The Sun Comes Up on Shishur Sevay

 

SS Logo trim

Shishur Sevay, on 14 June 2016 celebrated our tenth anniversary since the founding/registration on 14 June 2006.  And the logo we had been seeking, suddenly appeared, as a Golden Sun Rising.  It must have been a part of me all along,  a source of strength and light I hadn’t yet recognized.  TEN YEARS!  It is a good time to reflect on the journey, how we started and what we have accomplished.

Our intention (achieved) was to create a replicable model of inclusive non-institutional care or orphan girls, some with profound disabilities.  From the time I adopted my younger daughter in 1984, I had wondered, “What happens to the children who are not adopted?” What is India’s policy and plan for those children?  Thus Shishur Sevay was created to ask first: Who are these institutionalized children; what are their needs: and how do we meet them?

We received the children by Order of the West Bengal Child Welfare Committee.  They had been lost, abandoned, and living in government institutions.  They had been interviewed/examined, and rejected for adoption.  These were girls with no parents, no extended family, no community.   Some lacked names

What were their conditions?  Some were ill when they came, with malaria, skin infections, malnutrition, bleeding gums, and severe dental problems.  All had scars, from ropes, knives, burns, and tales that went with each wound.   Some had profound disabilities; with others we discovered their conditions over time.  Our girls collectively had:  Cerebral Palsy with Spastic Quadriplegia….Autism… Seizure disorders…  Visual impairment… Hearing loss,… Cognitive impairment… Down Syndrome…. Microcephaly… Stroke, Post  Meningitis and Encephalitis, Mental Health Difficulties: Depression…, Psychosis… Bipolar Disease…Impulsive Behavior Disorders, Sexual Aggression, Eating Disorders, Suicidal behavior…PTSD…Delayed Development

And then there were their spiritual wounds of believing they had been abandoned by God, with death seeming to be the only possibility for ridding themselves of pain.  “Why did God give me this life?  Why did God make me live?”

For our tenth anniversary, each girl was presented with a Certificate:

Words of Appreciation for Coming into Our Lives:

You came into our lives so we could care for you but you have taught us so much we would never have known. We have been on a journey with you, where you have shown that out of pain, can grow compassion, confidence, curiosity, discipline, learning, love, responsibility, and vision.  You have embraced the modern world without losing your passion and connections to the language, culture, heritage, and religion of your ancestors.     

Each of our staff received a Certificate of Appreciation, the teachers, admin, our 24/7 Guards, our Indispensable Bijoy, and the childcare workers, the massis, all of whom give above and beyond their “jobs” and without whom we couldn’t be what we are, the children could not thrive as they are doing.

Shishur Sevay today excels in:    

  • Advanced Communication Technology: First in India with Tobii Eye Tracking Device allowing our severely disabled children with disabilities to “speak” via computer.
  • Inclusive Education: Ichche Dana Inclusive School based upon individual needs and adaptations for mixed classes with the more abled children.
  • Inclusive Living: the abled, and those with disabilities live together, sharing common space for activities, TV, Prarthana, sleep, and all celebrations.
  • Inclusive Dance: Using different equipment and harnesses allowing severely impaired children to join in the rhythm and movement of dance. A public performance on You tube: Shishur Sevay: Dreaming Wishes for Prince Dobu.
  • Research and Training on Inclusion: Active teaching program including vocational training for our non-literate Girls in working as assistants to special educators. Current research project with Vanderbilt University related to Inclusive Education.
  • Academic preparation for more advanced girls preparing for examinations from NIOS, National Institute of Open Schooling.
  • Strengthening the girls’ appreciation and practice of Indian Language, Culture, and Heritage and Religion.

What’s Ahead?

  1. To establish our model of inclusive living as the standard of care for orphans, abled and with disabilities.
  2. To expand our model of inclusive education by creating a community school and by providing training in inclusive education.
  3. To insure lifetime inclusive care and living for those who cannot live independently.
  4. To continue to demonstrate the capabilities of these disenfranchised children and to give them voice, namely to show what can be done.

