Guest Blog – Jennie from England

I’ve been having a great time for the last three weeks, volunteering at Sristi Foundation. It has been one of the most rewarding volunteering experiences I’ve ever had, and I really recommend that anyone interested in volunteering should seriously consider doing so with Sristi.

Here are my five highlights of the last few weeks:

  • Working with Karthik. All those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Karthik will know what I am talking about. He is so enthusiastic and genuinely dedicated to the work of Sristi. He is also incredibly pragmatic and great at sharing his learning with volunteers; I’ve certainly gained a lot of insight into how an organization works from him.
  • Living in a rural village in Tamil Nadu. The ‘pink house’, where volunteers are based is very basic accommodation, but provides a great experience – much better than a lackluster hotel in a tourist hot spot! The neighbours are very welcoming and friendly too!
  • Meeting the parents – during my time we had a great celebration with the parents of the members at Sristi Village. It provided an excellent opportunity for parents to experience how well our members are flourishing and gaining skills at Sristi Foundation, meet with staff and volunteers and input their ideas into how Sristi can grow. It was so nice to be hugged by Arun-Kumar’s mother when she arrived, so thankful and emotional she was!
  • Building a compost loo is certainly one of my highlights! Compost toilets are water-less toilets that also produce great quality compost for land. The idea is you do your business in a bucket, add in sawdust and ash and when the bucket is full, leave it for one year and let it compost properly. When it is properly composted and dry, you can safely use it on the land. As well as providing an extra toilet to an always growing village, it also is a great way of saving water. I really enjoyed learning about different composting systems and will certainly take this learning to other projects I work on in future.
  • Teaching English. I have worked for a few years as an English as a Second Language teacher with a variety of people. Sristi asked if I would lead some English lessons for the members at Sristi and I agreed. It was a great challenge as I have never taught English to disabled people before and it stretched my skills, but was really enjoyable. Rather than ‘book learning’, we focused on verbal communication skills using drama techniques. It really helped me to get to know the members, and there’s nothing as heartwarming as someone having a conversation with you, building in the language you have taught them!

For anyone wanting to volunteer – I heartily recommend considering Sristi Foundation as a place to come. For more info, get in touch: sristivillage[at]gmail[dot]com

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Storms, Diwali, Farming and Fun!

Volunteer Experience: James Brocklebank

Hi, my name is James, I’m 26 and I´m a French teacher from England. I arrived at Sristi at the start of November 2015 with my partner Annie to spend one month at Sristi Foundation. We are half way through our stay at the moment and it´s safe to say we are having an amazing experience so far.

I have been predominantly working on the land, organising activities for the members and helping out with some administrative work for Khartik. It has been amazing to get to know the members of Sristi Village and hearing some of their stories has been touching, motivating and truly inspirational.

The first week we were here was a little disjointed as Tamil Nadu was hit by a rather vicious storm on one day and it was Diwali the next day. The storm meant that we stayed away from the farm because of the adverse weather conditions and we were pretty much house-bound for the whole day with no power. Nevertheless this was the perfect opportunity for Annie and I to spend time with the other volunteers and to get to know them. We had a nice day talking, playing cards and we did venture out into the howling wind for an afternoon stroll. The affectionately named ‘Pink House’ is nice for volunteers and the atmosphere is always one of sharing and good fun!

Thankfully the storm held off for the festival of lights and Sristi´s Diwali celebrations! Khartik had hired a ‘van’ for the day and the plan was to do a house crawl, visiting different member´s families where we would eat, drink and enjoy Diwali. I’m sure Khartik won’t mind me saying that the bus that turned up was not quite what we expected, it was ideally going to be big enough to fit all 25 of us. However, an 8 seater camper van-esque bus turned up! But this is India and the party must go on! There was never any doubt that we would all fit and after all, when there is a will there is a way. I think we got 19 people in the van and another 6 on two motorbikes. We made the really fun journey to Pondicherry and some surrounding villages where the hospitality of the families and supporters of Sristi was second to none. It´s safe to say everyone enjoyed the amazing food even though we probably all ate too much. We did have a bit of a dance to try and work some of it off!

