A Visit to India and to a Place that’s Changing the World
Over the past 10 years, I have been very fortunate to visit India 11 times. The purpose of these travels has been to volunteer, study yoga and meditation, and, most of all, explore and soak in the rich experiences this massive land has to offer. There is one place in India that has influenced my life more than any other. This is the Deenabandhu Trust Children’s Home, an organization in the rural town of Chamarajanagar, Karnataka, South India that provides care, shelter, education, and emotional support to over 80 orphaned and destitute children. I first visited Deenabandhu in August of 2006, while working on a photography project in the nearby city of Mysore. Nine years later, I remain in awe over how effective this organization is in helping the children they serve build brighter futures. This blog is about my most recent trip in January, 2015.
Deenabandhu is the product of a man named G.S. Jayadev’s progressive vision and ceaseless commitment to the wellbeing of others. In 1992, while working as a zoology professor in Chamarajanagar, Jayadev rented a small house in order to provide shelter for 6 boys without a home. He called his mission to help these children Deenabandhu, which means “friend to those in need” in Sanskrit.
Today, Deenabandhu is a home to 36 girls and 50 boys who range in age from 3 to 18. Additional support is provided to those who are older and pursuing higher education. As mentioned, the children at Deenabandhu are either orphaned or destitute, meaning their parents or, in many cases, their sole remaining parent is unable to provide the most basic support. Tragically, many of the children have faced intense hardship before arriving at the children’s home. Jayadev and his staff make it a priority to carefully attend to each child’s emotional needs. Please stay-tuned for an upcoming blog about a yoga and trauma resolution project that is presently being led at Deenabandhu by Dr. Anouk Prop of the Netherlands.
In 1998, Jayadev and his colleagues also founded the Deenabandhu Primary School, which offers progressive education to over 200 children from lower socio-economic households in the Chamarajanagar district. During the first few years of the school’s operation, surveys revealed that 70% to 80% of these students were first generation learners. Today, this statistic has declined and the overall literacy rate in Chamarajanagar has increased. The district still has a long way to go, however, as the average overall literacy rate hovers just above 60%. Institutions like Deenabandhu are playing a crucial role in changing these statistics and narrowing the gap between literate men and women (a 2011 census study reported a literacy rate of 67.88% among men and just 54.32% among women in the Chamarajanagar district).
I hope my photographs and their accompanying captions give you an even better sense of this model institution. The Deenabandhu Green Home for Girls, which you will see in a number of pictures, was completed in 2010, with the assistance of American Service to India (ASTI) and the French organization Alstom. It was incredible to watch this eco-conscious structure come into being. In addition to solar generated electricity and hot water, the home also has a rainwater harvesting well and a system for grey water recycling.
Another development over the past few years that has moved me deeply, is the immense financial support now granted by Yoga Gives Back (YGB), an organization for which I’m an ambassador. In November of 2010, YGB founder Kayoko Mitsumatsu and 3 fellow YGB members accompanied me to Deenabandhu for her first visit. Impressed by Deenabandhu’s mission, YGB began sponsoring one girl by providing $500 a year to cover all housing, education, and extracurricular activity expenses. Today, YGB is not only sponsoring over 20 children, but is also providing support through their SHE (Scholarship for Higher Education) program.
To learn even more about Deenabandhu, please visit their website, www.deenabandhutrust.org.
by Sophie Slater