Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from India!

I (Siri) am currently in Bangalore at the Born Free Art School, a small project of artists and street kids in South India. I met the founder, John Devaraj, at Tamera during the Summer University. A peace activist, sculpture artist, actor and cinematographer, John began the Born Free Art School in 2002. The aim is to keep kids off the streets, and the means are art, education, a good home and love and support. Through his art projects John works to liberate the working children of India and the world.

Being back in India makes me feel so privileged. The pain and poverty especial raw in stark contrast to the technology and holiday consumerism of Bangalore. I am falling in love with the children of Born Free, touched deeply by their stories and their fragile open hearts. Sweet young Gaja, who loves school and the hard boiled eggs they serve for lunch, was sold for 500 rupees ($10) by his father. Sanjuna, actress and dancer, is the child of a prostitute. Before coming to the school she lived on the streets selling drugs. The newest addition, loving Lakshmi, was begging on the streets a week ago when she met the kids during a film shoot. Now she is begging for hugs, which she can not get enough of!

I am here to offer myself in service, and to witness this social movement of youth and art. I come at an exciting time; all are involved in the creation of 'Ananda', a feature length film. Ananda means the highest state of bliss in Hinduism, and the story reveals street children on the path towards joy. The artists, former street children themselves, play major roles; acting, costume designing, shooting and creating props. It is a community affair, with volunteers and local people stepping in for bit parts. The intention is to use this film to bring more awareness to the need for a paradigm shift to deal with the problem of working children. Born Free Art School is successful because of its focus on empowerment through art. This project has a higher retention rate than other NGOs working to help street children in India.

The twenty children and four adults have their rhythm down, their main issue is funding. I offer my support through small things, playing with the children, forming friendship with the young ladies, serving food, sweeping the floor, hugging, and listening to John's story and offering my reflections.

Today, during the Christmas party, we sat in circle and held a beautiful council about sharing. It was truly touching, and I hope to work more closely with the youth during my remaining time. Six of the young people will be stepping into more responsibility in the new year, and John has asked me to spend time with them as they transition into leadership.

To me, India is a land of contradictions, a place of bright light and dark shadow. I am equally drawn to the traditions of the ancient religions and the disparity and poverty of modern India. My sixth visit to India, I ask myself why do I keep coming back? What is my pull here? How can I serve? Seen in the context of the Beyond Boundaries pilgrimage, the need for regenerative work here appears to me more urgent than ever before. Our group spent the beginning of our journey in Europe and the USA,. N we venture into communities where the situation is very different, environmental and socially.

The last month of my Independent Study was busy, first volunteering at the Ojai Foundation and finally spending some time fundraising in the Bay Area. I collaborated with Shay and Will, fellow pilgrims, on four events. Such a challenge and such a gift. A necessary part of this work, I feel blessed to be learning from my peers and Gigi, who has offered brilliant mentorship. This focus on funding is not only necessary to support our pilgrimage, but also as part of our inquiry into the work of the world. As we look at methods of sustainability, money is a key area for healing. We were l, receiving great support, thoughtful reflections and funds. Our team has done an amazing job, and we are only $5,000 from our bottom line. I personally need to bring in $2,000 to do my part, so I continue to work. I am currently writing a grant proposal, and continue to work on manifesting funds in creative ways. Please help me in any way you can.

I began my time in India grounding at Ramana's Ashram in Thiruvannamalai. It is a place of deep meditation, and it was a perfect way for me to acclimatize and begin this leg of the pilgrimage. I will spend about a week with Born Free, then I head North to visit two inspirational community movements, Shikshantar and THREADS. At Shikshantar they are 'stepping out of the system', saying no to institutionalized education and waste and saying yes to co-creation and the gifting culture. THREADS is a network of tribal eco-villages in Orissa, through their eco-tourism center Siddartha Village they support non-violence work, vipassana meditation, women's empowerment, and indigenous agriculture.

Happy holidays, may your days be filled with joy!

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