To Not Feel Alone in the Universe

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Remarks by Dr. Michelle Harrison, Founder of Shishur Sevay, invited speaker at Conference “Empowering Disabled Persons with Accessible & Assistive Technology” organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industries of India in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Empowerment, held at Le Meridien, 11 February, 2016. Invitees represented banks, PSU’s, and corporates. Dr. Harrison was the only speaker from the NGO sector as Shishur Sevay was the first NGO for disabled children in India to utilize the Tobii Eye Tracker technology for its most severely affected children. This technology allows a child who has no ability to use her hands or feet, nor does she have a stable head, to be able use her eyes on the computer screen to communicate with others. ASSOCHAM invited Dr. Harrison to speak about the “on the ground” reality of accessibility and assistive communication technologies.

Good Afternoon

COMMUNICATION and ACCESSIBILITY are the themes of this conference, but Why is communication so important? What is its function?

  • To not feel alone in the universe as an individual
  • To have some ability to control your environment.
  • To feel a part of some community of other people

The person who cannot communicate is locked out of these basic needs. For those whose only means are their eyes, even that technology has now helped to resolve. For those who have no mobility, accessibility is required or they cannot be part of the community of other people. Communication and Accessibility, the common human needs.

My relationship with India began in 1984 when as a single parent I adopted an infant from Kolkata and raised her, along with my older daughter in the US. But I always wondered, “what happens to the children who are not adopted?” What does India do for these children?  What is India’s policy for its lost, abandoned, abused, disabled, and un-chosen children? As my daughter grew and we visited India, I kept hearing the refrain, “Nothing can be done.” I KNEW this was not true, but I also realized it wasn’t even in the imagination of people what and who these children could become.

In 2006 my one daughter graduated from University and my other from Law School, and I left for Kolkata. I had sold my house the year before and with my savings and pension I was determined to show what could be done. Shishur Sevay will be ten years in June 2016. We became what we hoped to be, a best-practices model of inclusive non-institutional care for orphan children, some of whom have profound disabilities.   We are very replicable and relevant as India moves in intent and action to improve the lives of these children. From the beginning, we lived inclusively; two years ago we established a small school Ichche Dana Inclusive School which we want to expand into the community. In December 2015 we became the subject of research on inclusivity out of Vanderbilt University because of our unique history and establishment of inclusive education. We have begun our own Research and Training Center, the Tuni Harrison Research and Training Center.  It is named after a baby with Down Syndrome, found under bushes, and brought to us by the Child Welfare Committee.  She died in heart surgery, but she died loved, with a family, and with a name. Her portrait sits beside the Gods.

What is our secret? We started with the children, understanding who they are, and what they needed. That’s how we became inclusive, as we had little room, and they liked being together.  They needed each other, the abled and those with disabilities. How did we become leaders in advanced communication technology? Ganga, a profoundly disabled but intelligent child was desperate to communicate and all other technologies over the years had not quite worked.  Her fingers were too weak to manage even a special keyboard; her toes flexed in the wrong direction when she tried to use her feet on a keyboard;  Her neck couldn’t hole up her head enough for her to manage a head pointer.  Deciding eventually on the purchase the Tobii Eye Tracker was a leap of faith on my part as there weren’t any in India to try. I didn’t even try to look for a donor because I didn’t know if it would work.  I dipped further into my dwindling savings, as I have for all of this.  We have just ordered a second Eye Tracker so the girls can communicate directly with each other.  Ganga, who came to Shishur Sevay at 4 years of age, weighing 7 kg has been our leader.  Sometimes I think she is an old soul with a challenged body, determined to teach us how to get it right.

Why Inclusive Dance? Well, the old soul insisted she wanted to dance!  Dance is an ancient way of communicating and of being together as a community… It requires music, rhythm, synchrony, and a certain freedom of movement which is limited by being in the wheelchair. Ganga, with her spastic quadriplegia wanted to dance with the others. So we called Ferdinand Rodricks, who came from Mumbai to help create a harness based on the model of the Kaye Suspension Harness.  We later made a second one, and the girls can move and sway as the others hold them up.  Now we  want to incorporate the Kaye Suspension walker into our dance, if we can get the funds and figure out how to get it to India, or find someone in India who would make one similar.  We have done several public performances of our Inclusive Dance, and we have a channel on You Tube.

