Choosing in between feeding hungry Children and Monkeys – 23 Aug 16

Yesterday, it was the birthday of a dear friend of ours from Germany. Her name is Susanne and she has been supporting us for several years already. She has been here with a group of natural hair dressers and we had great workshops, sessions and also beautiful private time together in the past. She sponsored the food for the children on her birthday – and gave some extra, so that we could buy bananas for them as well!

Just a few hours later I was at the restaurant and looking outside at the traffic, when a car stopped in front of our building. The passengers opened the windows and started throwing bananas out of the car. In no time, there was a big crowd of monkeys, all trying to catch at least one banana, if not two or three! They were fighting for them and finally, when there were no more coming, they ran away with whatever they had been able to snatch. The car moved on.

I saw these two distributions of bananas and I wondered: why would someone distribute this food to monkeys instead of children?

It was the most beautiful thing to see the joy about a banana in the kids’ eyes! We distribute fruit from time to time, whenever it is in the season and we can get it easily in high quantity, so that the children get some vitamins. We know that they don’t have a lot at home because fruit is expensive buy! So giving them fruit – or food in general – is something that doesn’t only fill their bellies but our hearts, too, knowing that we helped these families to feed their children and that in a way that will help them grow.

Those who like feeding the monkeys – and that was not a single occurrence today, it happens more often – have another idea. They believe it is something that god approves of. Many of them will be the ones worshipping monkey god Hanuman and believe by feeding the monkeys, they are directly serving god.

If they serve god, god will be nice to them. They will get good health, luck, success and so on. They feel satisfaction after feeding the monkeys because in the end, it will benefit them. It is a selfish wish that makes them distribute those bananas.

For residents however, this means there will be more monkeys on the roads and in the area. More monkeys is nothing anybody here would appreciate. Not only do they go on rampages in your garden, breaking your plants but they are actually dangerous! In the city, people fell from their roofs and died because monkeys came in clans to attack them – for whatever food was in their hands or simply because they felt it was their ground. The government has made various plans to take care of this problem – catching and castrating them, bringing them to jungles outside of the town and more. They come back and they keep on creating problems for the people living here. But religious people believe it is a virtue to feed them.

Now tell me what makes more sense: distributing fruit to hungry children and feeling good about it or feeding it to wild animals and thinking that a fictive being would reward you for it?

When the Birth of a Child is not a Reason for Joy: the seventh Daughter – 18 Aug 16

Yesterday we got the news that a few of our school girls have got another small sister. Obviously, with 250 children, there are all the time new siblings being born. Normally when you talk about a new life coming to this earth, you feel happy and celebrate. In this case however, we cannot really feel happy with this family – the parents himself are not. The reason is the same but different: it is their seventh daughter!

Oh, we have known this family for so many years and see their development with sorrow: the father is a mason who has already worked on our Ashram building, school building and restaurant building. His eldest daughter was among the first children at our school – and the next three daughters started in the years after that as well. In 2013 I introduced this family to you in my blog. In that time, they had five daughters already and we knew exactly why: they kept on trying to have a son!

The father is hard-working and has managed to save some money to build his home – but obviously it is quite a task feeding six children – and now another belly wants to be filled! We will be here to support the girls with their primary education – but there are other expenses that have to be covered as well!

We actually confronted the father with our concern and were surprised: he started crying and told us that he himself as well as his parents had already told his wife after the second daughter that two children were enough. He complained that everyone suspected him to be the one wanting a boy at all costs – but that in fact it was his wife!

She had even gone as far as to threaten him: if he didn’t make her pregnant again, she would get help by someone else! For her, the reason for not being full of joy about this birth is clear: it is ‘only’ another girl! Another girl to feed, who will have to be married and finally will leave home. No son who will carry on the family name, who will stay at home and earn money for the parents when they are old or whose wife would care for them!

It is unfortunately still like this here in India and this mentality is something which will still take a long time to remove from people’s minds! Girl and boy are not equal here. Parents may love their daughters but daughters and sons are never equal in their eyes. They say it clearly in front of the girls, too: we wanted a son!

I feel for these girls, I feel for these families who increase their poverty only by this wish for a male child. Your daughter is precious and lovely – don’t think she is worth less and don’t make her feel she should be anything else than she is!

Why you should think twice before cheering for the Rio Olympics – 7 Aug 16

So the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil have started. A huge sport event each time, wherever on the world it takes place and people show their excitement by waving flags, posting on social media and of course watching TV to see how well their country’s athletes perform. Whenever I see such a batch on facebook however, I wonder whether the person posting knows at all what has been going on there before the start. I doubt it – otherwise there would be at least mixed feelings and not this enthusiasm that is for sure!

