Friends Of The Children Of Orissa: help support and educate a child.

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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.


By Malcolm Harper

Annual General Meeting

The Old Farmhouse, Filgrave, 7 p.m. on 26th April 2007, followed by drinks and a small buffet at 8 p.m. to give members a chance to meet informally.

During the first quarter of this year committee member and former honorary treasurer Rodney Newth and his wife Joan, committee member Eva-Maria Elliot, and Yasmin McDonough-Gurner, daughter of long-standing supporters Sharon and David Hackett, were able to visit PUSS.

Below are Rodney's and Yasmin's accounts of their visits. And you will find another date for your diary (our 5th recital and dinner) on the last page.

Vacation? in Orissa February 2006

Joan and I (at our own expense) decided last year that we must make the effort to visit PUSS having been involved with the UK fund raising charity FOCO since it became a registered charity.

Pankaj, Kadambini, Patra, Joan and Eva
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Pankaj, Kadambini, Patra, Joan and Eva

We originally planned to go on a relaxing ten day cruise on the Brahmaputra River on one of the newly rebuilt river cruise vessels and then fly down to Bhubaneshwar for a short visit to PUSS - alas this schedule could not be finalised at a realistic cost (to us) so we looked for an alternative! - TransIndus - Journeys through Asia had an escorted tour arranged through the tribal areas of Orissa that seemed to fit our requirements. We had a couple of nights in Calcutta and then the journey by rail on the Shatabdi Express from Howrah Railway Station, Calcutta) to Bhubaneshwar.

We were met at the station by our local tour representative and driver for the rest of our stay.

The drive to the Trident Hotel brought back memories of my previous trips to India when I worked for Lipton Tea including 5 years at their Karachi company.

The next eight days were spent on a fascinating, tiring, eye-opening, educational and inspiring journey by car round the tribal areas of South Orissa. This is worthy of an article on its own with sights galore and one or two interesting non- scheduled little adventures.

Lunch time at PUSS
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Lunch time at PUSS

Came the great day for our visit to PUSS on Monday 5th February. We had checked that they were still expecting us and arranged a time to arrive. We consulted Malcolm's e-mail giving precise instructions on how to get to the school.

Oh we of little faith - after following instructions we thought we had made a wrong turn - we phoned Patra who sent out a member of staff to guide us the last half mile precisely according to the e-mail!!

We arrived to be greeted by Patra, Kadambini, Pankaj and to our surprise and delight my fellow trustee Eva-Maria Elliott, who was there for more of a working week than a flying visit. After a quick meeting with PUSS management (see photo above) and an update on current statistics (358 boarders including 40 boys and 200 local fee- paying day pupils including 20 boys) we had a quick tour of the school - as it was lunch time it was great to see the girls lining up for their mid day meal.

Then they had their midday siesta when boarders relax in their dormitories. As we walked round they were happy to be photographed - what a contrast to the attitude (and indeed the law) that would make taking similar picture in Europe virtually impossible.

The dormitories contain two tier metal-framed bunks and tin trunks or cupboards for the girls' personal possessions. They have a thin mattress to soften the steel base to each bunk - we were assured that this would make the bunks far more comfortable than the normal local housing in their villages.

Land that they are buying

Patra and Kadambini were keen to show us the land that they are buying, initially to farm for the school and eventually to provide an alternative site should they need to re-locate the school to accommodate their ever-growing enterprise.

Patra has considerable knowledge and experience of managing land - he wants to diversify away from the traditional three-crop pattern of farming. His intention is to move gradually to a self-sustaining small-holding including poultry and other livestock (will provide manure as well as fresh eggs and meat) and more importantly fresh vegetables and fruit more or less year round. There is a borehole on the site and an adequate water supply for the land already purchased or about to be purchased.

They plan to put up a small house so that there is always someone on site for security and day-to-day running of the farm. Again we took photos of the land and the traditional crops being grown. To English eyes the land looks parched and dry - but in local conditions it is prime agricultural land. It was a pleasure to hand over FOCO's cheque for £5000 which will fund the balance of the land cost.

Lunch time at PUSS
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Part of the new plot of land

Back to PUSS for our lunch. Alas both Joan and I were by that time beginning to suffer the effects of the early morning starts and some incredibly hard hotel beds on our tour so were not really able to do justice to the lunch that Kadambini had very kindly arranged to be brought in from a local restaurant for us. Eva proved to be far better acclimatised and made up for our lack of appetite.

After lunch we saw the new craft display room, neither Eva nor Joan could resist making a number of purchases - the range and quality of their products is truly remarkable.

I had brought with me a video tape featuring some of our llamas - the children were assembled for a brief talk and a viewing of these strange animals and their odd owners - after the talk it was time to turn on the generator and connect up the borrowed VCR to their television. The VCR would not communicate to the TV - so a little more chat with the children - Patra interpreting for me. Eventually a replacement VCR arrived. We by then had to leave but what impressed us was the politeness and good behaviour of the girls as they waited for over an hour to see a ten minute video clip.

To summarise our short visit to PUSS -

  • We should have made the visit five years ago and repeated the experience at least twice.
  • The school is a true miracle and the local governors and trustees and teachers at PUSS have really done justice to Kadambini's dream of providing a school and an all round education for girls from the poorest of poor backgrounds who otherwise may well have had little or no schooling.
  • A little help from the FOCO provides a large reward for the pupils and staff at PUSS.

Rodney Newth, FOCO trustee, and Joan his long-suffering wife!!

