Don’t lie to your Child – here is why! – 15 Feb 16

Today I will give you an example of why you should not lie to your child, something which unfortunately happens a lot, I believe not only in India.

About ten days ago, a few of our guests wanted to have henna painted onto their hands. Our massage therapist Shilpi knows how to do that and so the ladies spent a nice afternoon getting artwork onto their hands. Obviously, the kids also wanted to. The boys wrote their names onto their hands and Apra got a beautiful flower painting.

Now just day before yesterday, Apra came into the office and asked Ramona for money. She explained that she needed it for buying henna paste because we didn't have any and Shilpi would need to buy it and she would have to go with her for that, too. The last part was added with an assertive nodding of the head so that we should not anyhow get the idea to say no to that!

So Ramona pulled out a note and gave it to her. Of course you can go, she told her with a smile.

Only a minute later, Apra stood in our office again, crying this time and trying to explain in heaving sobs what had happened: Shilpi now didn't want to go to the market. There was henna still in the house but she wouldn't paint it on her hands as this was not something you did every day.

We immediately knew what had happened: Apra had wanted to paint her hands again and had started pestering Shilpi. Instead of telling her no however – because that can be difficult or create an unpleasant situation – she lied! She told her we didn't have any, thinking that it would be the easiest way to make her give up.

Apra however is now at an age that she knows problems are there for being solved and so she went to do just that! We don't have henna? We need to buy some. For that I need money. I can get money from my Ma – but I need to make sure I can go, too!

She solved the problem on her own, proud of it, too, only to discover that she had been lied to!

This is not how you should treat a child! Never, ever do that! She was terribly upset because obviously, she had been looking forward to getting the painting after having solved the problem! With this, the disappointment had been increased much more than if she had initially been told no!

Not only will your child learn how to lie but he or she will also not learn to listen to a ‘no’! That is something we and I believe millions of other parents are constantly working on: if I say no, it is just no and we won't bargain or discuss this further! I can explain why but in the end, there are also matters where a child needs to simply accept the decision of the adult!

That’s what they need to learn. They will not however learn it if you lie to them! It may seem easier to you in that moment but finally, this will get back on you and in a negative way!

So we need to talk with our staff members as well, telling them to help us teach Apra the meaning of no and not lie to her!

The Poor can only afford low-level Education – Our School Children – 23 Oct 15

I would like to introduce you to two boys who have joined our school in this year: Dhanesh and Hitesh. They are the eldest two of four children and live in one of the poorest areas of Vrindavan.

The boys’ father works as a painter but he doesn’t have a steady job with a monthly salary – he has to look for work every day, using either his contacts to contractors or going out in the market where builders and contractors are looking for workers. On some days he gets a place to work, on others he doesn’t – and of course he earns more if he has work on most days of the month. The norm, however, is that he only gets work for about half a month.

The money he earns like this is just enough to somehow make ends meet. His earning for five days is needed only for renting the room the family of six is living in. It is one room of another family’s house. They shower at the water pump in the common entrance hall and go to toilet on the fields outside town.

The boys’ mother is at home, taking care of the children. Dhanesh is the eldest one with ten years and already helps a lot, too. Hitesh is six years old and they have another four-year-old brother as well as a little sister who is nearly two years old. They all spend a big part of the day outside, playing in the streets with the neighbour children.

When we visited their home, we asked them whether Dhanesh had not been to school before. We got to know that he has been to school – but as it was a cheap private school with low quality education! Dhanesh told that their mathematics teacher had left at the middle of the year and that they did not have mathematics lessons anymore at all until the end of the year.

So apart from the worry of how to pay for another three children’s school, the parents had the feeling that the money they spent on school was not invested well! They were more than happy when they heard of our school just on time for admissions!

Now, Dhanesh and Hitesh are both learning in the pre-school class of our school. They are lively and clever boys and the teachers are looking forward to teach them further!

You can support the education of boys like Hitesh and Dhanesh by sponsoring a child or the food for a day.

How Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant will help shut down Education Business in India – 21 May 15

At the beginning of this week, I told you about the big problem with education here in India and about my vision for equality. Yesterday I described in detail what I think could be a way to challenge the education business in India. Today I would like to get even more concrete and tell you how I can very well imagine that this dream can become reality with the help of our Ayurvedic Restaurant Ammaji’s.

For so many years, we have run our school and charity projects with the support of our business and the help of sponsors and supporters. All our business customers and a very big majority of our donors are westerners. Non-Indians who come here to the Ashram for Yoga and Ayurveda Retreats, who take part in workshops or come to counselling sessions. And non-Indians who want to support poor children in India.

Now we are about to start a new business venture with the opening of our Ayurvedic Restaurant Ammaji’s. We will provide good quality of food for everyone who wants to eat delicious food while doing something good for their body. We create a lot of diseases by eating the wrong food – and not only health-conscious people will eat healthily and at the same time pamper their taste-buds in our restaurant! We will provide tips and information about nutrition and the body with an extra benefit: with every meal at our restaurant, you will support the free education of children!

We will soon have a lot of Indian guests as well and we will reach the point when we will not only support anymore the education of poor children but can start working on this bigger project! We will open a high standard school with really good quality with all possible facilities – completely for free for any child that comes to learn! Also the children of our restaurant’s customers!

Yes, while you come to eat in our restaurant, every rupee spent actually supports the free quality education of your child! The full support for this school could come from our business!

I believe this mission and project would make everyone happy: the parents of poor children who get education instead of remaining illiterate, middle-class parents who don’t have to struggle affording good quality education anymore and financially abundant parents who get for free what they would otherwise have to pay for! Who wouldn’t prefer free education in equality to an education that you have to purchase like in a mall?

Only those businessmen who run such malls could object my plan because it would hurt their business!

Business people of any other industry however would love it. And that is the point where I would ask people to come forward and support this mission with their own business and donations! Business people can give percentages of their business income to support the expenses. Parents can give donations which can be of an amount which they would anyway easily have paid for any other school. There can be sponsorships in different forms from furniture to food or books! Everybody could contribute in their own form! Obviously, also donations and sponsorships from out of India will be welcome.

It can extend to other cities where we will open further restaurants and with each restaurant another school. Free for all, of such good quality that everyone wants to join! Once we have several schools of this kind in one area, people will not be ready to pay as much for those education malls anymore – and more people will follow our example!

I don’t know how successful this idea will be and how quickly everything will move forward but I enjoy my freedom of creating a vision. My freedom to have my thoughts and dreams. We will go further on this road and as far as possible towards an equal education for children of all levels of society or financial status!

The Dream of free quality Education for the Rich and the Poor alike – 20 May 15

I told you yesterday how I wished for an education in India which is the same for everyone. Education which is for every child the same, no matter how much money the parents can pay, so that everyone gets the chance to reach where he or she wants to reach! Believe it or not, I actually have a plan to achieve that.

You probably think now that I am a fool, a daydreamer or unrealistic builder of castles in the air. I want to finish the importance of money in education in a country like India, in a society where money is nearly everything for so many people – because they don’t stand a chance without.

You know however that we have been running this school for the past eight years and have already before that supported poor children by giving them education. My ideas don’t come out of thin air, they have a solid base of experience. Every year, the number of children in our school has increased. With the help of a generous donor, we have been able to build the first floor in order to accommodate five more classes and teach even more children!

Of course, there is a limit and there will always be.

I don’t think I can even dream of finishing corruption from this country. I can also not make everybody rich enough for sending their children to expensive schools with good education quality. No, my idea is to do something on a realistic level, with a small start but the possibility to become huge and have a big impact!

I will create a school according to my dream of equality. A school in which we will teach children of all levels of society, from all financial backgrounds and completely for free! We will provide education of really great quality for every student, be that the son of a rickshaw driver or the daughter of a bank’s top manager!

