$20.13 for 2013 – How your Twenty Bucks can Save the Future for a Child

You might think that going to India time and again, immersing myself in this orphanage and the plight of these children who have no one else, over years and years — the poverty and never, never ending need — would be an exercise in sadness. Depressing. Demoralizing, traumatic even.

Shelley author photo1In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. What has been the most surprising thing, and meant the most to me, kept me coming back all these years, is how readily this family accepted me into their home. This family of 120-plus children, all taken in by one man and his kin, a hodgepodge of castaways who came together to create a home — they, who had so little, welcomed me. Joyously. And they never once have asked for anything from, other than simply my self. My being. My presence.

My Papa has never once asked me for money. The children never care what I bring them, and when I do produce stickers or toys or coloring books they are, of course, happy and enthralled as children would be anywhere. But they are, by far, mostly interested in ME. In the fact that I am there, with them. That this is where and how I choose to spend my time, who I have chosen as my family, halfway across the world.

Believe me, this means more than you can know to me, as well. Their acceptance, their unconditional love and joy with me.

They have let me into a world that is a hidden world — not because it is secret, but simply because very few people really choose to look. But once there, if you had that sort of curiosity, if you opened yourself to the experience and the love, if you decided to have an involved interest in the welfare of children for whom childhood has been discarded — well then, you are in a new world. One in which your own petty troubles are so easily checked at the door. One in which you quickly come to realize how little, how pitifully, inconsequentially little, it takes to turn the world around for one child here.

$20 a month is all it takes to send one of these kids at the Servants of India Society orphanage in Choudwar, India to a good English school. Education is the key. They have already come a long way with having the basics of food, shelter and basic medical care provided. What they need now is education — which equals future hope and opportunities.

My very first night ever with these children, back in 2005, I wrote the following:

There seemed no other world outside this place. Papa spoke as my eyes traveled over the faces all around me. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go home, or if they ever had. As much of a loving community as the ashram seemed, it was not the family that most of the children had once known, now distant and ghostly memories for the most part.

Home is a fragile concept — far more delicate than those of us who have always had one can imagine. When a person no longer has a home, when his family is taken from him and he is deprived of everything that was familiar, then after a while wherever he is becomes home. Slowly, the pieces of memory fade, until this strange new place is not strange anymore; it becomes harder to recall the past life, a long ago family, until one day he realizes he is home.

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Will you help me in giving these children, so brave to find a way in their new home, the possibility of a bright future through education? I am asking people to pledge $20.13 per month in a recurring donation beginning this year, 2013. Think about it — for less than the price of two movie tickets, or about five lattes at Starbucks, you can create a bright and hopeful future in one of these children’s lives.

Will you help? Sign up here.

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Photo on 4-15-13 at 10.37 PMAt my home, in fact right above my head as I write this, hangs a beautiful woven tapestry that I bought in India some years ago, made up of scraps of dozens of sarees. Each small individual piece of material, before it was sewn into the final product, is fragile and insignificant. It is not anything except a torn scrap of cloth, beautiful but delicate, easily ripped or lost.

Yet, when it is stitched together strongly to the next tiny piece, and then the next, suddenly the pattern of the whole begins to take form. The finished patchwork, all these scraps of what was once discarded, together are strong. Together they make something. They have a purpose — to cover a bed, to keep a child warm or, as in my house, to simply be beautiful.

And so it is with these children of India — the orphans, the street kids, the world’s forgotten throwaways. They may be fragile and easily lost on their own, but held together with the thread of those of us who care, they can be whole again — strong and vibrant, and above all, simply beautiful.

btn_donateCC_LGHelp me create a strong tapestry to hold these children together. Have you ever despaired at the state of the world and thought it was impossible to do a little bit, that would really make a difference? Now is your chance. You’ll be amazed at what a difference your $20.13 per month can make.

Can’t commit monthly? Make a one-time donation here.

I thank you. I will keep you updated on their progress. And more importantly, these kids and their future families thank you. Now is the time to stop the cycle of poverty.

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My Heart’s Home

Last month, I returned from my 7th trip to India, visiting the awesome kids who stole my heart eight years ago. On this trip, I took my mother who has grown to know these children through me, and understand that this place is my heart’s home, my second family. It was an incredible experience having my American mother meet my Indian family for the first time, in person.

I would like to share a photo essay of this wonderful time together. Peace, love and namaste.

Make a Difference with Kiva Micro-Lending

Have you heard of Kiva? It’s revolutionizing the way we lift people out of poverty. Harvard Economist (and author of The End of Poverty) Jeffrey Sachs says that micro-lending is the single most viable method to end poverty in our lifetimes.

I’ve made numerous loans through Kiva for years. They have always been paid back extremely quickly, and then the money is back in my account to loan again. Most of the loans I have made have been for $25 — this money is pooled with other micro-loans from people around the world, to loan the recipients a few hundred dollars to start a business, buy a sewing machine, or a cow or chickens, or supplies to craft or resell. It’s an amazingly simple way to let someone become self-supporting and support their family, rather than a charity handout. It’s also much more empowering for the recipients.

