CWC (Child Welfare Committee) Finally Coming For Inspection

Our last contact with CWC is described in the post “Foes Into Friends” https://shishursevay.com/2013/04/03/foes-into-friends/

Before that we were told we would be investigated for violation of child labor laws because of a complaint by an adolescent who had become too violent for us to manage.    On Friday, Seema Gupta, our Board Vice-President stopped in at CWC to find out the disposition of the girl who had made the complaint against us, as she was still officially on our roll.

Then the officials asked Seema, “Would Madam please take more children?” and Seema explained that we have no room or resources for more.  Then they asked, “Would Madam build a home for boys with disabilities?  We have the funds!  We would help her do it!”  Seema said they had to visit first because only then would they understand what Shishur Sevay is.  So they are coming tomorrow.  We will pick them up and bring them and then take them back.  Seema will take the day off from work.  The girls will stay home from school.  But it’s not about what’s wrong with us.  It’s about their wanting help.  They do remember when I brought the boys from Aunty’s Home and they had no place to put them.  They still don’t.

Would I do it?  I will if I can make it good, as it should be, and inclusive in some way, and with lots of recreation.  I think that’s one of the worst problems for children with limited mobility and other disabilities.  They don’t get to wear themselves out with fun, exercise, etc.  I want a pool, enough for them to experience weightlessness…..

I’m a dreamer.  I’m already planning it in my head, thinking about building plans and accessibility.  I already looked up construction costs for commercial buildings….  I would have two wings though, for boys and girls, but for the lower ages I’d keep them together.

I want to start with an advisory group of people with disabilities….

I’m so glad I put down the outside tiles.  I’ll have more pictures later on but instead of ramps looking separate, they just blend in, and look like rolling surfaces.  Before we chose the tile, we had Sudip try out several, with water over them, to see which ones gave his crutches the best grip.

The “client” should always be the end user.  Schools should be built to meet the needs of students, hospitals to meet the needs of patients, Shishur Sevay to meet needs as we discover them, and then find the best solutions.

Well, this may all be too much for the people coming from CWC, but I’m fired up and looking for ways and funds to make such a thing happen.  I like the idea of building what is needed, as defined by the community.  But just in case anyone is worried, Shishur Sevay and the life of the girls, of our family will also continue.  This is home, my home and theirs.

Outside feels part of the house now, a nice place to be, to play… safe from slipping.

Ready for School, with her bag and her sister's shoes.

Ready for School, with her bag and her sister’s shoes.

Well, you can see the tiles!  On the left, the black area is Jelly, the dog.  Actually the side there is flat for her bed.  Before we made a bed for her she would stretch out across the entrance, even when someone in a wheelchair was trying to go through.

Tiles going up, across, an down.

Tiles going up, across, and down.

I love what we have been able to do.  I’m looking forward to the visit.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  I’m prepared for the best and the worst.  It’s just how life is.

Foes Into Friends

Yes We Did!

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Standing outside the CWC after our success.

Stress has been high.  I couldn’t sleep; Ganga screamed with nightmares in her sleep.  I needed a plan. Ialso faced another problem with the CWC, namely permission for three girls to go on their class trip out of West Bengal.  I sometimes forget they are still under the court.

So I went into this internal space where I seem to come up with plans at times, and I found one.  We would surprise the CWC by showing up for the permissions.  We would come with big smiles on our faces, pretending that Monday never happened.

So, first we prepared the request letters, with copies of each girl’s school ID, and attached their academic achievements, as well as the itinerary of the trip.  They wore their Shishur Sevay dress uniforms.  I wore a hand painted silk sari I bought once at the airport in Bangladesh when I was renewing my visa.  I believe that sometimes costuming makes us feel stronger, or at least it does for me.  When I was with J&J, dressed for the corporate world, I actually used a lot of make-up designed to make me look natural.   I thought of it as putting on my war paint as I got ready for work… these primitive rituals have meaning.

Seema Gupta, Purba Rudra, and of course Sudipendu Dutta, my Secretary, would go too.  I learned today i had missed the meaning of some of the discussion on Monday on why you couldn’t mix “handicapped and normals.”  I’d heard the Chairwoman say that it was too dangerous, that they could murder… and given that OUR problem was that one of our “normals” had attacked one of the kids with disabilities, I thought the Chair was saying we had to protect them from the “normals.”  No, she was talking about people with disabilities murdering and raping normal people and that’s why they couldn’t be together!  I had been upset for Sudip without realizing it was much worse than I’d understood.

