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Monday, May 28, 2018

Girls born to "Devadasi" Families are offered to God...

  YGB's new program to empower rescued girls 

 A new program to support 100 rescued girls at Shaktidhama, Mysore, Karnataka

This January, we visited Shaktidhama, Mysore, Karnataka.  100 pretty young girls welcomed us with chanting and yoga asana demonstration. When you look at these girls' smiling faces, you do not realize what kind of ordeal they had to come through before reaching to this new home, Shaktidhama, opened in 2017. These girls age from 8 to 16 years old and were rescued from central part of Karnataka state. Many of these girls are from "Devadasi" families. "Devadasi" means "servant to God", and as a tradition, these girls are offered to God when they reach puberty. This is the beginning of their survival as prostitutes as their mothers and grandmothers were. I could not believe such tradition remains today. Many girls have no choice but simply live their fate. The India government made this practice illegal but it still continues in the rural areas of Karnataka. As a result of this practice, these girls mothers are often HIV victims, living in isolated, impoverished and forgotten world. 

Professor Jayadev, Director at Deenabandhu, YGB's long time NGO partner, has been working on this project for many years and finally got the state government's grant to build infrastructure to house these girls in 2017. Today, they care 100 girls, including Devadasi girls, orphans, and girls from poor tribal families, who are all vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Prof. Jayadev believes that the best solution to this deep rooted cultural problem is to provide an opportunity to educate these girls. This is the only chance for them to change their fate, empower themselves and start building a life with self-worth and hope. 

YGB Seva Trip participants visited Shaktidhama and met with the girls

Ananthu, an advocate of children's rights and the General Manager of Shaktidhama, drove 250 miles north of Mysore to Central Karnataka region to rescue these girls from horrendous situations in seven different villages. Working with his wife and social worker Usha and local NGOs network, Shaktidhama continues to identify and rescue girls at risk. 

With your support, we are funding 25 girls this year as YGB's new program. As always, we are committed to support each person for a minimum of five years to ensure a chance to seed her transformation. 

US $580 will fund one girl fully for  one year with boarding, education, and cultural activities. 
Please join #OneMillionYogis campaign and consider any amount of support so these girls have a real chance to live with dignity and reach to their dreams

When we visit their dorm, one girl was reading a book about Yoga Asana, the other girl was studying English. Every morning, they get up at 5:30am and start with prayer and Yoga.  They all go to a local school during the day. There are some girls who go to college and they all study hard to get to the next grade.  Freedom of expression, good food and health care have already shown marked progress in all girl's physical growth, too. 

B & W Photos by a renowned photographer Shamanth Patil J to raise awareness

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"My Mother is My God"---Visiting Mamata, SHE scholarship student in Chamarajanagar, Karnataka

Mamaha and her mother Puttayamma, December 2016
This is Mamatha, one of 210 YGB's SHE Scholarship of Higher Education students in Chamarajanagar, north of Mysore, Karnataka. We first visited her and her family in December 2016, when she just received this scholarship to continue her higher education.  Her mother Puttatayamma is illiterate and has struggled to survive for all her life, supporting siblings at young age , and raising three children with her husband's small daily wage after marriage. "My Mother is my God."---Mamata expressed in tears her deep adoration and respect for her mother's loving sacrifice for her family.

She told us that her goal was to become a mechanical engineer to support her family and the poor in her community. Many of her peers could not make it to college also due to family's poverty. " I would have probably just stayed home doing house chores if it were not for SHE scholarship, " Mamata expressed her gratitude for this scholarship with tears. Nobody in her family has ever received higher education.

In January this year, YGB Seva Team visited Chamarajanagar, north of Mysore and visited Mamata's home. As you can see from her big smile,  her confidence in her life and future was clearly evident. This time, Mamata was more specific about her goals with her degree. "I want to get Mechanical Engineering Degree to help develop my poor hometown Chamarajanagar. I also want to help children with disabilities. I see them on the bus and they live very hard life and need more support." 

With this scholarship, Mamata is learning about outside world, mingling with other people, and feeling the need to serve for this hometown and people in need of much deserved attention, care and development.