As for physical accessibility, at Shishur Sevay we had to find a way to refit as much of the house as we could, and to do it in an attractive way. People coming in don’t even realize that the contours of the entrance are because we needed accessibility. It was a necessity so we figured out how to do it, always being aware that our purpose was to demonstrate what could be done.  

What are the messages I want to leave with you?

  1. We have to change our mindsets. My initial thought when these 12 girls came, aged about 2 yrs. to ten, was that I had to separate the children into two groups by those with disabilities, and those not with disabilities. Why? That’s what you do! The problem is we had very limited space, AND the kids enjoyed being together. We were watching TV together, eating together, having evening Prarthana together and it was working fine.  When interviewed for the research recently they each said they wished they could understand better what their sisters wanted.  Three of our older girls want their careers to be around special needs children.
  1. We have to change society’s mindset with respect to acceptance of people with disabilities in public spaces. We won’t have accessibility until people want it, or until it becomes mandatory by law and enforced. In Kolkata there is almost no accessible space, no accessible buildings. ECO Park is a 480 acre recreational park opened in December 2012. The land is completely flat. There is only one accessible entrance though, at the far end, almost 2 km from the first gate. How hard would it have been to make all the gates accessible? In truth, people in wheelchairs and others with disability are not really welcomed.

There is ironically one truly accessible place I know in Kolkata, the South City Mall, where entrances are graded, there are lifts, clean accessible toilets, and for the abled children, the escalators which are almost as much fun as amusement parks.

  1. Processes and structures to improve accessibility, to develop better products and advanced communication cannot be dependent on market forces and the private sector. There is very little market for them and that will not change until we come to value their lives and want them to be among us.  Entrepreneurship must be encouraged and supported, but not with any expectation of immediate financial returns.  Innovations and implementation must be supported by government and public private partnerships.
  2. Solutions have to begin with input from the end users and those around them. Sometimes inventors make a product and then figure out who can use it. But when you start with the user, everything changes. The core of your ideas may be the same, but the presence of someone in need, a need you see and understand, can result in your tweaking it slightly differently. Hang out with the potential users… informal time…. they might not be able to tell you what they need because they haven’t yet dreamed it either. Include family members and caretakers…. Help them all to imagine.
  1. Include the girls and women in the implementation of technology for those with disabilities!!! They are the ones who provide most of the care. If the technology is only in the hands of men, the times it can be used will be very limited. It takes a change of mind set for mothers to be included in the technical aspects of assistive technology. Women need skills in dealing with electronics, taking computers apart, building switches, hooking up batteries. If we are trying to reach the “underserved” we have to include the women because too often they write themselves out of the picture. “NO, I can’t,” is as common as, “It can’t be done.”
  1. We have to be able to dream. The Indian educational system punishes the dreamers, the challengers to status quo, those who question… Students need to be able to experiment, to go off syllabus. Rote memory cannot produce inventors or inventions. Shishur Sevay was a dream but it required a lifetime of skills to make it right and make it better.  Dreaming isn’t enough; making it happen is a harder challenge. I’m a visionary. I look at something as it is, and then I imagine how it could be even better, and with Shishur Sevay, I built the better model. We have to be able to dream.

What do those with disabilities (and the rest of us) need?

  • To not feel alone in the universe as an individual. They need to communicate, which often requires technology which is rapidly appearing.  Now it must get to those who need it.
  • To have some ability to control their environment.  Whether it is to turn on a light, choose their work, or press a call button – without some capability they are helpless, and alone.
  • To feel part of a community of people by going accessible places, like schools, government offices, parks, public transportation, or even just being able to take part in online communities. When our orphan children first arrived they thought India was about cricket and football. The first thing we taught them was that Shishur Sevay was their Home, and India was their Country.

For those with disabilities to have what basically we all need, WE must

  • Want to have them among and beside us,
  • Listen to their dreams,
  • Walk in their shoes, or AFOs,
  • Take risks,
  • And let ourselves dream.

Then we can do anything!

