A Beautiful Visit From The CWC

A comment posted to my last post, https://shishursevay.com/2013/07/14/cwc-child-welfare-committee-finally-coming-for-inspection/, wrote:

I am a little confused. One minute the CWC folks are confrontational; they want to take you to task for some kind of an infraction, teach you a lesson. The next minute, they want you to help them do their work for which they are paid by the tax-payers. I’ll eagerly wait for the next segment of the story, as will others, I’m sure.

Yes, that’s right.  No, it makes no sense.  That’s just how it is.

From the beginning, I have wanted to work with the government, particularly regarding the institutionalized children. I don’t know why the CWC’s attitude changed.  I do know that currently they are desperate and overwhelmed, and they have always been angry that I wouldn’t take more.

The visit was beautiful.  We did the formal things that are expected.  The girls presented flowers to each guest.  Each did Pranam, the touching of an elder’s feet.   One of the girls presented her embroidery work, framed, and another presented her artwork, also framed and inscribed to the CWC.

Our girl presents her artwork to the Chairwoman

They toured the house and I insisted they see inside of the bathroom.

Bathroom on the Tour

They noticed the fire extinguishers and said they’d not seen them before in a home.  Seema Gupta took them upstairs while the Chairwoman stayed down in my office to talk.  I had put my three published books out on the table and showed them to her.  I told her that clearly I had a lot of help here, but that I carried the full burden, that I have to think about what I can manage.

They had come with an agenda. The Chairwoman said they can offer all sorts of assistance to expand the building, or to build a new home.  But they also have an immediate problem, namely four very young children with disabilities who are in various hospitals in one of the districts that has no functioning  CWC.   The others came downstairs to rejoin us and talked more about the problems they are facing.   They talked of their pain in visiting the children in the institution.  There is a paralysis here… something I noticed years ago.  Some people really do care, but they don’t know what to do.

Table and Talking in the CWC meeting.

Tabla  and Talking in the CWC meeting.  One of the members plays and was thrilled that our girls are learning tabla.

I said I would help.  I said I would take the four children, but that I also then wanted two more without known disabilities.  We have to stay inclusive.  As we were talking, the girls on their own started to dance, and we went to watch them.

The girls on their own started to dance and so we all went to watch.

The Girls Decided to Dance

The CWC hoped Seema and I would come back to the office with them, and review the information on the four children.  I found that two of them are too sick to be cared for in a non-medical facility.  We agreed to take the other two, one an infant with Downs, and another with CP, about 2-3 years old.  Then I reminded them that we will take two little girls with no known disabilities, that we had to remain inclusive.  Right now there are many children in the institution.  Their care is horrible.  I can’t do as much as I want but it was just too painful to say no.  And I do believe we will be expanding.  We have to.

Sometime within the next week, the children will be brought to CWC for us to pick up.

Well, everyone here is excited.  We have many blessings.

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.

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