The Struggles of Running a Home

In a previous life, in this lifetime, I was an international expert on PMS, and published the first book in the US about PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome). I opened a practice where I had no nurse, only a secretary.  My experience was that if I had a nurse taking calls or interfacing regularly, I would never know as much about my patients or about the illness.  I put myself on the front line.  I knew that often the doctor knew the least about what was going on.

When I was at Johnson & Johnson, and in a position to fund charity work, I was never certain that ANY of the money actually got to services with direct impact on anyone's lives.  That's just how it is.  So when I founded Shishur Sevay I wanted to know what really happens, what are the real obstacles to getting services where they are intended.  So this is a report from the front line today — describing what has been a difficult though not unusual time.  I also owe my readers a really wonderful post about Sit and Draw, and my kids, but that will wait.

On the positive side I've been granted a resident permit to stay in India.  This is incredible, and releases energy needed to focus on Shishur Sevay.  I celebrate that.  I also celebrate that the girls have been here three years now — although I've not made that public here — but maybe next week we will celebrate.  It has a lot of meaning for me, including that I feel successful in my mission to care for orphan girls, educate them, help them grow from frightened little girls to self confident (sometimes too self-confident) young women.  And the handicapped children, whom I want to write about more, are thriving and growing in totally unexpected ways, beyond my hopes.

Teaching:  I'm not satisfied with the teaching program.  I have paid increasingly higher salaries for more experienced teachers, but I think they lack the commitment and harbor doubts about how much "these" children can learn.  I have one teacher who has recently returned, our first-ever teacher who grew up a few houses away, whose father is a rickshaw wallah who made sure his children were educated.  She left to get married and has come back.  She appreciates us, the children, and the work it takes to achieve education and respect.  I need more teachers like her.  

I will look for what we call "freshers" here, people just out of school.  I'm looking for well educated young women from poor backgrounds, coming from the strict schools, which usually means either the Ramkrishna, Sarada, or Christian schools. These are the places we will now look as a source for teachers.   Class differences (social class) present barriers, and we know that expectations are so much a part of children's' achievement.  Experienced teachers are very expensive here.  I have to compete with the income they receive from "tuitions," which is the parallel educational system.  This is how it works:  Teachers in the schools give out the work, but do not actually teach the material.  Then the same teachers see the students privately in their homes for "tuitions."  They will have various sized classes at home, charging individually, and making in one hour far more than I can pay.  Parents pay for tuitions because it is no secret that a teacher will give her tuition students answers to exams, or will prepare her students differently, so if you want your child to succeed, you have to put your child in tuitions.  This is not isolated.  Children come home from school and go to coaching, tutors, sometimes traveling long distances to the homes of their teachers.  So I need to find "fresher" teachers before they are making so much money they don't want a job.

We have been having meetings after meetings with teachers, but there is a level of passivity I have not been able to change.  Seriously I took a nap yesterday for one hour and the program fell apart.  Three teachers couldn't figure out how to split the class, although we had spent two hours discussing this the day before.  I've separated out disruptive from non-disruptive.  It's not about language, the lack of understanding.  One of them is fluent in English.  EVERYTHING is translated by our program director! I woke up to chaos because one of the disruptive girls was with the others.  And it's not good for her either.  She needs successful experiences.  She didn't belong in that class, but I took a nap.  This is a strain.

Yesterday one of my special ed teachers came to me in the morning.  One of the big girls wanted to watch tv.  She wanted to know if it was OK.  I asked if she could still teach with the tv on. (I knew the answer) and she said no, she couldn't.  So I asked her why she was asking me, why was I paying her to teach if she couldn't put teaching as a priority against a girl asking to watch tv.  Why did I have to answer?  Another teacher one day asked me, "Should I go home?  The girls said they don't want to study any more today?"  Truly I believe there is nothing pathological about girls asking for tv, or suggesting a teacher go home.  They were actually quite sweet to the teacher about suggesting she go home.  But it is pathological for middle aged adults to come listen to them.  For a long time people tried to tell me, and I believed them, that it was somehow all my fault.  But I know enough now about the culture that it's not my fault.  It's how the culture is.    In three years I have NEVER scolded or reprimanded a teacher for saying no to the girls.  I support my teachers.  It is so normal for children to say, "I don't want to study" and to me so normal for a mother or a teacher to say, "you have to."  Here no one wants to say "You have to."  And in addition the normal behavior is interpreted as pathological orphan behavior.  "These children" are bad.

Late in the evening I learned that one of the guards was doing business over kerosene with the dadas outside (the ones who have threatened me) and the kerosene was being stored under our generator.  The business is illegal and the kerosene is inflammable.  I flamed!  I called the security company.  I was up until 2 am on this.  About a week ago I told the company the guards were talking too much with the dadas and I was concerned.  Also about two weeks ago I received a warning letter anonymous — that there was a conspiracy among my staff, friends, and Board to take over Shishur Sevay and sell the girls.  This is probably from someone I fired but the nature of the accusations and the evil accusations of selling the girls required that we take some action, including clearing and defending those around me.  It was painful for them.  We met with one of the top criminal lawyers and through him met with the OC of the police.  The OC made a personal visit to Shishur Sevay.  The girls knew everything… as they had waited that first evening until everyone else had gone and then asked me what was happening.  I'm glad they trust me, come to me.  They know by now I won't polish the story or tell them they are too young to know.    But these things are consuming and exhausting.

Last night I wrote to the heads of the security agency, reminding them I'm a white skinned American woman who has had death threats and community agitation against me by former guards.  I wrote that they were mad for believing their people were competent and I was mad for paying them what I do.  Security is my single most expensive cost.