I thank you all for your time and attention.

Dr. Michelle Harrison, New Delhi, 11 February, 2016 {shishur.sevay@gmail.com}

 

 

Shishur Sevay Welcoming Scrutiny

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I read this story this morning.  It’s good that the government wants to improve services and accountability of NGO services to children.  So I welcome this, and I also dread this.  What will be the reality of how this will happen?  Ultimately, will we be certified as “good enough?”  What will be the criteria.  We are a model and we intend to influence government care of orphans and other children in need, including the disabled.  We want to document and report, and be transparent in how this process occurs, if it actually does proceed.   This is the first I have heard about it.  I will report when we hear anything along the way.  I will be open about the questions that are asked of us, and our replies.

Even at present, our records are open.  Is our documentation perfect?  Of course not.  We will improve what we can.  But our children are receiving good health care; good nutrition; education; rehabilitation; respect; discipline.  Our official website http://www.shishursevay.org continues to update all of these and our important documents are being loaded into the site.  Here are the worries I have as we enter into a revised process of licensing:

  • We are under constant pressure to take more children.  I have refused on the basis that we cannot take more without lowering the level of care we give.  We cannot become a warehouse.  We won’t.
  • We do not receive funds from the government.  Such a contract would require us to take more children.  For those NGOs that receive funds, they often arrive 1-2 YEARS late, and cover only a bare fraction of the real costs.  Proper care for children with disabilities is expensive because it is labor intensive.   Otherwise they don’t survive.
  • Inclusion may be a problem in the new licensing.  We have been told more than once that we cannot have “normals’ with “handicapped.”  The rationale from the government was that the “handicapped” are dangerous to the “normals.”  This was told to us at the same time I had established a ZERO TOLERANCE of violence because children with disabilities can easily be silently abused and we had dealt with such a situation here.  So maybe this will be an opportunity for educating and influencing the government about disability and inclusion.

Well, it’s a new adventure, which may or may not happen.  It’s a great idea, more scrutiny, and I really do welcome it.  When people walk through the entrance here, I see their faces change.  It’s not what they expected.  The kids are all around.  Kids and teachers and office staff… all “underfoot.”  My office is always a bit of a mess because if anyone doesn’t know where to put something, it ends up in my office.  It’s also the reception area.  It is shared space.  All doors in the house have windows. Privacy can be dangerous to children and to the helpless and voiceless.

I like “common space”  When I was a kid I used to spend hours drawing house plans.  I studied magazines that in those days had construction plans for homes.  My designs were always the same….. a common space in the middle.  So I guess that makes Shishur Sevay the house of my dreams.  I was a strange kid.  I’m still a bit on the strange side.

Ganga has PTSD

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I am asleep.  Ganga is asleep beside me, as usual.  My back hurts and I roll to my other side, leaving six inches between us.  Suddenly she begins to scream, and scream, and thrash.  I jump up to hold her and she is stiff, screaming.  I try to sing to her, to soothe her and she screams and now also sobs.  Others wake.  The light goes on.  Ganga screams in terror, looks to the corner as if something is coming from there.  She doesn’t seem to know who I am or where she is.  She pauses for a moment, looks at me, and screams more.  I pass her to one of the girls.  She still screams.  This goes on and on.  She thrusts out her tongue as she does when she is thirsty.  We talk to her.  She takes a sip of water.  She looks at me, terrified.  I feel helpless and frightened.  It has never been this bad before.  One of the girls takes her and walks around with her.  Ganga calms down.  She wants to come back to me.  I hold her.  We fall asleep.  It is 3 am.  This night is not over.  Twenty minutes later she is screaming again.  The look of terror on her face is so awful, painful, and yes, frightening to me.  Now I think of this as seizure of some sort.  I give her some Dilantin, Rani’s seizure medicine.  I don’t know if it really helps, but eventually we are asleep again.  In the morning she is smiling.  She goes off to school, as though nothing has happened.  I don’t know what she remembers.  She cannot speak.

