Please DONATE with PayPal for Make Up Meeting
to help support our Service Projects.
SUGGEST Future Programs

The Rotary Club of Ojai, California, sponsored two grants in 2016 to benefit the village children of Prashanti International School in Puri, Odisha, India. The first grant was a 3-way joint project with the participation of Rotary Club of Ojai, the Rotary Club of Sri Jagannath Dham, local to Puri, and World Family Foundation (WFF), an Ojai-based non-profit. This grant provided clean drinking water for the children. The second grant was a District Grant created by RC Ojai.  In this grant, laptop computers and other needed items were provided for the school.  RC Ojai club member Leslie Bouché explains how these projects came about, what they entailed, and who are the beneficiaries of the grants. All photos were taken by Leslie or by one of the WFF board members.
 

In 1973, in my early 20’s, I travelled to India for the first time. I spent several months there, and became quite interested in the many different cultures and traditions that make up India. I have continued to make nearly annual trips there with my family, travelling to many parts of the country and making many friends. As the years have passed, I have seen so many changes in India – the burgeoning tech industry, the rising middle class, the vast growth of the cities… and yet I have seen how the gulf between the very rich and the very, very poor has not changed. There are pockets of the most extreme poverty that seem to remain untouched by all the “progress,” and the children are always the most severely affected. I discovered in my heart a growing desire to do some small thing to help at least one poverty-bound child.

                              

   In 2003 my husband, Bruce, and I became aware of a marvelous project that was being supported by friends in Ojai to provide support and education for deeply impoverished children in India. There are many good programs to help children, but we liked this one because we knew that the non-profit was all-volunteer, and practically every penny donated goes directly into projects for the children. Additionally, one of the guiding principals of the organization is to support and honor the children’s own local culture and religion. As a bonus connection, we also knew the woman who started the project in India and the board members here in the US.  

   The project is called Prashanti Preschool Chatasalis, and the US non-profit that supports it is World Family Foundation (WFF). We began sponsoring a boy through WFF in 2004, and later a second boy. Slowly but surely we became deeply involved. As these things tend to happen, becoming more and more comfortable with the quality of the program, and impressed by the integrity of the school and the people involved, eventually we joined the board of directors for WFF. 

   Prashanti Preschool Chatasalis, now also called Prashanti School (PS), is a residential children’s home for children from extreme poverty backgrounds who have no source of support (called “fatherless” in India).  PS provides free food, housing, clothing, medical care, education and daily tutoring through sponsorships managed by WFF.  The program helps these kids have a better childhood now, and gives them a chance for brighter futures. It is well known that the key to breaking the cycle of poverty is education!

                             

   We began personally visiting the school, which took us to Northeastern India, far from our usual haunts in South India, and something happened… we fell in love! We fell in love with these amazing children who, despite their devastatingly difficult backgrounds, were bright, sweet, kind to each other, and so very eager to learn. 

   Prashanti School is located in a village area outside of the city of Puri. Puri is located in the state of Odisha on the northeastern coast of India, right on the Bay of Bengal. Puri is a city of about 200,000 that dates back to before the 4th century, and still retains its dense city center that was built in the 12th century. The economy of Puri is centered around the huge Jagannath Temple, which is a major pilgrimage site for pilgrims from all over India and the world. There is very little industry in the area, and the economy relies on tourism, small fishing villages, Hindu monasteries, and handicrafts. Many festivals, including the huge Rath Yatra festival, are held each year and draw literally millions of people to Puri. 

   

The state of Odisha has a very high rate of illiteracy and poverty. At 36%, Odisha has the highest percentage of rural poor in the country, well above the national rate for India. The IT industry that has fuelled job growth in other areas of India has not touched Odisha. The monthly per capita expenditure in rural village areas is only about US $15, and nearly 60% of that goes to pay for food. Including the more educated people in the main cities of Odisha, overall literacy is at about 64%, but in the rural areas, it drops to 30 to 40%, and as low as 25% for women. 

 The need for effective education in the village areas of Odisha is so clear. It is the key to breaking this deeply entrenched cycle of poverty.

 

Here is a brief history of Prashanti School: 

 In 1999 a devastating cyclone hit the coast of Odisha. It made a direct hit on the city of Puri which sits at sea level right on the coast. More than 10,000 people were killed and whole villages were swept away in one of the worst cyclones to hit the area in 100 years. This disaster left many families unable to procure even the barest of necessities for survival. Many children were left orphaned and homeless.

   In response to this horrible aftermath, PS founder, Elizabeth Burnett was asked by local authorities to expand her existing Prashanti Preschool Chatasalis after-school tutoring program and take in “a few children.” Imagine her surprise when she was handed 21 children!!  So with the financial support of many friends and contacts from Southern California, Elizabeth purchased a tumble-down wreck of a building which she quickly had fixed up to be livable. And so these impoverished, homeless children were taken in as boarding students and all their needs provided free of cost: food, housing, home tutoring, clothing, and medical expenses. The fees required for them to attend local government school were also paid. Most of all, they were safe, looked after and LOVED! 

Since its inception, so many children have found loving refuge at Prashanti School. Even though their mothers may sign with a thumb-print and beg to survive, or their elderly guardian grandparents may never have had any schooling at all, these children thrive, learn, and are able to take a huge step upwards on a path to a brighter future – for themselves and for their families. As the years have passed, many children have graduated, and some have gone on to college or vocational training. And as the older children leave the school there are always many other needy children waiting to be admitted. 

