Deep Griha New Year Newsletter
Dear Friends of Deep Griha Society,
This newsletter is intended to be an account of some of the vital work Deep Griha has undertaken in 2010. Whilst interviewing several members of staff, everyone displayed an obvious pride in recounting the successes of their respective areas of work, as well as a determination to continue to improve the programmes in the New Year. These sentiments reveal the aspiration amongst the staff for even more progress and achievement in 2011. There is not enough space in this newsletter to fully communicate the scope of Deep Griha’s programmes in and around Pune, its outreach being estimated at around 57,000 people, but its aim is to give the reader an in depth look into its far-reaching work.
The Eye Clinic – Dr. Aruna Salvi
Dr. Aruna Salvi co-runs Deep Griha’s eye clinic with Dr. Nirmal John, assisted by optometry students. For readers unfamiliar with this long-established but less high profile programme of Deep Griha, here is a short summary of how it came to be.
Mary Toll, a girl guide from the UK, came to visit Deep Griha in 1996 and observed the need for an eye-care programme. She introduced Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) UK to Deep Griha and raised funds to set up an eye clinic at the Family Welfare Centre, equipped with the basic instruments and medical supplies. Mary and her friends from the UK gifted a mobile eye clinic to DGS in 2000, which visits communities twice a week. Dr. Salvi remarks that the clinic has expanded to become a very busy, worthwhile, and reputable part of Deep Griha’s work. VAO visits Deep Griha twice a year, and operates eye camps in and around the city for 15 days. Glasses are dispensed at a low cost, and patients that need surgery or treatment are referred to hospitals and clinics in Pune by the DGS staff.
Dr. Salvi mentioned a regular visitor to the eye clinic. A 90 year old man, a previous patient here at Tadiwala Road, made weekly stop-offs until recently to say hello to the staff and to sit with them as they worked. “He struggled to get up the stairs” Salvi remarks, “and was almost bent double, but he said because he could not give anything else, it was important to him to give his blessing whenever he could to the staff for the good work that they do”.
Dr. Salvi vows that in 2011 the clinic will continue to serve the people of the community who appreciate its services so much. “It is a very good programme” she says, “and more importantly, people need it. I hope it goes on and continues to expand, but we do need funds”.
Aadhar Kendra (Support Centre) – Pranil Sojwal, Team Leader
Despite the pressing issue of funds - a grave problem for NGOs worldwide due to the current economic crisis - the staff and children of Aadhar Kendra had a very promising year. There are currently 362 children who benefit from the child sponsorship programme, all of which are either orphans or from single-parent families who do not have the means to provide for their basic needs. Many of the children were previously in the care of extended family and began working at a young age in order to supplement the household’s income, thus compromising their schooling. A good education is at the heart of the Aadhar Kendra programme, and all the children attend local schools. They are also guaranteed all the following advantages that their parents and families were unable to provide due to lack of economic resources:
● one balanced and nutritional meal per day (other meals are eaten at home)
● all necessary educational materials such as books and stationary
● clothes and shoes
● medical care including regular check-ups and treatment
● extra tuition
● fees for additional educational courses the child chooses to enrol in
● extra-curricular activities such as plays, picnics and educational outings
● family assistance i.e. in the case of illness and damage to the home
● fun events such as birthday parties and games
City of Child (CoC) in the village of Kasurdi, 45km outside of Pune, houses 41 children from the Aadhar Kendra programme identified as the most vulnerable. Here they are safe and secure in its residential buildings built on 14 acres of land, including a playground and a cricket field, 10 acres of which are used for agricultural purposes. There are 4 cows which provide milk, and vegetables, wheat and millet are grown to supplement the expenses at the CoC. However, donations are always needed to sustain its outgoings, which are largely made up of the food budget for all the children and staff. The CoC has made impressive attempts at self-sufficiency and sustainability - two qualities at the heart of Deep Griha's work - and is looking forward to a new crop of sugar cane which will be due for harvest this year.
