Why Sonu couldn’t work on our Site – 16 Aug 15

As you know, the interior work for our Ayurvedic restaurant is going on and we are using bamboo for a big part of the walls, ceiling and more. It should look natural and also be using natural material. And of course we also stick to our moral standards when the work situation is concerned!

Day before yesterday, the contractor who brings the labourers, brought a new team of workers. Among these men was a very young boy. When I saw him, I first thought he would be the son or relative of one of the adults around him. As these labourers sometimes bring their small children along to the site, I thought he would just give someone company.

At a visit of the site, I asked the boy for his name. His name was Sonu. I further asked him which class he was studying in but got a reply: ‘No, I don’t go to school, I work.’ I was surprised and asked him ‘Oh, what do you work?’

In response, he looked at me in disbelief. He was confused at my question and replied: ‘I do bamboo work! I came here to work!’ Now it was my turn to be confused and thoroughly so! ‘For how long have you been working?’ I asked.

When I got to know that he had already been earning money for two complete years, I was dumbfounded! He looked like he was barely 12 years old! He further told that he was originally from the other side of Delhi, about 80 kilometres from the capital, and lived in Delhi with his parents now when he was not out, working for 300 Rupees a day.

After our conversation, I called the contractor and told him as well as the other labourers very clearly that this boy would not work on our site. We don’t allow child labour here. He should be going to school, not to work.

Sonu has never been to school. His parents are labourers themselves and they sent him to work so that he could contribute to the family income. For them, this little money is more valuable than education. It is the typical situation that we have seen with many of our school’s children as well.

I made an offer: I wouldn’t let this boy work at our site but if he liked, he could stay and go to school here. The head of the labourers told me however that he knew the parents very well and they would not allow this. They would like him to earn – or be with them to look for another possibility. He talked on phone nevertheless but they answered exactly what he had predicted: if he couldn’t work, he should come home.

That’s how this boy spent one day here, slept one night and then went back yesterday with 300 INR in his pocket which I had given him. I had made him promise one thing however: to stop eating tobacco, something which a lot of people do here. His teeth were yellow of the mixture he was eating. I told him of the harms and dangers of getting cancer. Whatever he had in his hand when we talked, he threw away. Whatever he will do after that, whether he will keep his promise or not, you cannot know.

In the same way I told him he should go to school and if he ever needed help, he could contact us. Most probably he will just keep on working as before – but not at our site!

Child Marriage, Child Labour and Alcohol Problems – Our School Children – 24 Jan 14

Today I would like to write about a boy, Rajendra, whom I have already once introduced to you before. Unfortunately, while we were very positive about his family’s future in that time, we cannot say the same now and we just hope that we will have the chance to educate Rajendra as many of the coming years as possible.

When I wrote about his family in 2010, the family had come to Vrindavan some months before and Rajendra’s father was looking for work. Not only for him but also for his father-in-law, his sister-in-law, his daughter and two sons. They told a heartbreaking story of how the children’s mother died of kidney failure because they could not afford the treatment, how the father’s brother committed suicide and how they were now just desperately looking for work.

We employed the three adults and sent the children to our school, wishing to thus make a difference in their lives. While the children’s grandfather and aunt soon left the Ashram to move back to the village, their father, a rickshaw-driver, picked up the school-children with his rickshaw and dropped them back home every day. The regular income that we provided him however soon didn’t seem to be enough. He asked for a higher, came by often to request some extra money and soon asked for that much money that it became too expensive for us to afford him. On top of it we had the suspicion that he spent a big part of his salary on alcohol. Nevertheless, we carried on teaching his children for free.

Until his daughter Rajbai didn’t come to school anymore one day. We went to ask why she didn’t come and got to know she had gone to visit her aunt in their village. No, she wouldn’t be back for a while. We explained how bad it would be for her schooling if she was absent for a month or even longer. Yes, he would send her back to school as soon as possible. He didn’t. We got to know later that she had come back to Vrindavan and was working as a maid in people’s homes. Then a bit more than a year ago, we heard that she got married. She was thirteen in 2010, when we wrote about her. She was thus fifteen when she married.

When you talk about this with her father, he insists she was eighteen and he married her only a few months ago. He even tries to convince us that he had no other chance, not having enough money to feed her and raise her further. The moment you ask her younger brother Rajendra, he will repeat a sentence he has learned well: ‘She was eighteen years old!’ There is no birth certificate to prove anything else.