It was truly inspiring to visit Mamata and her family who totally support her higher education. Nobody in her family ever had higher education. Mamata's younger brother now looks up to this big sister and wants to follow her footsteps. Mamata said, " I want my brother to get higher education. I will make sure and help him to achieve his goals in life. " With this scholarship, Mamata's family is transforming. With your support, YGB is funding 260 youths this year here in Karnataka as well as in West Bengal. This scholarship program for desitute but bright youths gives me so much hope and inspiration every time I meet these students. Their eyes are so bright and shining with confidence and determination to obtain a degree and achieve their goals in their lives, which was once just a dream.

YGB Seva Trip participant Ambassadors Julee and Mina with Mamata's grandmother
YGB Seva Trip 2018 visited Mamata and her family with Prof Jayadev, Prajna and Teachers from YGB NGO partner Deenabandhu Trust, Chamarajanagar, Karnataka, India. YGB Seva 2018  participants are (fro top left) Julee Yew-Crjins (UK/Malaysia), Lauren Peterson (USA), Beate Scholtz (USA/The Netherlands), Anouk Prop (The Netherlands/Thailand), Kayoko Mitsumatsu (USA), Mina Lee (AbuDhabi/Korea), Bonnie Ikemura (USA) and Sharda Ten Hove (The Netherlands/Thailand)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Sun is Day Light, Moon is Night Light, Education is Life Light"---Meeting with YGB SHE Scholarship Students

In the low income community of Chamarajanagara, outside of Mysore, Karnataka, YGB is now funding 60 students with SHE (Scholarship for Higher Education). Our NGO Partner Deenabandhu Trust hosted a gathering so that we could meet these students and hear their stories as well as future plans. Most students are in their two-year PUC (Pre-University Course) or already in three-year Diploma (science courses) or Degree (arts courses). Every one's eyes are so bright with their determination to complete their higher education to find a good job!  I am always touched to hear how every student wants to get a job and secure their income so that they can help their families and communities. Here, nobody says, "I want to become rich!" 

 Sandeep is a student featured in YGB FILM "Gold in Hand," who lost his education for seven years as a teenager due to forced labor. Now he is  getting very high grades in his engineering Diploma course. He has been offered a fantastic internship position at a big construction company.  All the SHE Scholarship students come from very poor families. Everyone expresses deep gratitude how this scholarship is helping to continue their education to reach their dreams.
 I also met 18 year old Mona who shared her hardship. Her father died three months ago and suddenly, there is no income in this family as her mother can not work. They are now living at her uncle's house but she was not sure how long this can continue. She is at her first year, studying commerce, but she was not certain if she could continue her education. While working with YGB programs in India, we often face this kind of challenging situation. I have discussed her case with Professor Jayadev, Director of YGB's NGO Partner Deenabandhu Trust, who will look into her situation to try to support her continuing education. YGB has been trying to be as flexible as possible with a situation like Mona's and will extend our support so that she can get through this tough period. I will keep you posted how we can support her.

Hearing her story was so difficult, but I was comforted by her long time friends who all have serious financial and social challenges at home, but as a group, they help and support each other. They told me, "Mom, please do not cry. This is our best day in our lives. We do not cry!" Hearing this made me swell up even more. One of Mona's girl friend's dream is to make lots of money to help her disabled elder sister live with dignity...I continue to receive so much inspiration from these students.  Thank you!!

"Life is easy when all the pains are celebrated with smile."
"Man needs difficulties in life because they are necessary to enjoy success."
---Ashwini, B. YGB SHE Student

We received many beautifully hand written thank you cards from the SHE students. Each card expresses one's deep appreciation for this scholarship.

"Dream is not the thing you see in sleep, but it is the thing that doesn't let you sleep,"---many students quoted this message from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India.

SHE Students also tied hand made malas and Indian national color bracelets on each of our wrists, which is still with me today. It is a true blessing to meet these students whose spirit is so high though the reality of their daily lives are filled with tough issues. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"NIRVANA PROJECT" is Born: A Story of SHE Scholarship Student

 An artistic student Nagaraju's dream is making a real progress! 

