Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.
It is always good when friends go to Orissa to see for themselves what they are supporting, and it is wonderful when they share their experiences. Bill and Michele Voss from the United States visited the PUSS school, and the SOCH team at Bhubaneswar railway station. This is what Michele wrote:
November 26, 2012
Hello Friends of the Children of Orissa!
I am writing to you from home in Alton, New Hampshire, USA. I am Michele Voss and I am writing on behalf of myself and my husband, Bill. Or, since our visit to PUSS IN October 2012, perhaps I should introduce us as "William Uncle" and "Michele Aunty." These were the names given us on our arrival. We were honoured and humbled by the warm welcome we received.
We first heard about PUSS in June 2011. Malcolm had come to Boston for his 50th class reunion from Harvard Business School, where he and Bill were classmates. At the reunion Malcolm made a spirited and loving presentation about Friends of the Children of Orissa, which he and his wife established in 1992 to support PUSS.
He showed us pictures of the smiling girls on a trip to the Zoo in Bhubaneswar, and hard at work with PUSS teachers. We saw a picture of little Bulari, and we heard about your commitment to Friends of the Children of Orissa. We were hooked!!
On October 30, after lots of correspondence with Malcolm and Kuku, we fulfilled our dream of coming to the school. We were greeted by the entire PUSS family. The sight of the younger students bursting with the excitement of it all, the older girls standing with quiet elegance in their school dresses, the warm handshakes from the teachers and the bouquets made us feel like royalty and showed us the energy and joy of PUSS.
Kuku began the daily assembly. There was an amazing welcome sign made by Sumitra Lugun, one of the PUSS girls, and William Uncle and Michele Aunty were formally introduced to the entire staff and to each class. And then we all joined in learning a greeting song. My, oh my, what incredible voices those girls have! I am a retired music teacher and I was in for a spectacularly creative musical experience.
After the assembly students began their classes. Kuku and Basundara, the Head Mistress, had planned for each class to share in the music lessons. They and the older girls helped with communication and organizing the music; it included a North American circle game, Old King Glory of the Mountain, and an African American line dance, Amasee.
The music I chose was inspired by what we had heard about the young women from Britain and Scotland, including Alex and Vicky, who had visited PUSS and taught the children Scottish reels. All the PUSS community was so excited about those reels and eager to learn more dances. So learn we did. Amasee is the push together of the words "I must see." Take your partner down the line. Amasee, I Must See! Swing your partner, swing again. Amasee, I Must See! It is a line dance where partners face one another, creating lines of 12-14 partners. Up and down the line in sideways gallops, swinging your partner at "the top" of the line; what fun!!
It was joyful chaos as we organized the children to dance in small groups. It was fun to watch the teachers and older girls coaching the shyer ones to take their turns "down the line" and restraining the more exuberant personalities from dancing right out of the campus. Kuku and Basundara interpreted and helped to organise all the movement, and William Uncle helped with organizing, too, when he was not besieged by the little ones.
On the next day we went to Nandankanan Zoo and had a picnic. We will never understand how all nine busloads, mostly children, made it to the zoo, through the zoo, back on the buses, to their picnic, and then home to PUSS with all present and correct! We don't know how it happened but it did, with smiles and more smiles.
That evening, Kuku, her daughter, Lori, and five of the older girls who are at college came to visit us at our hotel. They brought a beautiful hand-decorated thank you card made by one of the award winning art students at PUSS, and they gave us gifts made in the school workshop: cloth covered files and house decorations with elephants, horses, birds and fish dangling on wooden chains. And they all seven came in one auto-rickshaw. Just as we began our journey, we ended it: honoured and humbled.
PUSS is a remarkable place. There is such happiness in the midst of so many challenging stories. There are lives lived with courage, dignity, and joy despite hard circumstances. There are children of all ages growing and thriving because of the determination of PUSS staff under Kuku's tireless leadership. There is such love.
Bill and I look forward to continuing our support of this wonderful work. We hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to visit PUSS again to dance, sing, and share in the amazing PUSS family. Amasee! Amasee!
