PUSS fall uneasily between the two, and such 'discretionary' cases are always difficult. Kuku and I spent three or four hours waiting to see the Mayor himself, but we were finally able to make a 'deal' for an eighty per cent discount on the usual fee. In a couple of weeks I shall be able to see for myself how this is working.
By Frances Edwards
Now, yet again, I shall be lazy and allow Frances Edwards, one of our volunteers to share her news from PUSS with you. This was her third visit to PUSS, and she took her friend Ellen along too. Over to Frances:
I was very excited to see old faces again, especially Kuku, her family and the college girls who I had grown so close to on my last visit. We were greeted by all the teachers and pupils at the entrance to the school and we were overwhelmed by the warmth of their reception.
Our arrival coincided with two national holidays so didn't start teaching for a couple of days, and played and chatted with the girls instead. One of the holidays was Children's Day, a national holiday which was started by Jawaharlal Nehru. All children are given a day off school. PUSS had a special assembly where the Deputy Chief Inspector of Police, Kuku, the headmistress, Ellen and I made a speech. A local business had donated some sweets, and the girls performed some beautiful songs. One girl described the history of children's day and why Nehru had established it; this was entirely on her own initiative. Later that day the girls gave a special dance performance in Bhubaneswar as part of the official Children's Day celebrations.
When classes started again, we helped with IT classes during the days and ran English conversation classes in the evening . We were very impressed by many of the students' enthusiasm for learning English, and others found it much harder. We had to remind ourselves that for many of them English is their fourth language: a traditional tribal language, Oriya the state language of Orissa, Hindi the Indian national language, and finally English, and three different scripts as well !
I was again blown away by the happiness of the children, the dedication of the staff and the generosity of the whole organisation. Special thanks to Kuku, who inspires me every time and whom I count as a dear friend. And Housemistress Rada who never ever seems to stop! Her dedication to the children's health, their education and the school's worship and general organisation is simply phenomenal. As we left they gave us a send-off that was as warm and generous as the way they had greeted us, with beautiful cards, gifts and kind words that left us feeling incredibly moved. We would encourage to everyone to keep supporting Friends of the Children of Orissa, to ensure the smooth continuation of the wonderful organisation to further improve what is already there. Kuku has many wonderful plans for improving food, comfort and education and we hope that these plans will be realised before too long.
Thank you Frances,and all the other volunteers. A number, like Frances, have been more than once, and many turn into great ambassadors for Friends of the Children of Orissa, when they return home, as fund raisers and recruiters of new volunteers to follow them.
And thank you, all our supporters in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere! Our loyal long-term supporters are PUSS's bread and butter, or rather rice and dal.
Two fund raising dates for your diaries:
- Eva-Maria Elliott is organising a monster pub quiz and buffet supper on Wednesday 23rd May at 7.30 pm for 8 pm, at the White Horse Inn, 84 Newnham Avenue in Bedford, five pounds a head including the buffet.
- The annual recital at The Old Farm House in Filgrave on Friday 15th June, Philippa Barton on the violin with harpist Caroline Hall, fifty pounds a head including drinks, music and supper.
Please remember too that all the children at PUSS depend on you, and are grateful to you.