When the new school session started last year, the elder brother Narendra didn’t come back to school. Now fourteen years old, he had started working in a shop in town, selling chai, Indian tea. He didn’t have interest in learning more, we were told, and the boy himself didn’t reply anything. All efforts to convince them to send him back to school failed.

When we arrived at their home this time during the winter holidays, it was a sad scene to see. Rajendra ran to wake up his father – at eleven o’clock in the morning. He came out, disheveled and definitely hung over, stinking of alcohol. He was lying in bed while his elder son was out working, earning money, and his younger son playing outside. Rajendra told him to put on a jacket, to try and make his hair look better, urging him to make a good impression.

It broke our hearts to see this boy’s effort to make his father presentable. We had our talk, getting to know that he earned very little with the rickshaw these days, blaming the weather and what not. The rent of about 20 US-Dollar is paid by his son’s salary, approximately 40 US-Dollar in a month. He obviously doesn’t see a need to do much effort in his own work – if it is enough for his alcohol, he doesn’t have to worry anymore, as his son is now earning enough for all other expenses.

We left after pleading once more with him to consider his children’s future. We urged him not to even think of taking his last son out of school, explaining him once more the benefits of solid education.

It is sad but this is what we are constantly working against: Parents who want to take their children out of school, child marriage, child labour, a small salary now valued higher than a good job in future. We will continue our efforts and instead of getting discouraged by situations like Rajbai’s and Narendra’s, we want to focus on our success, the progress of Rajendra.

He is a smart boy and he learns well. He is jolly and always respectful. It is never a child’s fault and that’s how we will do everything we can for Rajendra’s future.

If you want to support our efforts, you can sponsor a child or the food for a day. Thank you!

Three Meals a Day – Is that really Luxury for Children? – 11 Jun 13

I yesterday told of a study that UNICEF had done about child poverty in rich countries and with a focus on European countries. There was a list of items or deprivations. If a child missed two or more of this list, it would mean he or she is poor, or poorer than it should be possible in that country. When reading this list, I could not help but think of our children back in India, the boys that live at the Ashram but even more the children who come to our school, who live in poor families nearby. UNICEF clearly made this list for already developed countries but it was interesting comparing their list with the needs of children here and what would or would not be on a list for India. I thought I share my thoughts on the single points with you in my diary, today and the next days.

1. Three meals a day

2. At least one meal a day with meat, chicken or fish (or a vegetarian equivalent)

3. Fresh fruit and vegetables every day

If we look at these first three points, I can tell you that many families in India already struggle with number one, they try their best to accomplish number two – obviously with the vegetarian option – and you can completely skip number three. Fresh fruit and vegetable is expensive. Potatoes are the cheapest and thus more often on the menu. Other ingredients only appear on the plate on special occasions or when a vegetable or fruit is in season and thus cheap.

Nevertheless, every family loves their children and they give their best. It is a fact however that our school is frequented by a lot of students whose parents were mainly interested in the warm lunch that we daily provide. With that they have one worry less, at least the bellies of their children are filled!

4. Books suitable for the child’s age and knowledge level (not including schoolbooks)

The level of education of poor parents is very different from Europe to India. There are hardly any illiterate people all over Europe while in our state for example nearly every second person whom you meet doesn’t know reading or writing! Why would they buy books for their children? Who would read to the children? They are happy if they can afford their schoolbooks – and for many families even that is too much. This is why our school provides all schoolbooks for free, including story books so that the kids can have some fun while reading at school.

5. Outdoor leisure equipment (bicycle, roller-skates, etc.)

Well, with this point we reach the aspect of ‘leisure’ and although every human person needs time to relax, enjoy life and play, the equipment for that is not a basic need. In a country where we are fighting against hunger and child labour, your own bicycle or roller-skates will not be the criteria to decide whether you are poor or not.

On a side-note, I still have to see the first person roller-skating on Indian roads – good luck!

Shock: 13-year-old Girl selling her Body for Pocket Money – 8 Apr 12

The woman with whom I stayed at my first stop in New Zealand worked at a youth center and she invited me to hold a talk there, too, and to talk to the teenagers there. The children who came there did not live with their families anymore. Their parents had lost custody because of drugs, problems with the law or other things that made the government decide that they were not able to take care of their children. So these teenagers lived at another place and came to this youth center for learning and spending the day. It was their school and place to hang out at the same time.