On another day recently, money was missing in the payroll process.  Actually the money was never really missing but miscounted.  The problem was that the people involved accused me of miscounting, which is a stupid thing to do in front of many other people, when the mistake is not mine.  So everyone around me thought I was being fooled and I didn't know it.  After my insistence, the money was "found" to be a computer mistake.  It's exhausting.  I brought in a team over the weekend to go into the computers for all financial records.  I have a new accountant now.  I've lost money and time over accounting.  The story repeats itself over and over.  It's exhausting.

We have worked hard to prepare the girls for their exams.  Today is the last one.  The girls were really psyched!  But the teachers in school gave them all the answers to the exams.  The school wants to keep up its rating.  This is common practice.  One of our girls is a daydreamer and rebelliously oppositional.  The school teacher asked why she wasn't listening and she said, "I'm busy writing.  I want to do my own exam."  The girls come home and we laugh about it and still prepare for the next day's exam as if it will be a real exam.  They know it's wrong.  I tell them to do what they must in school.  It's not their battle or mine.  I have to work and educate them within the system.  And the girls prepare themselves also by attending to the Gods who sit on our pandal, including my elephant God Sarmu.  The Gods have been fed well this week, bathed daily, dressed, re-arranged, prayed to.  I treasure that they can do this, that they can find their comfort here in ways that are meaningful for them.

One of the girls had a real emotional break-down a few nights ago and I thought I might have to hospitalize her.  She was in a rage, but then the tears came, the tears of being without her mother, the tears and anger at God that she must have so much pain.  We all sat around hugging her.  For the last two days we have been talking about pain.  I talk about my childhood, about sexual abuse, about rape, about my pain. They are not alone.  I understand them.  I tell them that.  It is all exhausting.

Oh, another conflict in the past week:  We started dance therapy with a well known professional group and it only lasted two weeks and I've not alienated another group of people in Kolkata.  I had to major problems.  The dances were too intimate and sexually provocative for my standards, done to Western disco music.  The second problem was that the class required violating some of the religious customs here among the girls and ALL of the staff, including teachers… namely stepping on paper, and touching people's feet.  If someone touches someone else's feet there are rituals to be performed, depending on the age/rank of each person.  I'm the oldest so I don't have to be worried about being the offending person but I still find myself doing some hand thing to indicate I know this has happened and it's ok.  So there in the dance, even after one of the girls protested, the therapists insisted this was just superstition.  I told her one person's superstition is another person's religion.  I objected because it wasn't discussed, put into the conversation, and "therapy" seemed to be about forcing bodies together in ways that violated personal space and religious customs.  The group leader said they had to have full control without my interference and I said I couldn't do that.  As I said, I'm on one more person or organization's bad list.  it's just how I am.  I wouldn't give that latitude with my first two daughters and I wouldn't give it to them.  There are class issues here in many organizations, and I find myself having to remind them of some of the Indian cultural and religious customs.  The girls and I laughed about it.  They were so surprised that I had noticed their discomfort with the foot touching.  They felt supported.

I now have permission for foreign funds, but I lack the time/energy/resources to apply for grants.  There are groups prepared to give me funds and I can't get the paper work out.  I should be doing that now, but I need to blog.  I need to say how it is, really, on the ground, on the front line.

I moved my cow, Bubbi, to a place I thought was safe.  But now there is community agitation there and I can't go to see her.  It is not safe.

The girls want to celebrate the end of the school year.  Maybe we will go to the Mall for ice cream.  Maybe we will go to Victoria Memorial Park.  That takes more supervision. 

I've left out TB, also consuming energy in the last couple of weeks.  One of our staff was diagnosed with TB, although the diagnosis had been missed for a long time, and therefore the kids were all exposed, especially at nap time.  I took all 12 to have chest x-rays, blood tests, and skin tests.  I was able to contact a national expert on pediatric TB, who kindly came and examined all the girls and set up a prophylactic treatment program for all of them, and for me as my age and past chemotherapy put me at higher risk.  The Indian public health, and WHO public health protocols do not call for prophylactic treatment of TB close contacts.  But I wanted us to work according to US, UK, namely developed world criteria for treatment.  We are all on treatment now and will be for the next six months.  It's all consuming and exhausting.

The dog was sick this week too.  At ten pm a couple of nights ago the guard called me to say the dog was scratching and crying.  Apparently this had been going on all day but no one told me.  They thought she had gotten into ants, but I think it was allergy as there were no bites but her hair was standing up in bunches all over.  I gave her some benadryl and we brought her inside for a while.  Now she knows if she scratches and whines she will be brought inside.  She is a quick learner.

Yes, all these things have happened in a very short span of time. 

It's 10:05 Saturday morning now.  The girls have to leave for their exam in ten minutes.  They are watching a movie about the origins of Indian civilization, a DVD I got for them.  Soon they will go out and put on their shoes. And then I will give them my personal blessings.  Some years ago, on impulse at an airport, I bought a small make-up case with gold blush.  It's almost invisible.  It reminded me of the years in the corporate world when I had to spend a lot of money on make-up to go to work looking "natural."  Anyway, I really enjoy my gold blush and I used it to bless the girls for exams, sports events, stuff like that.  They line up outside, each looking very serious, as I brush a bit of Chanel gold dust on their forehead, nose, cheeks, and send them off into the world.  People say I protect them too much, that they need to learn about real life.  But first of all, they already know about real life in its harshest terms.  Second, they are learning about real life as they go off to take an exam where the teachers will give them all the answers.

But they do go into the real world with a sprinkle of Chanel Gold Blush and this somehow makes me very happy.







2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. school_dubl
    Dec 29, 2010 @ 17:29:01

    Interesting site, always a new topic .. good luck in the new 2011. Happy New Year!


  2. Realestate
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 05:45:59

    Hi Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


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February 2010
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