I leave to have breakfast with a visitor and then take him to the airport.  On the way, talking about what happened in the night, it clicks.  This is flashback.  The picture comes together…. pieces always there, but not as PTSD.  Ganga wears a special locket given to her by the Imam at the Mazra where we took her once.  There an Imam does healing.  She loved going there, always arching her body towards the entrance as we approached.  He gave her special water, and the locket, and he blew softly on her face.  She is a wise child.  She understood.  But it hadn’t been so bad then, and for a while, a long time, she was fine.

PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, most well known in relation to soldiers in war, soldiers who return from war but have flashbacks in which they believe or experience being back in the battlefield, in it again, terrified, trapped, and unable to re-join the present.  It happens in the day and in the night.  The episodes result from triggers, internal and external that evoke the fears, the memories, the terror, and the terror takes over.  They cannot escape.

Ganga does not take her eyes off me.  She used to cry if I got up in the night to go to the bathroom.  Once I even tried holding her at the same time.  Then I started waking her lightly to tell her I was going.  That worked well.  But that was just crying, and she was immediately soothed if a massi came to her, or when I came back.

The first time I went away, for three days, she ran a high fever.  Then she got used to it.  But always I told her.  One time she became very fussy, more clinging, and I couldn’t figure out why.  I was going to Bangladesh just for a day and coming back the same day.  But she had heard staff talking about my going.  Once I explained I was going and coming back, she calmed, stopped being clingy.  But always she is concerned about where I am.  She is hypervigilant.   When I went to the US for two weeks, I prepared her.  I practiced talking with her on the phone.  I would go in the other room and call on another phone and go G A N G A, GANGA!  She can’t speak, so I can only look for the ways she understands.  She did well.  I called every day.  She kept her eye on the phone and understood when I wasn’t on the phone.

Ganga’s attachment to me was always treated as a “trait” and people took delight in teasing her that I was going away.  It makes me furious, but I could not stop it.  It was done when I wasn’t looking.  On that trip when she ran a fever I left hearing her screaming because someone told her I wasn’t coming back.  I’ve never understood why people enjoy teasing in that way.  Here it was also a way of getting at me, of hurting where I was vulnerable, hurting the child who lived in terror of my disappearing.

It has been three years, four months, and one day since she came.  Normal “separation anxiety” should have gone away a long time ago.  But nothing for her is normal. 

Ganga’s History.  We don’t really know her history.  She is about 7-8 years old, by her teeth.  She has severe Cerebral Palsy.  When she came, at about four years, she was 8kg, and could not use any of her limbs, or lift her head. GANGA-Sukanya-1520CRW She was totally limp.  I remember asking the physiotherapist if he thought she “knew” she had hands.  She had no reflexes, no grip.  But her eyes spoke and spoke.  She loved a Bengali movie about a father who wanted to give an elephant to his daughter.  She loved Charlie Chaplin.  She wanted to be in the classroom with the big girls.  When they went upstairs she cried, and when I picked her up to follow her eyes, she took me up to the classroom.  There she was happy.

Shishur Sevay is Ganga’s fourth home, that we know.  She has pierced ears, tiny holes that have since closed.  But that means she had a family.  She had a home where initially she was accepted, and her ears were pierced.  At some point she was moved to a hospital, but we don’t know when.  About six months before she came to us she was moved to Sukanya Home, the government institution for orphans, abandoned children.  And then she came here.  There could have been more homes in between. Ganga is an abandoned child, an aware one, a thinking one… and aside from abandonment, we don’t know what other traumas she had, and now experiences as flashbacks. Sometimes when I hold her she looks at me and just gets sad and begins to cry softly.  I think she is remembering.  I ask her and she seems to tell me yes.  My question soothes her.

I don’t remember how or when Ganga claimed me as hers.  In the beginning I slept with all four little ones nearby.  The others gradually started to sleep with the big girls.  Ganga stayed.  Often she would not fall asleep until I turned out my office light and came.  She would just lay in the dark waiting.  I told a friend about her once, about her hanging on to me, staking her claim on me, and my friend said, “Smart kid.”  But here it was also seen as a vulnerability.

Why Now?  Why was it so bad this time.  What were the triggers?  Looking back there were several.  There had been some teasing… that Mummy would punish her for something…  She’d had “accidents” which is extremely rare for her.  Regression, yet another symptiom of PTSD. And then there was the visitor coming and Ganga misinterpreted my telling her we were going to the airport.  When I have to leave, she comes to the airport to see me off, with the other kids and Gibi, and then comes to pick me up.  But this time we were going to pick up a visitor.  So when I told her the night before, she couldn’t get to sleep.  I wondered why.  Now I realize she thought I was leaving.  I took three big girls and Ganga and Bornali to pick up Ferdinand Rodricks, (http://www.HandicappedPeople.com)who was coming from Mumbai to design a way for Ganga (and eventually the others) to dance with the big girls.  When we started to go towards the gate to meet him she thrust herself towards me — and I held her.  She clung, and I suddenly realized she thought I was leaving.  I held her; I reassured her;  when later we got back in the car she was smiling and smiling; when we got home she was smiling even more.  Ganga was safe, until the night when the triggers and the fears came back and she was lost to the past, gripped by the demons of her history, cut off from the abundance of love that surrounds her at Shishur Sevay.

Maybe the visit itself was difficult because of all the attention to her, though she clearly loves attention.  Ganga loves to be with the girls when they are dancing.  She adores the dance teacher and lights up when he comes and takes her upstairs to class.  She studies the dance, concentrates, and when I ask if she wants to dance she says she does.  I have a vision of the four little ones dancing with my eight big ones, dancing with partial weight bearing support from above, twirling, twelve girls in groups of three.  So Ferdinand Rodricks came to help us.  He designs devices out of passion to help those with disabilities share experiences they usually miss.  His biggest area is in adapting all kinds of cars so those with disabilities can drive — any kind of cars.  Now he was here to share this vision of dance.  How was that for Ganga?  What did she feel, think?  We don’t know.

NAMING is a game changer.  I came home from seeing Ferdi off and hit the internet for PTSD and flashbacks.  There I found her “symptoms” of flashbacks, sleep disturbances, separation anxiety, startle.  STARTLE is interesting because I knew how easily she was startled and had adapted my behavior over the years so as not to startle her.  I never moved quickly around her.  I adapted without really naming it.  If I sat next to her I would get up slowly… no sudden motion or noise.  But of course everyone was aware that Ganga startled easily.  It just wasn’t named. Rage — a couple of times, after I got back from the US, she had been naughty and I scolded her.  She had started bubbling water out of her mouth.  It was class time.  I scolded her.  She went into terror/rage and stayed that way for hours, checking me.  I think that because of the CP, it is hard for her to modulate, or maybe because of the PTSD.  But for months after she continued to “test” the situation.  She would fixate on my face and start to bubble, and then actually react with the fear, waiting to see what happened.  Since admittedly she has control over me I would say, “Ganga I promised I would not scold you again for that.”  Scolding makes her feel like her world is coming to an end.  That doesn’t mean she can do what she wants.  I tell her and teachers tell her what she can or cannot do, but “scolding” has a different meaning, and tone.  I don’t do that.  Maybe one day i will be able to, or she will be able to tolerate it.  That can be a goal.

I had a long talk with Ganga after I put all this together, and told her what she has.  I named the PTSD.  I also told her I would not leave without telling her.  And then because she must also deal with reality, I told her that if anything happened to me, she would still be OK because of all the people who love her, and I named them each.  She was very serious.  I think she understood.

From the beginning I have wanted Ganga to be able to tell us what she is thinking.  I want to know.  I want her to know we know.  It’s been my frustration with much of the teaching in “special education” because that seems to be about what WE TELL the children, and not about listening to what they are trying to tell us.  When Rani went to school they would hold her hand and tap it on a drum.  At home, I discovered I could imitate what she tapped and she would suddenly look at me, with amazement, and tap back.  We connected.  I was listening and she knew she was being heard.  A key to her internal imprisonment had been unlocked, just a bit.  Rani has a lot to say.  So does Ganga…  And I want to know what they want to tell us.

I have been on the path of assistive technologies and augmentative communication.  There is a vast array of products and devices.  I have chosen already the symbol system I will use, Widgit, formerly Rebus.  I like it.  I can understand it.  The software just arrived from the UK.  I want the little ones taught in English because one day I hope to have teachers, volunteers from US or UK, people to take us further.  As for the devices, I think I will wait until August when I have to be in the US, and can look at different ones at the same time…. It’s hard to make these decisions online.

But back to Ganga and PTSD.  What is the therapy?  There really is no medicine and the flashbacks happen only once in a while.  Talking is the best therapy for this, awareness of triggers, prevention, and finding ways to desensitize.  I have to talk to her about startle, about her fear when I move quickly.  I really want to use the new system of communication, Widgit to write stories about loss, about trauma, about healing, and start to read them to her, and talk to her.  Then I want to find a way for her to make the stories, to point to what SHE wants to happen next, and how SHE feels reading the story.  The system has symbols and words so I hope to teach it to the big girls too, so they can read stories to and with the little ones.  My plate is full.  My cup runneth over.

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I’ve been writing this over the course of the day.  I want to add pictures.  I also want to write of how the naming changes what we do.  I was standing next to her, and joked about “tiptoeing around the Princess” an acknowledgement of her startle reflex…The girls all needed shoes and I only wanted to take two at a time.  I took Rani and Sonali and told Ganga I would take her and Bornali another day.   It’s not about avoiding separation, but of building her capacity to manage separation.  The difference here is subtle but no one is making fun of her… rather just reassuring her.  Ganga’s terror has a name and so it is not funny anymore.  The NAME makes it “real” to people, though it was just as real before the name.  That is part of our culture though.  Naming defines what is real and what is “imaginary” or made up, or looking for attention, or any of the ways we tend to dismiss inconvenient feelings and vulnerability.

Ganga is serious about learning.GangaComp_5186

Ganga is a joyous child.

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Until her demons of the night, or day, rob us from her and send her screaming into her past.

The New School Year

From DAY ONE:Sabitri_4082

 

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Bornali in School

Sabitri_5650  Today is DAY TWO of the new school year.   I’m sitting on a bench in the hallway of Sahapur Sabitri Balika Vidyalaya, on call if I am needed.  Two of our handicapped children are here.  It is all new and the school is worried about how to take care of them, but they have truly reached out to make them comfortable.   I have promised to wait, to be available.  Three months ago this was a dream, to have the government open to handicapped children.  This is a beginning.  I chose to enroll only two of the girls, Ganga and Bornali.  As yet there is no “program” here and they are content to just be present and watch, to be a part of the school.  They were admitted because of Indian law calling for education for all children.

Ganga has settled in fine. Sabitri088cr This school is where she wanted to be all along, in school with her Didis.  I used to carry Ganga in the backpack when I walked the girls to school.  Bornali is frightened of new places. She cried the first day and I was able to soothe her.  Today she screamed when we entered the classroom.  She settled down after a while and I left for the hallway.

DAY THREE and I’m back on the bench in the hallway.  Bornali only cried for a little while and then I could leave.  Today they are staying longer.  At 9 am there is a book ceremony when books for the school year are given out.  The Headmistress asked if I could attend so I asked if Ganga and Bornali could stay so I didn’t have to take them home and come back.  She agreed. I hold the post of President of the Mother-Teacher Association.  I know Ganga will be happy as yesterday she was aware that she was leaving before the others. 

 

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Seema, our Board Secretary has been a wonderful advocate. This morning she had a chance to talk to the children seated around Ganga and explained that God had not given Ganga arms and legs and speech like the others, but she understood everything.  She had three children each say their names to Ganga and Ganga reached out with her hand.  She is so happy in school.  She wants so much to be like the others.  When she sees another child/adult with CP she immediately recognizes that they share this condition. 

 

There is a huge learning curve ahead for the teachers here.  But this is true everywhere.  They are afraid of the children, unsure how to talk to them, worried about saying/doing the right thing, feeling unprepared and inadequate.  The government is required to give a resource teacher but has not done this yet.  We are in the midst of elections and many things are put off.  I really am grateful just to be in the door.  The rest will follow.  For my children, I have a full teaching program at home.  This is for socialization until it can be more.

