∣∣ Sai reham nazar karna … bachon ka palan karna ∣∣
∣∣ Hey Sai, have your merciful eyes on children and take care of them ∣∣
Aangan, a courtyard or veranda is generally a loving place for children to play at home but is a dream coming true for the slum or underprivileged kids In Jammu; a city in north India in the province of Jammu & Kashmir. For these kids, it is a heaven, a place to learn with love and freedom. It is a place to develop without any conditions and bindings. It is also a place where my existence developed a deep meaning. I, Sakshi Gupta, humbly write about the journey of Mohanji Ka Aangan.
Muscat in March 2011, this was my first meeting with Mohanji. He asked me to do something for kids.
When I came back, I discussed this with Deepali didi. She was the one who gave vision and the shape to my dream. Through her, Mohanji gave me the concept, the idea for the place, and the ultimate structure which soon became the reality! Deepali didi has been my backbone since the conception, opening and functioning of Aangan till today. It was only my Gurudev’s faith in me that we were able to actually materialize Mohanji ka Aangan. At the same time; I am deeply indebted to my husband Sumit. Without his encouragement and positive support, this dream turning to reality was not possible. I also express my deep gratitude to Reva bhua and my mother.
The concept and the evolution– We live in the fast-moving world. All are running after having higher and higher education. Big big degrees and prestigious jobs! Some are after business and trading. Parents are pushing children to study hard and get maximum marks so the admissions in better or well reputed institutes are secured. If this does not work, parents are working hard to pull money for childrens’ education and hefty capitation fees many times. Parents are anxious and worried about getting their ‘toddlers’ in a good or prestigious nursery. Long queues for admissions; and fat donations at times! There is tremendous competition for the admission to any institute, college or school anywhere in the world. These are just few realities of today’s existence. Readers, please do not misunderstand us. We are not ridiculing anything in the current scenario of the education system. But; a thought arises in mind – do all have these privileges? Not all have money and intelligence too. Soft skills are gaining importance these days. Any skill is a God’s gift. No skill is better than the other. If one has academic intelligence, then other may be gifted with green fingers. In this rush hour, are we forgetting basic skills required for life? At home, can we stitch a torn dress to mend it? Or we quickly throw and buy a new one? Do we need someone to help in the kitchen? Would a bit smart office boy who knows basics of communication make a difference? How about other skills like gardening, farming, making seeds for good crop, ethnic art forms and so many other. Are we neglecting them?
Mohanji ka Aangan is a small step towards providing practical education and hand skills to children. If they cannot have academic education, let these hand skills be useful in their lives. Mohanji ka Aangan was started on 2 April 2012. Though crudely built, a small room was available on an empty small land. We cleaned it. The haphazardly grown wild shrubs and plants around the room were cleared. A simple yet fresh room with four walls and a roof was neatly ready. We kept Sai Baba and Mohanji’s photo and performed pooja. This place is amidst the slums of Jammu. With blessings and deep conviction, Reva bhua, my mother and I came together and invited few children to this Aangan from the huts around. They were hesitant initially.
On the day 1, 20 children came. On the day 2, some more joined and within a week, the number went up to 110. Aangan offers education and all facilities free of cost. Annadan happens on every Thursday. Now there are 150 children in Aangan.
The Aangan runs only in the evening for 2-3 hours. The aim was to provide academic education to those who would like to have and provide skills to those who would like or are not up to the mark in academics. The choice is theirs. Some could also come if they would like to complete their home work and need help in the home work. Everything is being offered free of cost. Out of all children, some are already going to schools. Some were bright and some needed help in studies. Some were deprived of school totally due to family and financial reasons! Children aged between 4 years to 16 years. No one was said ‘NO’. All were welcomed. There are more girls than boys. We provide a meal or fruit at least 2-3 times a week. Sometimes, we gave chocolates but soon stopped as chocolate started becoming their incentive and this dependency was needed to be avoided. Slowly the confidence in children and their parents grew well and Aangan was full of chirpy children.