Obviously, a country applies for becoming host of the Olympics because they get a certain amount of benefits. The biggest of these is that a lot of tourists coming to the country bring business to the country. Another one is that infrastructure is improved for the games – and of course exists for the people of the country after the games, too! Towns are cleaned and made beautiful and some more bigger and smaller advantages compared to regular life.

In Brazil, things went a big different. One reason for this may be the big amount of corruption in that country which, similarly to India, blocks some very good initiatives and spoils the effect.

There were, for example, plans to clean the waters where boating and swimming competition will take place – because they were full of sewage water when the plans of the Olympics in Rio started. Unfortunately however pictures, reports and water tests today show that nothing much happened. Athletes are advised not to open their mouth to avoid diseases – ugh!

Coming to the point of infrastructure, you can see from the mere fact that stadiums were not ready until two days before the opening that things didn’t really go as planned in regards to infrastructure either! Cycle tracks had been built and broken down, transportation systems had not been extended as planned and more. Additionally there have been reports of workers being kept at slavery-like conditions!

Everyone going to Rio for the Olympics faces another issue which is not of small importance: life is not secure at all! There are already reports of athletes and visitors getting robbed at gunpoint – not something you would like to experience when going to this kind of event, is it?

It is no wonder that the people of the country itself are protesting! Protesting against the government and the games. Against corruption, neglect and everything that causes problems in their daily life. Because while the Olympic Games will be in town for a bit more than two weeks and Rio will do its best to shine, they will stay living with all these dangers and disadvantages which athletes and tourists will only keep as a negative memory! People work long hours for getting nothing in return, slums are growing with crime spreading like wildfire, children have little to no chance for education, malnutrition is too common and child labour normal for those families who simply need the money for survival! Corruption and violence come from police and government alike, making people disillusioned about any help they could get. It is a dire situation.

We cannot close our eyes to all of these facts and just see the glitter and glamour that the hosts and organizers want us to see! We have to see the whole picture and realize that at least there is one benefit: this event shows us what is happening in Brazil and that things are not all rosy there at all! If we want to support our athletes and enjoy the games, we should also see the background of the venue and the situation of people there. If there is any way we can help, we should. And be it just by telling people about the situation and raising awareness in this way.

How our Strategy is different from big Charities – 2 Mar 16

Running not only a business but also a charity organization, there are times when we try to make comparisons – and they don’t always work. In the case of advertisement for example: while there are a lot of ways to advertise your business, there are a limited methods for advertising a charity. And you know what? The most common one is not the one which we like to use!

Think about it: if you want to advertise your business, you find countless possibilities: buy 1 get 1 free offers, discount of a certain percentage, free gifts when buying existing offers, early-bird-offers and last-minute-deals.

Now try to do this with charity: sponsor 1 child, get 1 free? Discount offer on sponsoring today’s school meal! Sponsor one child and we will give you one day’s food for free! Reserve three newly admitted children for the school year 2016/17!

You get the gist – that’s obviously not how it is done. No, marketing for a charity has to work differently. Whom to ask? Well, if you don’t want to pay a lot of money for an advisor, you would do the obvious and take a look at those big charity organizations and how they do it. You can hardly call it ‘checking out the competition’ because we are not competing on feeding the same children! Additionally, compared to ‘World Vision’ or ‘SOS Children’, we are so tiny that we are not really ‘competition’.

When looking at their strategy however we find a very common factor: they show the most horrible, sad and tragic pictures they could find. Posters display children sitting naked in the dirt and crying, their magazines show children covered with flies, begging, crying some even near to death. They show the extreme and they move those who will give out of pity.

That is not what we want to do. It is just not us to display the horrible things we see on the front, shocking people and only moving them by displaying the extreme! We want to show our good work. We want people to see how happy our children are, we want them to know that they are not dying of hunger or illness!

Granted, these companies work with such emergencies which we don’t face here. That doesn’t make our help less important though – but how do you display daily life’s struggle?

It is a struggle that our children and their families face every day. It is difficult to find work regularly, they cannot read or write and thus don’t find any higher work than the daily labour they have been doing among hundreds or thousands of others who search for the same kind of work. We have half-orphans and orphans taken care of by their family, we have disabled parents, unemployed parents, hard-working mothers and fathers, huge joint families on very little space.

In the end however, we want to show that we help them to be happy and to improve their lives. That’s how we don’t show our kids crying or in pain. We show laughing faces – and we are going to keep on doing that!