Just like now, our school will provide books, uniforms and food. Every child will have health insurance through school. And every child will be completely equal to the one next to him.

When our free school for small children opened, the business of a few small and cheap schools was negatively affected and one school even had to close – because the children came to us.

Now imagine we open many such schools that provide education for free for simply everyone who comes during admission time until the seats are full! This enourmous business with education will receive a severe blow – because even children who would normally go to those education shops will come to our school instead to learn with good quality but for free!

How I think to achieve and finance this? With our Ayurvedic Restaurant Ammaji’s! What, how? Read about that tomorrow!

Bringing up Children without God – 24 Feb 15

Some days ago, while we were sitting in the main hall of the Ashram in the evening, Ramona had a small conversation with Pranshu, one of the boys at the Ashram, and Apra. I would like to tell you what they were talking about.

It actually started when Apra walked into Naniji’s room and asked for candy. Naniji, who knows that she should not eat sweets before taking food, asked whether she had eaten. First Apra nodded but then decided to say the truth and shook her head. She came out of the room – of course without candy – and Ramona heard Naniji, my grandmother, say from behind her ‘Lying is a sin!’

She didn't think much of it but when Pranshu, eight years old and Apra’s favorite playmate at the moment, repeated those words, she sat down on the couch next to him. “Do you know what a sin is?” she asked the boy. “Naniji said that,” he answered and admitted after another question that he had no idea what exactly that should mean. So Ramona started her own explanation:

“What Naniji means with this is that god would be angry with you if you lie. Now, see, I don't believe in god, so I would not care about a sin, about him being angry with me – because I think he doesn't even exist. Do you think God exists?”

Pranshu smiled and shook his head. Apra, sitting next to him, shouted loud: “No!” and laughed.

Ramona continued: “Well, so this means you don't need to care whether god gets angry but I tell you, I will get angry if you lie and I definitely exist, here in your home, right?”

She finished this with a smile and Pranshu laughed, too.

He understood what she was saying – and we saw that even with small inputs, our boys get to know our thinking and understand it as well. As far as Apra is concerned, I know that for her, god is just another character of a story.

We want our children to have a realistic view on life and part of that is that they know god doesn’t exist.

One House, four Rooms, four Families – Our School Children – 14 Nov 14

When we went to visit the homes of our new children of this school year, we also came to the home of Priya and Himanshu. And once more realized what it means to have a proper home with space for everyone.

Himanshu was sleeping inside and when we came, Priya ran in to wake him up and get him out. In the meantime, her elder brother, who had been playing outside, had joined us, too. Their mother told us that Priya’s father had originally learned welding but didn’t find any work in his field. That’s how he is currently working as simple labourer on construction sites in Vrindavan. He doesn’t have a constant employer for this work but goes to the market where workers and builders get together every day to offer his work. In a regular month, he earns about 50 US-Dollar.

With this low income, they are lucky that they don’t have to pay rent! The house is theirs – or at least a fourth of it. Their home was built by Priya and Himanshu’s grandparents and when they died, it was passed on to their four sons. That’s how each of them is living in one of the four rooms of the home, sharing one kitchen and one common hall.

It is an old house. The street and the area around them was filled up with time but they just built the house on the plot as they had bought it. That’s how the house is now half a floor down from main street level. There is a back entrance to a side street which is even – but for the main door, you need to climb down.

Although they save money that others spend on rent, the salary is not big and Priya’s parents still worry how to get through the month. This worry increased when Priya started going to school and they had to pay the school fees for her as well. They were already paying for her elder brother and now Priya and then Himanshu, too, would need to go to school as well! They told their neighbours about their misery – and were recommended our school.

That’s how from July 2014, Priya and Himanshu have been learning at our school. They are very jolly, active children and we are happy to see that they are enjoying so much while learning a lot! Their parents are happy, too: their kids get education and on top of it a warm meal every day! Without them having to pay. For them, it is a great support now. For their children, it is the base for a better future!

You can support our project by sponsoring a child or the food for a day! Help us helping them!