Well, how to describe how wonderful it was…. there was only one officer there, but he was the one who was so horrible to me weeks ago.  We smiled.  Seema explained why we were there and gave him the papers.  The letter for one of the girls described her current study of art and he asked her if she would give them a picture to put up in the office.  Tides were turning.  Seema also talked to him about the comments about separating groups and asked up front about whether he thought Sudip should be separated from us.  The man responded with a strong no, and talked about the importance of inclusion.

The girls reminded me of the video and I took out the iPad and showed him two dance clips from yesterday afternoon, our kids all dancing together.  He remembered the mother and baby we had taken in and was thrilled to see them both happy.  Our girls knew things were going well and had happy smiles on their faces.  What a team!  What a presentation!  What a turning of the tides, foe into friend.

Seema chatted with the officer and suddenly I heard times being mentioned, times that would be good for us for a visit on Friday.  I said any time was fine, that it didn’t matter.  He smiled, a friendly smile, as if he suddenly understood I am genuine, So it looks like it will be Friday  morning.  I can breathe more easily even as I write this.

On Friday we will have gifts for the CWC, and flowers to present to them. I’m not worried, well about 90% not worried.  There is a certain unpredictability about life, everywhere but here a bit more than usual.

The support of all of you who have written feels really important.  It strengthens me.  I get my strength from many sources, from God, from Kali, from my kids and family, from my friends, from the love and support and prayers that are sent to me.  I guess they all go into that internal space where plans are made and discovered, and I find lights along the paths out of my fear.  I find strength in the memory of my grandmother who would point out across the ocean and tell me never to forget the starving children….

I would not have said that turning foes into friends is gift of mine.  I might even have said the opposite.  So maybe this is a new skill, a new light, a new path I’ve learned to navigate.  Protecting the girls forces me to grow.  I love it.  I’m smiling.

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I’m White

Child Labor Law Violation 1

Child Labor Law Violation

I had a bad time at CWC today.  I didn’t go alone, but it didn’t matter.  No one was listening to anything I said, and they were rude and angry if I did try to defend myself.   One of the consequences of my tough decisions in the last couple of months is that not everyone was happy, of course.  For matters of privacy I will be brief, but will say that adolescents, and I believe particularly adolescent girls can be very destructive, and very charmingly convincing that they have been wronged.  In fact this girl has been so wronged CWC now wants to see if the other girls are likewise being exploited in violation of Child Labor laws.

It sounds silly but I remember as a kid cleaning the house with my mother, playing music, talking…. taking care of our home.  I was told today though that in India this is not done, that girls/women don’t clean their own homes.  But what about my girls?  Should I assume they will all be affluent enough to hire servants to cook and clean?  You think those are the families they will marry into?  I think I somehow really challenged a cultural norm.  I think these people at CWC are enraged that the girls clean.  Maybe it’s my being a white American and some image of my exploiting them?  I tried to tell the CWC that I clean the bathroom, which is true, but they weren’t listening to anything I had to say.  I clean the bathroom for several reasons.  First, no one else wants to do it.  Second, in my mind, cleaning is honorable work.  Third, the girls have come to really appreciate a clean bathroom.  They take care of the other bathrooms. That’s not a bad thing.  And of course the hippocracy of all this is that in India it’s the middle class who most uses child servants in their homes.

They seemed enraged that a girl was expected to change the diaper of a child with disabilities.  I’m thinking this is all an April Fools joke and they are dead serious.  So the issue of diapers let to a sudden reaction that I had “normal and handicapped” in the same home and that had to end!  I said that CWC had given me these girls, but that wasn’t relevant either.  It was really ugly, and I expressed my feelings about it, which is to say I was not submissive.  I finally got one person who was lecturing me that this was a court, to understand this court had jurisdiction over the child but not over me.  They simply do not have the authority to force me to take a violent girl back into the home, however much she sheds tears.  Their plan was for me to take her back but not give her work to do.  Yeah, right!

