Weʼre raising £1,000 to give Pondicherry's gypsy community children a brighter future.
- Pondicherry, Puducherry, India
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With Christmas fast-approaching, PLEASE read my story below and consider gifting this to your loved one this year instead of scouring Amazon for any old meaningless gift. This would TRULY make a difference...
In October just gone, I visited Pondicherry in south-east India. Pondicherry is very popular with tourists, who come to visit its beautiful French colonial architecture and beach promenade. But unbeknownst to most visitors, Pondicherry is home to a community of gypsies whose way of life couldn't be further from that of the middle-class city centre dwellers and holiday-makers.
When Bruno Savio arrived in the town a few years ago, he found the children begging on the roads, rag-picking, eating from the garbage and not going to school. So he decided to establish a shelter for those kids who were neglected by mainstream society - this is JALY Home (Justice Awareness Loyalty for Youth). It is a residential home for deprived, tribal, street and gypsy kids - a place where they are safe, free to be kids, to play and be happy - and where all of them can receive a good education.
£35 - the cost of looking after a child at JALY Home for 1 month. That covers food, clothing, educational, health and sanitation needs.
Extract from my journal, October 2017:
"I eventually found JALY Home after asking some street seller ladies. A member of staff took me straight up a staircase to an office where a lovely guy called Push, the organisation project co-ordinator, greeted me and immediately called the founder, Bruno, to tell him of my arrival, before launching into an induction of Samugam and JALY Home. He showed me some of the bags, jewellery and table runners made by the ladies of their 'Sewing the Seeds' project that gives gypsy women the skill of sewing and a means to make money. Within 20 minutes, Bruno had arrived and continued the induction. I felt so welcomed and wanted despite them having no idea that I was coming! Before I knew it, the children were hugging me, holding my hands, shouting my name and giving me an excited guided tour of their home - four floors comprising of classrooms, dormitory, kitchen, TV/communal area music studio and huge rooftop space where they would be doing yoga at 6am the next morning. I'd hoped to squeeze in a yoga class in Pondi, but didn't think for a second that it might be with the kids at JALY Home! I stayed at the home for about 3 hours, spending much of that with Sankar and some of the girls in the music studio, being played lots of the music videos and adverts they have made there to promote Samugam Organisation.
Already, I was part of the JALY Home family, and all the kids were over-the-moon that I was up for joining their yoga class in the morning. I don't get up at 5.30am unless I'm in an ashram or there's the offer of rooftop yoga with over 50 amazing children! ... I knew the 5.30am start wouldn't be easy, but I had a lady from JALY Home taking me door-to-door on her scooter, picking me up at 6am, all organised by Bruno. When I arrived, immediately I had little hands pulling me up the stairs, someone picking our a pink yoga mat for me, and we all found a little patch each on the rooftop. Despite three weeks at the ashram, my flexibility wasn't even comparable with that of these ridiculously bendy kids, many of whom could put their feet behind their head and achieve all sorts of circus-worthy postures!
After the class I sat out on a balcony with Durga, a 17-year-old gypsy community girl studying in her final year of school with a dream of becoming a doctor. I helped her with her English reading, as her speaking skills far outweigh her English reading and writing. The reading material in her English textbook was typically Indian - overly formal and full of very dry topics such as birds migrating south for the winter, and unnecessarily big words that made my job of explaining the meaning of what was going on pretty tricky! Whilst on the balcony, another girl proudly brought over a clear plastic box containing some leaves and a shiny silver butterfly's chrysalis which was fascinating. These girls were so enthusiastic about everything and clearly loved learning. Durga was hanging onto my every word, eager to absorb every ounce of what I had to offer.
Bruno arrived at the home at about 10am, and I was given fresh white dosa [traditional south Indian dish] with tomato chutney for breakfast, all cooked by their own kitchen staff, before Bruno took me out on his motorbike to the gypsy community living a few kilometres away. All or most of the kids [at JALY Home] are from the community we visited, located by an old landfill site now covered in trees and plants since Bruno campaigned to local government to have the rubbish dumping there stopped in order that the gypsies living there would stop litter-picking and seek out more humane ways of sourcing their food and making a living. Bruno and his team always have a huge job on their hands trying to convince the parents to let their kids come to JALY Home - they don't see the value in education. Where they see value is marrying their daughters off at 15 so they can collect a dowry for her from the boy's parents. In this gypsy community, one long street with breeze-block houses along one side built by Bruno's organisation which the inhabitants struggle to use or maintain sufficiently, I met a 17-year-old girl (same age as Durga) who already had two children - that's her life now, yet by Indian law she cannot get married until she is 18! As we walked down this long street past strung-up birds, bloodied feathers, leaking water tanks (Bruno's team constantly fix things, only for them to get broken again) and a chained-up monkey, the gypsy residents would plead with Bruno over family feuds or needing more of this and that.