The children had got an introduction about me before I came there and so they had a lot of questions about my life and about my stay in the cave. They asked why I went into the cave, how I spent my time there and more questions that I was actually used to and which I often replied. They were maybe 30 to 40 children and teenagers from the age of ten to 18 and they were really very interested in who I was and what I did. I told them more about India and Vrindavan, about my family and of course also a bit about spirituality.

For me it was the usual talk and questions but it was a very different experience to be with teenagers of their background. My host had told me before we went there that many of them had big problems because of their past and their family. Many of them smoked and also took drugs. The people who now took care of them tried to save them from addictions and hard drugs, they stopped the younger ones from smoking and of course smoking was not allowed in the center. I saw however that the older teenagers went out onto the street to smoke. I was told that a lot of these kids had started smoking at a very young age – it was normal in their homes to have cigarettes and alcohol lying around just reachable for them.

On one hand I felt great that the government had made a structure or a system in which children whose parents don’t take proper care, who were abused and who could not have a normal childhood in those families could get support. In India these children might have ended up doing child labour, working in factories or begging on the street. It was much better like this. They had a good place to live, a place where they got education and where some loving people took care of them. They got someone who would listen to them and show them the right way in life.

On the other hand it was horrible to hear what these children had already faced in their short lives. My host told me what parents had done to those children, how they had been neglected and how they had come to this center.

I remember a boy whose parents were heavy drug addicts and most of all I remember one 13-year-old girl. My host told me that this girl, at this young age, was doing prostitution in order to earn money. I was shocked to hear this. She was sitting there among the others, talking to me and looking just normal but the people of this center, those who took care of the kids, had caught her several times at the attempt to sell her body. Whenever she got a chance she would sneak out and try to earn some pocket money.

I could not understand how she got to the idea to earn money by selling her body. I had heard about human trafficking and knew that prostitution of young girls happened in India and in Thailand but there it was a fully different situation! In many countries children are forced into prostitution, it is an organized crime, but this girl was doing it herself! Why did she start and how did she get this idea? What would she do with the money? Buy cigarettes? And an even bigger question: who would give this child money to buy her body for some time, to have sex with a young girl?

It was the first time that I got in touch with this kind of situation. It was painful to see that and at the same time good to see the effort of people who were trying to help. Seeing this, I just wished them success with their work, much strength and I prayed for children all over the world not to get into such situations. It was an experience that left a deep impression on me.

Child Labour in India – corrupt System, heartless Employers and helpless Children – 5 Mar 12

It is very well known that all over India there is still child labor. The whole development of the last years and decades has not brought much improvement to that situation. Our little town is not an exception.

When you walk down the road, you can often see how there is a small boy in a shop, holding a cleaning cloth and wiping the shelves – in the morning at eleven o’clock when all schools are open. Or you see a girl, standing next to a stall, selling fruit to a customer. There are even children under ten! They do their work and they earn their money – maybe about $10 per month. Everybody sees this but they keep their eyes closed. Do you think that the police and government officers don’t see this? Of course they do, just like you! It is just out in the open, nobody is hiding it! But nobody takes any action!

You may ask why I am writing this today. I feel much pain when I hear that children whom we were supporting and who are still less than 14 years old are doing this kind of jobs. The problem is that I feel helpless. What can I do about that? I don’t know to which percentage the child wishes to do work instead of going to school but I know that the parents prefer this and that is why they send them to work instead of sending them to school. The biggest crime is done by the person who gives them employment.

There is of course a law against child labour. If you go to the police now, though, what will be the effect? The first thing is that everybody knows about it anyway. They actually already know about it. These children’s job is not on papers, though. They get cash at the end of the month, so there is no proof that they are employed. The child will say that he or she is not working there, the employer will simply deny employing a minor and the parents won’t admit sending their child to work, either. The police and officers who should be working against this don’t have enough heart to do something on their own – why would they take action if I request them to?

We can only try to talk to the parents and try and convince them to send their children to school. We have done that often and we have many such children in our school. What can you do however if they don’t understand your arguments? What can you do if they think of the money that they can get now instead of the money they could earn if they were more educated, if they could at least read, write and calculate? They don’t see the value of education and sometimes we fail to make them understand.

In many places in India children work in dangerous conditions. That may not be the case here in Vrindavan but even if they clean, put products from one side of the shop to the other or run errands for their employer, they work instead of going to school!

