Here is what my parents, M.Ramaswamy and S.Padmini told me about the project in Bangalore when I talked to them last night.
They visited the Prasanna Jyothi Project run by the Prasanna Trust in Bangalore on Thursday, March 10, 1994 in the late afternoon after all the children had returned from school. The trustees are a gentleman, reckoned to be about 56 years old and his wife. Apparently, they are followers of Chinmayananda, and this encouraged them to start this project. They also lost their daughter in an accident a few years ago and my father felt this contributed to their present efforts.
The project is basically an orphanage, comprised of 23 girls, ranging from the ages of 4-7 to the oldest who is 13. A small caveat is that these girls are not technically orphans except for two. Another two are children of prostitutes. The rest were allowed by their families to go to the project where they are clothed, fed and sent to an English medium school. When asked by my mother why such young children were separated from their parents, the answer was that the couple felt that in some cases the boys in the families were being favored and that many of the girls were happier at the project. There have been a few cases in the past when the families have reclaimed their children and taken them back home.
The couple are having trouble renting a place for any length of time. In order to secure a permanent place they are looking for funds to build a place. Although their present place is a bit small, it seemed adequate. My parents felt that this was their main aim in asking Asha for funds. They are assisted by two house-mothers who were trained professionally in Bangalore and two other women volunteers.
According to my mother, the girls are all very confident and seem self-assured. The couple planned to give them vocational training in sewing etc., but my mother suggested that perhaps they could be more gainfully apprenticed in a company or industry etc.. The couple were very open to suggestions and seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of the girls.
The girls are only allowed to see their parents twice a year, which, my father felt could lead to some alienation and a superiority attitude, though none was openly evidenced.
Altogether the project seems credible, although it is not strictly, in the sense of the phrase, an "education project".
In case it makes any difference, my mother just retired from working for Unicef for 18 years where she evaluated many similar situations, albeit on a larger scale. Both my parents also speak Kannada and spoke to some of the girls. I hope her suggestions and questions were not out of line for an Asha field visit type of thing.
I got in touch with the people in charge - Mrs. and Mr. Srinivasan and Sundari. On expressing my desire to meet with the kids, I was invited over. I went to Banashankari and it was only upon my arrival there that I realized they had changed their location to J.P Nagar, specifically in Kothunur Village where they have built a permanent house. The new address is
After my initial fiasco with the address I actually got the place the following Saturday. My first encounter was a very positive one. A whole bunch of highly energetic and enthusiastic kids. The house consists of two floors. It has a yard in front of it with a swing for the kids to play. As for the interior, on the first floor, you have a kitchen, a hall (where they eat and perform their cultural shows), there is another room with a lot of storage space - which serves as their bedroom - the mattresses are rolled up and placed in these storage spaces. There is a bathroom and another little storeroom attached to the bedroom. Each kid is given a block of space to keep their personal belongings and their essentials. The second floor is a replica of the first. The first thing I checked were the living conditions and the sanitation. I was delighted to find that the rooms were clean, well swept and dust free. The bathrooms and toilets were clean and well maintained. The kitchen and the cook were friendly, clean folks. So as far as health and sanitation went, there does not seem to be reason for concern.
The kids - There are 24 children from the age of 4-13. Wonderful children to say the least. They had just got back from school and were a little shy initially when I was introduced to them. Slowly but surely they lost their inhibitions and started talking to me quite happily. I asked to be left alone with them for a while - for I didnt really want the older folks hovering around them. Most of them are in English medium schools, and some of them attend Kannada medium schools. They spoke to me about their schools and their friends. Upon asking them if they were happy with everything there - the food, the people, the entire setting, they didnt seem to flinch, and unanimously agreed that they liked the place. Further, they went on to tell me what they liked about the place. Some liked their "mummies" as they called Ratna, Sundari and Kalavathi (the warden).
