Woke up around 7:45am. Wore the green white-flowered sleeveless Kurti. Breakfast around 8:35am: round bread, veggie curry, omelet, and tea. Received some compliments on my Kurti. Rachel was interested in getting her pants fitted after someone mentioned that the store where I purchased the Kurti provides free tailoring.
We took traveling vans to Manasa Jyothi. Our Mysore minivan crew got excited to see Chand again, but sadly he wasn’t driving. Adam was my seat buddy! He complimented that my Kurti makes me look more oriental. I was like “I know.” I’ll embrace my Asianness. Haha. Dr. Raj rode in our van also. It was a 45-minute drive. Adam and I talked about dreams, X-Men, and my lizard story. Manasa Jyothi has been my favorite field trip so far. The woman from the Netherlands has really done something spectacular, and she’s only 37 years old. Truly inspiring. I hope to pursue a passion like that.
As we passed through the white stone-walled threshold of Manasa Jyothi, I felt an indescribable feeling of happiness and comfort. A trampoline and playground emerged with numerous joyous children swinging, riding bikes and running around. At first glance, one would not suspect that these children have suffered more than we could imagine. The story of how Maartje van den Brand and Shobha Madhyastha founded and manage the school inspires my future endeavors in life.
Manasa Jyothi is a residential school for mentally and physically handicapped children. They recently moved to their current resident in Kundapur. It’s a modest-sized school that has grown gradually over the last ten years (started in 2000). They have around 18 children between 5-18 years old. The infrastructure can hold up to 35 children. Services include individualized programming based on each child’s needs, free medication and medical care, good hygiene and health practices, daily teaching, exercise, yoga and free medical equipment (i.e. wheelchairs, helmets, back braces). They are challenged to be independent by making their bed, washing their hands and brushing their teeth. The primary goal is to keep the children healthy and clean according to western standards. The secondary goal is to provide a safe and educational home. Tertiary goal: inclusion of disabled children into normal schools. When the Government passed the Right to Education Act in the parliament, disabled children were not included in this article. It is one of ADAPT’s greatest achievements that after much lobbying an amendment of the Right to Education Act was made. This means that more than 30 million disabled children will now have a right to education in India as well. Inclusion in education of children who are differently abled in India still has a long way to go. Two of the students will attend a normal school next term.
A range of staff is available and needed, such as teachers, volunteers, a psychologist, physiotherapist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist to provide unique care for each child. The philosophy is that the children learn best when they are safe, happy, and valued. Every child has this right. They aim to build the children’s self-esteem by teaching them to value themselves and develop other positive qualities (e.g. independence, honesty, integrity, respect for others). They have a non-violence principle and focus on verbal and visual (sign language) communication. The school is funded privately by a trust and does not request money from the parents. This is important for children who do not have loving parents to take care of them properly at home. Manasa Jyothi serves as their home, education and transition into society. In India, the stigmatized status of disabled children renders an unhealthy and sometimes dangerous lifestyle. The children end up on streets, beg for money to survive or are abused. The vision of Manasa Jyothi is to change the stigma by showing the interaction between handicapped children and care-takers.
I enjoyed seeing and hearing Maartje talk about her humble beginnings with Manasa Jyothi. Maartje is a physiotherapist from the Netherlands. Her father has been an inspiring force in her life as he has dedicated the last 15 years of his life working for UNICEF and the UN to improve human rights of people in prison. After graduating and volunteering for an NGO for a year in the slums of Indonesia serving mentally and physically disabled children, she felt a calling to do something good for the world in 2007. She gave up her physiotherapy practice and left family and friends to move to India. She found her way to Manasa Jyothi and was only planning to volunteer for three months in order to improve the health care and education. As time passed, she learned of the horrid things that were happening to the children, such as molestation and abuse. She was so disturbed that she went to the police, which is uncommon to do. People told her to “look the other way”. After three years, she decided to leave and started a foundation in 2009 with help from family and friends in the Netherlands. She mentioned that in our countries (US and Europe), people would be willing to help, but here no one wanted to get involved. “Foreign people come here and think ‘oh this place is too nice. Why do you need more funding?’” It’s a struggle retaining workers at the school because of the stigma behind disabled children. Frequently, workers leave before getting married because “what will the neighbors think if she works with handicapped children?” The woman’s status decreases if she works with handicapped children rendering her less desirable for marriage. Maartje learned the local language, Kannada because she believes communication is pivotal when helping people of a different background. She always says it’s her last year, but looks at the children and can’t leave.
It was shocking and eye-opening to hear the children’s stories. Vino’s parents came to get him fully drunk one day and Maartje now refuses to let him go home. One parent was quoted to say “let God decide if she lives or not”. One girl was locked in a hut for seven years. Another girl had her uterus removed by her parents. Several have cases of cerebral palsy, which developed during birth. Seeing the children at Manasa Jyothi now is a complete turnaround. Vino is awaiting admission to a normal school. The children are clean, smiling, and laughing as they are riding their bikes, chasing after each other or swinging on the playground. I had the opportunity to watch Maartje interact with a girl through sign language, and I could sense the love and connection. The girl looked at Maartje as if she were her mom. I admire that Maartje experienced first-hand a (public health) issue and was courageous enough to pursue a solution to the problem when all odds were against her. A quote on their website http://manasajyothi.jimdo.com/ encompasses my thoughts and feelings about this school: “it’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” –Mother Teresa. I hope that one day I can live life giving back to a cause I am passionate about with love.