Pranil’s reports show that the Aadhar Kendra children have benefited from a wide range of programmes and donations this year such as:
- study guidance, and alcoholism and abuse group sessions at all three centres
- stationary, uniforms and school bags were also distributed amongst all the kids in June, in anticipation of the start of the school year
- a teenage guidance project was run in the same month for all the beneficiaries of the programme
- in July Deep Griha ran a health and hygiene programme at each centre, which was supplemented by a sex and sexuality session at Tadiwala Road the next month
- in September a teenage guidance session for girls was conducted at all three centres
- IQ tests were used to identify both very able children, and those with special needs, to better ensure that the kids go to schools most suited to their needs
- new outfits were distributed to all the children at Divali
- on 14th November ‘International Children’s Day’ was celebrated at all the centres, and there was a general medical check-up conducted in the same month
- at the close of the year all of the children sent Christmas cards and New Years greetings to their sponsors around the world as a way of showing their gratitude and keeping them up-to-date with their progress and lives
Pranil remarks that the children are looking forward to February where there will be a collective celebration for those whose birthdays are between December and February, and that in March there will be another medical check-up. The latter is something the children certainly won’t look forward to, but that Deep Griha provides so that they are given the best possible start in life; in health, education, and happiness.
Vidyanagar (City of Knowledge) – Ashlesha Onawale, Project Officer
Ashlesha remarks that over the last year she has witnessed great progress at Vidyanagari. A prime example of this is that there are now 70 children, double the amount last year. Currently there are pre-primary children, 1st and 2nd standard, which were added in June, and there are plans to add 3rd standard in June 2011. The are several new teachers who have received a one-day training course in skills such as classroom management, methodology and language. A number of foreign volunteers also go regularly to teach the children exciting and valuable new skills. Christa Sommers, an American volunteer, did sing-a-longs with her guitar for all the children, which proved very popular. Kassie Dantzler, another American volunteer, teaches science, and Ella Foskett-Barnes from the UK has assisted the teachers with language lessons. Ashlesha hopes that this diversity of education will continue, and that the children will be encouraged to take an interest in, and to try out new things, as part of their education at Vidyanagari. An example of this is the sensory garden planted near the children’s play area which they are taught and encouraged to nurture.
Two large murals, one which is an under-the-sea theme, the other which is a jungle, have been painted in the school by volunteer Sharon Stewart and a large group of French scouts, aided by recent volunteers Chris Venables and Jenny Falk. A general medical camp was also run by Dutch volunteer Petra Koenders, as there are regular ENT and dental check-ups. Ashlesha highlights the ecological nature of the school, such as the project set up by CUMMINS India Ltd in February, which begun a system of rainwater harvesting. In September a solar powered water purification system was installed, which has supplied Vidyanagari with abundant clean drinking water. Another of the schools green projects is the bajri, which was planted and harvested in October, and the sorghum that is currently growing will be harvested within the month. There is also the intention to sell produce to bring in extra income for the school.
Future plans include construction beginning this year. CENTRICA, also known as British Gas, is funding further development of the school buildings and its land. CENTRICA also wish to create an employee involvement scheme with the school, and with so many employees, this promises to be a very beneficial collaboration. There are also some fun plans for the kids in 2011, including an annual day of dance, drama and music performances for the parents, as well as a trip to Pune to see a traveling circus. After this exhaustive list of projects and activities I asked Ashlesha for her own hopes for the new year and she said:
‘I am really looking forward to working with CENTRICA on the construction of phase 1 of the primary school, as well as their employee participation. We are all very hopeful that the school will flourish in 2011”.
DISHA (Deep Griha’s Integrated Services for HIV/AIDS) – Pramila Rajput, Project Supervisor
Before DISHA was established in February 2005, Pramila asserts that, "People in the local community knew about HIV, but they were fearful of the virus and did not speak about it. They were too scared to get tested, and avoided and rejected HIV positive people out of ignorance of the facts". Today, she says that many people come of their own freewill to get tested, male youths in particular, which indicates that attitudes towards HIV have changed in the community, essentially due to the outreach efforts and awareness programmes run by the DISHA staff.