When a barber has five Children in order to have Sons – Our School Children – 15 Jan 16

Today I would like to introduce you to a girl of our school who has started her education at our place nearly four years ago. Her name is Mohini, she is ten years old and the oldest of five children.

We have been to Mohini’s home before, when we were visiting Shashi, Krishna and Janki who are living in the same house. It is a house with seven rooms that are currently all rented out to five different parties. One of these parties is Mohini’s family. While the other three girls of our school live upstairs on the roof, Mohini's father and uncle are renting two rooms downstairs. It may be a bit dark but in summertime, this means it is much cooler!

On our previous visit, neither Mohini's mother nor father were at home. This time, too, we didn't meet her mother and we had to go to fetch her father first. That was not difficult though: he is barber and shaves beards and cuts hair about 300 meters up the road of our Ashram. In fact, I believe even some of our male guests may already have enjoyed a shave by him!

Mohini's father and uncle share one barbers’ chair at the side of the road. Their utensils are laid out neatly in front of the chair in a small table with a mirror. On a second glance however one notices that they cannot be the newest: a little bit rusty here and there and combs missing a few teeth.

It is an honest business but doesn't pay very well! We get to know that Mohini's uncle suffers from asthma and is often ill which leaves it up to her father to earn the money for the family. The family includes the two men, Mohini as well as her mother and four younger siblings! With an income of only about 60 US-Dollars and a fourth of that going towards rent, it is often difficult!

This may be one reason why it is so difficult to meet Mohini's mother at home: she is often at her mother or mother-in-law’s home with the children. The grandparents support them by feeding the children and letting them all stay there! In the small room of maybe ten square meters which they have in Vrindavan, there is obviously also less space to play than on the roads of their village!

That’s how Mohini is often alone with her father or, when he is at work and she doesn't want to sit next to him at the road, fully alone at home. It is then that she is happy to have her friends living just above her!

We know that in the next years we will get to know more of Mohini’s siblings as they start coming to our school. It is two more girls who were, just like Monini, born while they were hoping for sons. These two came last. Asking for their age, we don't get a sure answer – as their father is only guessing as well!

We hope that with the base of a good primary education, Mohini can bring a change for her own life and that of her family!

You can support children like Mohini with a child sponsorship or by sponsoring the food for a day!

When you’ll rather be hungry than take a Cleaning Job – false Pride in Indian Society – 16 Jul 15

We are now two weeks into the new school year and slowly it seems as though the teachers and the children have found a daily rhythm. The excitement is getting less as everyone is getting used to each other and the children get to know their new surroundings. With the children back at school, we also increased the staff at the Ashram, as we need more hands to cook and of course also to clean. When talking about cleaning staff, we once again found a controversy, an absurd idea which is very common in this society: many poor people would rather be hungry than take the post of a cleaning lady.

It seems logical: we are looking for staff. We know a lot of children with parents who are earning very little, who have to search for daily labour work and who don’t really have qualifications for any higher job. Why don’t we employ the parents of these children and give them a steady job, cleaning work for which they don’t need to have learned anything?

Partly, we do. We would be open to fill our complete cooking and cleaning staff with parents of our school. Unfortunately however, they are very often ready to work in the kitchen – but refuse to pick up a broom!

Ramona told how they were, in May, going from one home to another, visiting all the newly admitted children at their homes. They talked with every family and found out what the parents were working. Many times it was only the fathers, as the mothers would take care of the children at home. In one home, however, we heard a story that was especially evoking our compassion: the mother and two children live in the house of the children’s father. He however is a good-for-nothing, not working, not earning, drinking and gambling whenever he finds a few rupees.

The mother thus depends on the mercy of her brother-in-law, her husband’s elder brother and her mother-in-law to feed her and her two children! She does some embroidery work but as she is not very skilled, she doesn’t earn enough for making a living. Her brother-in-law told us in a complaining voice ‘She can only earn a few rupees, how long can we take care of her?!’

Ramona wondered and answered straight away: ‘Why, if she goes to clean somewhere, even just half-day while the kids are at school, she can earn good money!’ And it is true, women who wash the dishes and wipe the floor are well-paid here! Oh, but the moment she said it, she could see or rather feel how the whole family shut down, as though they were disgusted and shocked how she could suggest such a thing!

They made some excuses and talked their way out of this question by saying it was good as it was, that she could help in their own home, no need to go anywhere else.

So even while people are struggling to make ends meet, even while they are looking for a job just in order to not be hungry, they would rather depend on their relatives and suffer through the bad times than go cleaning somewhere.

