Thank Yous


…Ajeet is powered by a 500 megawatt nuclear reactor. He approaches every task with 110% commitment and stupendous enthusiasm. He loves his shorts high and his belt tight. His hair is always perfect. He is the ideal match for his new sponsor and my esteemed mentor, friend, and fellow ThurtenE Honorary alumnus from St. Louis, Missouri, Brian Fiedler (nickname Chops). Thanks to Brian’s generosity, Ajeet is now directing his indefatigable brain toward the Carmel Convent School for the next semester.

–Ajeet getting ready for his first day of school–

I cannot write this post without smiling and laughing just thinking about Ajeet’s excitement for everything. When I ask him a question, I can practically see his brain processing as his huge brown eyes seem to rapidly search the room for an answer. When he answers correctly, he jumps up and down in anticipation of the next question.

–Ajeet studying hard for his first day of school–

–Ajeet testing the laws of physics and the limits of the Carmel Convent School swing set–

Ajeet never says no and performs every task to the max. Although he is excellent at every subject, his favorite is undeniably recess. If he’s on a swing, he looks like he’s trying to go inverted. When he’s spinning the merry-go-round, I secretly hope that the bearings don’t fail.

–On our way to buy shoes in the tuk-tuk two weeks ago–

–Ajeet playing his first game of basketball, barefoot–

–Ajeet with his mother, Ranju–

Ajeet is 7-years-old. His older brother, Sandeep, is 10-years-old and had to have a massive abdominal surgery as a toddler. Their entire family was devastated by the expense of Sandeep’s healthcare (which to us seems amazingly inexpensive). Ashok, Ajeet’s father, works on a daily basis as a mason.

–Ajeet in his new classroom–

–Future world leader–

–Ajeet with Golu and Prianka before they had their own Carmel Convent School uniforms–

–After school, Ajeet runs home to clean his socks and uniform for the next day!–

Chops, this opportunity means everything to Ajeet. He was custom-made to wear this custom-tailored uniform. The shoes you bought him might as well have wings. There is no doubt in my mind that Ajeet could one day become a formidable athlete, world leader, and the sole source of electricity for an entire city. On behalf of Ajeet, his mother Ranju, his father Ashok, and his brother Sandeep, thank you for providing focus for this bright beam of light.

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…On behalf of Anita, her three sisters, and her mother Rani, I would like to thank Bert Graham of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and mother of volunteer Crystal Graham for committing to support Anita’s entire education! You read that right! For the next ten years, Anita will study at the Carmel Convent School under a full scholarship and educational subsidies provided entirely by Bert Graham.

Anita is the youngest of four daughters. Her father, Chhotedas, passed away a few years ago. Since he did not have a birth certificate, his widow and Anita’s mother, Rani, cannot collect bereavement pay from the government. Now, it is up to Rani to support her four daughters. Rani is aging quickly and has a growth on the edge of her iris that has caused blindness in her left eye.

Rani works from sun up to sun down as a maid in multiple nearby homes to boost her income to Rs 100 ($2) per day. She is illiterate and has no labor skills. She pays Rs 800 ($16) per month in rent for her ramshackle home but lovingly supports her four daughters with whatever is left. When we asked Rani to come to one of our parent meetings, she said that she could not financially afford to miss a few hours of work. I paid her Rs 150 ($3) to come, which put a lovely smile on her face.

–Anita (left) arriving home from the slum school while her sister prepares potatoes–

Anita’s older sisters are only a couple of years older than she is. All less than ten-years-old, the girls are amazingly self sufficient. They prepare and cook their own food, clean their home, and take care of nearly all motherly duties themselves.

–Anita’s oldest sister and the main caretaker of her home–

–Indu, Anita’s second oldest sister–

Bert’s donation has already gone a long way. Anita wears her new uniform and shoes like they were made for a queen.