Pramila highlights that the nutrition programme for DISHA clients is very successful, and that those on the programme show obvious signs of good health such as weight gain and reduced illness. She claims that although the change in people’s attitudes in the community is relatively small, it is progress nonetheless, and a very positive symbol of the project's success. Pramila is tireless in her hard work and optimism and says that in 2011:
“I hope to see a move from urban to rural outreach work, because NGOs tend to focus their efforts in urban slum areas, so rural communities receive much fewer benefits with regard to HIV education. Rural HIV positive people need more.”
No doubt Pramila and her all-female team, affectionately termed “the DISHA ladies”, and infamous for their striking red saris, will be at the fore of the fight against discrimination in Pune, bringing hope to those struggling to live with HIV.
DISHA – Avinash Chakranarayan, Team Leader
When asked what his highlights of the last year were, Avinash presented a monthly summary of DISHA activities with facts and figures to support the information. The ‘highlight’ section of the document listed not just a few, but tens of successes, including rallies, meetings, classes, training, and even theatrical efforts designed to spread awareness about HIV to as many people as possible. Avinash’s trademark is his passion for the cause, and he spoke with enthusiasm and pride about what DISHA has achieved in 2010, which includes, but is by no means limited to the following events.
April 7th was Global Health Day and to mark it DISHA arranged a general check-up of 200 truckers at Shiroor, and on the 17th there was also an awareness event for the Aadhar Kendra children, which shows how DISHA targets all ages in the community. In May there was a live installation of the Stigma Chakra on Tadiwala Road, which illuminated the vicious cycle of silence, stigma, fear and discrimination, and Ramtekdi Community witnessed International AIDS Day Candelight Rally. June saw a very generous donation of 86kg of food from Tadiwala Road Community to DGS, a dance therapy session for DISHA clients, and a picnic at Bhooshi Dam attended by 83 people.
In July there was the very significant inauguration of MSACS Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC), which collaborated with DGS to begin free HIV testing, now a highly valued part of the NGO’s work. On August 1st DISHA held its first ever pre-matrimonial event, which brought together 283 HIV positive clients from Maharashtra and Goa, and the event resulted in 12 happy couples deciding to get married. On August 12th, International Youth Day, MSACS and Wake Up Pune organised an HIV awareness rally and speeches to which 500 people from different NGOs attended. In September DISHA set up a kiosk on Laxmi Road during Ganesh festival, and distributed a total of 3000 condoms and 3000 leaflets to the general public. October saw an awareness session at Rahoo Village, Kailash Vidhyalaya, to which a staggering 825 students attended.
Ms Marookh Bharucha, a drama teacher and voice coach, helped the DISHA staff and a team of foreign and local volunteers to improve their theatrical skills. The latter developed a street play to take around the city as part of a two-week programme of HIV awareness events in the run-up to World Aids Day on the 1st of December. It was watched by over 1000 people and made several newspaper appearances including The Times of India. November saw the Stigma Tunnel, another theatrical concept designed to spread awareness of the virus, which was comprised of a series of rooms. Within the rooms the DISHA ladies played the roles of different people in an HIV positive person’s life. People from the street were encouraged to walk through the tunnel to experience the negative social stigma that affects those living with HIV. Two beautiful Rangolis were also created at Deccan Junction, which drew interested crowds, and several competitions such as quizzes, mehndi, table tennis and drawing, were run over the two weeks.
World AIDS Day itself was marked by Deep Griha’s annual Celebration of Life. This event was a truly memorable occasion attended by many supporters of the cause. Performances included dances, a fashion show, and a band, but most memorably, an HIV positive couple who had met at the pre-matrimonial event in August. They both spoke movingly about coming into contact with the DISHA team, and proved to all those listening how valuable DISHA’s work is with regard to caring and supporting HIV positive people. At the close of the ceremony they let go of a huge bunch of red and white balloons, symbolic of their rediscovered optimism and hope for the future, and of DISHA's achievements.
The next newsletter will discuss more about our medical projects such as the Tadiwala Road clinic, and also the childcare programmes which operate in the Tadiwala and Ramtekadi slum areas. These include crèches which provide daycare for around 270 6 month to 3 year olds, allowing mothers to supplement the family income by working, rest assured that their children are being properly cared for in a safe environment away from the hazards of slum life.