In fact, the rate of repayment for micro-loans in the developing world is much, much higher than the rate of repayment for traditional credit in the first world — an amazing 98.94% repayment rate!

Now Kiva is making an amazing offer — new lenders can sign up through existing Kiva partners like myself — and then BOTH Kiva lenders get $25 deposited in their account, for free, to loan out. What is there to lose? It’s a win-win-win situation, for the lender and recipient and Kiva.

Click this link to sign up to become a Kiva lender,
giving you and me both $25 to loan!

My last loan was made to Esther (47), in Nairobi, Kenya. My $25, plus other lenders, gave Esther a total $900 loan that she used to buy a stock of clothing to resell, and raw material to make hair wax that she then sold. And the loan was 100% repaid. Esther has been running her business for 12 years, and used this loan to expand her business to support her family.

And in case you’re wondering, 100% of every dollar you lend on Kiva goes directly towards funding loans; Kiva does not take a cut. Furthermore, Kiva does not charge interest to their Field Partners, who administer the loans.

I have also made loans to Sok in Cambodia, a 50-year-old woman who farms for a living and earns $1.50 per day. Sok’s husband is a motorcyle taxi-rickshaw driver and earns $3 per day. Her requested loan of $500 went to buy a new motorbike for her husband, to earn the family additional income so that they can make repairs to their home. I’ve also made loans in The Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan. I re-loaned my Kiva credit, from repayments of past loans, to the group Fe Y Esperanza in Nicaragua, a communal bank of 11 women who have various business ventures; and the Mungu Tubariki Group in Tanzania.

Now, with the money paid back from previous loans and the $25 that Kiva credited me via this promotion, I have just made a new loan — my first loan in India, where Kiva just announced its newest launch! I have often wondered why Kiva did not have loans available in India; it’s because determining how to work in India wasn’t easy. In particular, Kiva loans are subject to Reserve Bank of India regulations that require loan funds sent to non-government microfinance institutions to remain in the country for at least 3 years.

Therefore, any Kiva loan made within India won’t be paid back for 3 years; the Kiva Field Partners will simply hold on to loan funds for the minimum 3-year term before sending repayments back to lenders. The borrower you select will probably repay beforehand, in which case your funds will be recycled to help other local borrowers, maximizing your impact before your funds are returned. That is perfectly fine with me — and so I made my new loan to the Sri Jaggannath Group, a cooperative of four women in Cuttack, Odisha where I visit every time I go to India, and the region where my children’s home that I support is. These women have a general store, and want to use the loan to expand their inventory and increase their stock of items. In the last year, the shop was relocated due to road construction and the move has hurt business. I hope that my Kiva loan helps!

Premal Shah, the President of Kiva (who left PayPal to go with Kiva), has made more than 300 loans himself and has this quote on his Kiva page:

Give,” said the little stream, as it hurried down the hill; “I’m small, I know, but wherever I go the fields grow greener still.”

Get $25 to make your first loan, and make a big difference, today!

Justice for Sonali, and a Stand for Women’s Rights in India

I became aware today of a very sad situation, which tragically happens to many young women across India.

Sonali before the attack

Sonali Mukherjee is a young woman who was verbally abused and harassed by a group of local men. When she dared to complain about their teasing, they retaliated by pouring acid on her while she slept. Although the assailants were taken into custody, they were later released on bail and still have not had justice served to them. They remain free, while Sonali has to live with the pain and suffering of their violent attack for the rest of her life. Not only that, her family has gone into huge debt to pay for both her treatment, and legal costs to pursue justice.

Below is Sonali’s account, in her own words. You can help by signing this petition to the prime leaders of India to help bring proper legal ramifications to her attackers. You can also make a donation to her cause. I did both — will you? Sonali is so in despair right now that she would rather end her life than continue without further treatment or justice. Where is the humanity in that?

On April 22, 2003, I, Sonali Mukherjee, was severely injured in an acid attack, that left me with a burnt face, burnt body, blind and partially deaf. I was just 17-years-old then. Three assailants – Tapas Mitra, Sanjay Paswan, and Bhrahmadev Hajra, our neighbors in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, poured acid on me while I slept. Before I could realize I felt as if my body was on fire and I collapsed.

Sonali after the attack

They punished me because I dared to complain against their eve teasing. When I warned them, they told me I was haughty and proud about my looks. They said they will ruin my face beyond recognition. And when that did not deter me, they carried through their threat and you can see the consequences.

The accused were immediately taken into custody, but were released on bail in 2006. My father and I approached the high court, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, MPs and various other authorities for justice, but no one listened. Since then, they are roaming scot-free. For 9-years we have been fighting a case against them and requesting the authorites to cancel their bail, but no success has come our way yet.

I am in extreme pain since the incident and don’t have the capacity to withhold it anymore – neither the money nor the hope.

Therefore, I demand either justice and help in treatment or permission to end my life.

PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION and help me get justice and means to live the remaining part of my life without pain and agony.

You can also make a donation to Sonali’s medical and legal costs.

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