   There are consistently around 40 children between the ages of 5 and 16 living at PS. The children are supported by their WFF sponsors, lovingly called "aunties and uncles."  The children feel the interest and caring encouragement by their sponsors, and this makes all the difference to how they feel about themselves. They know that they can dream of higher education and finding good work, and that if they really apply themselves to their studies, they will have a chance to pursue those dreams. 

 Good, effective education is critical for these impoverished children if they are to ever break out of the cycle of poverty that has defined their families for generations, and so we evaluated the quality of the schooling the children had been receiving at the local government schools.  It was not good, not good at all. The daily intensive tutoring given to the children at PS was the only thing keeping the children on track academically at all! And they were not learning enough English to be truly useful. In modern India, being proficient in written and spoken English, and being computer literate are critical for higher education and for good jobs. We decided we owed it to these kids to provide them with a better education than they were getting in the local government schools.

So we started our own day school: Prashanti International School.

  In 2009, land near the children’s home was purchased to create our day school, Prashanti International School (PIS).  The little buildings on the property were cleaned up and painted, and in 2010 classes started with lower and upper kindergarten. Each year we have added another grade, and now PIS has classes through 6th grade. The school is open for enrollment by local village children from poor families at a very low tuition, as well as for our WFF sponsored fatherless children. Currently 170 children attend PIS. No other school in Puri offers this type of quality education that is affordable for very low -income families. Every inch of space is being used now in both the PIS` buildings and the PS children’s home for classes. We are working hard now to build more classrooms.

  As well as a strong academic program and English immersion, the curriculum at PIS is focused on values and ethics, with an emphasis on service and giving back to the community. It is clear that as well as helping individual children and their families advance, it is about helping mold the hearts and minds of these young people who are the future of modern India. Literacy and good values – this is a recipe that really creates change. Like the ripples of a pond, the effects go out into the family, the community and into future generations.

THE ROTARY CLUB OF OJAI

I joined the Rotary Club of Ojai in 2015, and naturally became a member of our International Service Committee (ISC). Rotary has always recognized how essential clean drinking water is for all people.  So in February 2016, when the ISC became aware of the immediate need for clean drinking water for the children in at the Prashanti School in India, we took immediate action.

Clean Drinking Water Grant Project:

 The quality of the local water around Puri is extremely unhealthy. Lab tests of the water showed that besides the usual problems of bacteria, etc., the water had an extremely high level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). The main culprit in the TDS is iron, and the level of iron naturally occurring in the water is greater than four times the level for healthy drinking water. It is well known that there is a very high rate of kidney failure in the population of the area due to the iron in the water. Filtration and purification are essential to make the water clean, clear and safe.

  We quickly put together a grant to provide 2 commercial grade drinking water purification units - one for the PS children’s home and one for the students and teachers of PIS. This was a three-way project between the Rotary Club of Ojai, the Rotary Club of Sri Jagannath Dham, Puri , and Prashanti School. RC Ojai provided $834, RC Puri and Prashanti School each provided $417. RC Puri oversaw the project.

   This money paid for 2 water purification units plus all plumbing and concrete work, installation and the first year’s maintenance agreement. The quality of the water for drinking was vastly improved, going from unsafe, including 4 times the allowed level of iron for healthy drinking water, to pure, safe healthy water with ZERO dissolved iron solids in it! Installation was completed in early April 2016. This clean drinking water was truly a gift to the children, and the timing so perfect, as the very next day after the units were installed, Puri was hit with a record breaking, life threatening heat wave that lasted for more than a month. Additionally, the annual “No Objection Certificate” required by every school in the state of Odisha was up for renewal. They had just added a brand new requirement for certifiably clean drinking water to be provided for all students – and because of the gift from Rotary, PIS was one of the few schools that passed with flying colors!

Computers for Prashanti School District Grant:                                           

   The first grant went so smoothly and quickly that the RC Ojai ISC decided to ask what else could be done to help the children of Prashanti International School. The school administration explained that in order for PIS to have access to up-to-date academic resources and to offer computer literacy skills many more computers were needed at the school. PIS had only 4 ancient desktop computers that could not handle the newer software and teaching materials, and there were simply not enough of them to allow all the students to learn how to use them. So RC Ojai requested an assessment of the current computer needs. It was decided that one new laptop per classroom plus printer, ups backup battery (because of the constant power failures in Puri), and broadband adaptor would be a good start. Also needed were metal storage closets for each classroom to keep the laptops locked away safely when class was not in session. In February, quotations were garnered from suppliers for 7 Dell Inspiron Laptops and the other items approved by RC Ojai ISC.  2016-2017 District Designated Funds (DDF) in the amount of $1,816 were allocated for the project, and the application for a District Grant of matching funds was submitted on March 24. The grant was approved in a matter of days by the District, and then we waited until the grant money became available in early July, the beginning of the new Rotary year.

  The orders were placed for the equipment, and the students and teachers waited excitedly for the project to move forward. On July 24 the laptops arrived at the school and were installed. As a bonus, the exchange rate from US Dollars to Indian Rupees had become more favorable, and there was actually money left over. The school requested that the overage be used to purchase additional computer related supplies, and upon receiving permission, they were also able to buy printer cartridges, paper, keyboards and more! What a great success! Thank you Rotary!

                                  

    Living the Rotarian commitment of Service Above Self brings joy and tremendous satisfaction. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this generous and loving Rotary family. 

Thank you to you all for what you do, and thank you from the children of Prashanti School, India. 

For more information about World Family Foundation and Prashanti School, go to http://www.worldfamilyfnd.org.

 

 

 
 
 
 
Please DONATE with PayPal for Make Up Meeting
to help support our Service Projects.
SUGGEST Future Programs
 
 
 
 
Website Sponsors