Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"
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Archive for July, 2014

Visit with School Girls

July 14, 2014 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

In preparation for this trip, Shanti had been talking about how to help other kids in India. We looked at different programs for the underprivileged and settled on the idea of supporting education, especially for girls. In many poor Indian families, girls education is still discriminated against. As it happens the orphanage that cared for Shanti in her first two years, Vatsalya Charitable Trust, now has an outreach program helping girls from low income families who are vulnerable to dropping out to stay in school through high school graduation through education sponsorship.

Shanti turned 10 in April. For her birthday party, she invited her entire 4th grade class to a performance of her Bharatnatyum dance troupe, having worked for months on a dance called Shabdum, a new and complicated number that tells the story of a mischievous little Krishna stealing butter from his mother. She asked everyone to give money instead of presents and with over 70 people in attendance, she raised over $1,000.

Each girl’s education sponsorship costs about 6,000 rupees or about $100 per year, now here we were meeting the girls who would benefit from her efforts. Mary Paul, the directress of VCT, had arranged for a group of girls from the convent school where the sponsor recipients attend to visit us. We expected to meet 10 girls and were surprised to find more that 30 of them seated and waiting for us on the rooftop patio of VCT.

The school girls began the program, first the 8th grade in their yellow and white uniforms, then the 9th grade in their blue and white, each singing what seemed like a prayer in the Karnatic language. A group of older girls dressed in colorful kurtas followed with an upbeat bangra style dance.

Then it was Shanti’s turned to share. We attempted to explained who we are, where we come from and how she had raised money to support their education. I’m not sure everyone understood, the white mom and Indian daughter was certainly a novelty. Yet, the video of Shanti dancing two Bharatanyum numbers on the screen held everyone’s attention. None of the girls had ever studied the ancient classical dance but they all knew what it was and were impressed. Where had she learned in it America? We explained that we had an Indian dance teacher who had graduated from the University of Varanasi, famed for its Bharatnatyum performers. We feel fortunate that one of them landed in Fort Collins, Colorado, not only because Shanti can learn the dance but it connects us to her Indian heritage and to our local Indian community. Her troupe often performs for the celebration of Indian festivals held by the Indian Association of Northern Colorado.

Mary Paul asked Shanti to teach the girls a few steps. She wasn’t quite prepared for that surprising request but rose to the occasion, teaching the first series of arduous and mudras (foot and hand gestures) that begin Shubdam. That totally broke the ice. Once we were finished the conversation began.

Some girls came up and asked Shanti questions formally but most were too shy for that. Once we ended the program though, the girls immediately grouped around all the members of our Holt Heritage tour, each of whom had an Indian adoptee in their family, and began asking many questions. I was most impressed with their confidence. They stuck out their hands, introduced themselves and wanted to know everything. There were girls who wanted to be teachers and doctors, policewomen and TV anchors. I was pleased to see that they had been exposed to many options, believed in themselves, and were taught to make the most of an opportunity like this one. Every one in our group was touched and impressed by their ambitions.

Many of them signed their name to Shanti’s list of girls who want to correspond, even though none of them have email. Mary Paul told us she would speak with the convent school director, the only person with access to the internet, about setting something up to keep in touch. Since Shanti has to do an exhibition project in order to complete the primary years program at her IB school next year before entering middle school, we’re hoping this will provide a bridge between her class and the girls so everyone can learn the importance of giving girls in a sexist culture a chance to shine in their own right.

Our Day with Mala

July 11, 2014 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

We’ve talked about her since the day we came home. Mala. The lady in the picture holding a baby girl with the name Charu printed on a post-it stuck to her chest. The first picture. The lady in the bright blue sari who walked with a little girl in a bright red dress and squeaky shoes as we turned the corner toward VCT. The first time we saw Charu. The lady in the video in her little house with the green walls where Charu lay sleeping in a hammock hung from the ceiling when we came for her. The lady who bathed and dressed and fed her to get ready for departure. The lady who took her to all the friends and neighbors in the narrow alleyway to say goodbye. The lady who put her in my arms and cried as the car door closed. I cried too. We drove away to life in America where the little girl became Shanti, our daughter.

