Musings From Uluru - May 2018 - (by Aditi Chandran)
Uluru Children's Home
First and foremost, BIG congratulations are in order to our four newest high school graduates all of whom just recently received the news they made it through that globally harrowing experience of year 12 final exams. We are (obviously) very proud of Saranraj, Kalpana, Sindhu and Naveen. Now is theirs to look to the future and the application process is in full swing with lots of help from Devi and also our very own Yogaraj who is about to start his final year of engineering (more about him below). All our very best to each of them with their applications and aspirations - I will certainly keep all of you posted. Regardless of what happens I am confident that whatever they end up doing they will do it well and continue to make us proud. Our Year !0 students Bhuvaneswari and Aakash also deserve our congratulations on passing their State Secondary School Leaving Certificate exams and for all their hard work in preparing for them.
The rest of our kids are enjoying the last week of their school holidays and having them around has of course made for much joy around this beautiful place.
The other bonus of the holidays has been having our university students return 'home for the holidays' which has been beyond wonderful. While back home they have been helping with work around the Foundation and a couple may even be interested in coming and working with us at some point in the future as teachers or social workers. Nothing would make me happier but just seeing them and spending time with them has been great.
When I see them each morning I am proud, impressed, and fascinated by the diverse, individual and wonderful people they have become and are becoming.
One of our very first girls and engineering graduate Suganya visited with her sister Suganthi for a day. Suganya is now working in Chennai and supporting her sister who is still studying. I am absolutely stunned at how the beautiful little girl I knew has become a beautiful, intelligent, responsible woman working in ’the big city’! Proud does not even come close to describing how I feel
A special mention must be given to our Yogaraj who has also been home and just left to go back to Chennai yesterday where he is about to embark on his final year of engineering. Not only is he an accomplished, intelligent, well mannered and kind young man (as all of you who know him are aware) but he has also been very committed and involved in a lot of Foundation projects too. Most recently he has been especially helpful in mentoring the younger children and assisting all of our year 12 graduates with guidance and advice, going so far as even actually physically assisting them with getting applications in and the related processes. As I told him the morning he was heading back to Chennai, he is the true embodiment of a big brother and indeed a big brother that any child would be privileged to have.
VICKI STANDISH ELECTRONIC EDUCATION CENTRE
We have been fortunate enough to have been awarded an extremely generous grant from the Cognizant Foundation to update our eCoW bus and also to fully equip our computer centre with 38 new desktops and a new server. We have exciting plans for the new fit out of VSeEC which will include utilizing it to assist the community with finding employment and actually using the centre outside of class and training hours to undertake paid employment possibly outsourced from within India or overseas. We are also commencing a number of new training courses and will be much more fully utilizing the centre to digitize everything from our Uluru Nursery and Primary School to all of our administrative functions, filing systems, record keeping etc.
The support and encouragement received from Cognizant cannot be put adequately into words and I was quite overwhelmed with gratitude. They asked that I go personally to be presented with the award cheque which was a real privilege and honor in itself. They were also very complimentary and supportive of all the work we are doing and are particularly impressed with how we engage the local community as a whole in so many ways.
Receiving Cognizant Foundation grant cheque.
Making sure they get their receipt for the 16.98 Lakh Rupees !
We are now very busy getting the centre ready to be fitted out completely with all the new equipment. Once our fit out is complete in a couple of weeks time, I plan to invite Cognizant to visit Uluru to see what their generosity has accomplished and also to give them an opportunity to see all of the exciting new work we have been doing since they were last here to launch eCoW (a long time ago now), including our school.
As an aside, an additional benefit of my meeting with Cognizant was that they also shared a lot of useful ideas and connections with respect to CSR and networking in India which I am following through with.
NEW COURSES, PROGRAMS, TRAINING AND INITIATIVES
We are really grateful that Sangesh Sambath has come on board to help us with a number of initiatives with VSeEC, UNPS, digital literacy and digitization of our systems generally. I must make mention of Sangesh again here as his contribution has gone above and beyond and he has been invaluable in training staff, launching new initiatives and community programs, and helping us bring VSeEC and UNPS to the cutting edge of technology. He has been instrumental in implementing the fulfillment of the Cognizant grant and is assisting us with a number of forward-looking community initiatives including revenue generating programs and ideas for expanding the scope of offerings through VSeEC to assist the community with outsourced employment opportunities and some other exciting ideas such as potentially creating an “incubator” in the technology sense for innovative ideas. I am really enjoying working with him and am excited to start implementing many of his ideas for taking us forward. Thanks Sangesh.
I wanted to make a special mention of our community development team because they toil away behind the scenes and most of their work goes unheralded. From what I have witnessed personally they are having an enormous positive impact on the communities we serve and I think that as supporters of the Foundation we should all be aware of the extent of the work and the positive impact of the programs we are actually running but of which some of us may be unaware.
