Early Spring 2015
By Patty Waltcher
Our fall and winter campaigns were truly a success. I would like to take this opportunity to report on this success and to acknowledge the many donors who contributed to these ambitious campaigns driven by the deep inspiration to support our programs and all those we serve.
Our International Day of the Girl campaign, a matching dollar-for-dollar campaign that ended in mid-November, successfully raised just over $21,000, surpassing our goal of $20,000. In addition to two $5,000 donations made by Lotus Outreach board members, a total of 29 other donors supported the campaign. We were very happy to have surpassed our goal.
Our annual Gift of Hope Campaign was likewise a success. With huge support from 52 individual donors, we were able to raise over $25,000 in donations. This shows an increase in donor support from 2013, which is fantastic. More people are heeding the call to global generosity and, in this case, giving towards our amazing programs in Cambodia and India.
A share of these fall and winter campaign funds will go directly towards GATE Siem Reap, our Cambodian education program currently offering 119 girls the opportunity to complete secondary school through holistic scholarship support. These campaigns create the extra momentum necessary to ensure the beneficial and widespread impacts of our program in Cambodia and India.
These funds are unrestricted, meaning they can be used most effectively as the LO executive team sees fit. In short, these funds are essential to support our infrastructure and communications. For example, funds will go towards Glenn and Raksmey’s field inspections and monitoring of programs in order to create donor reports. Funds will also support future fundraising efforts to fuel program expansions.
On behalf of all the girls in GATE Siem Reap and the many others that will benefit from these donations, thank you very much for your support!
And stay posted for our next campaign!
Evening Joy with Buddha Smiles
By Glenn Fawcett
Buddha Smiles evening school program is a compassionate effort to balance the inadequacies children of poor rural families face due to having illiterate parents and a serious lack of remedial assistance from the government schools they depend on for their education.
Running in remote villages in Southern India a couple of hours from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, the program has nothing to do with Buddhism per se. Professor Manivannan, the founder, has included life stories of a wide range of visionaries including Lal Bahadur Shastri and Mahatman Gandhi, and also others such as Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu in order to inspire these children.
Parents of these children, most of which are landless laborers mired in poverty, depend on the vagaries of job availability in construction and agricultural sectors. As such, family heads will often have to leave home for long periods, while migrating to distant cities and other places to work. The Buddha Smiles evening classes address problems faced by children of illiterate laborers in two main ways. First, teachers give quality personal time to each student in order to ensure all the children understand the subjects under study in their regular day school as they cannot depend on help from their illiterate parents to do so. This helps ensure they don’t fall behind and gradually dropout due to discouragement.
Second, the most defining aspect of these classes is they teach the children through interactive and play techniques that are fun and engaging. These methods include competitive games, interactive story telling, music, songs and drama. The kids enjoy the classes so much that even a full day of school doesn’t take the shine off their enthusiasm, joy and abundant energy for these evening classes. We recently visited 5 of the 10 schools currently running. Each class is around 35 students in an equal mix of boys and girls. One of the most important questions we had for the teachers and students during this visit was, “What’s the difference between day class and a Buddha Smiles class?”
One student, nine-year-old Siva Sakti from Mettukudasai primary school, responded, “In the morning school we do reading, writing, drawing and in evening class we play games. We like evening classes as the teacher gives all of us personal attention, which doesn’t happen much in the day school.”
Buddha Smiles teacher Rajesrassii tells us, “I take effort to ensure children understand what they are reading and analyze the meaning. Compared to day school, children are free and relaxed so they learn more easily.”
Children have also told us there is less fear in evening classes as the teacher is gentle and helpful. This school is so popular with the locals that ten children have left the nearby English private school to attend Buddha Smiles classes due to its reputation.
Our next visit was to a primary school in Pattankulam. As the class settled, we asked the teacher how the evening program differs from the day school. She told us, “We use play as a teaching method and focus on study technique. The importance of education and regular attendance is also emphasized... Meditation is always done to settle the class as well.”
The teacher started the class by having all the children sit cross-legged in meditation, “In order to calm them,” she said. It was so funny and gorgeous watching them. Some had the fiercest of looks as if wrestling with their minds to ‘find’ this thing called meditation. One of the exceptions, a young boy, wore an angelic look. We asked him, “What is meditation?” He thought for a moment and then this tiny chit of a child gave us his wizened reply, “It’s a unique feeling.” I almost fell off my chair. As soon as that was over the children bounced up and formed circles according to the learning games on the schedule for the evening.
There’s no reason to assume children of extremely poor, illiterate parents should not be clever, but it never ceases to surprise me how children born of poverty and illiterate parents have the kind of fearless curiosity and intelligence the Buddha Smiles kids have. They’re full of curiosity and sharp as tacks when it comes to partaking in a game or being quizzed about what was in a story. Interactive story telling is also a fabulous part of Buddha Smiles classes and one of our coordinators, Bala, is astoundingly good at music, singing, dance and drama. He travels to each of the ten classes assisting the other teachers, passing on his considerable skills for the benefit of all the children and teachers. It is a wonder to watch Bala work his magic, while the children leap, dance and laugh at his slightest gesture. Bala and all the evening school teachers bring so much sheer joy to the classes. I wish all schools in India had evening classes like Buddha Smiles and a storytelling magician like Bala.