The video of this moment saw us all through the tough transition of a toddler adoption. Charu had been with Mala for 19 months of her first two years. The moment Mala said goodbye and gave Charu permission to let her go is the loving and selfless act of a foster mother. I imagined Mala grieving when we left. I know that Shanti did. That video saw a toddler through her grief, I often wondered what helped Mala. I now know it was the hope that she might see Charu again someday.

This trip is about finding Mala. Shanti is now 10, the age when we always promised her we would go back to India. The inaugural Holt Heritage Tour gave us this opportunity.

When we walked into VCT we were greeted by the warm director Mary Paul and spent the afternoon in her office, just as we had 8years ago, when our 14-year-old son Grady was just 5 and trying to get his new baby sister in the red dress to play with him. Both of our kids quickly connected with Mary Paul, even as we looked through ” the file” and asked our questions. There was nothing there we didn’t already know, which isn’t much, about where Charu came from. When Mala walked in the room, that no longer mattered.

Shanti wasn’t sure what to make of her, she has no first hand memories, only the video and our stories to connect her to this woman. But Mala was clearly thrilled to see Charu, she squeezed her tight and held her face and kissed it. She pulled her husband into the room too and while Shanti had no memory of Apa, he rubbed her arms up and down as if to test if it was really Charu. He loved her too. The visit wasn’t long as Mala and her husband only had a short break from work but she invited us to her house the next day, when they both had requested the whole day off special for our visit.

Mala still lived in the little house in the video. The front entrance adorned with rangooli sand painting. She’s a devout Hindu. We walked in and I pointed to the hammock hanging in the same corner, telling Shanti,” that’s it, that’s the spot where you were sleeping when we came to get you.” Shanti smiled, “really?”

We spent the whole day with Mala. She made us chapati, sambar, papad and potatoes, cooking up a storm in her small kitchen with her daughter-in-law, while neighbors and relatives stopped by to see Charu grown up. Mala had given us a few pictures from Shanti’s first birthday party and now here was one of the girls, maybe 5 in that birthday party picture, sitting next to Shanti in her long braids and blue and white school uniform, looking at photos on our laptop. Veronica is now in 8th grade. Shanti is in 5th.

Mala piled second and third helpings on our plates, never flinching at our protests. The last course was curd rice. I remembered that’s what Shanti wanted when she said “bua” in her first weeks with us when she didn’t know how to ask for food in English. Here was Mala, chatting while mixing the curds and rice with her hand on Shanti’s plate, adding a little water and salt because that’s the way she remembered Charu liked it. Shanti didn’t quite understand how she was showing her love.

Next came the videos and photos Shanti had stored on her laptop. Mala looked through them all, taking a special interest in Shanti’s Bharatnatyum dance performance. Mala shared the photo album of her son’s wedding from three years back. Then it was time for a ride on Apa’s motorbike. Both kids behind Apa, and their toddler grandson seated in front for a trip around the block. Apparently something Charu loved to do with Apa every evening after work. My husband George taking video of it all, just as he had the last time, for us it was like living her adoption moments all over again.

Mala brushed Shanti’s hair and set it into a beautiful french braid. Little by little Shanti settled into the reality that this was her place, her Indian family. She walked around the neighborhood and through the house and started to act like she belonged there. Her roots were talking hold, grounding her, she said she had no more questions. This was enough to fill the hole.

Mala had done it again, giving her exactly what she needed to thrive. The last time it had been fortnightly mud baths and standing in a bucket of sand in order to heal a weak hip that had labeled Charu “developmentally delayed.” Now, she’s a dancer and a volleyball player.

Mala asked when Shanti will come back again, saying “you always come see me, even when I am an old woman,” and gave her a long embrace. I squeezed her tight and when George hugged her, they both cried. Then the car door closed and just like last time we said goodbye with happy tears. Only this time we felt like family.