I am not dealing with a rational system here.  I heard it described as judicial anarchy, and I think this is true.  There are no real rules.   Our home has been inspected seven times, with the same kids, same mix of “normals and handicapped” as they continued to describe them.  There has never been a problem.

Would this all be playing out differently if I were Indian?  I’m thinking yes.    It’s been the divide until recently even within the home.     Are they seeing me as the White lady using Indian girls to clean her house?    If this is the stereotype can they  even see beyond who I represent?  This is personal.  I have visited NGO’s where they show off the weaving being done by five year olds (vocational training), and no one says anything.  I reported a home almost ten years ago where girls were being used as servants instead of being sent to school.  I had proof, documents, school records, attendance records, but I could not get anything changed.

This is the CWC where I brought the eight starving children from Aunty’s, where three children there have died since then, but no one will do anything.  The last time I was there, I was standing outside and Aunty told me to move because the feces was coming down over the balcony and she didn’t want me to get dirty.  Government inspectors came but they ignored everything.  I was there.  They ignored me.

Now it’s 2:30 am and I can’t sleep.  I tried.  I’m also in the middle of major dental work, as things seemed a bit quiet and I took the time.  Well, I guess from the tension this evening, the temporary bridges and crowns cracked and my mouth hurts.  I’m afraid to leave Shishur Sevay until this “surprise” CWC inspection happens this week so I’m not sure what to do, except drink a lot of liquids only, and keep my mouth closed… not so easy…

We told the girls what was going on because they will be interviewed, and because we will be sprucing up our paperwork, which needed doing anyway.  So a friend told me to have them prepped and all I could think of were the custody cases in the US where the first question is always, “Did your mother/father tell you to say this?”  Nope, they will say what they want and I will deal with it, whatever it is.

I know we will survive this — but I’m scared.  I’m also pissed.  I’m a seventy year old doctor, psychiatrist, and obstetrician and gynecologist.  I have 45 years of clinical experience working with woman and children.  Actually I wrote that in my report today but they ignored it.  Even when Seema Gupta translated it into Bengali they ignored it.  They are out for blood, my blood, this White woman’s blood.

The Seventy Year Old Doctor

The Seventy Year Old Doctor

Here is my testimony:

Dance and Movement, Inclusive as it should be

Dance and Movement, Inclusive as it should be

This is a picture from our new Dance and Movement classes three times a week.  On the days between classes the girls like to put on the music and practice.  Six years ago I promised Ganga she would dance one day, and now she does.

We live as a family.  We eat together, sleep together, watch tv together, pray together.  We don’t separate by abilities because we all have so much to give each other.

OOPS!  Another picture of all of us together.  no separate  beaches.

OOPS! Another picture of all of us together. no separate beaches.

The group who came with me today was

1.Seema Gupta, Board Member, Joint Secretary, and Deputy Registrar of Calcutta High Court.

2. Purba Rudra, Ph.D, our Academic Director

3. Sudipendu Dutta, my secretary.  (I hired him as assistant, but in India, Secretary is higher, so now he is my Secretary).  Sudip is an incredibly hard worker, sincere, responsible, and cares so much about what we are doing.  He also has Cerebral Palsy and walks with sticks.  He manages.  I kept wondering what it was like for him, listening to all this about not having “handicapped and normals” together.   What did this mean for his life, his family life, his work life…. Was it OK that we were all together or should there be separate accommodations for him?   He is also an activist working with others on creating a residence for people with disabilities…. and has been talking about the success of inclusion, Shishur Sevay as a model of how good it can be.  What was he thinking?  I’ll have to ask him in the morning.

Now it’s 3:30 am and I think I’m ready to post this and try to sleep for a couple of hours.

Fourteen Minus One Equals Fifteen, Remainder One and a Half

Monday we went to the CWC, the West Bengal Child Welfare Committee where I expected them to start the approval process for one of our girls to return to her family. https://shishursevay.com/2012/09/11/shes-going-home-to-her-family/  We have 14 girls at Shishur Sevay and I and was expecting to walk out with 14-1, at least on paper until we took her to her family.  But before we even got to why we were there, the Chairwoman, remembering me from when I’d taken Aunty’s starving children there, wanted to know more about Shishur Sevay.