We have just begun.

Changing Bharat 075Final_W.jpg

 

Cats Welcome in the Park; Ganga not welcome.

 

Cat welcome, Ganga not welcome

Cat welcome, Ganga not welcome

The girls went to a local park yesterday, a large scenic walk around an artificial pond having a boat and ducks.  Seema Gupta our Board Member, and recently retired Joint Registrar of Calcutta High Court took them.  As they were walking around the park the “caretaker” came up and belligerently said they could not take that car (the wheelchair) on the walk as it is for people walking.  Seema took him on, full force demanding to know who he was and who had given this order.

The walkway that surrounds the pond.

The walkway that surrounds the pond.

The Big Pond. The walkway goes all around the pond.

The Big Pond. The walkway goes all around the pond.

After their walk around they went to the local ex-councillor’s office, as it is near to the part, and complained.  He called the current councillor, who said we could use the park, and that was communicated to the caretaker.   Then they stopped at another park, right across the road from this one but the wheelchair can’t get in so Seema waits outside guarding the chair, and the girls go in, carrying Ganga.

Their favorite bench swing in the park.

Their favorite bench swing in the park.

Turnstile gate the wheelchair can't get through.

Turnstile gate the wheelchair can’t get through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, it turns out that the day before, the same caretaker had gone up the one of the girls who had put Ganga on the bench swing and asked her why she was putting that big girl on this swing as it was only for babies.  She had argued with him and refused to take her off, but had not told us. So this was the same man who then tried to stop us yesterday from using the park with the big pond.   Although at the moment we have “permission” to go, no one really wants to, and Ganga says she is worried.  She has been noticeably upset.

Well, there is more.  There are only three parks in the neighborhood, these two, and the one very close to our house, right at the start of our lane.  I wrote about that park 11 September 2011:

It was a long time ago and we successfully occupied the park, but essentially it means that we have had trouble with acceptance at ALL THREE neighborhood parks.  This morning I went out early and took all these pictures.  I visited our close park and took a picture of two young men sitting on one of the swings we had been told there were ONLY for children, and clearly not our children.

Our closest park, with two young men sitting on the "children's only" bench swing they didn't want us to use.

Our closest park, with two young men sitting on the “children’s only” bench swing they didn’t want us to use.

Coming home to Shishur Sevay, our safe place

Coming home to Shishur Sevay, our safe place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming home to Shishur Sevay, our safe place for now.  Soon I will write more about our plans to move.   We really need larger facilities to have the programs we plan.  Now we are 14 kids and me living in about 1500 sq. ft,  and running a school, and office, and rehabilitation, and many plans for the future.

In the meantime though, In 3 hours Anjali Forber-Pratt will be arriving from the US and we will make this community take notice of disability rights.  Ganga is very excited and we talk about Anjali Didi and Ganga leading our occupation of the park with the big pond,

The Girls and I Carry Our Vulnerability

I really hate danger!  Believe it or not, I’m someone who can be quite happy without it.  I don’t need it to give me a charge, or purpose.  I love sitting on a beach soaking up sun, or walking my dog, as I did in the US, or working in my garden, puttering, playing with photoshop, writing haikus, and even books….. I love to daydream, and I can lose myself in stupid TV.  I love the rush of falling in love, but not the subsequent fall…. I don’t seek danger, but it seems to come with the things I choose to do.  I think it’s because I don’t really factor it in my decisions.  “‘I’d rather not think about it, and then deal with it if I have to.”

0-wires_2425_wOur neighborhood criminals have started cutting our phone lines repeatedly, each time we have them repaired or repair them ourselves.  I think one of the men is obsessed with us, like a stalker.  He stands outside at night taunting our guard that all our cameras will never catch what he does. (He is right.)   He knows that ultimately we have no protection.

That’s exactly what I have to learn to accept.  

Last night I thought about moving, but it’s unrealistic.