The day in Aangan– Grace helped to build the concept of Aangan gradually. We ourselves were receiving clarity as we progressed. Different activities are conducted on different days of the week. The group coming to Aangan is not homogeneous.
In general, the routine of Aangan is that, kids start with prayers, breathing exercises and short meditation. They may not meditate, but at least learn to sit quiet with eyes closed and learn to surrender at divinity’s lotus feet. This is followed by studies, completing homework or learning new. Then there is some time to play and enjoy in the nature. Invariably, some snacks or fruits are served. Children are back to their studies or skill activities and then it’s a time to close and look forward happily for the next day.
Academics in Aangan– Children who are keen on learning receive the education here.
At Aangan we have 4 sections or classes.
- The first section is for the students who have never been to school. There are more than 75 students in this class which also include teen aged girls who work at others houses in the morning and are free to study in the afternoon. We teach basic course to learn numbers and letters to these children.
- The second section is for students whom we have trained for one year in basic course and now they are studying in KG 1 at Aangan.
- The third section is for the students who cannot afford tuitions. All of them are studying in the government schools. These students belong to std 4 to 8.
- The forth section is for girls who are learning stitching with a qualified teacher. We have more than 20 girls in this section.
Children are also divided according to age. For younger children, we are teaching them A, B C, D, Hindi alphabets, numbers and colors and other basic knowledge required for their age. They enjoy rhymes and bhajans too. We hope that one day these small kids will go to proper school. We are looking for school admission for them or if one can sponsor their education. For elder children of 4-8 std, there are teachers who impart the knowledge of Mathematics, languages [Hindi and English] and science. Teachers come 2-3 times in a week. They either teach children new topics, or help them to understand these subjects if they have not understood in the school. Children are happy to receive this type of education.
Reva bhua helps a lot. She has very active participation in Aangan. For elder children, some teachers came voluntarily. Some senior college students also came voluntarily. At times, we do face a problem with consistency of teachers. We do offer monitory gratitude to these teachers.
Fun and values: Time to fun is not only to have fun but is also for learning new things. Children play a lot. At times organized games and at times they are left on their own to play. It is a great pleasure to see them enjoying playing, shouting and screaming and laughing. Physical activity is must. It opens heart and mind becomes fresh. Sometimes, organized physical exercises are also conducted. Our kids love that.
Drawing and painting is also the priority. These are beautiful mediums for children to express their feelings. It is amazing to see their thoughts through drawings. There are some good artists in the Aangan. Drawing and card making competitions are conducted regularly with different themes.
Children love to sing in chorus. They sing patriotic songs, devotional songs, bhajans, some mantras, rhymes, and other songs too. At times, they loudly recite their poems. At the beginning, when they recite AUM together, it is absolutely divine to listen to that. Some children really have good voice to sing. All children love to dance too.
At Aangan, we celebrate all festivals let it be Diwali, Eid, Lohri, Christmas, Navratri or Ganesh Chaturthi. It is difficult to describe in words our feelings of celebrating festivals at Aangan, sharing the joy of festival with them. They sing and dance and receive sweets and annadan. Not only children, but we also look forward to have this.
Story telling is another great activity. We tell those stories of great famous people, saints, some moral panchatantra stories, and stories from our epics like Mahabharat and Ramayana etc. We also encourage them to tell stories. That evolved into the drama performance. Every time Mohanji visited the Aangan, children displayed their singing and dancing talents along with performing dramas and small acts.
Mohanji’s every visit Aangan has been an energy and love reward for children in their otherwise difficult lives. During Mohanji’s first visit to Aangan, he distributed uniform and shoes and in the next visit, he gave toys and Barbie dolls. Here are some glimpses of Mohanji’s visit to Aangan- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNXSWLxl1VY
Value education is an important part the daily activity in the Aangan. Basic polite conversation, some etiquette, discipline, hard work, and avoiding wastage, and also value of parents, education, money along with being responsible, full of love, having faith..…. the list of values is endless. They are also told about personal care and hygiene. We do trim their nails; teach them to take care of hair, teeth, body and cloths. Once or twice in a month, elder children help youngsters in trimming their nails and doing hair! Few months ago, we planted some trees around Aangan. We also are trying to cultivate vegetables.