Rodney has omitted one important thing from this note about his trip to Orissa. He has been our Hon. Treasurer since the start of Friends of the Children of Orissa, and he has decided to stand down. Rodney is a Chartered Accountant, but he is also a generous and wonderful person who understands people who are not accountants. He has kept the books meticulously, he makes sure that we do the right things, and stops us going off the rails. He does this not just for its own sake, but in order to help the Charity to achieve its objectives, and it is great that he has at last been able to see the fruits of his hard work at PUSS for himself. The children, and all the Friends, can never thank him enough for all he has done.

We are very fortunate indeed that John Fielding has taken over from Rodney. John taught accounting at Cranfield University for many years, and was also Treasurer of the Cranfield Trust. He has been a regular supporter of FoCO from its earliest days, he is also a chartered accountant, as well as having a doctorate, and he has already proved his worth by completing the 2006 accounts in record time. We hope that he will also be able to visit Orissa in the not too distant future.

Yasmin - a Volunteers story

Yasmin was able to spend more time with the children. Here is her story:

Hi, my name is Yasmin and I am sixteen. Me writing this newsletter is a result of me reading the one Malcolm sent in November.

Having read about his trip to PUSS I asked how could I help. My parents spoke to Malcolm; we set up a meeting; Malcolm and Uschi explained the harsh reality of the orphanage; but I was determined. I wanted to go and help teach English; so I flew to Bhubaneswar. Below are some of the recollections of my visit.

Arrival -

Total culture shock. The heat and the general life style on the road to the orphanage gave me an insight to what was ahead.

Yasmin - UK Volunteer at PUSS
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Yasmin - UK Volunteer at PUSS

Arriving was surreal. After settling in, I went for a wander around the orphanage and all the kids were bemused by me. They all stared at me, watching my every movement; it's kind of like what we would do if a celebrity walked into the room. The children were hesitant to interact at first but once I brought out a football and started to play they were eager to join in; 10 minutes later there was a big group of us playing a game. Our friendship had started.

My first night in the orphanage was uncomfortable and the conditions challenging but my mum had traveled with me so that helped me settle. Next day, when she left, I realised that I was on my own in such a different country with a lot of people whom I had only met the previous day. But the kids are so friendly and always wanted to talk (even though their English is limited) and the adults who were around were also kind and very interested in me so it helped me settle in and I started to really enjoy being there.

Daily Life

The children enjoying a class with Yasmin
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The children enjoying a class with Yasmin

Teaching English was a lot of fun. My first lesson was quite awkward and I did not really know what to do or how much the children understood but after a few lessons and settling in to the 'job' it became easier. The kids started to get used to my teaching and they responded to me and my lessons more. I was astonished how obedient the children are - not at all like my experience in the UK.

In class they typically sit and write without talking asking questions or even interacting with the teacher. Being able to liven up their lessons and getting them to talk and ask questions was a great accomplishment for me and I really enjoyed seeing them come alive as individuals.

Kadambini runs the show and has more than 350 kids to look after. She has done an amazing and excellent job. Despite the kids living in an orphanage, having to put up with six days of school a week and living in what we would class as poverty they are all very happy. The school is ranked very highly within the area thanks to the commitment of the teachers to deliver a good education and how the school is run.

Whilst I was there the oldest kids, year 10, had their examinations and were constantly studying. They asked me for help with English work and I was only too glad to do so. In the evenings I would sit in their rooms and go over some of their work, correcting it and doing my best to answer any questions they had. After Year 10s the rest of the school had their examinations so it was an important time of the school year. As in England results are important to both the children and the school so there is a lot of pressure.

My Low Point

One evening I walked back into my room ready for bed. I was very tired and looking forward to a good sleep. As I open the door I hear something and as I enter I am eye to eye with the biggest, ugliest rat I have ever seen.

It runs across the floor and into a hole in the wall whilst I, in true girl style, scream, start throwing my arms about and send everything within arms length flying all over the room! First I decided I was leaving (nice and dramatic!), and I was throwing clothes into my suitcase, eyes never leaving the rat hole. Then I realise the hole is open so the rat can get back out; it's the last thing I want!! Grabbing anything - shoes, bed covers, bags, books - I build a wall so the rat is trapped.

Twenty minutes later after being reassured the rat can't get out, it can't climb and it won't eat me, I go to sleep.

The hole got cemented over a couple of days later.

My High Point

Happy children
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Happy children

At the end of my stay Patra and Kuku who are members of the team at the orphanage helped me to organise a feast. It was amazing. We had chicken, salad, rice, dhal, bread, ice cream and sweets. The kids were so excited and happy to have such a sumptuous meal. It was really great to be able to make this possible and see all of the kids smiling just because their dinner had included some meat - a rare treat!

These are just some of the incredible experiences I had on my trip to India at the PUSS orphanage. It was life-changing for me and I hope I had a positive impact on their community. Seriously, if you have the chance, go, you will never do anything like this again. It is an amazing experience and an astonishing project. Even with the rat incident I do not regret a minute of my month in the orphanage.

I hope if you read this I have inspired you to do your part to help whether that is visiting, like I did, or giving money to help out. The charity houses, feeds, clothes and educates 360 children who would have no standard of life without the commitment of Kadambini, the helpers and the teachers at PUSS. I hope you will continue to support their good work. I am delighted that I could have the opportunity.

Yasmin McDonough-Gurner


Extremely generous donations recieved

Since our last newsletter we have received a number of extremely generous donations. In our next issue we shall try to tell you some of the activities which our supporters have undertaken in order to raise money for the children of Orissa. For now we want to thank all of you for everything you do!

Dates for your Diary

29 June 2007
Recital and Dinner in aid of Friends of the Children of Orissa at the Old Farmhouse.
Programme to be announced soon.

© Friends of the Children of Orissa