Before we left, the ice cream man arrived on his bike with his ice box, and we bought pink ice pops for all the kids gathered around us (5 rupees each, which is less than 6p). I also met Durga's grandma who had raised her - a large, silver-haired lady with very bad teeth who was sat on the ground at the side of the street preparing some birds for eating. To think that would have been Durga's fate had JALY Home not found her, the same girl who that morning had sat eagerly reading about migrating birds from her textbook - it blew my mind.
From there, Bruno took me to The Shed, a workshop space on a patch of land close to JALY Home gifted to the organisation by the Belgium government that Bruno intends to use to build a big home for the boys (JALY Home is for girls only, whilst the boys currently have something temporary). The workshop on this site is where 'Sewing the Seeds' happens. Kousi, an 18-year-old girl studying to become a nurse, gave me a demo, and I saw lots of recycled saree cushion covers being prepared for shipping to Australia where they'll be sold to raise funds for Samugam. Bruno told me how Kousi had come to be with them, a story I already knew from the charity's brochure I'd read by a hotel swimming pool two days prior but hadn't realised this was the same girl. She had fled with her lover into the forest away from her family who wanted to force her into marriage with someone else. The gypsy community were ready to burn her with kerosine for shaming them. Bruno's team managed to find her and take her to JALY Home where she lived now for 3-4 years and focused on her education, working towards becoming a nurse.
After a 20-minute power-nap on one of the dorm beds (I was exhausted!), it was go-go-go again, and I got on the Samugam bus to Sadana Forest with a group of the kids (they take it in turns each week), including Durga and her sister. The children were all overjoyed that I was joining them, and I received an almost constant stream of the question "What is your name?" as they kept forgetting but loved asking and then repeating it over and over! ... This forest project [part of Auroville, Pondicherry] was for the purpose of reforestation, and I met Valentine and Hayley who were volunteering there. We all sat by the mud pool as the kids fooled around in the water, some looking so skinny with their dark, bony limbs and with scabs and injuries of some kinds. One little girl, very thin, got a fright from one of the other kids, and came to sit on my knee for me to just hold and comfort her for a while until she had regained her confidence and ran back in the water smiling.
Back at JALY Home, I sat in a comfy armchair as Sankar took a music class. I spent about an hour sat there as Kousi decorated my hand in mehindhi (henna) that they'd bought especially for me. She was amazing at it and gave it her complete concentration. Then behind me sat another girl playing with my hair, so I asked if she could plait it - Durga later took over and made me look like Princess Elsa (whom the kids had never heard of!).
Before leaving the home (14.5 hours after I'd arrived for yoga that morning) I sat down with Bruno in his office and we discussed how I might be able to help. The organisation is about to lose their key sponsor based out in Spain, so Bruno needs to find money from somewhere fast. Needless to say, I wished I had another couple of weeks to spend in Pondi and at JALY Home - words cannot describe the instant warmth, love and kindess every child and member of staff showed me. Only the previous day I'd walked down Pondi beach promenade after a hellish journey from Madurai, fed up with India. But all it took was a family of gypsy children and their philanthropic Home staff and the inspirational Bruno to completely turn that on its head and make me fall in love all over again. One girl in the Home gave me her necklace as a gift before I left - probably one of the only things she has to give. I donated my Indian mobile phone, but wish I had been more prepared and had something more I could have given all the kids.
I must NEVER forget those kids, no matter how far away they might seem. It was only 1.5 days, but already I was part of their family. I couldn't have hoped for a more wonderful and moving experience."
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Apr 9, 2018
Very pleased to be able to support this worthy cause.
Apr 5, 2018
Happy Birthday to my Daddy!!! xxx
Apr 4, 2018
With love on my birthday!
Jan 20, 2018
Happy Birthday lovely xX
Jan 19, 2018
Great cause. Happy Birthday!Love,Daddy x.
Jan 19, 2018
Happy birthday for tomorrow! Well done with all your fundraising, keep up the good work xxx
Dec 29, 2017
Merry Christmas from Auntie Al!
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About the fundraiser
Pondicherry, Puducherry, India
I travelled solo around Central and South-East Asia for 6 months this year, meeting the most inspiring and wonderful people along the way, embarking on various volunteer projects during my journey.
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