Sharing, caring, loving all and being together flows spontaneously through such fun. There is a big difference in children when they joined and now after almost 2 and a half years. We also talk to them about ways and methods of how to live life and how to celebrate life. The best part is that, these kids are very receptive and full of love. They are so unconditional that at times even they teach us how to smile even if one has very limited resources. Aangan is a center of God where even we are learning from students.
Skills and vocational training: Till now, we have been able to start stitching classes for girls. Girls are receiving good training and are grasping it well. We are looking forward for trained persons to educate kids with more valuable skills. In the recently happened “Waste to Wealth Workshop”, few girls from Aangan were trained. They are already learning plantation. Soon, we are starting “Candle making” skill for them. We are also trying to understand what children are good at and what would they like to do. We are sure that, grace will bring appropriate trainers to Aangan.
Through these skills, we intend to raise funds so that Aangan is self sustainable.
Funds- Beginning of any new activity has its own teething problems. We are also going through that. It took time for people to understand the concept. Initially, we received some funds from friends. We are using our own pocket money to run the Aangan. Some of my mother’s friends are contributing some amount every month out of their kitties. Ashima from Dubai has been lovingly sending some funds every month for last few months and that takes care of salary of two teachers. Though not consistent, we have some teachers who worked and some are working with us voluntarily. That helps us a lot.
Major step was when we asked schools for the help. We met principal of some schools in Jammu. We explained them the concept. We proposed them following –
…. parents buy so many things for children. Invariably there are extra pencils, pens and colors in the house. Not always we use all! Children use half way and throw things anywhere in the house. New note books are bought every year. Not all pages are used. There must be old text books in the school or with children. Can you please send circular to all children and parents to share that half used or unused or extra stationary and books with us? Our Aangan children will be very happy. Our kids will make use of those pages and drawing papers. They don’t need anything brand new.They will learn to read those text books too. Similarly, there will be extra toys at home. There will be used cloths or cloths which have become short for their kids. Can you please request them to share with us those toys and clothes? Are we not helping the mother earth this way by saving her treasure?….
We kept cartons in the school porch. Within no time, we received many …. many things. Toys, and books and stationary and clothes and warm clothes and so few other items like mats! We were all in tears. The Grace was showering. This was a great moral boost for us. It was a huge task to separate those items. We distributed cloths and stationary and toys. At least, our children had good and complete cloths to wear. We kept some to use them later as festival gifts. Drawing and academic classes became much more meaningful. Children had text books to refer. We express our eternal gratitude to school principals and parents and children to offer this to our Aangan. Slowly, knowing ‘what is Aangan’, some teachers also joined us. We express our heartfelt gratitude to them!
Here is a unique and lovable activity that happened for Aangan. During Diwali festival of the year 2012, we organized “Make A Wish” project. In this project, we asked our children to write three wishes on a paper which they would like to receive as Diwali gift. Then we told them that only one wish would be fulfilled out of three! Kids were extremely happy. Most of the girls wanted dolls and watch and boys wanted car and cricket bats! A big surprise! On the day of Diwali, kids from very reputed school of Jammu were called and they distributed gifts to everybody at Aangan. What a way to celebrate! Not only Aangan had memorable Diwali but students of that Jammu school also had unique experience of knowing the realities of life and getting sensitized toward it. Hopefully these students will also learn the value of big gifts that they receive. We are ever grateful to those students for coming to Aangan and sharing their time love with Aangan kids.
Dear beloved, the purpose of Aangan is to help under privileged kids to spread awareness as how to live happy quality life and to empower them so that they can become independent. Your love and support is this endeavor is sincerely appreciated. Your blessings are are extremely valuable for these children.
Aangan is now under the patronage of Ammucare Charitable Trust.
You may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We surrender this Aangan at the lotus feet of Mohanji
Love you all,
Sakshi and All @ Mohanji Ka Aangan