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$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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Science Lab Dreams Come True

Shelley, Som, Lakshmi and Sandra at the TNF convention

Back in May, I was a keynote speaker at the Tamil Nadu Foundation‘s annual convention outside Philadelphia. This organization of non-resident Indians who support initiatives in their home state of Tamil Nadu, particularly centering around education and health, invited me to speak about my work and my book.

The convention’s chairman, Som Somasundaram, and his family were extremely welcoming to me. They are also a highly philanthropic family. I was especially impressed with Som’s daughter, Lakshmi, an 18-year-old girl who already has big dreams – and has accomplished big goals – to help further the education of less fortunate children.

Two years ago, Lakshmi arrived at Vedaranyam in India, to spend her vacation at the Kasturba Gandhi Kanya Gurukulam (KGKG) home and school for girls. Two years later, she returned to KGKG to fulfil a promise she had committed to herself – dedicate a science centre for the girls of Gurukulam.

For the young Lakshmi altruism came naturally, as the girls voiced their aspiration for careers in science and how they were handicapped by the lack of a full-fledged science laboratory. “During my stay here, I learnt about their way of life, what their needs and aspirations were…It was essentially sharing of experiences,” says Lakshmi.

Lakshmi Somasundaram (right), under whose initiative a science centre was dedicated to the Kasturba Gandhi Kanya Gurukulam

Inspired by their stories, she came out with a DVD on the Gurukulam and played it out to the audience at the Tamil Nadu Foundation convention.

“After my DVD presentation, I went around amid the audience with a collection box and it began with few dollars and someone dropped a cheque for USD 10,000. That gave me the confidence and finally we had collected over USD 40,000 over a period,” an elated Lakshmi told The Hindu newspaper.

This is just one more example of someone being the change they wish to see in the world, and a bright spot in our future generation.

Education is Everything

Happy New Year! After taking a break for two weeks over the holidays, today I am back with another installment of Good News Wednesday.

I would like to share an update from some boys featured in the book, The Weight of Silence. These are the young boys from the CCD Muktaneer Home in Calcutta – Sahiful, Rinku and others who were once abused child laborers, but after being rescued went on to become award-winning filmmakers! You can read their inspiring story here.

The day after Christmas, I received an update from Swapan Mukherjee, the incredible man who runs CCD and who rescued these boys from their horrible lives of slavery. Swapan has dedicated his life to investigating traffickers and bringing them to justice, and he has spent twenty years doing just that, rescuing more than two thousand child laborers.

Swapan wrote to me that two of the CCD Muktaneer Home boys have recently passed their school examinations for the Board of Secondary Examinations, meaning that they have officially graduated high school. Congratulations to these young men, who were once not only denied an education but even a childhood. And thank you, Swapan, for making their educations and future possible.

Me and Swapan in 2007

In fact, Swapan was honored in December with The Frank Corea Memorial Award, for the Educationist of the Year 2009. I feel very privileged to have shared Swapan’s work and the story of these boys in my book; it was a true pleasure meeting them and I hope to visit them again one day. Way to go Swapan! I love good news like this!

Take a moment to think about where some of the goods you purchase might come from – you’d be surprised at how many items are made using child labor. Go to the Free2Work site before you buy at a store, to check the merchant’s rating and see if the merchandise you are buying is child-labor free. I’d also like to share the eye-opening video below, by one of my favorite bands, Radiohead. Here they use their amazing song, All I Need, to visibly show the difference between children who are put to work far too young, and those who are able to enjoy a childhood. Thank you for caring.

From India to Kenya – The Girls of St. Monica’s

Although I usually focus on India, today I would like to share the story of a handful of amazing Kenyan girls. I write regularly at Mothers Fighting For Others – an organization started by Rocky Turner and supported by a terrific group of women whose goal is to inspire all Mothers to find their passion for paying it forward to make this world a better place. 

In October of 2007, Rocky took a leap of faith and flew to Nairobi, Kenya. There she met twenty four amazing girls who had the most beautiful smiles and amazing spirits. These are the girls of Saint Monica Children’s Home. Rocky spent two weeks with them. They laughed, played, did homework, and cried together. “My heart was full,” Rocky wrote. “Their needs are many, their dreams are big, and my goals are lofty.” Rocky wrote this about her last night with the girls:

Our last night at Saint Monica’s was an emotional one. All of us were crying. The girls could not control their emotions and they found their faces buried in their hands. It was so sad and beautiful all at the same time.

It’s amazing what happened during those 14 days at Saint Monica’s.

Our lives changed. And it was all so very simple.

We got on a plane and opened our hearts. It is truly that simple. My goal was to do my best and try to change the life of one child. But with all your help and support, we were able to change the lives of all the girls. They kept telling us again and again that no one has ever shown this kind of love and generosity.

What I have learned is that all it takes is an open mind and a loving heart. It can happen in your own home, in your neighborhood, in your own country, or it could take you to a part of the world that you have only dreamt about. If you open your heart you can learn so much about life and about yourself.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of these girls lives. I’m the lucky one. I’m the one that received more than I could have ever imagined. This is just my beginning.

Mothers Fighting For Others is dedicated to help educate the girls at Saint Monica’s. But, we need your help. Since Rocky’s visit last year, the needs of Saint Monica’s have not only changed, but have grown. Six new girls have arrived. Our goal is to try to raise funds so each girl can receive the best education. With a private school education, we know they will become amazing young Kenyan women.

Our new goal is to put 10 girls into high school next 2009 school year.  Please check out our Gift of Education page to see how you can help!

If you would like to learn more on how you can help with the Education Fund at Saint Monica’s, contact Rocky at mothersfightingforothers@gmail.com. You can also donate today, online via PayPal:

Or, make checks payable to:
Mothers Fighting For Others
Mail to:
MFFO Saint Monica’s
27943 Seco Canyon RD #533
Santa Clarita, CA 91350

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