It is a bad attitude, a wrong pride and a wrong image of a fully perfect work.

Living with Grandparents, when Parents can’t afford it – Our School Children – 19 Jun 15

Today I would like to introduce you to another girl called Monika who will start learning at our school in two weeks. She is five years old and has been living with her grandmother here in Vrindavan for the past two years.

Monika’s mother is 25 years old and the eldest of five children. She was married when she was sixteen years old and Monika was her first child. Her husband, Monika’s father, is a labourer who mostly brings bricks from the merchant to construction sites. They had two more children who are now three and two years old. When the youngest was born, Monika’s mother asked her own mother to take her eldest daughter. She didn’t see herself able to raise the three small children on her husband’s meager income.

The grandmother, who still has her youngest two at home, agreed. Now Monika is living with her grandparents, her 14-year-old aunt and her 13-year-old uncle.

The grandfather works in religious theatres, performing the scriptures. It is a job that always requires people but doesn’t bring a lot of money. That’s how his wife also goes to work in an Ashram and a guesthouse as a maid. Together, they earn about 120 to 150 US-Dollars, of which they pay close to 30 US-Dollar rent for one big room and a tiny one attached. The attached room is supposed to be a bathroom and toilet but as there is no water connection yet and the room is still raw bricks, the family simply turned it into their kitchen.

Proudly, the grandmother tells how she has married her three eldest daughters, all at the age of 15 or 16, when they had finished their 8th or 9th class at school. It is a matter of pride – as this was her first responsibility as a mother!

We ask her fourth daughter, who is sitting next to Monika, whether she still went to school. No, she had learned until the 11th grade, then they had moved and she had not gone to school anymore. Although we encourage her to go back to school, we know that the grandmother’s plans are most probably different: finding a suitable husband as soon as possible.

For Monika however, we can guarantee that she will get the best education of her family at no cost at all! We are looking forward to having her at our school – and she already wanted to join us when we visited her home, not being able to wait any longer!

If you would like to help children like Monika, you are most welcome to sponsor a child or the food for a day! Thank you!

Why should you stop complaining? The Answer is here! – 28 May 15

I yesterday wrote about the thoughts and feelings we can have when we look at someone so badly injured as Monika or her roommate in hospital. We should feel happy about being healthy and well, we should appreciate our body and its beauty. You know what, though? Looking at our surrounding here, I would suggest you to not only appreciate your body but also everything that you have, in material and emotional matters, and your life as such!

I have already told you that in the past weeks, Purnendu and Ramona have been visiting the homes of the newly admitted school children. What they see there, the circumstances in which these children live, give once more a fully different perspective on life. Anybody who comes along would stop complaining about their own lives!

They go out in the morning to avoid the big heat of the day but nevertheless come back fully sweaty and hot. None of the houses they visit has air-conditioning or simpler coolers! Some homes don’t even have a properly closing door or just for one room of the house, not the area where the main life takes place! Most houses have electricity, but not all. No electricity means not even a fan to keep you cool. Those that have electricity don’t have the luxury of a battery power back-up which we enjoy, so that we can keep the fan running even if there is a power-outage. And we have lots of these outages, especially when it reaches 45 degrees centigrade and above, as in the past days.

The fathers and even mothers of many children are daily labourers. They work outside, mostly on construction sites. Out in the heat, often in the sun and definitely not with appropriate or safe working attire! Cement is mixed with a shovel held by bare hands. They walk around on those sites barefoot, in flip-flops or simple slippers. The hands of masons are cracked and sore after some years.

Mothers at home take care of six children and their household at the same time, keeping everything in one or two small rooms tidy and in order. They manage preparing food for their whole family on a minimal income, with the very basics of groceries.

Children play on dirty roads, dressed in torn and old clothes, some of them ill and without treatment. 10-year-olds don’t know how to spell their name and even older children have no idea how old they are. Nearly everyone goes to toilet on the fields or at the side of the road – toilets at home are rare.

This is not even the worst of India, not even the worst of the world. And no matter how bad your life seems to be, if you read these lines, there are people worse off than you in your country, too! Whenever you feel down, don’t only think of this but really realize how good your life is!

Stop complaining! And not only about your financial issues – your social life, your love life, a missing relationship or problems within your relationship! See that there are issues worse than yours and either accept or get the energy to get up and make a change for yourself!

Don’t let the bad situation in the world get you down but let it be an eye-opener to the beauty and wealth you have yourself, helping you make a change to whatever is not right and maybe also help someone who is worse off than you!