She wanted me to take more.  I resisted, saying I didn’t have the resources.   I told her I wanted to work with the government to make their homes better, not take more children.  She asked, “What else am I supposed to do with these children?”  Then she brought in a crying girl, and  stood her next to me.  I’d seen her in the waiting room, and had told my (home to her family) girl I thought she was there for relinquishment. The child looked to be about eight years, dark-skinned, hair up in braids tied with shiny red, green, and gold ribbon, dressed in a frayed light green velveteen tunic and black pants.  But now she was standing on one side of me and our Shishur Sevay girl in a chair on the other side and the Chairwoman was pleading with me to take her as she had been living on the pavement under plastic.

The child was looking at me teary-eyed pleading, and the woman with her who turned out not to be her mother also pleading with me…   Two sisters from Missionary of Charity were also huddled over and around me.  This was the best of  Bengali Drama!  Would I or would I not save this child who neither Missionaries of Charity nor the Government of West Bengal could care for.  I glanced around to Gibi, Maggie, and Purba, and then I put my arm around the teary-eyed girl and pulled her close.  The curtain fell, but it was only Act I.

Act II was brief.  One of the Sisters  recognized us from when Maggie and I had visited Aloo and Eisha, the babies they had taken from Aunty’s.  I saw her look over at the Chairwoman quickly.  Their eyes met and another plan was hatched.  “Maybe she could take Anu,” the Sister asked the Chairwoman, both of them also looking at me.  Then the Sister explained that Anu was a young woman who had come to Mother Teresa’s pregnant, expecting to give up her child.  But after the baby was born she insisted she wanted to keep her baby. She could not go home to her village.  She had been staying at another of Mother Teresa’s homes, working and caring for her six-month old daughter, but they could not keep her.   They didn’t have the facilities.  I was/am interested but said we had to meet the mother first.  That will happen next week when we visit the home.  The mother and baby are the  “Remainder one and a half” and still to be resolved.  This could be very good, or not, but something I hope will work out.  She could live with us, work, and take care of her baby.  So Act II brought the story along, but we still had the matter for which we had come, our girl who wanted to return to her family in the village, subject of the post just before the last one.

Act III

FINALLY… The curtain rises and the group has only slightly shifted.  The new child is gripping my hand.  To my right is our girl who wants to go back to her village.  To her right is Gibi, and in back of us Purba and Maggie.  More people are in the room now.  Nothing there is ever private, and we are the show of the day.   I offer the Chairwoman a two page report about the contacts with her family, and her desire to return to them, which I support.  I included some pictures from the visit.   The Chairwoman leaned forward, glaring at me, “She wants to do WHAT???”  She went on, saying the family would sell her, or send her to work, or marry her off.  She was adamant, and asked,  ‘You would let her do this?”  I said she was not a prisoner.  I don’t have the authority to keep her against her will.  “Well, we won’t let her go because we will not be responsible for what would happen.”

Our girl cringed.  Then the Chairwoman looked at me and asked, “Well, what to you want me to do?”  I requested she look at the second page of my report and the three things I suggested.  The first was that the CWC interview her.  The second was that we ask her family, the sister and brother in law who would keep her to come and meet with the CWC.  The third was that we would take her to the village if they agreed.   The stage was momentarily quiet and then in a rush, another CWC member entered and the Chairwoman got up to rush off to a meeting (I did get her to stop and give me her card).   We had started to agree that her family would come a week later to meet with them, but suddenly we seemed to be starting over.

This committee member had been present for previous contentious and confrontational meetings with the family.  The CWC had warned us to watch our girl closely as she was in danger of being kidnapped.  Her safety became prime in the choice of school.  The CWC woman asked for another copy of the report, and then “went ballistic”.  “I’ve met your family!  No, this is too dangerous.  I don’t have to meet them again!  Once you are 18 we can’t stop you but not now!”  Ice cold air radiated from our girl who wanted to go home to the village.  The woman went on to ask her what she was doing and what she wanted to do to achieve independence.  Our girl was testy. She had been read the riot act!  She made a commitment to finish school.  She was told she would be given a government job if she passed the Class X exam.   We agreed, though it is not realistic in the next eight months, but Shishur Sevay doesn’t have an age limit.    CWC drew up papers that she would continue to be at Shishur Sevay and that we would enroll her in the NIOS, National Institute for Open Schooling, a process we had already begun.  The CWC agreed to change her records to reflect her true name and age.  We will enroll her with her real age as soon as we get an original of the birth certificate.  It took a while to get all the papers stamped and signed.