  • Neither Shishur Sevay nor I personally, has the funds it would take.
  • Where would we move?  Some of our most committed teachers live nearby and teach when their kids are in school.  If they have to travel, too much time will be lost.
  • Property values have gone way up, but our house at the end of the lane would not bring us enough to get another comparable place and renovate.   I’ve looked from time to time at property and at houses — nothing we can manage.  Having children with disabilities requires a lot of specific alterations.
  • If we move locally, can we be sure we won’t be followed by our criminal stalkers?
  • If we move further away, where we are not known, can we be sure we will be safe?  Many homes for children live by undeclared policies that allow local men to have access to the children.  The criminals here ultimately want access to our girls.  That has been a source of conflict since the first days.  They wanted to be able to “come and go” as they wished.  It will be the same wherever we go.

I came to understand that the girls and I carry our vulnerability.  This evening we all talked, and the girls asked why I’d been sad looking.  They hadn’t all known about the phone lines, and I talked about my worries, how it had gotten worse.  I talked about my thoughts on moving but wasn’t sure we would be safe anywhere.  We are female.  I am not anyone’s property and as orphans they are considered everyone’s property.  It was personal and it was intimate.  I acknowledged that they had each lived in far more dangerous situations.  And then one of them said that when she got married and had a baby she was bringing her baby and her husband here to live.  Another suggested we have a building with flats and they could live with their husbands in the same building.  The ones who say they never want to get married want to stay here too.  I have no idea what the future will bring but for now, this is clearly home, their home… it was a beautiful evening.

On another note, this is a drawing done by one of our girls, an illustration for my children’s story:  Dreaming Wishes For Prince Dobu.

Princess Tikka and Prince Dobu in the Land of Dreaming Wishes

Princess Tikka and Prince Dobu in the Land of Dreaming Wishes

Danger Is Back

Many months ago the police finally cleaned out the criminals.  They cleaned out drugs, prostitution, and guns.  This was all right next to our home at the end of the lane.  One of the criminals, wanted for murder, is still on the run, though he has made brief appearances.  His son, whose family is here, is apparently out on bail.  He has come around at times, but mostly stayed away.

He is back, in full force.  He has been trying to involve one of our girls, though he has a wife and child, and other children around of course.  He tried to get her to steal money to give him.  He harasses us outside out gate.  It’s been annoying, but now for the last three days he is blaring music throughout the day and long into the night.  He is playing love songs so loud that with our windows closed it still comes in very loud.

Bijoy threatened him when he learned he was going after on of our girls.  That took courage, but I think the music is also revenge.

Two nights ago I went out late and asked him and his mother to turn the music down, which they did eventually.  But it was a Pooja celebration and I thought it would stop the next day.  This is the third night.  Yesterday he almost ran down one of our Board Members who was coming.  I heard that one neighbor had complained.  This criminal is supposed to be under close police supervision but one never knows which side the police are on.  And I guess everyone is afraid of him because I can’t be the only one whose home space has been invaded by sound.

In the past, the local “CLUB” and the police were involved with cleaning them out.  For whatever reason I feel more vulnerable now, maybe because as bad as his father was in some ways, he also kept his son in check at times.  And he is targeting us.

Sound gets to me.  I’m reminded of Penn Station in NYC where they blast music at night so people can’t sleep in the station. I tell myself I may just have to learn to live with it.  I even tried telling myself I might enjoy the music if I let myself.  I have lots of ways of trying to convince myself!  They aren’t working.

I lived with death threats here for years, with riots, with police here when I could get them.  But I thought that was all in the past. In the US, you look for a house in a cul-de-sac because it’s safer for children to play.  But here it’s the opposite.  If you live at the end of the lane, you are vulnerable to everyone along the way to your house.  If they have enough power they can stop the police from coming, which they mostly were able to do.  When I was doing renovations the criminals would stop the contractors and demand money.  

Sometimes it’s not easy, what I’m doing.  But then, that’s why I’m here.  I’m the wall between the girls and precisely that harsh and dangerous world out there.

 

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