So after the excitement of the storm and Diwali we eventually settled into a routine of going to the farm or ‘the land’ to work. We have been ably directed by Tata, the lead farmer. Although it sometimes feels like Tata is barking orders at you, you soon realise that that’s his way and his singing and encouragement keep you on your toes and help you to enjoy the work even more. We are always ably assisted on the land by the members and Sendhil, Sugumar are the stand out workers but everyone gets involved. The highlight has definitely been finishing the weeding of the rice field. Probably the size of a football pitch this work has certainly made us appreciate our lunchtime and dinnertime rice more and has given us a good sense of achievement. I hope the harvest repays the village with some good rice!

Away from the field we have had fun with the members doing a range of lessons, activities, games and outings. We have enjoyed teaching some English, playing cards and chess and doing some sports including ball games, yoga and some walking. One day we took a trip to Mailam’s temple. All the members enjoyed getting the bus and then having a look round some of Mailam’s shops before climbing the hill to the temple. It was nice to see the members completing their Hindu rituals and we all enjoyed the peace of the temple as well as the spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

Overall I have had an amazing time and I have learnt so much and everyone has been so kind and generous. The members have been brilliant and we must never underestimate their capabilities and what we can learn from them.

 

 

 

 

Summer camp at Sristi Village

During the long Indian summer holidays a group of almost 40 children from one of the 40 SOS children’s villages in India came to visit Sristi Village. Their SOS village is located in a village near Pondicherry. The SOS villages were founded by the Austrian Hermann Gmeiner who established these homes for children who were left orphans after the Second World War. Today there are villages in over 133 countries.

The children arrived at Monday, 11th May and stayed for 5 days. Because they were too many to stay at our hut on the land they rented a big room in Kunamangalam Village where they slept, cooked and spent the hot hours during midday.

In the mornings they helped on the land while our community member Angeli prepared their breakfast. We were happy how the children involved with our work and the community members.

When there was not work for them on the land or the weather was too hot, they played volleyball with our volunteers, stayed in the rented room to improve their chess skills and conducted a Cricket tournament.

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On Monday, three of the boys and one of our community members, Shekila, had their birthdays so we celebrated it with cake and good food. It was a nice evening and we had a lot of fun.

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On the last evening, there was a party at Sristi Village where we made a bonfire, listened to music, danced and all in all had a very good time.

We are very grateful for the work, help and commitment, the children showed in the five days they spend with our community. It was a great time for us all and I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did!

At the same time, three volunteers from Germany, Sonja, Franzi and Lea who are in India for eleven months and used their free time during their projects’ holidays to help working at our land supported our team for three weeks. We were really happy about their help during the camp with the 40 children and with there 2 weeks worth work on our land where they worked under Thatha’s instruction.

For us it was also a good experience to organise everything because the Sristi founder and director Karthik is in Europe for six weeks, extending our overseas network, meeting friends and supporters and spreading the knowledge of the Sristi Foundation and especially the Sristi Village. We are happy to say that after few problems at the beginning, everything worked out very well!

Our long way towards a Cow

It was after our very successful presentation organised by Unlimited Tamil Nadu on 7th March that we first saw the possibility of purchasing a cow and making our dream of starting a dairy farm at Sristi Village! The CEO of Gram Suchana, Kumar Ramachandra was interested in donating 100.000 Rupies, so we were supposed to give him a concept of what to do with the money. We choose to present our idea of buying cows to increase the level of self-sustainability of our society (since we need milk, to drink our chai! :D) and give our people a new opportunity to learn new skills, this time in the care of animals.

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From this moment onwards we started to look for cows. They shouldn’t be too expensive since we had only a limited budget and wanted to get as many cows as possible, but they also shouldn’t be to old and so on.

All our members tried to help to find cows, we asked all our connections but still, it was a hard job to do.

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But in the end, we were successful! Now, our Sristi Foundation is the home of two beautiful cows, Nisha and her baby daughter Lakshmi.

How to change a life

Many people think (and since they don’t get any chance to prove it otherwise the government seems to think it, too) that intellectually disabled people are good for nothing and that therefore they are not worth the effort. But these people don’t experience what we see. They don’t know how a simple task, a small employment can change the behaviour, even the life of people with intellectual disabilities. Maybe they don’t really care and would never take the time to experience.

