The trip to India had many highlights - each could develop into an article for this blog. The one that is most positively significant is the fruition of my association with The Wisdom in Kolkata. So I choose to pen this down first.
Like quite a few great friends - all like minded women who have impacted my life greatly, I met Sukarna on the web. At first I was not quite sure who this lady was. She and I were both followers of facebook pages for Paramhansa Ramakrishna, Saradama and Swami Vivekananda. We commented on these pages and sometimes acknowledged each others comments. I searched for her on facebook and found no further details. Over time though, she populated her personal profile and I learnt more about her. We come from different professional backgrounds, live in different countries, were raised in different cities so other than the fact that we speak the same languages and love and worship the Holy Trio there was little we had in common - or so I thought. As a matter of fact I even found some of her comments on facebook a little off the path from my own. In short I was not quite sure that she and I would be anything more than facebook acquaintances.
A few months into this I decided to de-activate my facebook account as nothing constructive was coming out of this experience. Within a week I received an e-mail from Sukarna asking if all was well and expressing her concern for me. I was touched by this selfless concern from a web 'acquaintance.' She and the administrator of the Holy Trio pages had noticed my absence from the pages, had searched for me on facebook, found no signs of me there and had taken it upon themselves to check in on me. That showed me an aspect of Sukarna that made me want to know her more.
Sukarna then sent me an e-mail suggesting I look into a website (www.thewisdom.in) that described the workings of a Non Government Organization (NGO) that she had decided to start up. I visited the site and sent out a one line response congratulating her on her noble efforts and asking if I could help in anyway. Sukarna's response was effusive yet simple - "become a member."
Education has been a major interest of mine for many years now. I was raised by a father who emphasized that only through sound education would I find true success in life. He drilled into me that to experience true joy inner beauty was more important than the physical outward one. I do not claim to have appreciated this as a child but over the years I have discovered that my father was almost 100 percent right. The outward is important for first impressions but it loses value over time and what is inside becomes paramount. This inner knowing finds expression through sound education - where education is not about books, classes and degrees alone. Education goes deeper than that - into character building, learning to respect, being compassionate, being fearless, being discerning and being good. I have in small ways tried to contribute to educating those less fortunate, so when this invitation to become a member of The Wisdom that emphasizes education came along I saw it as a sign from God.
I had hundreds of questions about this endeavor and was a pest to Sukarna and her husband Alip. I bombarded them with questions via e-mail, over the phone, on e-chat, and on Skype so I understood the intent, the objectives, the workings, the pitfalls, the commitment and the effort required to run an organization like this one. Some of my questions were completely off the mark and made it clear that I knew very little about NGO's in India. I did a lot of reading about NGOs, education systems, West Bengal government policies and so much more so I could be a knowledgable and contributing member of the organization.
Before I left for India in January 2011 Sukarna and I moved from being web acquaintances to long distance friends. I grew to love and respect her and recognized how compassionate and passionate she is about education in general and about the underprivileged in particular. Meeting her for the first time in Kolkata in early February 2011 was a confirmation of what I had envisioned her as. Sukarna is about loving, giving, nurturing and smiling all done with complete humility. My only concern is that she will take on more than she can chew and I keep reminding her to take good care of herself.
Sukarna's qualities of loving, giving, nurturing and humility reflect beautifully in the workings of The Wisdom. At our first meeting held at her home in Kolkata I had the good fortune of meeting Sukarna and her immediate family (mother, husband and son) and Dr Mishra (from Bhubaneshwar) for the first time. The Wisdom is really Sukarna's dream but she opened it up for us to walk into and help develop so we felt like it was our baby. That takes a big heart - and Sukarna demonstrated she has one. Dr. Mishra comes from the education field and is extremely valuable to the fulfillment of the objectives of The Wisdom. He too is a giver. He inundated us with ideas and his knowledge about the administrative aspects of running an organization transparently and effectively gave us a major boost in being able to get the ball rolling. It was as if the stars were all in perfect position for The Wisdom to take form.
Without giving special mention to my friends and family for their financial and moral support I cannot move on through this word journey. None of the donors asked for any details or proof or results before they generously gave me money for this endeavor. We thought we would first need to run income generating programs to raise the funds to start classes for the children we needed to cater to. It feels great to say we started our first classes in Garia in the 1st week of March thanks greatly to the trust, faith and selfless generosity of friends and family. We are continuing to work so we can become a self-sustainable organization that does not need to depend on donations alone - but this first boost from generous donations has gone a long way to give us the impetus to start.
The classes are proving to be a huge success with the children and their parents. It is so heartening to hear about the events of the classes from Sukarna who teaches the children herself. The students hail from Class 6 to Class 10. They arrive an hour before starting time and are disappointed when class is done. They want to learn more and are voraciously taking in everything that is being taught. Sukarna is teaching them to read and write English but more importantly teaching them how to be kind and respectful towards one another. A snack is provided to them at the beginning of class which the children seem less interested in than the books, pencils and erasers that have been provided to them. They come prepared with questions and complete all tasks given to them.
Many of the students travel by public transport to get to the class. Some are accompanied by a parent. So far we have 28 children attending regularly and more are wanting to come on board everyday. Parents of younger children are requesting us to help their children too. There is a sense of euphoria that I can hear in Sukarna's voice when she talks about parents who are excited their children are getting an opportunity to learn in an environment that makes them feel loved. The videos of the children introducing themselves is interesting to watch too. There they are - many probably for the first time ever - being given an opportunity to introduce themselves as a person rather than as part of a poverty stricken mass!
The Wisdom was started as we felt the need to give the next generation of the marginalized society a fighting chance in this dog-eat-dog world. The Wisdom will succeed because these children are saying loudly and clearly that given the opportunity they can succeed and make our world a better place. With a combination like that bundled with the infinite Grace of God and the generosity of all, the future generations will make this world beautiful.
Please do pray for the children and check us out at www.thewisdom.in - any questions or if you would like to help in anyway our contact information is available on the site.