Meet a young talented Nagaraju P. He is one of YGB's 210 SHE (Scholarship for Higher Education) students, which funds destitute teen students' higher education for five years. Coming from a very poor family in Chamarajanagar, outside of Mysore, Nagaraju was so happy to receive this scholarship to continue his education in a college in Mysore, majoring commerce. In December 2016, I visited Nagraju's home, as Professor Jayadev (Deenabandhu Trust, YGB NGO Partner) had already sent me  his incredibly beautiful and powerful drawings by emails. I wanted to meet him and ask his future plans. 
Nagaraju showed us his beautiful drawings at his home during our visit in 2016

When we first met in 2016, Nagaraju was undecided about pursuing his art. His father wanted him to take a government job for a stable income, as he makes very small wage as a daily laborer with little education.  They live in a simple two room home in the village of Chamarajanagar. His mother is a housewife also with little education. 
In 2017, I met with a passionate Jyoti Jaiswal, an owner of Om Sutra online yoga accessories company based in New York. Jyoti's mission is to empower women, artisans and talented artists by creating job opportunities with fair wages for a sustainable livelihood.  I immediately shared Nagaraju's designs with Jyoti, who was very impressed with them that she agreed to create bags with his design and market on her site. As Nagaraju's designs started traveling virtually from Chamarajanagar to New York, the new "NIRVANA PROJECT" was born. As Jyoti puts it, "this project is about Nagraju's transformation and reaching to his dream..." I thought this is a beautiful name for this project which came together magically, but actually with tireless work by Nagaraju, Jyoti, Prof Jayadev and Mr Menon in Mysore. 

The Nirvana bag illustrates a meaningful picture of transformation of King Siddhartha to the Nirvana state of Lord Buddha is a wonderful representation of transcendental bliss and it’s hand sketched by the  artist Nagaraju P. 

This January, we were happy to see the first samples of NIRVANA PROJECT bags!! Here, YGB's first SEVA TRIP participant Ambassadors and Supporters proudly modeling these high quality bags with Nagaraj's design!! With Lauren Peterson(Los Angeles), Beate Scholtz (LA), Sharda ten Hove (The Netherlands/Thailand), Anouk Prop (The Netherlands/Thailand) and Bonnie Ikemura (LA)

We travelled to Kolkotta carrying the NIRVANA bags! At Ramakrishna Mission Belur Math on the Ganges River with YGB Ambassadors Lauren Peterson (Los Angeles), Mina Lee (Abu Dhabi/Korea) and Beate Scholtz (Los Angeles)
I met with Nagaraj this January again. I was very happy to hear that he decided to continue to pursue Art and tries to become an artist though it may not be the easiest path. His thank you card is filled with deep sense of gratitude and also most moving message is that he wants to establish himself as an artist to help the poor children in his community. Actually, this is a common message and strong feeling among all the students here. They are so compassionate and thoughtful. I was most touched to receive my portrait by Nagaraj!

No dream is too small or too big to pursue. I am again empowered and inspired to witness how our small contribution can seed an opportunity to live up to somebody's potential. As YGB, we will continue to follow up his story and I look forward to sharing it year after year.  This is a true learning process for myself and for YGB as well. We hope to support Nagaraj's dream, one bag at a time, while creating more sustainable income opportunities for local women tailors as the NIRVANA PROJECT takes off!!

Pre-Order this great bag now and get 20% off while helping Nagaraju's dream come true!!

Monday, January 22, 2018

"Why YOGA?"---Asana and Conversation with Prof Jayadev

YGB Ambassadors Teach a Yoga Class at Deenabandhu!

An impromptu group class took place on our last morning here at Deenbandhu with children. YGB Amabassador Anouk managed to get 80 yoga mats donated from the Netherlands so children can practice yoga in this beautiful new hall. 

Prof Jayadev, Founder of Deenbandhu Home, shared his believe in YOGA. "ASANA is very important. YOGA is about body, mind and their harmony. When you find harmony in body and mind, you find harmony with others. You fin oneness. This is the goal of yoga. So asana is also important." 

Delicious meals are prepared by house mothers. Chapati, Roti with lots of veges, fresh chutney (coconut is so fresh!), lots of cooked vegetable dishes. This is a precious time to chat with Jayadev and learn his deep spiritual path and conviction to live for others with true love and acceptance. THANK YOU!