Our youth empowerment work is also a key element of Deep Griha’s community outreach, and DIYA (Deep Griha’s Youth Resource and Activity Centre) is a very important project for the young people of Ramtekadi. Situated within the slum, the centre welcomes children and teenagers to get involved with numerous educational and recreational activities. Young people can acquire computer skills and attend English classes, as well as take part in dance, theatre, and fine arts workshops. Recently a group of teenage boys took part in drama classes at the centre over a 3 month period, which culminated in a film made by local volunteer Shevari Manakawad about the realities of slum life. This concept designed by Dutch volunteer Eva de Haan was intended as an outlet for the boys’ energies and frustrations, and to give them a voice in the adult community. I was part of this particular project, and the commitment from the boys and personal development we witnessed, was staggering. The younger children also attended the class and performed a play based on an Indian fairytale in which a boy has a magical adventure in the jungle.
Important counseling facilities and awareness sessions offer the children guidance, and encourage them to better their future by rejecting the antisocial behaviour which surrounds them daily. There are lots of games, craft materials and a small library to enhance their learning and to compliment their education. Like all our work, sustainability is at the heart of our youth empowerment, empowerment being the principal goal of all our programmes. By offering children resources and consistency, projects like DIYA promote independence through capacity building, which Deep Griha expresses as:
“Empowerment of the marginalized through capacity building and sustainable rural and urban outreach projects”
Hopefully you have enjoyed reading this short report of just some of Deep Griha’s activity over the last year. A fitting emblem by which to end the year can be seen in our Deep Griha 2011 Calendar.
Representing the month of October is a smiling image of an expectant mother. Her hands are entwined with those of Nisha Naidu, a health worker of the Sure Start programme based in Ramtekadi slum, which rest upon her large baby bump. The serene image of the two women evokes trust, loyalty, friendship, strength, and, perhaps most importantly, the future. As Nisha herself is quoted as saying on the calendar:
“After my husband died I became depressed. I had 3 small children to look after and I had almost lost hope. Deep Griha offered me not only a job, but support and a loving environment to work in. I am now able to provide for my family whilst I work in a field I am passionate about. My job enables me to work within the community helping people every day.”
The Sure Start programme encourages not just a woman’s husband to care for her during and after pregnancy, but all members of the family, and even the community at large. Team Leader Rajendra Aher explains that by strengthening communication and support between members of the family and neighbours, Sure Start staff have seen huge improvements in both the mortality rates and health of mothers and newborns. The project conducts workshops for mother-in-laws and husbands on how to care and support a woman through her pregnancy. It also schedules sessions to educate women about danger signs in pregnancy and vital nutritional information, and these have been instrumental in reducing the mortality rate of mothers and babies, increasing hospital deliveries, and newborns with healthier birth weights.
Antenatal and postnatal care, including home visits, is provided, and the results can be seen in the increase in healthy mothers and babies who are protected and nurtured by education and support. Nisha’s words and story capture Deep Griha’s own motto that “in giving you receive” - coined by the late Bhaskar Onawale who set up Deep Griha with his wife Dr. Neela Onawale over 35 years ago - and the photo of the two smiling women are testament to this belief.
Finally we’d like to take the opportunity to wish you a happy and prosperous new year on behalf of all the staff of Deep Griha, and to thank all those who have helped sustain our work over the last year with their donations, effort, and belief in what we do. Edmund Burke once said:
“Only the foolish man does nothing, because he
feels he can only do a little”
Hopefully this is a sentiment that we can all take to heart in 2011, and Deep Griha invites you to help and contribute in whatever way you can, so that it can successfully empower even more members of the marginalized community this year.
Written by Ella Foskett-Barnes, edited and assisted by Joseph Bird,
Overseas Volunteers at Deep Griha Society
P.S.. You can keep an eye on Deep Griha's work by ‘liking’ us on facebook, checking out our website and looking at photos on flickr:
The Deep Griha 2011 Calendar is available for purchase from our online shop, please visit: