Every year, the community around Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for underserved children in Dehradun, India, grows and changes. What remains constant is the need for education. Thirty-five years ago, we asked questions like, ‘how do we get our kids to sit still long enough to drink a cup of milk?’ Now we ask, ‘how do we give our kids an education that supports them academically, socially, and personally?’ And at the end of every year we ask, ‘what was our biggest challenge? Where did we succeed?’ Our biggest challenge was tracking what happens to students who leave LDA. In 2018, 12 students dropped out of school. Our community used to be mostly people who had been ostracised from their villages and were searching for a new home. Now, migrant families are usually looking for work and don’t intend to stay. They don’t have cell phones or addresses. They leave because they couldn’t find work, they found work somewhere else, someone died, got sick or married, they owe someone money, they ran out of money, it’s harvesting (or planting) season so they went back to their village, or any number of other reasons that we don’t know, and which they’re not obligated to tell us. It wasn’t too long ago that migrant families’ children worked, so it’s encouraging that while they’re in the community, they send their kids to LDA. Our greatest achievement was hiring Nikita. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal, she’s just another young woman working at her first job while studying for her B.Sc. Here’s what we did right: many years ago, we educated Devender, Nikita’s father. At the time, LDA only went up to 5th grade so he [...]
Report on Construction at Lakshmi Devi Academy A Project of KHEL Total Cost for Stage One of LDA construction project: INR28,00,000 (USD40,000/€35,000) After more than three years of planning, construction work at Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for underserved children in Dehradun, India, began in March 2017. The reason we are releasing this report now is that we wanted to see how well the construction worked for our kids. It takes some time to understand crowd flow and movement, and what we’ve learned this past year will impact future construction. In India, it’s normal to wait through a monsoon season to see how construction holds up. Overall, this construction has performed admirably and has met our expectations. We invited the community and some of our students to a ground-breaking ceremony. Representing KHEL were Co-Founder Lalita Arya (fondly known as Ammaji), Executive Director Stomya Arya Persaud, Board Member Mr. Ahluwalia, and Beni Bhatt, KHEL’s General Manager. Of course, all of KHEL’s staff and teachers joined us. From Dhyana Mandiram Trust (DMT), which funded a large portion of this effort, we welcomed Tejas Chandaria, Narinder Pushkarna and Dr. Upreti. Also present were City Councillor Kamli Bhatt, and members of LDA’s Volleyball team. In addition, we were happy to welcome both of our contractors, Jakir Ansari and Rajender Chauhan, and Mr. Maindola, our architect. KHEL serves a diverse community. In keeping with our policy of inclusion, we asked representatives from the 4 major religions of our community to take part in the ground-breaking ceremony. Ammaji began the proceedings with a prayer and blessing. Pandit Harshanand performed a short Hindu ceremony, Iliyaas Ansari gave a Muslim blessing, Mr. Ahluwalia said a Sikh prayer and Prakash Goel offered a [...]
India is home to more than 225 million children ages 10 to 19 years. At Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for underserved youth in Dehradun, India, we provide a comprehensive education designed to give our children the tools to reach their full potential as individuals and leaders. Helping our kids become productive adults requires collective action on education, health, employment, personal development and interpersonal relationships. The Adolescent Resource Centre (ARC), instituted at LDA several years ago, gives our children the tools they need for their lives outside the classroom. ARC covers many overlapping areas of development. We discuss life skills and livelihood. The children learn decision making and relationship skills, and they spend time in personal contemplation. We share with them what kinds of changes to expect during adolescence, how our social attitudes might change during this time, and crucial information on reproductive health. We talk about nutrition, health, hygiene, what constitutes a balanced diet, and common and infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Throughout this year long process, we encourage curiosity, open discussion and problem solving. The ARC councilors, Madhavi and Karishma, stress that confidentiality is a critically important part of ARC. Our kids and staff all live in the same community. The advantage to this is that everyone looks after everyone else. The disadvantage is that everyone knows everyone else’s business, and gossip among or about teenagers can be devastating. Many of our kids don’t have access to personal space in their homes; sometimes a living room doubles as a family bedroom, and in that same space there may be a small area in one corner for cooking. This makes confidentiality vital to building trust with our children because [...]
Swami Veda Bharati at LDASwami Veda Bharati, formerly known as Dr. Usharbudh Arya, together with Mrs. Arya (Ammaji) founded KHEL and transformed a community. When he passed away, what Ammaji wrote isn’t so much an obituary as a celebration of his life that included the mission of KHEL to bring kindness, health, education and laughter to the impoverished children of his home town, Dehradun.Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew notRabindrath TagoreSwami Veda Bharati1933-2015©Lalita Arya 2015Swami Veda loved languages. He knew so many I cannot count and among them is the sweet lilt of Bangla. He loved Tagore’s poems and this quote from Tagore’s Gitanjali was one of his favorites. This poem fully illustrates the kind of life he lived, and seems most suitable for the occasion to celebrate his life with the world he created. He was given seats in homes not his own, not as an invited guest, but as an honored and loving teacher. He traveled far and wide into unknown lands and found kinship among strangers. He treasured the old and found it still abiding in the new. He had that ability to go back into time, pull out the relevant from the archaic and adapt it to contemporary life. His family saw this in everything he did – his three daughters, his son, their spouses, their mother, and grandchildren. Sometimes he went so far back we would sit agape, listening, lost in time and space.Before taking sanyaasa he had already adopted a larger family than his own, prompting a few old family friends to say to his children after his Mahasamadhi – Thank you for sharing your father with us. This was the swami he was that [...]
‘You don’t have to be privileged to have potential’Shivani, KHEL VolunteerHow many children have amazing potential and no means to develop it because of simple, solvable challenges? In some parts of the world, kids are being bombed or kidnapped because they and their families believe in education. At KHEL the threats are, thankfully, less life threatening. But it’s no less devastating to a child who wants to get an education and can’t because she’s menstruating and has no sanitary napkins, or because he has to get a job at 9 years old because his parents are too sick to work. For some children it’s as simple a problem as they don’t have shoes.How do we help kids to achieve their potential? Education is the primary means to self improvement and is the most basic service we offer. But, there’s no point providing children an education if they’re too sick or malnourished to focus on their studies so we also organise health camps, vaccinations and other forms of medical and nutritional support for the kids and their families. Education isn’t just about academics. Through our volunteers and the many visitors to KHEL our kids get the benefit of meeting people from all over the world. In 2014, through the Adolescent Resource Centre, we introduced innovative programs to provide our kids with education for life such as career planning, relationship advice and health and hygiene lessons. Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for underserved children in Dehradun, India, is more than just a school. It is a gathering space that fosters relationships among diverse groups in a small and densely populated community. Programs like the Buddy Project help the kids to develop empathy for each other from [...]
From Stomy and Ammaji - With sorrow in our hearts, we share the tragic news of the untimely death of one of our devoted staff members. Munni Devi worked for KHEL for over 20 years, helping to look after not only our school but our students as well. She was only 46 years old and is survived by three grown daughters, Seema, Rekha and Chanda, and her husband, Puran, as well as many other family members. A few days ago Munni fell in her home and hit her head. She lost consciousness and her family had to break down a door to reach her. She was taken to a hospital and was seen by two neurosurgeons. It was apparent that her prognosis wasn’t good but we immediately put together funds for surgery, just in case the doctors gave the go ahead (thank you, Swami Veda, for offering to cover a large portion of the cost). With her family around her, she was in and out of consciousness for less than a day. Non-relatives weren’t allowed in the ICU but Beni, KHEL’s General Manager, went anyway to lend his support to the family. In India, you must deposit money with the hospital before they’ll treat you. We gave her family the required deposit. During the night she slipped into unconsciousness and didn’t wake up again. She passed away peacefully surrounded by her loving family. Beni stayed with them during the day of her passing, helping to arrange for transportation to Haridwar, a Hindu holy city near Dehradun. In one of her moments of consciousness, Munni had asked to be taken there. We joined the family and friends at the ‘ghats’, a place on the Ganga’s banks [...]
In September 2014, KHEL started a new program to foster good relationships between the younger and older students at LDA. Once a week, our 5-8th grade students meet with a 1-4th grade student to work on a project together, share a snack, help with homework or just chat about their lives and their families. Recently the Buddies got together to make thank you cards for KHEL’s friends and donors. Shalini, a long time KHEL volunteer, designed this program by drawing on her experience as a mentor to under served middle school students in New Orleans when she was a college student at Tulane University. The program has been running for several months and the kids look forward to the days when they get to hang out with their Buddies. LDA is more than just a school. It is a gathering space that fosters good relationships among diverse groups in a small and densely populated community. Programs like the Buddy Project help the kids to develop empathy for each other from a young age and teach them much needed mentoring skills for adulthood. They learn that, no matter how poor they are, they have something of value to share with someone else.
At Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for under served children, we’ve been running the ARC Program for a few months. The kids look forward to the days when they get to stay after school to take part. The program is designed to be fun so they have a great time with their friends while learning about health, hygiene, relationships and other topics relevant to 7th and 8th graders. There weren’t any sessions in January since classes didn’t resume after the winter break until January 14. Then the weather became challenging and the state government mandated that schools close for a short period. Many people, including one of the ARC trainers, were sick with seasonal colds and flu. More than one organisation made ARC at LDA possible. RDI - HIHT (Rural Development Institute - Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust) provided the staff to survey LDA’s students as well as two trainers who work directly with the children. Bhola Shankar Dabral, representing Dhyana Mandiram Trust (DMT), worked hard with other DMT members and donors to raise the necessary funds, while also liaising with KHEL staff to get the program up and running at LDA. Without the dedicated people who run RDI and DMT, ARC at LDA wouldn’t be possible.Before the ARC inauguration two young women, Karishma and Ankita, came to LDA to talk to the kids. They asked what problems the kids had, what sort of programmes would be helpful to them, what did they know about health and hygiene, what their living conditions were at home, and many other questions. This information was then evaluated by the two trainers so that the sessions are tailored to the needs of LDA’s children. For Karishma and Ankita this [...]