I see people going into those shops. They see the same thing that I see. Indians and westerners alike close their eyes and look away. I cannot say the name of any shop and I cannot name those children because the system is corrupt and it would be defamation – but my heart cries for those children. The only thing that I can ask you for is not to buy in shops where you see children working. Ask the shop owner why there is a child working there. Get him to think about it and let him know you don’t buy there because of the child he has employed. This can be your little contribution for making a difference.

I still keep the hope though that the future will look different. We are doing our best to make parents and children understand and I hope that those employers will also someday stop taking away the childhood of innocent children just to save some rupees. We will continue our efforts and I see every child who comes to our school as a success against child labour.

Food Wasted, Children Hungry and Officials Worrying about Landfills – 17 Sep 09

Today I read in the newspaper something about which I want to write in the diary. Reading the newspaper is not one of the things that I do regularly. They wrote that only in Great Britain, which is not really a big country, 4.1 million tons of food land in garbage boxes each year.

The government now tries to make rules to reduce this amount, which is very good, but then I read that they are actually not worrying about food being wasted, but about the landfills into which the food is thrown after emptying the garbage boxes of the houses. And these landfills are getting more and more full and grow bigger.

They also gave some stats for America and then wrote that only the food that is wasted in America and Great Britain together would be enough to feed 1 billion people. When I read these news, I was thinking that still in so many countries children and people are hungry, don’t get enough food, get sick because of this and die. And on the other hand so much food is being wasted! This waste of food also makes the prize of food increase. Then rich people have the money to buy food and throw it away but poor people have even more difficulties to afford food.

I read in another article that 880 Million people in India earn less than $2 each day. And they have to live on this. Where do they end up if food gets more and more expensive? It is a very big problem and as I wrote before, it is one of the reasons why parents send their children to work rather than to school. So that the children can earn some money, too, to afford their food.

It is sad but you can start helping! Be careful with how much you buy and cook. Buy enough, but not so much to store it in the back of a cupboard and throw it away after some days, weeks, months or even a year or two! Love your food! This love can help the world!

Feedback on our Charity Projects – 22 Apr 09

Today we were sitting together and Thomas said that he liked it when I was writing about the children project in the last weeks. He said that this is what people need to get to know: they are not only sponsoring one child but supporting the project.

I also described the situation of these children and told how quickly it can be that children leave our school again. Labourers are moving wherever their work takes them, when work is finished at one place they move to another place.

Purnendu told that some children come for a few days to school to get their uniform and then they do not come again. We cannot control it also if parents take children out of school and send them to work, even though it is illegal.

We are very happy that we have convinced many parents and could bring many children from work to school. And we are grateful that the parents send them and give them the chance to learn.

When Ramona told how nice it was when the children wrote birthday cards for her, Thomas added how nice it is that they are able and know how to write these cards. It makes us happy and it feels good to see this process and that it is appreciated.

Children of our Charity School – 27 Sep 08

I talked about the school situation in India in the last two days. The lack of education is really a big problem and running a school in these circumstances is a challenge. I told you already that many parents did not go to school and do not see any need to send their children there. We offer to give not only the classes but also the uniforms and one warm meal per day for free. This makes it more attractive for them and many children actually come here for the food. They even bring their younger brothers and sisters even if they have not reached the age for going to school yet.

Purnendu laughed about some parents’ attitude. They believe that we should be thankful that they send their children to our school. They do not value it. And of course, as I told you already, they think that the children could as well work somewhere and earn money. You can find many children working in shops and as servants. The childhood is spent in working instead of playing and having fun in school. And their future would be much better and easier if they could go to school. So we go and talk to parents, explain them the benefits of education and very often we convince them to send their children to school. However when they decide after two months that it is not worth it after all, we cannot do anything.

Unfortunately this also happens. We feel very sorry about this but what can we do? Whenever a child does not come to school unexcused for several days we need to talk with the parents again. We go to their home and sometimes we get the answer that this boy or girl has a job now. We cannot force anybody. This is how sometimes a child is in our list to be sponsored and after a while the child is not at the school anymore. We hope that our sponsors understand the difficult situation. It can happen that you sponsor a child and just after two months he or she is not coming to school anymore. So we take other children in to give them the chance for a bright future.

At this moment we have more than 100 children who are coming regularly. We have good teachers who keep an eye on them and who contact the family when they see that a child is not coming anymore. When the children are ill we also provide medical help for them. We do what we can and we are full of hope and with positive energy that we can give some good influence and change this with your help. We also have success when you look at the school and how nicely it is running. It was important to share this all with you because like this you have a better understanding.

The water of the river started going back again.