–Anita at the tailor–

–Anita at the shoe store–

–Anita picking up her backpack and uniform at our parent orientation–

–Rani, Anita (with a mouthful of samosas), and Crystal Graham–

–Anita ready for her first day of school…and the cover of a magazine–

Anita is proving to be one of our fastest learners. Her memory is as sharp as a tack. If we can keep her in school, Anita will revolutionize her own life and those of her three sisters and mother. Bert, your loving generosity is probably the best thing to ever happen to this family. God bless you and thank you.

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…Sometimes, a thank you is insufficient. This is one of those times. Two weeks ago, my Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry Carter of Little Rock, Arkansas reached around the world and extended their hands to provide a caring and generous young girl with a lifetime of opportunity. In honor of the first day of school, I would like to give one very special thank you to the Carters on behalf of their new adopted scholar, Madhu.

The Carters’ donation of 1000 USD is far more generous than I or anyone here ever anticipated. In India, the average annual income in 2010 was about $875. One thousand dollars will revolutionize Madhu’s life and those of her family. At minimum, it will support Madhu for 4 to 5 years at the Carmel Convent School! Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry, I am humbled by your selfless and surprise display of magnanimity. Madhu and her family do not yet know just how much love they are receiving. I have not decided how to approach that process. However, I know they are incredibly grateful already.

–December 19, 2011–

When I took this picture of Madhu just before Christmas, I never thought that she would be getting the present of a lifetime from my very own aunt and uncle.

–January 2, 2012–

–February 8, 2012–

–Madhu with her four siblings and parents at their home on Feb. 12, 2012–

At only 10 years of age, Madhu has more maturity and responsibility than most 30 year-old adults I know. Shyamlal, her father, is an industrious day worker at any construction site that will employ him. He is often away from home working or searching for work. Rita, her mother, is a maid in multiple nearby homes. Both Shyamlal and Rita are illiterate and did not plan on ever sending Madhu to school.

With Shyamlal and Rita both working, Madhu was the head of the house. At first, this posed a problem. Shyamlal and Rita refused our support because Madhu had to take care of her four younger siblings. However, the surrounding community seems to have educated the parents that this is an opportunity that must not be missed. Once our most uninterested parents, Shyamlal and Rita are now unwaveringly committed to Madhu’s education.

–Madhu helping me clean up and organize the slum school on February 14, 2012–

–At the tailor on February 25, 2012–

–Madhu showing off her new shoes on February 25, 2012–

–Parent orientation on March 3, 2012–

–A thousand dollar smile–

Madhu is already excelling at the Carmel Convent School and shows remarkable discipline. Furthermore, with years of motherly experience, she acts like a caregiver for the entire class. She always walks at the back of the line, picks up dropped items, and fixes any untidy uniforms. Literally and figuratively, all of the students look up to Madhu. I look up to her. She is inspirational. If she makes it to graduation, I will be standing and clapping with a towel full of tears as she crosses the stage.

On behalf of Madhu and her family, thank you Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry for the shirts, the skirts, the shoes, the socks, the belt, the backpack, the books, and, most importantly, the ability to study at the Carmel Convent School for many years to come! What a way to spend $1000. I love you.

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…Special thanks to my lovely cousin Teresa Murphy of Little Rock, Arkansas for sponsoring Pooja’s education for the next year!

Pooja, age 7, is one of the first people to run and greet me by name every time I enter the slum. I can hear her running at me now yelling, “Johnnnnnnnnnnnn” as each step causes inflection in her voice. She is confident, energetic, and, like most of our selected students, very eager to learn.

–Pritam, Pooja’s brother–

Pooja’s older brother, Pritam, is 13 years old and also studies in our slum school. He has never attended a formal school and reads at a 1st grade level. Without our intervention, we fear this will happen to Pooja too.

–Umesh, Pooja’s father–

Pooja’s father, Umesh, works the night shift at a nearby factory. I had no idea we were going to wake him up when we visited his home one afternoon last week. Although visibly exhausted with eyes glazed over, Umesh was very enthusiastic about our plans.

