Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rays of Hope

Hello dear readers
I am back with a story of hope, change and a vision that sees a future for the children who would otherwise be a part of the forgotten, the many who slip through the cracks in the system and take to a life of crime, mediocrity or menial jobs.

For some months now, I have been volunteering with an NGO called Ashraya Institute for Children, the brainchild of a 19 year old student, Elizabeth Sholtys from Mahindra United World College , Pune.  Elizabeth conceived of a social initiative to fulfill her 'Service' requirement as part of her IB syllabus.   What started as a school project is now a fully functioning NGO under the caring and visionary leadership of Liz Didi as she is fondly referred to by the children who are given nutritional, residential and educational support by AIC.  The Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that runs a home for street children and a series of interwoven outreach programs designed to benefit vulnerable children and communities in Pune, India.

This story is about two girls Geetha and Jyothi (see photo insert) who pretty much spent their childhood under the auspices of AIC.  Their background covers the gamut of absentee parents, extreme poverty, unstable homes and lack of a role model.  What separates them from the others is their association with AIC and Liz, and other volunteers and staff at AIC.  Both the girls became a part of AIC at the tender age of 8.  I was fortunate enough to be asked by AIC to help coach these children on how to face an interview as they were getting ready for college. 

I will be frank with you.  I did not know what to expect.  I had a few simple questions prepared to take them through a 'mock' interview.  But as I met the first individual, I knew that I had underestimated them.  Not only did they speak fluent English, they spoke with a confidence and poise that one associates with private schools and convents.  They were well read, clear about why they wanted to go to college and what they wanted to do with their lives. 

It was no surprise that both mentioned Liz didi as their role model, and that they wanted to emulate her work so that they could help other children like themselves have a better future.  Tell me, dear reader, what better testament can there be that change is possible?  The years they spent under the tutelage of AIC and all it had to offer changed the trajectory of their path.  The likelihood of them finishing school was slim let alone aspiring for higher studies. 

PS:  Both Geetha and Jyothi secured admission to UWC's Foundation Programme.  They are now beacons of hope for several other children  as well as a source of pride and joy to the founders, directors and staff of AIC.  Their future is now shining with possibilities, of travel to countries abroad, a life filled with hope, joy and success......

Those of you that want to know more about AIC and their work, please log on to their website at: 

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Greetings, my dear readers and a very happy new year 2014 to all of you.  May all your wishes, aspirations and desires be fulfilled in this new year. 

Now that I have spent a solid 18 months in India, I am slowly beginning to assimilate the customs, practices etc., that were a huge shock in the first few months.  Since I now no longer have a 9- 5 job that keeps me busy during the day, I do have time at my disposal for the first time in 12 years.  With the kids at school for the major part of the day, I have to find ways to amuse myself and keep both my body and mind agile.
I decided what better way to keep fit than to join an exercise class that would have a two fold benefit:  keep me fit and make new friends.  The new India offers more options than just the yoga and walking that we had in our days.  I decided to explore the world of Zumba!! 

Thus began my sojourn with my newfound activity every other morning with a bunch of other ladies, all of an uncertain age north of 30.  My instructor is a flexible, attractive woman under 30, who moves like lightning.  After the first few days of vainly trying to replicate the moves and jumps and twirls of the Instructor,  I have accepted the limitations of my own body and found compromises that may not look magnificent, but leave me with less body aches at the end of the day.

Highlight of the week was a pre-valentine zumba dance party where participants from all batches arrived with their instructors to dance away their worries.  I must say I was a bit nervous to see some younger, hipper crowd and wondering if my clumsy moves would make the cut.  I was next to a chubby guy who had two left feet and his arms had a mind of their own.  In comparison, my moves were as graceful as a gazelle and soon my confidence returned after which I pretty much didn't care who saw me.  I am not proud of making unfair comparisons, but human nature is frail, and I needed a small boost to my self-esteem.

In the India that I have come back to,  40 is the new 30 (just like in the US).  When we were growing up here, once you got married and had kids, women let themselves go and did not have the time or the inclination to seek out options for their own enjoyment.  Now it is a pleasant change to see that women are making the time to carve out time for themselves and boldly exploring options that were once considered taboo. 

With that, I leave you dear readers to zumba your worries away!  Until next time, adios, dear readers...........