October 31, 2013

Issue 49

Three Siblings Studying Together for a Better Life

Proud mom, Kamlesh, with Sushil, Laxmi and Priya.

Forty miles south of New Delhi, on the outskirts of the town of Hathin in Mewat district, several brick kilns are firing up again after the four-month rest period during monsoon. The thousands of migrant laborers, and their children, who come to work in Mewat’s brick kilns are poor, landless, illiterate and often members of scheduled castes and tribes.  Although there are local educational government benefits for children of the lowest socio-economic castes, migrant laborers’ children are excluded from these benefits because of their migrant status. Educational Scholarships to Child Laborers works to extend those benefits to migrant children and provide them with safe transportation to and from school across several miles of heavily lorry trafficked roads – those who have experienced the roads in India firsthand know exactly how dangerous and frightening these roads can be. 

Meet Kamlesh, and three of her children: Sushil, Laxmi, and the youngest, Priya. Kamlesh married a man from Delhi and they now have eight children. Their eldest son, now 26, works as a farm laborer and their eldest daughter, who studied until 3rd grade, is now married. Affording the costs of keeping their children in school has always been a great challenge for Kamlesh and her husband. All of Sushil’s older siblings stopped studying to labor in the brick kilns so they could supplement the family’s income.

Kamlesh says that affording schoolbooks, uniforms or shoes was not the only challenge. On top of that, walking to school from the brick kiln is extremely unsafe. She has already lost a son in a road accident.

In 2009, when Lotus Outreach began a transport system for the children of families laboring in the brick kilns, Kamlesh enrolled Sushil in 1st grade straight away. A year later, Kamlesh enrolled Laxmi who joined her brother’s class. Motivated by her siblings, Priya, the youngest, insisted her mother enroll her as well and she entered the school in 2012. Now all three siblings are excelling in their studies! According to their teachers at Bhanguri school in Hathin, they are all very diligent, active and intelligent.

With her heart set, Kamlesh says, “I am so happy my children are in school and I hope Sushil’s education will get him work as a clerk instead of as a laborer in the brick kiln. If my daughter can study up to at least the 10th grade, I’m sure she can marry into a decent family. Then she can live with dignity and will not be forced to work at a brick kiln from dawn till midnight.” Kamlesh expresses how appreciative she is of the teachers for imparting a good education and ethical values onto her children. She notes that her children’s behavior has changed and now they even ask their parents to behave and speak thoughtfully with everyone at the brick kilns!

This October, there are already 29 new children from the brick kilns enrolled at Bhanguri School. As more and more families arrive through the end of the month, at least 100 additional children will enroll, effectively bringing the total number of supported children to over 500. The story of Sushil and his two younger siblings demonstrates that even a small intervention, as simple as a ride to school, has the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

With your generous donation, we can continue to bring the gift of education to these children, so that they can grow into capable, compassionate, and educated young adults in the years ahead.

Laxmi attentive in class.

Bright Sushil in class.

Lotus Outreach Welcomes New Grants Manager, Wesley Samms

Wesley, center in blue, with friends in Costa Rica, 2006.

Wesley, center in blue, with friends in Costa Rica, 2006.

Please join us in extending a very warm welcome to Lotus Outreach’s new Grants Manager, Wesley Samms. Wesley began his career of service volunteering at a school for “high-risk” children in the slums of San Jose, Costa Rica. Many of these children lived in the corrugated metal shacks along the highway, with no running water or electricity. 

Returning to the city of New Orleans in 2006 after it had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Wesley began volunteering with local nonprofits serving immigrant laborers. At Catholic Charities New Orleans, he worked on an innovative prisoner reentry program, which was the first in the nation to enroll ex-prisoners into AmeriCorps. In this position he performed grant writing and research functions as well as many other administrative functions. Wesley continued to serve the Latino residents of New Orleans, volunteering as a Spanish-English medical interpreter until 2011 when he decided to deepen his understanding of social work.