However, Pooja does not have a birth certificate. Like many of the others, she was born at home. Unlike many of the others, however, her father has some documentation to support her story. Today, I walked with Umesh, Mitlesh, and Mumta to the local birth certificate office at the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF). Below are some photos from the walk:

–The open field on the left is the bathroom for much of the slum. It is particularly fragrant–

–A very busy part of town called Ballabgarh–

–Finally arriving at the MCF office–

As expected, I immediately got the impression that this was going to be a long process. There were computers in the room, but I don’t think they have seen any use in years. Every birth was still being recorded in massive atlas-sized books dating back many decades.

From his gestures and attitude, I could tell that the head of the office was not too interested in helping us. He insisted that each student wanting a birth certificate bring:

1) Address proof from the time of birth
2) Vaccination card from the time of birth
3) Ration card from the time of birth
4) Multiple applications
5) Witness of a midwife or doctor from time of birth
6) Witness of two neighbors from time of birth
7) Copies of multiple documents
8) Current address proof

I kept calm but I was internally fuming at what a horrible system this is. Most of our students’ families couldn’t come up with even current documents, let alone documents from nearly a decade ago. Our children aren’t the only ones without birth certificates. Given the small sample size I have seen, there must be tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people in India who do not have birth certificates.

Still, we obeyed this man’s seemingly frivolous demands. We walked to get copies of Umesh’s ration cards and Pooja’s vaccination cards in a ramshackle store…

…and then to a small hospital to have an M.B.B.S certified doctor notarize the copies…

..and then back to the slum to find the midwife who gave birth to Pooja so that we could get her fingerprints and validation (by the way, she is uneducated and has assisted the delivery of more than 1,000 children in the slum!)…

…and then back to the MCF office to give the man what he wanted. Then, the same man that told us to go get all of these documents said that he needed the birth certificates of Umesh’s other children. “You have to be kidding me,” I thought to myself. After some pressure, he accepted the application as is. Over the next ten days, he will perform an investigation of the documents and interview the midwife and other witnesses.

To say that I was frustrated with bureaucracy today would be an understatement. However, I am keeping the end goal in sight. If we have to bring in the big artillery and work with district level commissioners just to get these kids in school, we will. Just looking in their eyes motivates me.

Teresa, your donation is opening doors for Pooja in more ways than many of us can even comprehend. Without your help, Pooja would not even be registered as a citizen of her own country. We will get her birth certificate, no matter what it takes. She will thrive in school, I know it. Perhaps, someday, she will use her birth certificate to get a passport so that she can come visit you in the United States of America on her way to a new job.

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…I have some more excellent news that I have not yet disclosed. Sister Prasanna, head of the LKG (lower kindergarten) and UKG (upper kindergarten) programs at the Carmel Convent School, has given us the opportunity to add up to three three-year-old students to her new class starting this April.

I’d like to thank Susan Barnes of Halifax, Nova Scotia and mother of volunteer Heather Barnes for sponsoring Versha, one of our brightest three-year-old girls. Versha is the sister of Kashak, one of our students who will be entering our special first-standard class at the Carmel Convent School. In the photos below, you will recognize Kashak from yesterday’s shopping trip.

This morning, we escorted Versha, Kashak, and their mother to the Carmel Convent School to finalize Versha’s admission into LKG and pay her tuition and fees for the entire year. Like I have said before, approximately 600 children apply for only 150 seats here in Kindergarten! Although Versha and Kashak’s mother is illiterate, she understands that this is an extraordinary gift.

We debated for a second whether or not we should take Versha since we already took Kashak. However, Verhsa shows such enormous potential that she has little competition in her age group. We are extremely confident that Versha will excel at the Carmel Convent School. The fact that both sisters will be studying at the same school will also improve their performance and chances of graduating.

