I’m so grateful to be writing from the Deenabandhu Trust Children’s Home in the rural district of Chamarajanagar, Karnataka, South India. Deenabandhu is a home for orphaned and destitute children that I have been visiting since August 2006.
Originally founded for just 8 boys in 1992 by my dear friend and teacher Mr. G.S. Jayadev, it now is the home to over 80 children. During my previous visit in November 2010, I wrote an extensive blog about the organization’s history and the district of Chamarajanagar. Please learn more by clicking here! I’d like to devote this blog to my current visit and share more about exciting developments here over the past year.
The first change I always notice is how much each child has grown. The welcoming at Deenabandhu is something I appreciate so deeply year after year. I arrived shortly after nightfall 6 days ago. As soon as they heard the jeep’s engine, many of the children came rushing to greet me with “Hi Sophie Akka”, “Hi Sophie Akka”. “Akka”, which means “older sister”, is a title I’m grateful to have. This year, there were also a handful of new boys and girls there to meet me (about 12), whose names I have since tried to grasp!
Another important change I witness each visit is the increased confidence among many of the children who arrived just one or two years back. Tragically, many come from traumatic pasts. Some have witnessed the death of a parent, for example, or have been subject to physical and verbal abuse. As one can imagine, the initial move to Deenandhu can be disorienting. Mr. Jayadev sees that each child receives proper emotional support and is embraced by the other children.
Sometimes this positive change is so staggering that I need to do a double take. Such was the case this year with 5 year-old Gayathri, who came here just over a year ago. Over the past 10 months, this once very timid girl has become so happy and sociable. She is one of 15 new girls who have been able to move to Deenabandhu after the completion of the fully eco-friend girls home in 2010. I’m also happy to announce that Yoga Gives Back, for which I’m an ambassador, is sponsoring Gayathri.
I will write more about Yoga Gives Back’s (YGB) contributions in my next blog. In brief, I was so thankful that YGB founder Kayoko Mitsumatsu and team members Steven Woodruff, Jason Chang, and Anand Vararaj came to visit Deenabandhu with me last year. They were so impressed with the organization that we added it to the new “Sister Aid” program. YGB is now sponsoring 6 children ($500 a year pays for all educational, living, and extracurricular expenses)! Read more about the additional support we give to women on Thursday….
My days are pleasantly full here. They’re spent playing with the children, teaching yoga, visiting school, and photographing. Each year, I take portraits of every child (there are about 85 now!) to be used for the child sponsorship profiles. This year, 18 year-old Lokesh, who is now studying science at university in Mysore, was my invaluable photo assistant.
Another highlight of this journey has been 2 field trips we’ve made to nearby temples. I was particularly thrilled to go by bike both times. Classic Indian cycles are wonderful things! They are single speed, quite tall, and often have luggage carts that are perfect for carrying books, bags, or people. The addition of a 14 year-old passenger adds joy to the workload! I admit – it must have been quite a sight as we turned a few heads in this rural area. I also got to swing from banyan trees!
Each year, I am so happy to reunite with Megha, the 16 year-old girl I’ve sponsored since 2008. What a wonderful young lady she’s becoming! This trip was particularly exciting because I visited her college twice. In many Indian states, high school concludes at 10th grade and is followed by the option of PUC, or specialized college. These 2 years of education prepare students for higher education.
Megha’s attends J.S.S. College, which is a 10minute walk from Deenabandhu. It’s a bright and well-organized school with a friendly, devoted staff. Though the class sizes are particularly big (Megha has 94 in her class!), they seem well managed. On my second visit, I gave a talk about higher education in the United States to some 300 girls. They were all so curious and welcoming! Megha did such an excellent job translating questions from Kannada to English whenever needed.
Speaking of Kannada, I’m thankful I haven’t forgotten the little I know! Each year, I slowly try to improve at this language of Karnataka. The children are such wonderful teachers. They’re patient and thorough… I think I’ll feel a bit disoriented when I arrive in Mumbai tomorrow, as I won’t know any of the mother tongue (Maharathi). I’m really excited about this 2-day trip, however! I’ll be visiting my friend Vikas Khanna, who is hosting MasterChef India, and his mother.
There is so much more I could write, but space is limited. I hope this Picasa album can convey more about my visit here!
If you have any questions about Deenabandhu, or are interested in sponsoring a child ($500/year), please email me at Sophie.Herbert@gmail.com.
Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.