Afterwards, we headed to the beach in Kundapur, which was surprisingly pretty clean and serene. Stopped by a restaurant for lunch. Dr. Raj ordered us a 5-course meal with samosa, naan, three types of curry, gulab jamun, yogurt, rice with raisins, veggie noodles, fried tortilla chip, white rice, more curry and ice cream with fruit. There was a lot of food.
Dr. Raj’s family joined us for lunch also, and we got introduced to them at the end. We met his brother-in-law, sister, brother and two nieces, one of which is attending Manipal for medical school. His sister is an OBGYN and brother-in-law is a pediatrician.
Adam casually used me as a shoulder rest while we were waiting for the van, which coincidentally happens to me a lot when I’m around tall people. He questioned if I get dark easily since I’m part Malaysian. He asked what the other half is. I said Vietnamese and we concluded that the people get pretty dark.
We went to the Hanging Bridge next. I slept a little on the way there. The bridge was beautiful. I got on it, but decided not to cross because it was precariously waving back and forth. I was imagining what it would be like to fall into the water below, and that scared me because I don’t know how to swim thus causing my fear of large bodies of water. Alvian shared my sentiments, so that was nice someone else understood. Kelsey R and Taniqua didn’t go either. The others just went to the other side and came back. Got some good pictures though!
Then, we went to another beach. Everyone took off their shoes and got in the water except me because I don’t like the feeling of wet sand and shoes. Adam thought of the idea to do a shadow O-H-I-O picture, which turned out awesome!
I took some scenic pictures of a canoe, an elusive clear-colored crab and waves crashing on rocks, while everyone else enjoyed the water. I was cooling myself off with my airplane tickets, which serve as good emergency fans by the way when Adam asked if I save them. Me- “Yes.” Adam- “Me too. I keep my movie tickets also.” Me- “Wait. Me too!” Adam- “Did you save the ones from last night?” Me- “Yes (checks purse).” I’ve been collecting movie tickets since Home Alone was in the theaters. Haha.
We had the option of going shopping afterwards. Half of the people hopped off the van and half of us went with Dr. Raj. The department store had saris, kurtis, cotton scarves, and children’s clothes. Nothing really caught my eye, but several people got some quality stuff for a cheap price.
Returned to campus for tea time: fried tofu-like balls. Back to room. Uploaded pictures to computer and dilly dallied until dinner at 7:30pm. I changed my profile picture to one of me and the little boy I fell in love with at Manasa Jyothi. I went to their website, read, and wrote down information because I am genuinely interested and wanted to remember as much as possible. I posted the website under the profile picture.
Dinner was good: barley rice, roti, Gobi Manchurian, squash curry, and another curry. Had yogurt also. It’s weird – I hated the yogurt in the beginning, but now I really like it as a palate cleanser at the end of the meal. Serves as a pseudo-dessert too. Sat with Kelsey F, Alexa, Adam, and Lindsey. I asked how Sahanna was feeling. She said “better.” Someone said Adam should do a Mohawk. And he turned it on me and said I should do a Mohawk. Lindsey said “that’s gonna take a lot of maintenance.” Adam continued with “buy a leather jacket and wear some brass knuckles.” Me- “I think of Grand Theft Auto when I hear brass knuckles.” Adam- “That’s what I was basing it off of! Get out of my head.” I nod my head a lot when I listen to other people talk. Adam started imitating me and I burst out laughing. Alexa and Kelsey F were like “What’s going on? Did we miss something?” Adam was just being super silly. I haven’t laughed that hard in a while.
Walked back to hostel with Lindsey and ran into half of the girls standing in a circle at the top of the 5th floor stairs. Xhonela, Kelsey R, Lauren, Ashley, and Nikki were there. We talked about experiences in India and bugs. I shared my lizard story. Some shared their excitement for heading back to the states. I find it more worthwhile to make the most of every moment, good or bad. It’s inevitable that we’re leaving, so why pine for that day when you can be happy right now? I constantly remind myself that we won’t ever be in this moment in our lives again. Back at the room, I washed clothes, showered, skyped Arif and mom, tried catching up in the word doc journal in bed, but fell asleep. Sesen posted a comment on my FB expressing her surprise that I worked at Hollister and teased me about having a lot of past lives. It made me think about authenticity and the implications of being a “mysterious” person. I don’t really talk about myself very often – preferring to listen to others first, but one of my goals in life is to be more vulnerable. So I found myself pondering if having different facets of your personality show at different times a good thing or bad thing. I tried figuring this out on Skype with Arif. I want to be an authentic person and thought the way to do this is to be one person across life’s many different activities. He brought up that it’s not really possible to be the same person because we have to act differently in different settings (I remember learning about the term “impression management” in sociology). I guess he’s right. We both concluded that the most important way to be authentic is to make sure your core values stay the same.
My favorite group photo on the trip.
Another quote from the Manasa Jyothi website: “Consideration like ‘he is mine or he is another’s’ occur only to narrow-minded people. To broad-minded people the whole world is their family.”