Selling Malas does not bring enough for paying School Fees – Our School Children – 7 Nov 14

It is once more time for me to introduce you to two children of our school. They are called Kriti and Sumit, are six and ten years old and have only started learning with us in this year.

When we arrived at their home in April of this year, we entered through a narrow door and then climbed equally narrow steps up to the first floor of the small house. We stood on a kind of open balcony and could see two rooms a bit further back.

Kriti’s mother called her three children and we got to know Kriti, the youngest, Sumit, her elder brother, the eldest brother Manoj, who was already in 7th grade at another school and their father. The parents wanted to send Sumit and Kriti to our school – because they knew they couldn’t pay the fees for all three of them.

The family’s business, which Kriti’s father handles together with his brother, is the production and selling of malas, spiritual necklaces with small images of Gods or Goddesses and the like. At home, they have all the beads, put them on thread, make knots and add the small pendants on them. They have a small cart on which they put their merchandise and go to the side of the road when there are religious holidays.

Vrindavan is a pilgrimage town, so there are many people who walk the Parikrama, the pilgrimage way around town. These pilgrims are potential customers – and the family depends on their purchases for survival. They tell how last year, after a big disaster in a pilgrimage town in the Himalayas, their business went down, as less people went for pilgrimages after that.

Exactly in that time of financial issues, Kriti fell ill with a bad fever. They were in trouble and after spending their remaining money on her medicine, they didn’t have enough left to pay for her school fees. The school did not let her take the yearly exams but sent her out.

That’s how they came to us, hoping that two of their children could join our school and thus relieve the burden on them to pay for school fees as well after the expenses they anyway have.

Sumit is now in our 3rd class and Kriti in the UKG. They are both a bit shy but learn well and once they open up, their smile is huge and it is a joy to see them laughing and learning!

You can support children like Sumit and Kriti! Sponsor a child or the food for a day!

A flat screen TV but no Money for School – 3 Oct 14

I will today introduce you to a shy boy who has a lot of nonsense on his mind. His name is Mohit, he is eight years old and went to school for the first time this year. Why has he not gone before? Due to money problems.

Their home looks run-down and when we ask, we get to know that they have taken a loan a year ago to buy it. All their money goes into paying the monthly installments and again and again they have to ask their relatives to send them some money for support.

Mohit’s father is a priest, of which there are thousands in the religious city Vrindavan. The multitude of people offering their services for ceremonies and rituals means that each of them has to do effort to be the one chosen to do it. They don’t get employed but daily try to find a place where they are needed. In temples, they ask whether a bigger ceremony is going to happen where they could assist. They try to be the first ones to talk to pilgrims from out of Vrindavan who come here for having ceremonies performed. Obviously, they have no regular income, in months of religious festivals they earn more and in other months they sometimes have to find an Ashram where they can just help out with other work in exchange for some rupees.

That’s how Mohit’s elder sister, the eldest of the three siblings, goes to another charity school in Vrindavan where they don’t need to pay. It is a school with religious influence – and it is for girls only. His brother is going to a state school. This means that they don’t need to pay school fees but there are still other expenses: notebooks, utensils, uniform and more. Additionally, the standard of education is very low and children get beaten as a punishment for not bringing their homework or being naughty.

The parents didn’t have money to admit their sons, or even one of them, in a private school where they would learn more. When they finally heard of our school, they were relieved: a place where their boy would learn for free and without getting beaten! He has learned the alphabet and a little bit more from his elder brother – so he enjoys that in school he already is a bit further than his classmates.

One thing however we were surprised about when we entered Mohit’s home: next to the wooden pallet that serves the children as bed, under the window, a hole in the wall covered with newspaper, is a relatively big flat screen TV! We ask the mother how they could afford this. They couldn’t. It was the gift of a wealthy customer of her husband. A religious man for whom he had performed a ritual. He obviously thought that this poor family would need a good TV.

We believe that the kids need education so that they can have a better future!