We straggled out, our sad and angry teenager, the new child holding my hand, Maggie and Purba ahead of us going to the car, Gibi giving our phone number and card to the woman who had brought the child as she wanted to see her again…..We took a picture of her and the child together.   I was happy she knew how to reach us and where we are.   She waved as we drove off.

We decided to surprise everyone at home.  The others went ahead. Then I came along with our new girl.  She was greeted with warmth, smiles, and some jealousy — so normal.  Kalpana was the most put off and refused to look at her.  It was really cute.  All the girls were relieved that their big sister wasn’t leaving for the village.

The curtain came down but there was no applause and the audience did not want to leave.  The drama felt unfinished, so an Act IV was added.

Act IV

The curtain rises on the “office” at Shishur Sevay.  This is a room about 10’x12′ and forms part of the entrance way to the rest of the house.  It’s where we work, talk, and hang out.  It’s also where kids put stuff they don’t want to lose.  It’s clutter center and often we sit on the floor because all other surfaces are covered with stuff.

Scene 1

It’s evening  of the next day and I am sitting on the couch with our very confused and angry girl.  It’s time to talk.  She has been avoiding eye contact.  She is silent so I speak and say we should get her enrolled in classes that would get her out of school as soon as possible, as I assumed she no longer wanted to be a doctor.  Tears streamed…. “No, I still want to be a doctor.”  I tell her I’m thrilled.  I said, “You do the work and I’ll back you all the way!”   She asked, “I’m not too old?”   She hugged me, and then tears and more tears and she dozed off in my arms.

Scene 2

The following night, we are back in the office, this time with Gibi here to call the family and tell them she will not be coming.  Our girl is a bit on the icy side.  I place the call, say hello to her eldest sister, her Didi, who doesn’t sound well, and I pass the phone to Gibi who speaks in Bengali.  Didi is indeed sick, and has been in the hospital with fever.  She is home now but may need surgery.  She told Gibi that this was better, that her youngest sister stay with us, that they barely had money for food, that the neighborhood was bad.  The impulse had been there, the wish to care for her, but the reality was not so easy.  Didi was relieved.  We ended by talking about Didi coming to visit here.  She joked about staying a night and I said that would be wonderful.  I said I would pay her transport and we would meet her at the train station the first time so she could get here easily.  Didi and her sister talked, tears and smiles.  After the phone conversation I got more hugs.

Over the next half hour, more girls joined us on the floor, including our newest.  They are mostly happy she is here, one confessing she was jealous at first. They wanted to know if they had been her size when they came.    They asked her a lot about her past, and also explained to her that they were translating for me, not talking about her.  She had been living on the footpath (sidewalk) and begging.   She is full of contradictions.   She has extremely good table manners and can tell us the  knife is used for spreading butter, but her hair shows the color and texture of starvation.  Something terrible had happened but we don’t know what.  One day she will tell her sisters and then share with me.  She is calmer than they ever were.  I’ve been thinking about that, and wondering how much of their wildness came from living in the government institution where they were frequently punished and tortured.

One of our girls whose family we had found a few years ago asked me if she could show our new girl a picture of  where she had lived. In the past she had asked me to hide them all pictures. Now she wanted this new girl to know that she too came from a bad place, and not to be ashamed.

I noticed the clock, long past bedtime.  The girls got up and headed off, some holding hands, all thoughtful and peaceful  I came to my computer to write.

Curtain Falls, but life goes on.

Play Discussion:  In my previous post: https://shishursevay.com/2012/09/24/beggars-for-life/ I addressed begging by children, and  begging by government dependent on the soft hearts of foreigners who don’t like to see children hungry or crying.  I posted that blog Monday morning just before we left for CWC.  And then it played out, as it had been written.  By the end of the day I had one more mouth to feed and the government had one less.

This morning I came across a new Kolkata story: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pavement-dweller-baby-raped-kolkata-crime-mamata-banerjee/1/222350.html  An 18 month old baby living on the pavement with her mother had been raped.

NO END

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