Malcolm also told us about SOCH when we were preparing our trip, the new partner organization whose acronym stands for 'Society for Children' and which helps children who are found at Bhubaneswar railway station. Malcolm asked if he could give our cell number to Manoj Kumar, SOCH's founder, so that he could contact us; he called within hours of our arrival. We invited him to dinner to hear about SOCH.
Manoj shared his lifelong passion for helping others. He explained what SOCH had done since it started in July, 2012 and we were swept away by his dignity and deep commitment to social justice. At the age of 27, when so many young people are still finding their way, this young man has already made a difference in the lives of many children and their families. We knew Friends of the Children of Orissa had decided to support his work because of their confidence in his experience, and we agreed to meet Manoj later in the week.
When we arrived, Manoj escorted us into a small, tidy courtyard. The bustle of Bhubaneswar's crowded streets only a block away receded and we stepped into SOCH's office, a tiny cubicle with two sleeping mats, a computer and all SOCH's records. A 14 year old boy sitting on one of the mats was being interviewed by a volunteer. Manoj showed us the detailed and carefully organised forms used to record information about every child.
We then walked to the nearby railway station to meet three of SOCH's volunteers-two young women and one young man. As we walked from one platform to another the young women looked at one another and quietly spoke to Manoj. He responded in a murmur and casually walked on. The girls stayed behind and started talking to a boy of perhaps ten years of age. The entire encounter was so low key one barely realized that these two young women were perhaps saving the boy's life. Manoj explained to us that the children are frightened and bewildered and must be approached very gently or they will run away.
The boy revealed that he was indeed a runaway and he agreed to return to the SOCH office with the two volunteers. Off they went. We found later that he had run away from home in a nearby town after a disagreement at school and had jumped on a train. The SOCH staff managed to contact his family; they came to Bhubaneswar, and after a tearful reunion and some counselling they took him home. SOCH followed up the case after some time, and found that all was well. After witnessing SOCH at work, I cannot adequately express how grateful I felt on behalf of these children.
From Malcolm Harper
Thank you, very much, Michele and Bill. I was in Orissa myself early in December and the staff and the children were full of enthusiasm about their music sessions and the visit to the zoo.
It was also good to know that all the teachers have passed their interim test in spoken English; we are trying to improve the children's English, and the first thing is to help the staff to speak more fluently; we have identified an excellent course in Bhubaneswar and they are all taking classes every week. As with the children, the main issue is lack of confidence, but it is getting better.
Improved Water Supply
At a more mundane level, the water supply is also a continuing problem, with the falling ground water levels and increased pollution, and it was very good to see that the new pump and water purification plant is working well. It was generously sponsored by Meetings Industry Meeting Needs, the charity of the meetings and events industry, through the good offices of David Hackett, whose daughter Jasmine spent some time at PUSS a few years ago.
I also spent time with the SOCH team at the railway station and in their little shelter nearby. When I was there they rescued their one hundredth child. I spent some time with number 102; a bright and cheerful eleven year old called Hussain. He had run away from home in Dhaka in Bangladesh because of some family problem, jumped on a train, somehow crossed the frontier into India, was picked up by a trafficker on Calcutta station, taken a thousand miles down south to work as a slave in a workshop, escaped, jumped on another train back up North, was kicked off the train in Bhubaneswar, and picked up on the platform by SOCH's out-reach staff. After getting his confidence (and letting him have a good wash and a square meal) they managed to trace his uncle, and he has been taken back to his family.
I shall be visiting Orissa again at the end of February; Kuku and her colleagues as well as the children are always happy to see visitors, so please go to see them if you are anywhere near that part of the world; and, as ever, if you know any resilient and committed young women who want to help out there for a few weeks or months, please let us know. One of my grand-daughters from Perth plans to go in August, thus maintaining the Scottish tradition which has been established by Alex, Vicky and others. We'll know how influential they have been when the children start to speak English with a strong Scottish accent.
Back home in England we continue our efforts to raise the funds that are needed to keep the good work going for the children in Orissa. Mayya Pollard has very competently taken over the position of Hon. Treasurer from John Fielding, but John has agreed to remain on our committee so that we can continue to benefit from his wise counsel.Finally, we hope we shall see you at our annual recital here in Filgrave. Make a note of the date: Friday 14 June 2013.
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