I had a meeting with them about their plans for 2018 which include a number of exciting initiatives targeted at various sections of the community. These include awareness programs for schoolchildren of child rights, road safety, dangers of self medication, tobacco and alcohol. They are running educational programs including life skills, the importance of education for children and career guidance for students in years 10-12. There will also be disaster management strategy programs, mobile phone cyber crime awareness, environmental awareness programs and initiatives to get community members to have clean up and planting days and to learn about caring for their environment. There are also a number of health related programs including awareness around diabetes, heart attack warning signs, dengue fever and malaria. They will also be conducting the highly successful medical camps that are annual events: the eye camp, obesity camp, dental camp, thyroid camp, diabetes camp and hypertension camp. In this context the word “camp” means the social workers and UHCC work with other organizations to arrange a date and a venue where people can come and have free testing and check ups and medical advice, (medication, glasses etc where needed).
The other “special” programs they will be conducting include Children’s Day, World Breast Feeding Day and a general knowledge competition for school children. They also celebrated Mother’s Day and conducted a summer program for village children during the school holidays.
I am not going into any detail about the literal pages of “regular” (their word) things they are doing in the community on a day to day basis including counseling amongst many other things.
All I can say is keep up the good work!
MOTHER’S DAY AND Our Mother GEETHA
Many of you will be aware of our fantastic House mother Geetha. I wanted to include it just to note how very special our own mother Geetha is to us. She went to the hospital this morning for an angiogram and is now resting post procedure. We are still awaiting the results but will keep you posted and of course all of our love, thoughts and wishes are with her.
ULURU NURSERY AND PRIMARY SCHOOL (UNPS)
With school holidays coming to an end, UNPS is starting a fresh new year of learning providing lots of excitement for our little ones. We are thrilled to welcome Mr Ashraf on board as one of our new teachers. He has been tutoring our UCH children for many years now and is looking forward to getting started helping us stimulate the students' bright young minds. We have also welcomed Mr Nirmal to the team - a skilled teacher with a specialty in environmental studies and also digital literacy. We are currently in the process of hopefully recruiting one more highly qualified teacher to get us off to a great new start. As always, Mrs Amudha continues to be an amazing and inspirational leader and we are excited about the coming school year.
Also, with the help of Sangesh, the digital capabilities of our school are ready to be realized to their full potential. Just like our uniforms, the future is certainly bright!
Uluru Coastal Environmental Education Centre
MEETING WITH FISHING VILLAGE
To our great surprise, a rather large group of community members from our closest fishing village asked for an impromptu meeting which was held yesterday. Given some of the history with them (in particular the breaking of our fence around the clinic some years ago) we were not optimistic (apprehensive is possibly a better word). To our great surprise and delight it turns out that they are seeking our help with a number of things including populating the area with trees for shade, cleaning, planting, waste management and other environmental concerns. We also took the opportunity to inform them that we are planning to put a gate up on Kamala Avenue to preserve our environment from wayward destructive locals (cows and goats that is!) and also for security reasons concerning the children. The gate would be unlocked during daylight hours but locked in the evenings and the paths we have already provided to go around would need to be used after hours. They were extremely supportive and understanding. Contrary to our expectations we came away from that meeting feeling very positive about our ability to work with and do more to benefit this community, especially on the environmental front. We have scheduled a time to take our team to the village and work with them on next steps which is a great move forward.
ENTRANCE, ACCESS, GATE AND FENCING OF SOUTHERN LAND
The culmination of work over almost 9 years of back and forth means that we are about to commence the building of a fence and entrance gate for Southern access to our land which will allow for the children to ride to school and provide a more secure and safe environment generally. The entrance will be over the Ron Castan Bridge and then the road we will take from there will be Castan Avenue. Thank you so very much to the extremely generous donation of Mrs Nellie Castan who has helped make this important development possible and also to Dr Rick Jarman for donating the money for the access avenue.
I am thrilled to announce the very beautiful new arrival to our Uluru family …our new calf and finally a GIRL!!!!
In addition to being a future producer herself, her arrival will help to immediately increase the already significant milk production for our UCH kids. Even before her arrival our cows have been producing about a third of the very significant weekly milk needs for the children’s home. Also, for any of you who have not yet had the pleasure of tasting our homegrown Uluru milk you are definitely missing out. It is truly delicious!
I was given the enormous privilege of naming our new little one. She will now be known as "Nandini".
This is a Sanskrit name and is derived from the root Sanskrit word of "Nand" which means to rejoice and delight. "Nandini" literally means a girl who brings joy and specifically refers to a daughter who brings joy to the family.
Already Nandini has brought me much joy so I think the name fits!
On that very happy note that is it from me (finally!) for this update.
Till next time with much love from Uluru,