Saturday, February 6, 2010

Begging for Change

I’ve just returned from my trip to southern India to visit Sai Baba’s ashram in Puttaparthi, a small village located near Bangalore. We had heard about a school that was founded by an American couple named Michael and Aleli. They call this endeavor the ‘Children’s Project Trust.’ I don’t have much opportunity to be with children and wasn’t sure what to expect. Michael and Aleli are wonderful spiritual beings that had an idea of starting a school to help the many destitute children of India.

India is an amazing country, full of buzzing activity, color and contrast of abundance and great poverty. I felt safe inside the security of the ashram but as soon as I stepped through the gates to the village I felt overwhelmed and vulnerable gripping to the arm of my boyfriend Jerry every second. I knew about the begging children on the street, but had no idea of the stories these children had to tell.

Visiting the 32 children that are mostly girls of the ‘Children’s Project Trust’ was a heart opening experience that I will never forget. The stories of these children are described in the book ‘Begging for Change’ by Jennifer Gaze. I have several copies to lend out to anyone interested who would like to help. All of these children have been abused in some way. Many of the girls have been living on the street or in a garbage dump while either orphaned or having parents who are alcoholic. Often sent out to beg for money rather then attending school many of the children were beaten if they did not bring back adequate money. Many of the parents would use this money for drink rather then feed and take care of their children. These children were often left to their own resources to care for themselves. There was no one to feed or bath them. Many of the girls were sold into marriage as early as age 13 to a boy of another family of alcoholism. Their fate sealed at an early age. The legal age in India to marry is 18 years old but no one is enforcing this law.

Sometimes, a Westerner will find these children on the streets and try to help by putting the children in a live-in school/orphanage. Unfortunately, these schools provide no sanctuary for the children. The chaste system in India considers these precious children at the bottom of the barrel and does not protect them. The children are often hungry and beaten for no reason other then getting an answer wrong on a test. There is no quality of education provided to the children in these schools. And worse many of the girls I met were sexually abused by staff members at these schools on a regular basis and/or raped by their own male family members. Many of the girls would run away from the schools and wind up on the streets again.

I was able to meet Aleli who has undertaken a huge responsibility to care for and teach these children. She considers each child, as her own, and has no previous training as a teacher. She and Michael are responsibility to raise, educate and love each child. Their dedication is apparent in the faces of each child. My experience with the children left a profound impression on me. They are so full of love. I expected the children to be cautious and ill behaved. On contrary they were open and playful. They were able to connect and share what they were learning and grateful for this opportunity to have a good life. The older girls were poised and confident young women that spoke, read and wrote English very well. The school attracts volunteers from many western countries to teach the children or to offer their service to help care for them. The men who help manifest healing the girl’s trust and faith in men. My friends and I brought the school needed supplies and additional money to support this project. The children seem genuinely happy and well adjusted. Aleli and Michael have done a fabulous job and have made the ultimate sacrifice to give up their comfortable life in America to do the tireless work needed to care for and educate 32 children. They even counsel the families of the children and offer food and support as well. I feel that the children are getting a great education from the CPT.

The children begin their day at 5 am with a spiritual practice, exercise, wholesome vegetarian food, creativity and classes. The spiritual component of their education is important in creating a foundation of faith, confidence, good values, ethics, love and joy. They are well behaved and interact well with each other. These are grateful children who will be strong, confident and loving adults one day that will contribute to society. Michael and Aleli’s strong spiritual faith fuels their sacrifice and tireless giving.

Michael and Aleli are in the process of building a school in the mountainous area in India called Coorg. The school will provide a better space for raising the children. They will be able to grow crops such as coffee to create self-sufficiency. They support the children in whatever they want to do when they grow up, but know that many of these children will eventually take over the school themselves to teach and care for more children like themselves in the future. What a beautiful concept.

I have heard about the suffering of children around the world, but when you actually meet the children and see their hopeful faces it really touches your heart. I will continue to support the ‘Children’s Project Trust’ by sending funds on a regular basis. To learn more:

If you wish to make a donation by check, you can address your check directly to:

Children's Project

C/O Philip Brown

370 23rd Avenue #9

San Francisco, CA 94121

If you are interested in becoming a visiting Faculty they do need your help in reading, writing and arithmetic.

Thank you for reading my blog about the children.