 

DAY FOUR

This has become my only time to write.  Yesterday’s book ceremony was a dream come true.  Ganga and Bornali stayed for it all.  This is a ceremony when books are distributed for the new year.  It is also a time when prizes are given out for the past year.  The ceremony is held in the huge meeting hall. All the classes were there today, which meant my ten girls in school were all together.  Shanti Devi came to help.  We wheeled Ganga and Bornali in, and they joined the others.  Seven of our big girls danced – unexpectedly!  So Ganga and Bornali got to see their Didi’s dancing.  Sabitri061ed

The local councilor was there and we chatted.  He too has been very supportive.  He said that after elections we would do more.    Then prizes were given out.  Our “first in class” received hers, and then another of our girls won a prize in drawing, and two others in running.  Bornali is a very quiet girl, but when applause broke out, she screamed and kicked her legs and everyone in the room heard and saw her and enjoyed her happy kicking.  Later I was also asked to present some of the prizes. Sabitri043cr

There was a moment though when I just walked over to a window on the side of the room, and truly basked in my happiness.  I  basked in my success in keeping the girls in this school.  It is a haven for them, for girls who have had few if any havens in their lives.  I did fight off pressure to put them in “better” schools.  This day I basked in having Ganga and Bornali here, what had seemed just a mad dream, and now was reality.  I imagined a big puff of air above my head, holding off all the constant problems and pressures and I had a happy time in my bubble.

We are in the midst of a major crisis with the government!  Some things have HAPPENED  in spite of our diligence about accuracy — things out of our control, but which I can’t talk about specifically.  I am  consumed with trying to straighten it out, while also attending to hair clips and socks at 5 am.  I get worn out.  

Yesterday I got home to major battles going on among the massis, and then the accountant came and then I had lunch and napped and then I tried to do a little work,but didn’t get the paprs done, and then I had emails regarding business cards I need and then we went to visit a board member and friend whose mother just died and then I came home and went to bed and then discovered the rabbits hadn’t been cared for, and when I went to check the rabbits I saw the plants were all drying up so at 11 pm one of the girls cleaned the rabbit cage, which was smelling and I watered the plants and then went to bed to get up at 4 am to start this day.  In between though, I chatted online with Cici and then talked on the phone with Heather.  We are a very small family.  We are in touch almost daily, including on Facebook.  I have been “friended” on Facebook by my daughters and son in law. This is precious.

 

I have had to take charge of the hairclips and school badges, as I did last year.  They are easily lost and the school only allows red clips and garters.  This is one of those areas I really try to comply — a gesture that I respect their rules  (And, I get scolded if the girls arent neat and combed, and I let it get to me, which just proves I’m still a child at heart!) Hunting for red clips in the market is not always easy and I hate having to buy them.  So, I have a lock box for the red clips and garters and school badges.  I have separate plastic bags for each girl, with her name.  I sleep with the box next to me.  In the morning I give out the clips and badges.  When I get up to go to my computer I take the box with me.  When the girls come home from school all the clips and badges go back into the plastic bags and the tin box.  In truth though, the girls love the system.  They love coming to me in the morning for their badges and clips.  It’s a ritual.   It’s their way of keeping me attentive.  I am Keeper of the Hair Clips and School Badges.  I am Mother.

DAY FIVE

It becomes a routine.  Ganga is fine and loves being in school.  Bornali cries for the first ten minutes.  She is just overwhelmed and she “dissolves” into tears.   Sabitri090I tell her she is a big girl now. Sabitri093 We are closer.  Ganga, who used to be glued to me, is more on her own.  it’s good.  I write again from the school bench, children wandering by, and I shoo them back to class.  The Headmistress just stopped by and handed me Ganga and Bornali’s diaries with their class schedules.  When we get home our teacher will go through what was covered in class.  I’m having new chair/table tops made to fit better in the classrooms.  Eventually the school will have attendants so the children can follow in class.  But what they have now is wonderful.  They get up in the morning and we all walk to school together, Ganga and Bornali in their strollers.  We reach before prayer time, so Ganga and Bornali join the line, next to their big sisters.  Bornali is solemn.  Ganga glances around to see who she can make eye contact with, who will be her next friend.  All this is normal.  They have a life.

 

I have a life too, a very very good one.

The Hall where I wait and blog, while the children are in class.  Sabitri064

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