But luckily, there are also other people. People who care, People who even try and do their best so that the lives of our community members can be changed. We surly work for that and it is the change in behaviour, the happy smile on their faces, the sheer naturalness with which our members start to do their daily tasks that proves, that we are doing a good thing, maybe even the right thing.

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Today we want to introduce one of our members to you whose changes in behaviour and in attitude have been simply astonishing.

First, there is Sugumar. Sugumar came to us a few months back, one of our volunteers referred him to us. He has a mild intellectual disability, which made it hard for his family to take care of him. They were unsupportive and not understanding the challenges and barriers Sugumar was facing. Their “problems” ended with Sugumar’s running away from home. After that his very own problems and challenges began. He stayed on the street for 15 years. He had nobody, was starving because he didn’t have anything to eat and even ended up in prison. His life seemed to be in a spiral downwards and nobody was willing to help him.

That was, until he came to us. We couldn’t do much for him, just give him a place to stay, a place where he was and is accepted as he is, where he lives together with people who face the same challenges. In our community everyone is there for the others and helps where he or she can. But there are also some rules. It took some time, some discussions for Sugumar to accept this but when he did and when he finally decided that he really wanted to become a part of the Sristi Village, everything changed.

His behaviour, his attitude, his life. He is now one of the happiest persons living in our community. He is always helping on the field, willing to learn more skills and eager to make everything right. He is not only caring for himself but is there for others when they need help, always supporting.

We are really happy he is accepting us as his family!

The Sristi Foundation Intorduces Itself

As already mentioned in “Who W Are” the Sristi Foundation is a NGO founded by the Indian psychologist G. Karthikeyan, widly known as Karthik. He has been working with disabled people for the last 15 years now and before that grew up in an orphanage, together with disabled and non-disabled children. Through this experience he realised the limited chances disabled children and adult have in life, especially in India. 

Soon he realised what he wanted to do in life: To find a way to enable disabled people to find something they can do in their lives, to teach them skills to make them become self-sustaining and lead a life in dignity and respect. Soon, the idea of how this should come true, was developed: A community where “normal” and disabled people could and should live together, where each one of them could and would contribute his or her part.

The cosequence of this was the founding of Sristi Foundation, exactly the above mentioned NGO which’s mission it is to 

“Establish an inclusive, self-sustaining and Eco-friendly village where intellectually disabled and marginalised individuals can reach their full potential.”

It is the idea of our Sristi Foundation to promote a strong sense of community where everyone feels valued and is given the opportunity to lead a happy, dignified life. The word “Sristi” comes from the ancient language Sanskrit and means “creation“, because it is our aim to create a world where everybody has his place and is treated with respect. 

Karthik’s and therefore the Sristi Foundation’s vision is today being accomplished in various projects. 

The first of them is the Sristi Special School. The actual idea was to provide education for adults with disabilities. But one day a man came to the of the then newly founded Sristi Foundation. He asked Karthik if he could educate his disabled child since he had experience with disablities. Then he just left, leaving his child at the office. And so our school started. At the moment we are educating 10 students but we hope that we will be able to reach more children in remote villages near Sristi Village soon and impact more lives.

Another project, fulfilling the main objective of the Sristi Foundation is the Sristi Vocational Training Centre. Here, disabled adults can learn valuable skills, enabling them to produce various items for selling. Through this, they can earn their own money, something that is impossible for most of india’s disabled. At the moment, we are producing  door mats, cleaning products, handmade paper items, candles, incense sticks, cloth flowers, greeting cards and paper bags at our centre. 

Our last and probably unique project is our Eco-friendly and inclusive farm, that ensures the self-sustainability of Sristi Village. We own 8,39 acres of land on which our community cultivates various agricultural products including corn and millet. We are very proud to say that every member of our community is involved in the different steps of cultivation. Through this we all learn a lot new things about agriculture and can see what we are doing: It is really satisfying to see the changes in land and people with every new seed that is planted. And: shared success is double success! Since everybody was involved in the planting of our seeds, we all were more than happy when we where finally able to harvest our first crops last month!