Most of them loved school and their friends. They told me about their cultural interests. Some love dancing, some like painting, some just like to be. :) The good thing about this was they really consider this their home - there is a pretty high degree of security which I think is extremely important for kids that age.
I had so much fun with the kids and kind of had to remind myself that I had to talk with the "elders". It wasn't half as bad :) - Kalavathi is currently the warden. She stays there 24 hours a day, and takes care of almost all the need of the kids. From seeing that they are packed off to school - to seeing that they get their meals at the proper time, to seeing that they complete their homework - she is the one who takes care of the general well-being of the kids. She is a well-trained professional and has worked in similar organizations before. A very pleasant person and not the sterotypical "warden" from hell. She seems approachable and smiles a lot. Pretty cool. The couple - Mrs. and Mr. Srinivasan seem extremely dedicated and share a beautiful relationship with the kids. Some of the kids tell them stories from school and share jokes and concerns with them. The "parents" are strict and do reprimand them (or so I'm told). They visit them whenever possible and usually spend the weekends there.
Facilities for the kids - many of the kids are talented and/or extremely interested in music, dance, painting and the like. Given this scenario, I asked themwhat they were doing about it and whether they provided for classes etc. Apparently the children have classes in their respective schools and hence they do not really provide them with classes. However, I personally feel that a lot more of them can actually be encouraged to do the things they are good at. Only a couple of them whoose interests match resources seem to get this opportunity. For eg. there is no real opportunity for a child to learn painting. They say they are planning to start this though. they took great pride in stating that they celebrated all festivals and that they had cultural shows. I asked them if they took the kids out for a picnic or an outing and they told me that though these outings weren't that frequent, they weren't totally non-existent.
Clothes, books and mattresses are usually second hand used clothes which social service organizations and certain institutions give them. I checked them personally and they seem clean and fine. As for school - all of them go to the same school. However, some go to English medium schools and a couple go to Kannada medium schools. They have newly admitted into this school because the previous one is very far away from the new home. The younger kids go to school in an autorickshaw because they have to walk a considerable distance. The range is from U.K.G. to 7th grade. They are all provided with books of their own, even if they are in the same class. That is GREAT! They have uniforms, stationary and all the other accessories thanks to Asha. They told me that the entire money that Asha provided was spent toward education. This included school fees, books, stationary, other expenses, school programs and the works. Mr. Srinivasan promised me a break up of the expenses but I haven't received anything yet. Maybe I will bug him when I go to India this time.
Their main source of funding seems to be from
Kids meeting their parents - Well, I asked them what their policy was and they said that they allow the parents or some relative to meet the kid once in 6 months. They said that these kids have come from extremely broken or non-existent homes. Some of them have parents most or all of whom are in houses of violence and abuse. Many of them have been abandoned. Once the organization takes the kids into their fold they bring them up in a particular manner, and teach them certain rules to follow and bring them up with certain values. The kids are loved and cared for like their own. Given the state of affairs - they feel frequent visits from parents may result on nullifying a number of the positive effects that the organization is having and would constantly keep the child in touch with a pretty cruel past. Further, when parents of one kid come to visit, the other kids feel left out and jealousy crops in. Well, that was the argument.
The highlight of my visit was the cultural show put up by the kids.
Wow, talented or what? Six of them performed a dance show. Two of them
are supposed to be "really" good at break dancing. They are attending classes
and attend competitions etc. Another group performed a dance to the latest
Tamil film song. Both these were plain delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed
myself. After this two kids showed me their art work and gave me cards
made by them. Apparently they sell some of these cards and raise funds.
They are great. I was told that they all study well, especially two of
them have been 1st rank holders from the time they were born kind-of-deal.
In fact one of them wants to come to MIT for higher studies. Totally encouraged
her. Rummaged through photographs and heard pleanty of stories. Consumed
a great cup of tea, got a photograph of the entire bunch and said adieu
to a lovely afternoon.
For more information please contact Asha-Berkeley directly.