After completing a Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Kansas in late 2012, Wesley moved out west to California and began work at CALPIRG. Then, while searching for something different this September, the Lotus Outreach’s Grants Manager position caught his attention. Wesley observes,  “The inspiring thing about Lotus Outreach to me is how the LO program models combine human empathy with real accountability and long term strategies. I especially believe in investing in women, as they will reinvest their earnings in their children and in the long term success of their community.” 


Wesley's viewpoint is very much in sync with Lotus Outreach's work. One of his favorite quotations, attributed to Lao Tzu, is: “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say 'We have done this ourselves.'”

Wesley, the musician.

Wesley, the musician.

Wesley lives in Sacramento, California and is passionate about social work, philosophy, music, and travel. On his passion for music, he says, “What I love about music is how it is alive, ornate, and beautiful in the moment, and then disappears, just like a Buddhist mandala. Van Morrison is a favorite, because his songs are a living creation in the moment, and I really like jazz for the same reason. Nothing lasts forever, and so we have to find value even in the temporariness of things.” If you ever find yourself in Sacramento, you might be able to catch Wesley's live performance, singing and playing the guitar, in one of the local establishments!

We would also like to take this opportunity to extend our warmest wishes to our outgoing Grants Manager Sara Haq who has just begun pursuing a doctorate in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. Lotus Outreach greatly treasured Sara’s expertise and heartfelt commitment to our mission. It is sad to see her leave but surely her pursuit of a deeper understanding in women's studies will lead her to have an even greater impact on the issues she strives to solve through her work. 

Devopsdays NYC Sponsors A Well

by Dave Zwieback

Dave Zwieback speaking at Devopsdays NYC 2013.

Dave Zwieback speaking at Devopsdays NYC 2013.

Free t-shirts are a tradition at tech conferences. Until this year, Devopsdays NYC, a tech conference that I co-organize, was no exception. At best, attendees wind up with a closet full of free t-shirts they wear with pride; at worst--and more often--these t-shirts end up in a landfill. 

While planning this year's conference, I found out that each t-shirt would cost about U$12 to produce. Given that Devopsdays NYC would have about 200 attendees, the total cost for t-shirts added up to about U$2,500. This number reminded me of a donation page on the Lotus Outreach website for the wells project. I quickly found the page, and the symmetry was astounding: "each well costs U$2,500 and provides life-saving clean, safe drinking water to approximately 200 rural villagers—at the extraordinary cost of about U$12 per person".

Suddenly, it made sense: by forgoing ephemeral mementos, members of the Devops community attending this year's conference could build a deep-bore water well that would provide life-saving, clean, safe drinking water to approximately 200 rural villagers in Cambodia for years to come! I ran this idea by Patrick Debois (who coined the term "devops") and others in the group that organizes Devopsdays events around the world, and they were enthusiastic to try this in New York!

At the end of the conference, we donated U$12 of each Devopsdays NYC registration to Lotus Outreach, for a total of U$2500. My co-organizer Michael Rembetsy and I received an ovation when we described the impact that the attendees will have on life in one Cambodian village with this donation. We're all looking forward to hearing the progress of the well construction--the devops community will certainly enjoy seeing "Devopsdays NYC" on a plaque near the well, and knowing that they've made a huge difference in the lives of some of the poorest people on earth. It is my hope that other tech conferences adopt the same approach, and donate the money they would normally spend on t-shirts to worthwhile causes like Lotus Outreach.

 Want to sponsor your own well project? Visit our wells sponsorship page.

Or Start your own fundraiser on CrowdRise for a very much needed well in rural Cambodia!

Finding Manjushri Benefit for Lotus Outreach

by Dolma Gunther

Still from "Finding Manjushri" featuring the main character Lodro.

Still from "Finding Manjushri" featuring the main character Lodro.

Finding Manjushri is a short film about a monk whose quest for wisdom takes him to Manjushri's sacred mountain in China. On his way he battles the elements, braves the seductions of beautiful women and encounters a magical mule that can read... only to discover that the lines between epiphany and confusion are sometimes the most difficult to distinguish. It is a quirky and uplifting parable about the vicissitudes of the pilgrim's odyssey, delivered with charm and humor.

