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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.

NEWSLETTER—October 2016

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News From PUSS

Mary and Kuku give up their seats to bring back four giant sacks of donated flour

Mary and Kuku give up their seats to bring back four giant sacks of donated flour

Our last message was about the 'Brexit' effect on our finances. Regardless of your views on whether the United Kingdom should leave or remain in the European Union, the immediate result of the decision in June was that the value of the pound sterling fell dramatically against the Indian rupee, and we had make a big increase in our remittances to our partners in India in order to maintain the same amount in rupees. Thanks to your generosity, the immediate impact has been more or less dealt with, but the problem remains with us.

One good effect has been that we have been forced to look further ahead and to work with PUSS and SOCH to plan for their own long-term future; India is becoming richer, and we must together work towards the day when they do not need money from overseas. This is of course not new, and Manoj and Kuku and their colleagues have been slowly increasing the amount they can raise from local donors, sales of handicrafts, government grants and elsewhere.

Phoebe Nobes from Marlborough, and Mary Harper and Kate Walker from Perth have recently spent time at PUSS, and they have been helping to raise local support as well as in the classrooms. Mary and Kuku had to give up their seats in the McFarlane family van so that they could bring back four giant sacks of flour which a local milling company had generously donated.

Phoebe Nobes writes about her visit to PUSS

Phoebe Nobes with some of her new friends

Phoebe Nobes with some of her new friends

This was my first time in Asia. The first thing about India that struck me was how colourful the clothing, houses and vehicles were. It was a change from the brick and grey in England, it made everything cheerful.

Odisha (formally Orissa) is India's poorest state. This was clear as we drove from Bhubaneswar Airport. Stray dogs were everywhere, diseased and broken. The streets were dirty and there was lots of litter. Cows also roamed the roads, they were treated better than the dogs and often lay in the middle of the traffic. There were also lots of monkeys, some just outside the school. It was like a private zoo, and was lovely to see them so free.

PUSS is about thirty minutes from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha. Mary and Kate from Scotland were at PUSS when I was there; Mary, Malcolm Harper's granddaughter had been there three years ago when she was my age, and it was a great help to have her there. And Kuku, the leader of PUSS, is an incredible, inspiring person. She has dedicated her life to help poor children, and I always felt safe because she was there.

I taught classes two to five, mainly seven to ten year olds, but some of them had only started school very late; one was twelve and another was fourteen. The government syllabus is about writing and not speaking or understanding. The children could copy what I wrote on the blackboard, but they struggled to understand what they had written. I tried to make it more understandable, by using pictures and actions. Whenever they wanted to write on the blackboard, they called "Me Sister!", I tried to change this to "Can I write?"

Jack and the Beanstalk pictures

Jack and the Beanstalk pictures

I also read some children's stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, The Gruffalo and Dr Seuss. I taught Class 2 a butterfly song and everyone wanted to colour in butterflies so we made around 200 and put them on the classroom walls. Class 3 made a beanstalk by writing the days of the week on the leaves. Class 4 drew wonderful storyboards about The Three Little Pigs, and Class 5 made a story board from one of the prescribed books.

I helped with computer classes. They don't have access to the internet, but they learn how to draw pictures in 'Paint' and to write in 'Word'. This class was mainly textbook based and it would be better if they could access the internet. That might not be a good thing in other ways, however.

We also ran seminars for the 'college girls' who live at PUSS and study subjects such as engineering at nearby colleges. We held mock interviews, and asked them to have conversations and to talk about their hobbies, the environment and their daily routine. It was amazing to see their progress during the four weeks I was there. They must learn to speak and understand in English as most job interviews are conducted in English.

Face painting

Face painting

Every Friday afternoon there was a yoga class, which I looked forward to as I learned yoga at Marlborough College, but they were all much more flexible than me! On Saturdays they had extracurricular classes in music, drawing, karate and modern and Odisha dancing, and many of the children are incredibly talented. The girls loved to redo my hair, and they gave me a complete makeover, right before a massive dance party for one of the many festivals. Some of them are amazing dancers, and we managed to get hold of some face paint and for the party we had the last weekend I was there.

We also visited the other organisation which Friends of the Children of Orissa supports, SOCH, which rescues children from railway stations. It is the first charity of its kind in Odisha, and has rescued over 2000 children since 2012. We met some of their counsellors and saw their work with homeless children who can be found travelling the trains or begging in the stations. SOCH gives them temporary shelter, food and clothes and aims to reunite children with their families. Four children who are the daughters of prostitutes in a nearby slum joined PUSS when I was there. They quickly made friends and became part of the PUSS community. Goody, a little girl about 5 years old, was one of them. She used to live with her father who locked her in their one room home for most of the day. She has TB and when she arrived she had a big abscess on her neck, full of pus. When she arrived at PUSS she was immediately taken to hospital where she was operated on, without any pain anaesthesia. It was a very traumatic experience for a young girl, and she unfortunately associated it with coming to PUSS, but with time, I think she will understand. She often missed her father, which was sad because he treated her so poorly.

Prity is 18 and has spent most of her life at PUSS. She left to go to college, but then she met a boy and got married and now has a baby daughter. She lives in a slum with her husband's family, where she takes care of her baby and acts as the family's cook and cleaner. She wants to go to college, and Kuku and I visited her to try to convince her in-laws to allow her to continue her education. Kuku had a long talk with them in their one-room hut which accommodates eight people! We managed to persuade Prity to come back to PUSS with her baby, but her husband and his family were not happy about it. Even though the couple were very much in love, the husband was still more devoted to his family. He may leave her and marry someone else, but it would be unthinkable for her to leave him.

Apart from teaching, we also helped in the office. PUSS have several counsellors who talk to the children and then type up the reports in English. We helped with correcting their grammar. When Kuku had to write to the local government about things like the children's status, or a new sewage connection, we helped to correct her English, and we helped her to write an application for an award for child care institutions, which PUSS won.

The Mayor of Bhubaneswar is very progressive, and is a good friend of PUSS. He has done many things to clean up the city, such as stopping cars from using the main shopping area, and setting up proper stalls for vendors. We met him to talk about the sewage problem. There is no public drain near PUSS, and their overflow sewage flows on to a neighbour's land, and he has decided to build a house there. The overflow now goes on to the playground in the heavy monsoon. We told the mayor about it, and he promised that a public drain would be installed next month, and that he would arrange a temporary drain in the meantime I have so many happy memories from working and living with these children. It was an incredible experience, and I will treasure it forever.

College girls' evening seminar

College girls' evening seminar

Kate Walker

Kate Walker was also volunteering at PUSS at the same time as Phoebe Nobes. She sent us this short note about her visit.

I heard about PUSS from Mary Harper, a school friend of mine. When she told me that she was planning to return to PUSS this summer I asked if I could join her. I am so grateful to have shared Mary's experience at PUSS this time, spending five weeks there teaching English and music at the school. I have no teaching experience, so I was quite daunted at the prospect of standing in front of a very full classroom. But the children were so receptive and eager to learn that I soon gained confidence. The official syllabus is largely focussed on the improvement of written English, so I concentrated on building the students' conversational English skills through enjoyable practical activities. I also spent many happy evenings just chatting to the girls in their dormitories.

Outside the classroom, I took part in some of the children's extra-curricular activities. As a music student, I was very interested to go to their Saturday morning song class, and also learned some self-defence techniques at karate class. The children enjoyed laughing at how ridiculously inflexible I was at their weekly yoga class. I think I danced more during my stay at PUSS than in the rest of my life combined, I was even taught a little dancing by a 'local hero' on the TV dance show 'Dance Odisha Dance' which some of the very talented students from PUSS auditioned for a surreal but memorable day. I celebrated my 21st birthday during my stay in true PUSS style. The children loved giving me a complete makeover and dressed me in a sari before a crazy dance party! It is so great that the children are encouraged to have interests outside of schoolwork and to pursue their own passions.

With so many fun activities it was easy to forget how essential the care given to children at PUSS really is. Reminders of this were in no short supply. Gina and her little brother Bhabani who arrived at PUSS during the final week of my visit. Gina is only 8 or 9 years old, but she seemed to be used to looking after her little brother, who was 3 or 4 years old, entirely on her own. Due to malnourishment, Bhabani is almost totally blind and also cannot walk or talk.

