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NEWSLETTER—September 2018

Also available as PDF download

Malcolm Harper reports

I apologise for the long gap between newsletters, a lot has been going on at PUSS and at SOCH.

assembly at PUSS
Assembly at PUSS

PUSS

There have been major developments at PUSS, which are already making a difference to the institution and the children, and which, if all goes well, will be for the ultimate benefit of India’s children. The Government is giving more attention to the welfare of children who have to be taken into care, because they have no families or their families are manifestly incapable of taking care of them properly. Most of the children at PUSS have been sent by a lone parent or other family member, but there are about sixty children who are under the care of Government and who have been sent to PUSS. These children are now receiving more attention from the authorities. This puts an additional burden on Kuku and her colleagues, and requires more staff for regular counselling, but PUSS is very well regarded by Government and has been officially judged to be the best as well as being the largest institution of it’s kind in the District.

breakfast at Puss

Breakfast at PUSS

The PUSS school, which is formally a separate institution known as the Rama Devi Girls High School, has also been sponsored by the Tech Mahindra Foundation, a large multinational IT company with offices everywhere, including even Milton Keynes, but the link was initiated and taken forward at Kuku’s initiative. The Foundation is providing some much-needed financial support, and is strengthening the management and thus relieving some of Kuku’s heavy burden. They are helping with teacher training, building on the work of Parisar Asha whom we have supported for three years, and also using the Montessori approach which was originally introduced to PUSS by Kadambini Bhuyan in the early 1990s.

Kuku has not been well, but is now recovering, and she has also lost the services of her capable assistant Pragya Pathak. Pragya had been helping with accounts and administration and had been rapidly improving her confidence and her English, but she became seriously ill and has had to resign. We wish her well, and fortunately Bapi, Kuku’s husband, and their wonderful daughter Lori, are helping to hold things together, together with the headmistress, her capable deputy and the whole magnificent and hard-working team.

SOCH

SOCH is doing well, and Manoj is coping successfully with ever increasing bureaucracy. The Indian Government, at state and local level as well as nationally, and including the railways which are run by a special ministry, is rightly becoming more involved in the welfare of its people, and this concern is even evident on station platforms, where the two separate railway police forces who are present on every station have to know and approve everything that happens.

first contact
First contact on railway bridge

Fortunately Manoj and his station teams have always made a point of working with all the other staff on the platforms, including both police forces, the porters, the cleaners, the vendors, the engine watering staff, the station master, ticket collectors and so on. These people might easily regard SOCH’s outreach workers as interlopers who are interfering or by implication criticising their work, but Manoj and his colleagues have successfully involved them in their child rescue work. A number of the children whom SOCH rescues were first contacted by railways staff and have then been brought to the SOCH worker. SOCH go out of their way to acknowledge this, as you can see in their newsletters; if you would like to be on their mailing list, please let me know.

Every newsletter has at least one short case study about a child whom SOCH have rescued, along with pictures of the staff at work and of the rescue process. The children’s names are changed and their faces are concealed, but they give a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of Indian children, including those from poor families but also sometimes from middle class backgrounds. SOCH has so far rescued well over 4500 children, and right now they are rescuing about 110 to 120 a month. Most are successfully reunited with their families, and when this is not possible SOCH and the local child welfare offices find safe and good alternatives for them.

Meanwhile, back in England...

We had our musical recital here in Filgrave in July for the 15th year in a row when Fiori Musicali entertained us brilliantly. In August I spent a day at the annual meeting of OSUK, the Odisha Society of the United Kingdom, in Darwen in Lancashire. Some 400 Odiya members and their families were there, it was a splendid display of ‘ikat’ sarees, Odiya music and dancing, and I made a short presentation about our work. A number of the members said they would do their best to visit PUSS and SOCH when they next go ‘home’, and to provide some local support.

visitors at the gate
Visitors at the gate of PUSS!

The committee of Friends of the Children of Orissa has held its regular meetings, where we discuss fund-raising (of course) but also how we can advise and assist PUSS and SOCH to identify and tap local sources of funding and in general further to improve their work and reduce their dependence on us. Some of our supporters know some members of our committee, but I would like to say who they are and acknowledge their hard work, wisdom and assistance. I shall list them in alphabetical order to avoid any suggestion of age or other embarrassments; I shall omit myself, but I do claim to be the oldest, in years if nothing else. Philippa Baylis is from a village near Perth in Scotland, and is a teacher of English as a foreign language at a college in Dundee. She has recently returned from a three month stay at PUSS, which was her third visit; her husband and her daughter joined her while she was there, and she knows more about the school than any of us.

lessons at Puss

Lessons at PUSS

Richard Cook has recently joined the committee. He is a serial entrepreneur and also a magistrate who lives in Tyringham, a mile away from FoCO’s home address in the UK. He has made one short but very productive visit to PUSS and SOCH in March this year.

Uschi Kraus-Harper is our Hon Secretary, a practising homeopath and my wife. She comes from Bremen in Germany, but has lived with and tolerated me for over thirty years. She is really responsible for everything in that she first got to know PUSS in Odisha in 1991 when we were teaching there and has quietly steered the whole endeavour ever since.

Mayya Pollard is our very competent Hon Treasurer. She Lives near Wellingborough, coping faithfully with our various sources, channels and uses of funds, and presents faultless accounts right on time whenever they are required.

Stephen Pollard is Mayya’s husband. He is a retired graphic designer and updates our website, prints our newsletters, posters, leaflets and so on.

Chris Pouncey lives in Chiswick, but was for a time based across the road in Filgrave where he was roped in to donate to FoCO and then to join our committee. He has visited PUSS and SOCH many times and remains a tireless fund raiser as well as a generous long term donor in his own right, and is a dear friend in every respect.

Dave Scott was a school music teacher and lives in Olney, a few miles from Filgrave. He has been a valuable member of our committee for many years, and was responsible for introducing his daughter Lizzie to us and to India.

Lizzie Scott is a General Practitioner who lives in Northampton with her dog Gnasher. She was our first volunteer and spent several weeks at PUSS in the early 1990s. Kadambini Bhuyan, the founder of PUSS, was very ill at the time, and Lizzie may well have saved her life.

Mike Trup used to own and run a software company and now lives in Welwyn Garden City. He had an interest in a software business in Bhubaneswar, which is how he came into contact with us.

Kate Wilson is Director of Operations at Hat Trick and lives in Kilburn in north London with her daughter Beatrice. She has visited PUSS and SOCH, is a loyal friend to us and our colleagues in India and a brilliant manager of her colleagues’ and her company’s generous support for FoCo. Thank you, to all of them and to all our supporters.

Malcolm Harper, Chairman, Friends of the Children of Orissa.
Filgrave, September 2018

c/o Ursula Kraus-Harper (Hon. Secretary)
The Old Farmhouse, Filgrave, Bucks, MK 16 9ET, UK
Telephone: +44(0)1234 711764
Email: u.krausharper@btopenworld.com

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