Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.
Our grand-daughter, Mary Harper, from Perth, in Scotland, spent five weeks at PUSS this summer. She is continuing both the family and the Scottish tradition. She raised a substantial sum of money for Friends of the Children of Orissa before she left, mainly through a 'fun run' at Craigie primary school where she and her three younger sisters studied. She plans herself to be a primary school teacher, and she was able to introduce some new teaching methods in the English and computer lessons; the older girls apparently enjoyed presenting individual seminar sessions at 7.30 in the mornings!
As this was my first visit to Palli Unnayan Seva Samiti (PUSS) I had no idea what to expect. All together the experience was far more intense than I could ever have imagined. PUSS is an amazing place. It really must take something special to make so many children from so many bad places so happy. Because despite every tragic and shocking story I heard about the children's backgrounds, the most overwhelming feeling present was happiness, from the smallest to the biggest child.
I stayed at the school for the entire month of August. During this time I taught classes, visited slums, filled in paperwork, saw the sights and met an astonishingly varied group of people. I feel I can now say I really experienced as much as I possibly could. The work done by those involved with PUSS is inspirational. The workload faced by Kuku is quite unbelievable, as she juggles tasks that five normal people would find exhausting!
From the very beginning I felt really welcome, made to feel part of the massive family of which 'Malcolm Uncle' is the favourite father. I love the children, they are some of the most lovely and adorable people I have ever met! I spent almost every hour after teaching in their rooms, dancing, singing, playing games and having my hair done. I miss so many of the children so much, I became really close with a few of them and it makes me sad to think I will not see them again for such a long time. I also miss the teaching. I want to be a teacher and these pupils were really everything any teacher could wish for. Every lesson was fun and enjoyable while also productive, the children were eager to learn and always up for all the different techniques and games I tried out.
Apart from all this, I also visited slums and the kind of places many of the children had come from. Seeing the condition in which some people live was truly shocking, it was almost unreal like something from TV come to life in front of my eyes. I saw child drug addicts, people living with pigs in rubbish under bridges, tiny rooms where huge families all squashed together to sleep. I am an emotional person, but I swear that many of the things I saw would reduce most people to tears. One of the most shocking things was visiting a prostitute colony, seeing the room, the customers and the girls was surreal, and left me feeling sick to the stomach.
Something positive at least came out of our visit though, as we managed to convince the President of the slum to send some girls to receive a good education with PUSS.
While I was there I got to know the stories of many of the children. Sadly I was often told the true horrors by Kuku, as due to what I guess is shame, the children often lied to me, painting a picture of a happy family life that was completely inaccurate.
One little girl told me about her father the farmer and mother the housewife who lived in a beautiful village and loved her very much. Kuku later told me that her father was dead and her mother had severe mental problems, and was living in pretty much the worst conditions Kuku had ever seen. From what I saw with Kuku, the worst must be unimaginably bad.
Overall it was an incredible experience and I have learned so much that will affect the way I think for years to come. I can only hope I was able to give back a fraction of what PUSS gave me.
Mary also spent some time at the railway station and in the nearby shelter which the Society for Children (SOCH) runs for the children they have rescued from the platforms. Even the fifty meter walk through the small slum between the station and the shelter was a powerful and upsetting experience.
SOCH completed its first full year of operation at the end of July. They rescued 304 children during the period, and reunited 259 of them with their families. The remaining 45 were referred to various child care institutions because their own homes could not be traced, or basically did not exist; the only two girls who were in this category were happily settled at PUSS.
The value of the Indian rupee has fallen heavily in relation to the pound (and the US dollar) in recent weeks, so that our partners receive more rupees for every pound we send. This effect is more than cancelled out by increasing inflation in India, particularly in the prices of the basic foodstuffs which constitute the main cost for PUSS, and which affect their staff's livelihoods as well.
Kuku at PUSS and Manoj at SOCH are both doing their best to raise local funding to help to cope with this. The Government of India has recently imposed a rule that all companies must donate at least 2.5% of their profits to charities, and Kuku is in discussion with the Indian Oil Company and the National Aluminium Company. Railway passengers are large consumers of bottled water; Manoj used to work for a bottled water company, and he is investigating the possibility of their producing a SOCH brand which could be sold on the platforms and in the trains, with the profits going to SOCH.
Thank you, here in the UK, and in the USA, for all your efforts to maintain the flow of funds. The annual chamber music recital at The Old Farm House was as usual a great success, and we are very grateful to all of you, for running miles, climbing mountains, selling cakes, organising pub quizzes, badgering your friends, and of course for reaching for your cheque books. Thanks to you all, and our ever-helpful and wise Committee members, and of course to Kuku and Manoj and all their colleagues who work so hard to do the good work they do.
Malcolm Harper, Filgrave, October 2013
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