PUSS will not only provide them with food and shelter, but Bhabani's special health requirements will also be looked after, with trips to the hospital and an operation on his eyes scheduled for some time in the next few weeks. In addition to this, at PUSS Gina will hopefully be able to enjoy some time being the child that she is, without the responsibility of caring for her little brother. She is a remarkably cheerful little girl, and we had lots of fun playing together in the garden and reading some storybooks in the few days before I left PUSS.

I am so thankful for the incredibly warm welcome I received into the PUSS family; the work done by Kuku and her team is truly inspirational. There is never a quiet moment at PUSS, and Kuku devotes every ounce of her efforts to making PUSS a place of safety, protection and education for the children who need it most. She is so forward thinking and innovative, and has many aspirations for the future of the organisation. I look forward to being a part of the progression of this special place of warmth and hope.

Mary Harper's second visit to PUSS

I first visited PUSS 3 years ago when I was 17. My first trip was amazing, but I was a bit young and feeble; thankfully Kuku took me under her wing and all the children helped to ensure that I had a wonderful time. Perhaps because I was so young on my first visit I feel incredibly close to them and they are genuinely like a second family to me. I think they were happy to have me back, despite the fact everyone was cross that I had cut my hair a lot shorter since my last visit. PUSS managed to get even more under my skin this time. I was much less homesick and was also not so ill, so I was able to throw myself in from the start, teaching, playing and generally helping Kuku out in every way I could.

Teaching at PUSS is really rewarding. The children are keen to learn and it is easy to have a lot of fun in a lesson. I tried to use the current syllabus, but to make it more interactive and enjoyable. I think the teachers also enjoyed what I was doing; with the right guidance these hard working children will go on to succeed and grow into confident and competent adults who can continue their education, as some of the older girls are already doing, and will then get good jobs and generally enjoy their lives the way they deserve to. Parisar Asha are working to make the teaching more modern and interactive and I really hope that on my next visit I will see the benefits of this training for the teachers.

I was also quite involved in the administrative side of PUSS, and I went with Kuku to several meetings. She is working very hard to raise more local funding so that PUSS can get more Indian support. I was very lucky to be there when Kuku received an award from the Major of Bhubaneswar; in a small way this recognised the incredible work she does for vulnerable children and society in general. Nothing I can say can do justice to her unremitting commitment and hard work. The rest of the staff at PUSS also do a great job, they, and all their friends and supporters deserve a huge thank you.

It would take a whole book to tell all the individual stories. It was wonderful to work with two girls who were shy and tearful when they joined PUSS three years ago. Now they are confident and popular members of the school. I have been able to see something of the places where they have come from, and it is wonderful to see how much difference it makes, in the classroom and outside. I will be back at PUSS as soon as I can.

News from SOCH

In the meantime, all goes well with the child rescue operations at SOCH. The three railway platform teams rescued a total of 99 children during September, which brings the total to well over two thousand children since they started. About 90% of the 'hardcore' children who attended the one month camp earlier this year and were re united with their families have remained with them.

SOCH was awarded a prize by an all-India institution which has been set up to link effective charitable institutions to the attention of corporate businesses, which are required by a new regulation to set aside two per cent of their profits for so-called 'Corporate Social Responsibility' or CSR activities. Manoj Kumar, the founder and leader of SOCH, has successfully delegated the day-to-day management of each of the platform rescued teams. He is working hard to identify local sources of support for SOCH, and also to find a suitable location for a second one month camp.

All this is only possible because of the support we get from all of you, wherever you are. Bill and Michele Voss will be visiting PUSS and SOCH again in October, and our friends from Hat Trick plan to go again in December. Money is needed, but so is friendship and personal contact, so if any of you want to see for themselves the good work they are supporting, or if you know of potential volunteers who might want to contribute and learn as Mary, Kate and Phoebe have described, please let us know.

Malcolm Harper, Chairman, Friends of the Children of Orissa.
Filgrave, May 2016

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

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