*A story written by Malati Ji, an India lover and passionate about development work*
When I was a student I was always searching for something and I felt that university life was superficial. We had so many clubs and activities just to pass the time… Finally I met someone who talked to me about meditation and I realized that there was a whole new world out there that I knew nothing about, so I did some research and finally ended up doing Ananda Marga meditation. Our spiritual teacher emphasizes social service and helping others, and this was great for me, as I also always had a desire to help poor people in the Developing World. I have worked for this organisation for many years now. One time the meditation teacher I was working with was asked to come to work in India. We were writing English teaching books together and I was helping her with other publications too, so I also came. I continued working on educational materials for schools there for several years. Then I started to realize that the schools we were making the textbooks for were not all going to be able to use them as they lacked basic amenities – toilets, water, electricity, classrooms. Some had leaking roofs and some didn’t have enough money to pay their teachers. The students were poor village children whose parents had no money to pay school fees, but our schools had no other source of income…
So when the internet got going in around 1996, I started to fundraise by sending out mails to our members, profiling the poorest projects and asking for help. We built many toilets, put in water supplies, repaired leaking roofs and built a few classrooms and a couple of school buildings too. We are still doing it too. We have helped a lot of schools. But then I saw it wasn’t enough and so we started an NGO. We called it P.O.O.R., which stands for Poverty alleviation, Orphan and old age care, Opportunities for all and relief and Rehabilitation, to help us with our work. And around the same time we started a child sponsorship programme. At different times we have sponsored over 200 children for their food and education. We are still doing it. We also sponsor orphans. There are a lot of children in our contact who need this type of support. We never have enough sponsors…
Along the way I spent two years in Thailand helping an orphanage there. The embassies taught me how to fundraise and we got the idea of bringing volunteers from abroad to work with us. Our first volunteer got inspired and started a programme called Go-Mad to bring more volunteers from Japan. She was really successful and lots of volunteers started coming. So when I returned to India I thought it was a good idea to start a volunteering programme there too. We made a few mistakes along the way…. Slowly I realized that volunteers needed the projects to be in attractive places where the director could speak good English and would be able to take care of them and really use their skills. We came up with four places: Uma Nivas Girls High School in the tribal villages of West Bengal, Trivandrum school, Shillong orphanage and primary school and Jaipur orphanage.
What does Uma Nivas need?
It needs funds to finish the new dormitories it has built so it can take in 100 more hostel residents and provide free educational opportunities for bright but economically deprived poor children from the villages nearby. It needs volunteers to teach the children English and other skills; it also needs volunteers with medical skills to help with the medical camps that the school director conducts every week in the villages.
What do you like about India?
One of my favourite parts of India is Rishikesh. The atmosphere there is really special. I love the spiritual vibrations flowing from all the ashrams nestling on the banks of the Ganges. Another favourite is the Himalayas. I have helped organize treks in Ladakh… When you’re out in the mountains away from the towns, it is like heaven on earth! In any case I love India. I love the people, the smells, the sights, the chaos, the warm hospitality, and the fact that nothing is impossible here. In India I feel alive in every cell of my body!