Director Dolma Gunther and Director of Photography Al Donnelley.

I originally got inspired to make this short film when I first heard the story from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche almost 20 years ago. I loved the story and thought it would make a wonderful film. So when I found myself in India with Alastair Donnelley (an experienced director of photography and talented craftsman) we decided to go for it and armed with nothing but a script, a camera and a lot of ingenuity, we produced the film in the Himalayan region of India over four months. The film was entirely self-funded and the bulk of the budget went in paying wages to the cast and crew who were all made up of local people from the village we lived in. We paid everyone involved with the film at least double the average daily wage because we wanted to contribute to the local economy while we were there, but more importantly we really wanted the locals to take away with them a totally positive experience from the film and not feel exploited in any way. 

Lodro and a very special donkey.

Lodro and a very special donkey.

The shooting itself was complicated by the weather - the worst monsoon in 15 years - and the vagaries of the Indian electrical supply system. One complicated scene had to be lit with candles after a tree fell on power lines nearby. The mule that appears in the film is supposed to be a pig as in the original story - but the pig we tried to film for an entire day was an impossible prima donna and had to be recast. When we got back to Australia we also did the film editing, the sound editing, the 3d graphics, color grading and animation almost entirely by ourselves. This took time and a great deal of energy and perseverance. But in the end it paid off. Finding Manjushri is our festival debut short film and, although it is not polished in the way a high-budget film can be, it has been accepted into 9 international film festivals so far, including Cannes Short Corner 2013. It has won awards at 4 of those festivals, including Best Short, at Moondance Film festival and Third World Indie Film Festival.

Although we haven't even begun to cover the costs of production, we wanted to offer the film to Lotus Outreach in the spirit that the film was undertaken, which was to benefit everybody that comes into contact with it. Having filmed in India in an area which is not wealthy and where people struggle to survive, the knowledge that any benefits derived from the film can now go towards alleviating the circumstances that people born into poverty endure - and especially girls, the most vulnerable and exploited of all - seems appropriate and makes us very happy. It also seems very suitable, since the story first came from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, that the film contributes towards the fulfillment of his activities with Lotus Outreach. 

So with the aspiration that it may be of benefit, may you also enjoy it, and may Lotus Outreach continue to flourish and do wonderful things to change the lives of countless young girls who would otherwise be without the opportunity to shine.


Purchase the DVD of "Finding Manjushri"

Watch the trailer

It's a wrap!

It's a wrap!


Carpia Designs Limited Edition Jewelry for Lotus Outreach

We’re thrilled that Hong Kong-based jewelry designer Fiona Ho and her company, Carpia, have chosen to partner with Lotus Outreach to support our programs in India and Cambodia. Carpia has created unique, custom-made, limited-edition Lotus Outreach bracelets, featuring our beautiful lotus logo. For each bracelet sold, $8 will be donated to one of our programs, helping to change the lives of thousands of women and children.

We asked Fiona to share her motivation for helping nonprofits raise awareness and funds through her beautiful jewelry designs. Here’s what she had to say:

“At Carpia we believe that you can incorporate “doing good” into everyday life. Spending most of our time at work, what better way to do good than making products that give back? Originally a jewelry design company, we decided to design gifts that support charities worldwide. Knowing our every decision is one step closer to supporting a good cause, we design better, work harder and create faster. Every stone, every charm and every detail of packaging are geared towards attracting supporters for the world’s greatest causes.

We chose Lotus Outreach because your projects aim at long-term solutions through ensuring the education, health and safety of women and children in the developing world. In the comfort of our homes we can’t imagine what it must feel like to not be able to learn the “A-B-C’s”. But Lotus Outreach is out there working to give access to education to thousands of children and helping empower thousands of women who will become pillars in their communities. Now that’s a cause worth supporting!

When you wear or gift your Lotus Outreach bracelet, you help fund and raise awareness for the at-risk and exploited women and children of Cambodia and India.”

You will be able to purchase the limited edition Lotus Outreach bracelets designed by Carpia during the month of November at Carpia.org