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
Visits To The School
I was able to spend two days at PUSS at the end of April, while I was attending a British aid funded conference on 'social inclusion' in Bhubaneswar. The summer weather had truly arrived, the temperature was in the low to medium forties, but I felt that I was doing more for genuine inclusion when I was at PUSS, warm as it was, than when I was in the air-conditioned hotel conference hall in town.
The children and staff are all well, in spite of the weather, apart from a small group who were recovering from measles and were confined to the sickroom upstairs. I heard them happily playing music on the school harmonium when I passed by in the corridor; they were delighted to have their picture taken.
Tribal Conflict Brings New Children
New girls have recently arrived
A number of new girls have recently arrived at PUSS. They have come from Kandhmahal, the inland district of Orissa, 200 kilometers from Bhubaneswar, which has recently been affected by inter-communal conflict between 'tribals' and the majority Hindu population. The tribals are the real 'poorest of the poor' of India, the indigenous people who have for thousands of years been largely excluded from mainstream society. Many of them are Christians, and there have been continuing problems between the two communities since a nun was allegedly murdered last year. The Hindu 'side' are mainly lower caste people who are almost as poor as the tribals, and the disputes have their origin in disputed access to land and other resources. The conflict has been fomented by populist politicians who promise favours to both sides in return for votes.
There have been no further fatalities since earlier last year, but in areas where tribals are in the minority their children are sometimes harassed if they go out to work or to walk the often long distances between their villages and whatever schools they can attend. It is safer for them to be at PUSS, where they can in any case receive a better education than they could in the generally very low quality schools in their own villages. It is not clear whether or when they will be able to return to Kandhmahal, but in the meantime they have fitted very happily into the PUSS community.
Prison Brings New Children
Some new little girls from sex workers' colonies and some more whose parents are in prison will also be joining shortly, thus bringing the numbers up to the maximum capacity of four hundred.
Abandonment Brings New Baby
Kumudini with child
There is also one new baby, Ananya, who was found abandoned as a new born baby in the forest at Nuapara in Western Orissa. She was originally taken in by a local charity but this organisation's main work is with older children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. This was not a suitable environment for the new baby, and its secretary contacted PUSS and asked to hand her over. She is now six months old, and PUSS have named her Khusi, which means 'happy'. Khusi seems very happy indeed, and is particularly fond of Kumudini, the new house-mother for the Kadambini and Patra Memorial Baby Home.
A number of children have left. Some of the migrant tribal labourers who were working on building sites in the city have withdrawn their children and gone home, some of the older girls have moved on to higher studies or vocational training, others to join their families when one has been released from prison, or to work in handicrafts, or, for one or two, at PUSS itself.
Children at the gates
Thanks to a generous donation from the University of Antwerp we have been able to make a modest start with a scholarship fund. We propose to finance two girls for further studies this year, and to commit to funding them for a full three years, so long as they do well. We hope we can increase the numbers and continue to offer similar scholarships in future years, and we have set up a simple but transparent award system through which the successful students will be selected.
Links With a UK and Local Business
We have also been fortunate enough to forge a very promising link with Michael Trup, Managing Director of Interactive Ideas Ltd of Enfield in North London. (www.interactiveideas.com). His company has recently entered into a long-term partnership with a software company in Bhubaneswar, and Mike was looking for a neighbouring charitable institution which both companies could support. He and his Indian partner have already visited PUSS, and they were able to take several of the older girls to the Indian company so that they could see at first hand some of the IT-related jobs to which they could aspire. They have donated some software and other equipment to PUSS, and we are delighted to have this relationship with a local company, and their British associates, which can play a significant part in helping leavers from PUSS to the next stage in their career.
In the meantime the girls who still have some years ahead of them at PUSS all seem to be doing well.
Annual Chamber Music Recital
We are enclosing an invitation for our annual chamber music recital in Filgrave, which will be on Thursday 25th June. We are very grateful to the Adderbury Ensemble for agreeing to play a programme of Haydn and Mozart string quartets for us, and we are looking forward to a pleasant evening of good music, good food and wine, and good company. Please join us, and please let us know as soon as possible how many places you will need.
© Friends of the Children of Orissa