Artist Nancy Joyce Creates Animation
By Thomas Waltcher
Our July 2014 newsletter included an introduction to mixed media fine artist Nancy Hilliard Joyce based in Asheville, North Carolina. Nancy, inspired by her serendipitous discovery of Lotus Pedals, Lotus Outreach’s Cambodian program offering bicycles to impoverished girls so they can safely get to and from school, has continued to prove her vision of activism and art.
Nancy recently explored and further illustrated the impacts and wider importance of Lotus Pedals in the creation of a short animation film entitled, "Bicyclette." The film, with its beautiful images and simple, yet precise explanation of our program, shows the profound need for these bicycles and the power a single bicycle can have in altering the course of a girl’s life in rural Cambodia.
Watch and share Bicyclette through YouTube:
Nancy is continuing her vision of donating 100 all-terrain bicycles, along with facilitating sponsorships from local bike shops to also donate 100 repair kits to our Lotus Pedal recipients. In order to raise the funds necessary to donate these bikes, Nancy will give 20% of the proceeds from her upcoming gallery show that will include original pieces of children on bicycles. The opening is now slated for Friday, October 16th, from 5:00-7:30pm in the Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina. Follow Nancy’s activities on her website: nancyjoycegallery.com.
I will leave you with this. While discussing education and the empowerment of women and girls with Nancy, she brought to my attention one of her favorite quotations from the Burmese Human Rights Leader and Novel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi–
“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.”
Lotus Outreach’s sentiment exactly~
Aharwan High School: Interviews and Impacts
By Glenn Fawcett
The work Lotus Outreach’s Blossom Bus program continues to accomplish in Mewat, India, is essential to the rights of so many girls hungry for education, but lacking secure transportation to and from school. The scarcity of schools combined with the dangers of traveling to neighboring schools unprotected and also the conservative local attitudes toward female mobility has terrible consequences for an adolescent girl in Mewat: if there is no school in her village, she is forced to drop out. Our staff recently visited the tenth grade at Aharwan High School to get a sense of these girls and their perspectives regarding the importance of the program.
In a class with a total of 54 girls, 27 or 50% are able to attend school due to Blossom Bus. Imagine, this class would only have half the students and so many of these intelligent girls, almost all of which want to graduate college, would have to remain home instead of studying. Home in this case would mean doing chores, farming, and taking care of livestock while waiting for an offer to prematurely marry.
When asked about the importance of education, Monika from Dhamaka village some 6 km away told us: “You have to have a good education to get a good job.”
We responded, “Many say there is no need for girls to study as there are no jobs. What do you think?”
Monika replied, “There are jobs available and even an educated person will do things better and we will also educate our own children well and that will make a huge difference. We cannot come to school without this transportation. I have two brothers and one sister. My brother recently dropped out to look after our farming after my dad passed away. Our parents do support the idea of girls’ education, but won’t allow us to come on bike. I tried to come by bike before the Blossom Bus arrived, but it wasn’t safe.”
These girls are quite shy in the class setting and it took some time to get them to speak out, but when we asked if they wanted to continue school and attend college, there was an immediate and rowdy chorus of: “YES!! Of course we do!”
Another student, Puja, stated, “Going to school is very difficult without the bus and our futures will be spoiled if we cannot continue to go to school.”
We followed up and asked: "What if you just complete grade 12, what then?"
“If I complete grade 12, I will be educated enough, my life won’t be spoiled and I will be respected because uneducated people are not respected,” Puja replied.
We also had the opportunity to interview Anju, Puja’s mother. Anju is an energetic and highly spirited woman that never had the chance to attend school for even a single day. She is convinced her life was ruined due to her lack of education and she is hell bent on ensuring her children remain in school as long as possible.
Anju stated, “I never went to school, I haven’t studied, my life has been ruined, but I will not let my children’s lives be ruined. I just hope the bus can continue. The situation in the village is very bad, especially without the bus. We are secure with the bus and very happy they are continuing school.
Anju went as far to say, “I just want her to keep studying. If the bus stops, my daughter’s life will be finished, there will be no future for her.”
Anju is very adamant about the importance of Blossom Bus and Puja’s access to education. We have encountered many other parents from riders of Blossom Bus who are likewise extremely happy and intent on their girls going to school.
The social impact this program has had on so many of these girls, most first generation learners of illiterate parents, is very profound. The girls and their siblings are demanding their right to education and once educated, a mother will do all she can to ensure her children are educated and so on, into a virtuous cycle that is changing social norms and beliefs throughout Mewat.