Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not so quick update

Happy holidays everyone! I am going to try to do a quick update to shed some light on my experience here at Anandwan Forest of Joy.  I am here with a group of people doing a seva retreat, which combines meditation with service or volunteer work. Anandwan is a community that houses people that have or have lived with and been disabled by leprosy, are orphaned, or have other disabilities such as being blind, deaf, or other physical disablements. It was started by a man named Baba Amte who was a strong supporter of Gandhi and believed that people deserve a chance not charity. All folks that live in the community are provided housing, food and basic staples plus a stipend for the work that they complete. Nobody is turned away. They just have to agree to non violence, no drugs and alcohol, and having a maximum of one child each unless they already had more children when they arrived (otherwise they would not be able to manage the growth in the community). In the 70's they were 100% self sustainable except for salt and oil but they have grown so big that they are now able to maintain being over 50% sustainable.

People are trained and work in agriculture, electricity, water maintenance, woodworking, bike shops, shoe shops, the hospital, kitchens, schools for deaf and blind children, day care, craft shops such as weaving, card and paper making, printing, to name a few. They even have an orchestra with people with multiple disabilities that play instruments, dance and sing. It was amazing to watch a man dance beautifully only to learn that he is deaf and mute and uses a four count rhythm to perform, or to see a man scoot himself on stage without any legs and sing a beautiful ballad.

The work ethic is so strong here that it is not uncommon to see a massive wound dressed and covered in the AM and within a hour see this same person working in the fields barefooted. Younger elderly woman missing digits and toes are taking care of older elderly women. A women bent over unable to fully straighten can be seen sweeping the street.  

While we were here there was an eye camp going on where volunteer doctors came and screened 15,000 clients and then performed 1,800 cataract surgeries on the most needy within a week. Volunteers that came over 10 years ago noted a need for tendon release surgeries for a common disfigurement of patients with leprosy so they fund and provide volunteers once a year to come and perform the surgeries and complete the hand rehabilitation for 2 weeks after.

Because of the social stigma leprosy has, Baba Amte was unable to get a doctor that would be willing to work with the patients here so his family members trained as physicians to be able to provide the care. Their family is now in the 4th generation of building the Anandwan community. Although less common, leprosy still exists and people with leprosy are still socially out casted, but here, what we witness is a lot of love and pride within their community and a growing acceptance from the surrounding communities.

It is really easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of suffering observed here, people missing arms, legs, fingers, having gaping chronic wounds, seeing elderly men and women unable to fully care for themselves some of which smell of urine, spending most of their time in bed with ants and flies surrounding them. Their menial belongings such as a comb, empty containers, a small amount of hair cream, a plate and cup, and a few items of clothing kept in a single cardboard box by their beds, a young woman of 22 severely disabled by arthritis dependent in her care lying in bed in the nursing home because there is no place else that is able to care for her better, a young 16 year old boy that is in the hospital because he needed an additional amputation because his leprosy was very advanced by the time he reached Anandwan and has been living in the main hospital building for several months… etc etc…

It is also really easy to feel inept at making a meaningful impact in a small amount of time of being here which really challenges one to think about what is being helpful…. Is it funding a surgical program, returning every year for 8 years with a group of willing people to provide temporary service, working 15+hour days completing 1,800 eye surgeries in a week?  Can it be massaging an elderly persons arms and legs and putting coconut oil in their hair, taking someone out in a wheelchair that hasn't gotten out of bed in over 5 months, or the simple act of smiling and bowing with respect with love and acceptance as you pass a new acquaintance in the street? The answer really lies within us. I am finding comfort in the poem adapted by mother Teresa that states;
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

So I do what calls me, recognize that I am receiving way more gifts than I am giving, and stay present with the joy and love and aversion and discomforts of being here.

After an extensive tour, we chose the volunteer work that we wanted to do. People are encouraged to reach out wherever they feel drawn. So some people are helping to dress wounds, some people are volunteering in the tailoring or woodworking shop, others work with elders or with the deaf and blind youth after school hours. I have decided to provide massage and care in the nursing home in the AM and then to visit with Sandeep (the young boy in the hospital), Jyoti (the young women in the nursing home), and Neesha, a young girl with severe developmental and physical delays in the afternoons.