If you would like to support our efforts, we will be happy if you sponsor a child or the food for a day!

When Boys get better Education due to Money Problems – Our School Children – 11 Jul 14

I would like to introduce you to one existing student and one new student of our school today: Varsha, ten years old, and Kajal, seven years old.

Varsha’s father makes malas and other devotional items which he sells on a small stand by the side of the road. It is a business that depends very much on religious holidays, the amount of pilgrims that come to the town and his luck of being at the right place at the right time. We know that this profession does not make you wealthy but asking his wife for an approximate amount of how much her husband earns did not bring any result: she just didn’t know. She has nothing to do with money. She is just at home and takes care of the children.

Their home is one room of a house in which Varsha’s father and his three brothers live, all with their families. This means that the house, although spacy, gets crowded when everyone is at home. Each of the families has one room and they earn, cook and eat separately. While this shows us that the Indian tradition of a joint family is slowly vanishing, we are treated upon entrance with the endearing picture of a mother showering her already thirteen-year-old.

The funny thing is that Varsha has last year passed the Upper Kindergarten, the second pre-school class of our school while Kajal was in the second class of a cheap private school nearby. In this school year however, Kajal started from beginning again, in our pre-school class. Why? Because she has spent years in her previous school without really learning much. In just two years with us, Varsha has learned so much that the parents have made sure to be among the first at the admissions for this school year, so that their little girl gets a place at our school, too.

They are everything else but wealthy and that’s how only their eldest child and only son is studying at a private school with a little bit better standard. Both girls were frequenting a private school but with the family’s low income, they went to a cheap school. It was still a burden on their budget and when they heard of our school, they first admitted Varsha. Now at our school, both girls will get an even better education than their son and we hope that this will make them turn their life in a different, better direction.

If you would like to help us supporting these girls and their education, you can sponsor a child or donate for the food for a day!

Being a Parent – Expensive Boarding Schools vs. the loving Care of Parents – 2 Jun 14

Education is the way to a bright future. This is a statement on which we have based our charity school. I am convinced of the truth of it and this is why we provide education to poor children completely for free. Sometimes however I see how this thought has made especially better-off parents push their children for more and more and it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder whether society nowadays sacrifices love, family and the warmth and security of a home in favour of education.

An acquaintance in India recently told me that his children were both learning at a boarding school about 600 kilometers from Vrindavan. Every second weekend, he and his wife would drive ten hours or more by car in order to meet them. Why? Because this school has a good reputation and there is supposedly not any such great education available in our area. Both children have been at that school for the past six years. Their son is 18, their daughter 16.

This man is not the only one. It is quite normal for people who can afford it to send their children already at a young age further away to a good school where they have lots of extra-curricular activities, where their talent is supported and boosted and where they will finish with a certificate that opens them the doors to the best universities of the country. They can then become top managers, engineers or doctors and someday even settle down in another country. That’s the big dream and they want to make it possible for their children.

They think it is the best what they can do for their children. I am not so sure it is.

Actually, I am quite sure it is not. Why do you have to send a ten-year-old girl hundreds of kilometers away from her loving parents? Yes, she may have the chance to play exotic sports or try painting with imported water-colour and yes, she might even have better teachers than in the schools that would be available and reachable in your surroundings. It may give her access to better universities and thus a better job and income later in life. But it definitely robs her of the loving family that she was in. It takes the care of a mother away and replaces it with the care of someone whose job it is to care. Not that this person is not doing it well, it just isn’t the same!

Why have you become parent? For loving, caring and being there for your child? For hugging, playing, joking and also going through all the ‘negative’ emotions together? Or for making a great engineer? For sending your child away?

From the bottom of my heart I feel that parents should give their child as much love and closeness as they can because the day will come anyway when their baby will be old enough to live on his or her own. When you, the parents, won’t be needed anymore. It is okay not to be super-well educated. Your time and practically any activity that you do with your child is in my eyes more valuable than what a better school far away can give.

Because only you can give your child the love of a father or a mother.