India – where Education has become a Victim of Corruption and Business Moguls – 19 May 15

Yesterday I told you that we sometimes have to deny a child admission to our school for ‘not being poor enough’ although we know that the parents are, by no means, rich people. I mentioned that I would like to finish the need for making this distinction between ‘poor’ and ‘not so very poor’. My wishes go a step further however: I would actually like to completely finish the distinction according to financial status! I want complete equality in education, no matter for whom!

Unfortunately, in India education is not equal for everyone. In many western countries that I have travelled to and especially in Germany, I have been to schools which were run by the government and where children of all social levels were learning together. There can also be private schools where very rich people send their children into expensive care that includes boarding – but even if you don’t have any money, your child will not only have the right to go to school but is by law required to go! And every child will go to a school where he or she gets a good quality of education, no matter how much the parents earn. They are equal, sitting in the same row of benches and learning from the same teacher!

In India, this is a faraway dream. Here, only those children get good education whose parents earn well. If someone’s parents are illiterate, they on one hand don’t give importance to education because they themselves never needed it. On the other hand, if they actually do feel like sending their child to school, their only chance is a state school or a very cheap, private one. The result: low quality of education to no education at all!

In villages, the situation of state schools is so bad that they are only running on documents and teachers come twice a year to collect their money. I told you once about a village where the school building was used as a house for cattle! This all is happening in front of everyone’s eyes and everyone knows that corruption is the evil force in this. So why should parents send their children to school in such circumstances?

In India, only children of those parents can reach far who have enough money. In our country, the first thing is corruption and the second thing is the big business that people have made out of education! Government schools don’t work due to corruption and big people saw an opportunity for business: they started an industry and opened education malls. You can choose between different levels of education according to your pocket. Even within one brand, you can choose your level of facilities and education to match how much you can afford!

To be very clear, even a child with a brilliant mind has no chance to get good education if his parents cannot pay! You only have an average amount of money? You only get an average quality of education!

I know the pain of such parents, too. They are middle class mothers and fathers who know that their child is intelligent and are ready to work hard and even take loans for the education of their son or daughter – but they still have to make a compromise with the quality of education they would like to have. It is simply too expensive!

Once I told you how a couple came by car to our school to admit their children. We politely denied because they could obviously afford school fees at a private school. Looking at the disappointment in the parents’ faces however, we could understand their pain: they could not pay the fees for a school as good as ours. So their only fault was that they earned a bit too much money for coming to our school!

Children are not equal in this country where education has become a victim of corruption and business moguls. This is something that I want to see a change in! And I will work towards that! How? That you will read in tomorrow’s blog post!

Difficult Decisions: when is someone ‘not poor enough’ for our School? – 18 May 15

Last week I told you about the difficulties we have faced with our school due to corruption. I explained how education has become a complete business branch in India. Finally, I wrote a short summary of the concept of our school and for whom we are doing what we are doing: for the poor children of our area and their families. I had already announced that I would spill all my ideas and thoughts for the future and I believe it will take up the whole week! Today I will start with one of our basic issues: who is ‘poor enough’ for our school and who is too well off?

Whenever we have new admissions at our school, we personally go to each child’s home and see where they are living. That serves several purposes – for one, we get to know each child and their circumstances which brings us closer to our students. And then we of course also get to know whether they are really in need of a place at our school.

It is really not an easy task and we always see big differences in between the families whose children are at our school. There are some who have their own home, inherited from ancestors or bought with the help of a loan. Others live in a hut-like house, only on three sides walls of bricks, the roof a tin sheet which already has holes. Some have to go and search for work every day or have an illness that keeps them from working while others have a steady job, which just happens to not pay much. Some earn enough to feed a small family of four – but they have seven children! Others just have one child – but there is only one parent left who can earn money!

You see already, the differences are big and in most cases, when we come to a home, we know very soon what bad situation the family is in. There are rarely cases in which we tell the parents that we would not take their children. But they exist.

If we usually have children whose fathers earn about 4000 rupees per month and we come to a home where the father earns 10000 rupees while there is only one small child left to feed, raise and educate, we would tell the parents to find another school. The place that his child would take up in our school could support someone who really cannot afford another school! Someone who is more in need.

At the same time we know that this father is not rich either! We know that he will find enough schools but that it will be difficult for him to find a school of good quality that he can afford. It will be impossible to find one in our school’s level of education! What should we do however – we have our limitations! There is this vision to help the poor and as many of them as possible but there is a point where we have to say no, too.

I don’t actually want this situation anymore. The need of having to decide who is poor enough and who has too much money to come to our school. For now, we have to do it this way – but in future, there is an idea to do it differently – and more about that you will read in the next days.