I recently learned that plans are in place to construct new buildings at the convent school to house programs for 11th and 12th standards. Assuming these buildings will be finished within the next few years, our students will have the opportunity to study all the way through 12th standard at the Carmel Convent School! Our students will have the ability to go straight from here to college!! What a starting point. If she stays in school, Versha will study and develop here for the next 14 years!

We filled out the necessary documents and provided a down payment for her tuition and fees. We will deposit the rest in the bank via an electronic fund transfer to eliminate transaction fees. Within minutes, Versha had applied, was admitted, and will soon be on her 14-year journey toward greatness.

–Versha with Heather Barnes–

Versha was captivated by the aquarium. They were probably the first live fish she has ever seen. It was the first of many things she will learn about the world here.

Versha’s bill came out to Rs 6,235 ($125) today, which pays for her admission fees and an entire year of tuition at the Carmel Convent School! The rest of Susan’s donation will be used to buy two uniforms ($20), books ($20), a backpack ($5), shoes ($5), tutoring (TBD), and other costs such as transportation, field trips, etc. I’ll break down these costs as we encounter them.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day…
…Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Thank you Susan for providing teaching to Versha! Your generous donation will feed her for a lifetime.

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…Many thanks to Kathy Allard of Belmont, California and mother of volunteer Natalie Wills for her generous semester sponsorship of Prianka!

Prianka, age 8, is the second youngest of five children and one of our brightest and most disciplined students. She has three brothers and one sister. Although her family does have comprehension about the importance of education, she would never have the ability to receive the education she deserves without our help.

Prianka’s mother, Seema, is one of the most enthusiastic parents about our project. She understands what a life-changing blessing this is for her daughter. Furthermore, Seema serves as a motherly figure for much of the community. During our meeting on Sunday, Seema knew the birthdays of many of our students even when their own parents couldn’t recall the dates. Needless to say, she is quickly becoming a valuable resource for us as well.

Prianka is one of the only children we have met in the slums who has any concept of goals. She says that, if she could be anything in the world, she would be a doctor. Three weeks ago, her chances of being able to attend medical school some day were close to zero. Today, thanks to Kathy’s contribution and those that follow, Prianka may be operating on us in 20 years.

Thank you Kathy for giving knowledge and opportunity to this bubbly and astute little girl. I’m sure she and her mother cannot wait to meet you on Skype!

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…I wish to take this opportunity to thank Pamela Cox, of Tupelo, Mississippi, for being the first donor to sponsor a child for an entire year.

Pamela’s generous contribution will sponsor Manisha’s education at the Carmel Convent School for the next 12 months! This donation will pay for Manisha’s school fees, books, multiple uniforms, shoes, supplies, tutoring, and safety during her walk to and from school.

Manisha does not know Pamela yet, but she will. During the next two months, Pamela will have the chance to Skype with Manisha (and perhaps her family too, if they are not at work) with translators present to facilitate easy conversation. In a few years, a translator will not be necessary. Manisha will be able to have a fluent conversation with Pamela on her own.

Manisha is the fifth and youngest child of Moni and Ramesh. She has two older sisters who are married and two uneducated older brothers (ages 12 and 6) who live with their grandparents. Both Moni and Ramesh are illiterate and work in nearby factories. They have thought about sending Manisha to a government school, but it seems unlikely she will ever attend any formal school. You may remember a previous post in which I noted that Manisha started to make chai tea when we visited her tiny, dark, and spartan home last week. At only eight years old, Manisha is the primary caretaker of her tiny home and shows remarkable maturity and respect for her age. Moni and Ramesh are incredibly excited about this new opportunity and have vowed to support Manisha every way that they can.

Manisha was born at home and therefore does not have a birth certificate. Multiple individuals, including her parents, will be volunteering a large amount of time and energy to acquire proper documentation for Manisha.

Manisha is a precious young girl with the heart of a lion and work ethic of an ox. Pamela, you have given Manisha an opportunity that she and her family will never forget. On their behalf, thank you!

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