A funny lesson in pity…. My friend Dave is assisting with wound care and he is witnessing feet turned over on themselves, gruesome wounds, missing limbs and digits and while he was working with one person with multiple disfigurements they asked him if he was married (a VERY commonly asked question here), when Dave indicated no, he said the person acquired a look of pure sorrow and indicated how sorry they were for him! So who is feeling sorry for who here!!!!! Good to have a little perspective!

This is already 2 pages long and I feel like I have not done this place justice. But I did want to follow up on what I mentioned about donations to say that I do believe that the place is run incredibly efficiently and that well needed donations would be used efficiently for direct services.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season! I miss you all and am sending so much love your way!!!!!! Big hugs! Jen

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Follow up photos

Hi all! I am in Nagpur, a transition town for me on my way to Anandwan Forest of Joy Center for people with leprosy  tomorrow. I am not sure if they will have a computer or not. I will be there for 3 weeks and then heading to my 30 day silent meditation retreat. So not sure how much contact I will be able to make in the next 2 months!!!! I am only 2 hours away from Anandwan... so rest assured that I am safe and sound even if you don't hear from me for a bit! I will try to make contact in between retreats at the very least if I can. Anandwan's email address is if you want to check it out more. I mentioned before in my Mrs Peacock blog some donation options around this holiday season. As I mentioned, I spent over 2 months at Sri Ram Ashram/orphanage and know the administrators intimately and feel 100% sure that any donation if you so desire... would go directly towards children's programs or immediate needs. There address is I do not know that about Anadwan yet, but from what I have heard it is also a smooth running program with excellent intentions and services provided! I am going to try and post a few more photos now and see what happens! Much love to you all! And happy holidays in case I don't speak with you!

Well it is always something...  I inserted the photos in 2 trials to be sure not to loose any. Smooth as ice the first time.... second try they inserted out of order, distorted and over to the side. So you may need to scroll to see them... and excuse the sequence. The village by motor bike did not download when the woman helped me to get photos on to this computer, but I think this is a great start!!!! Well worth the 2 + hours of trying to get them to download! Much love again! Jen

Best toy in the universe!

This potter uses a large stone wheel on a base. He starts it spinning by  using this stick. The wheel continues to spin and if it slows he starts it again. Within 15 minutes he made 3 perfect vessels including a perfectly fitting lid without measuring the opening or anything. He was amazing to watch! 

roof top kite flying

A little dark, but so cute! They wear the dark line under their eyes to make their eyes look bigger so that  they can take more in AND to protect them from the evil eye. For example, someone telling you that your baby is cute, could be taken as a bad omen because it could be coming from jealousy or with malice. (Couldn't remember if I explained that already)

Opium ritual. Strained several times through a camel hair filter and a goat hair filter (I think). Prayers  chanted and then the mixture is poured into another person's hand three times. Used at times of celebration, holidays and reconciliations.

Solar energized weavers hut so that they can work on their craft later into the evenings now.  Recently decorated for the holiday Diwali

Amazing loom and rapid hand work to produce beautiful masterpieces

Not so rapid hand work. Soooo much harder than it looks! 

Sitting peacefully at a park, then one brave child approaches, then another, then they call their family over and before you know it, you have a party! A regular wonderful occurrence. 

And you fall in love!

Meet Baballoo


Getting more comfortable

They bow down on all 4 legs for you to get on.... this is my friend Sheila getting on for the first time. It is quite intimidating at first! But after that it is pure joy!!!! This is Laloo. 

Being lead through the desert with our 11 year old and 15 year old guides. 

There were some sand dunes, but most of the territory was sand and brush.

End of a hard day's work. Needing a little dental work. 
dinner being prepared
An evening game with a stick created hours of fun! 
And of course the family chicken has to join in on the fun! 
Our home for the night. Note the stick. Our last instructions before the father of the family left us to ourselves in the desert were, "this is for if the dogs come.... whack them like this and they will go away." Comforting! As if the snakes and scorpions weren't enough to worry about! But no problems! 
The boys trying to wrap a turban on my head
Morning chai
A good bye smile
Note the bangles on the arms. Usually seen all the way down to the wrists. 
Shabbat dinner with about 25 people from Israel

The beautiful family we stayed with in the desert.