Monday, January 27, 2014

January 2014 CORDUSA News

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Last December, I travelled to Sri Lanka and spent a few days with Mrs. Gowrie Mahenthiran, CORD Sri Lanka’s Director and her team. It was an amazing trip! I was able to experience first-hand the kind of work that CORD Sri Lanka was able to do and has been trying to accomplish. You’ll hear more about that later. First, let’s focus on news around the world.

You all heard about BREP program by CORD USA.  As a result of long standing political turmoil in their homeland, Bhutanese refugees had to take refuge in other countries. CORD USA's Bhutanese Refugee Empowerment Program is an effort to help Bhutanese communities maintain their heritage and integrate into their new surroundings successfully. Efforts include helping adults with issues like health, education, awareness, and financial independence. Efforts with children include Balavihar, school & college entrance exams. Overall, we hope to understand the issues and needs of each community and empower them thereafter. 

CHYK-CORD USA initiative kicked off a BREP fundraiser called “Penny Wars” in December. I know our Portland Balavihar group is still enthusiastically participating in that program, and our “Penny Wars” lead Kapil was able to make contact with Bhutanese Refugee spokesperson Som Subedi of Portland, and is making arrangements for Som to come and speak to Portland Balavihar.  I am sure all over in other Balavihars across the Americas, there are many excited children doing the same.

The Balavihar children of Chinmaya Mission Vancouver have done something remarkable and unique.

They sang selected Shlokas from the Bhagawad Gita and explained the connection to acts of charity, serving and rejoicing in the welfare of others. They raised $370 CAD for BREP (Bhutanese Refugee Empowerment Program).

Congratulations Vancouver Balavihar!

CORD USA started their Globemed Partnership with Boston College at the beginning of this academic year.

Founded by students in 2007, the GlobeMed network engages over 1,500 undergraduates at 50 university-based chapters throughout the U.S. Each chapter is partnered one-to-one with a grassroots health organization in one of 19 countries throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. Fundraising and on-site efforts at each chapter contribute to one or more of six key areas of impact: maternal health, water, sanitation & hygiene, nutrition, income generation, communicable disease prevention, and capacity building. Through their involvement today, Globemed students and partners commit to a life of leadership in global health and social justice.
 
I have been working with Dr. Meera Krishna (CORD Siruvani Project Director), Sahil Angelo and Maggie Bennett (Co-Presidents of Globemed at Boston College)on specific projects partnering Globemed and CORD Siruvani. I also enjoyed meeting with the Boston College Globemed team.  5 lucky interns have been selected to visit and work at CORD Siruvani this summer. 

Congratulations to Maggie and her team!

CORDUSA-American University, Washington D.C., led by Puja Balachander, is making great progress. CORDUSA-AU received official recognition as a student organization in October! They have already had their first meeting and event. The event was a panel on the topic of rural development in India and youth efficacy in this realm. It was very well attended and included representatives of the Indian Embassy, IREX, and the Association for India's Development. CORDUSA-AU’s general meeting also generated a lot of interest. In addition CORDUSA-AU participated in an International Awareness week from November 11th-15th hosted by the American University. I met with CORDUSA enthusiasts over Skype during the event.  We enjoyed the session despite some technical difficulties with Skype.

Congratulations Puja and her team!

CORDUSA – University of California, San Diego is nearing the end of its third quarter at the University of California, San Diego. Three of CORDUSA@UCSD members volunteered at CORD Siruvani from Dec. 16th-Dec. 30th, 2013. Parthu Kalva, who leads this effort at UCSD, is still gathering his notes, so we will publish the details soon in our Facebook page.

In San Diego, CORDUSA@UCSD are currently exploring partnerships with local non-profit organizations in order to further their exposure to local, community-based work. This year, they will seek to obtain funds for their research and projects through fundraising and global health grants, as well through the sponsorship by both private and public bodies throughout the United States.

Congratulations Parthu and his team!

Let us look at CORD news from India and Sri Lanka.

Agriculture flourishes at CORD Tamaraipakkam. Community development workers are receiving training to plant vegetable gardens and are promoting the use of these gardens in Magalir Mandrams (MM) and Self Help Groups (SHG). Smt. Manjula, a member of the Chinmaya Venkateshwara SHG in Velliyur, has created a garden and harvested a good crop of many useful vegetables. Another agricultural initiative was spearheaded by Ms. Amritha Preetham of Anna University, Chennai. At the invitation of CORD, she conducted presentations on a new drip irrigation scheme for Chinmaya Farmers’ Clubs in three villages. As a National Agriculture Development Project of the Government of India, the scheme is fully subsidized, and is expected to increase yields of vegetables and cash crops. Many farmers seem willing and ready to take advantage of the system.


Actions for Awareness! CORD Siruvani supported a theme-based awareness program carried out in Coimbatore by Thennamanallur Vennila Mahila Mandal with the backing of Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK). 500 women, including the members of the 19 Mahila Mandals of CORD Siruvani, participated in the event, as did boys from various Youth Clubs. Speeches were given on as self-defense, environmental preservation, and global warming, and some of the meeting participants put on dancing and singing presentations! Several items made by Self Help Groups were sold, and Chinmaya Mission books were gifted to all program guests.

CORD Kaza is SNAPping away! 20 students of Chinmaya Vijaya were selected for SNAP (Springs New Analytical Program). SNAP teaches the same class syllabus in an analytical way by dividing each topic into three levels - the first level concentrates on the matter of the textbook, the second level gives the extension of the topic and the third level gives importance to the creativity of the students. This makes the students feel very comfortable with the subject and gain extra knowledge. As a result, students are not only limited to pursuing IIT but have their options open to: Medical, Civil Services and other exams.

CORD Sri Lanka opens their eyes. LHCHA (Lanka Health Care Hospitals & Academy) and CORD Sri Lanka held an eye care medical camp for over 100 women and children in Jaffna wherein a team of 11 optometrists conducted several tests on: visual fields, color definition and refraction. About 40 were diagnosed for treatment for their eye defects. “…The result of this camp will bring light in the lives of hundreds of people suffering from eye diseases,” commented an optometrist.

CORD Lathikata continues its mission to provide affordable and holistic health care through the Swabalambi Swasthya initiative. Swami Kevalananda is project director of this program, which has treated a total of 390 people thus far. Since the focus is treat the whole individual using holistic treatments, experts from the areas of allopathic medicine, Ayurveda, acupressure, and naturopathy medicine are consulted on a regular basis. Examples of treatments that are used include, yoga, pranayama and medicinal plants. Individuals are also educated on nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation.

CORD Deuladiha is all about youth empowerment! During this quarter 13 new Yuvati Samoohs (Adolescent Girls Group) formed in the village of Santeibhanja with a total of 138 members.. Opportunities such as tailor training were provided to the girls not only to develop this skill, but also as a way to generate income. Two new youth clubs also formed with a total of 7 in the surrounding villages. Through these groups, youth are responsible for cleaning their village area and giving back to the village in general.

Now let us get back to my adventures in Sri Lanka.  When I landed at Colombo airport, Gowrieji and
her team was there to receive me, we made our way to Ramboda with a quick lunch in the van.

In Ramboda, we went and visited Chinmaya Mission’s Hanuman temple.  It is a beautiful temple in a scenic area.  From the temple top, you get an astounding view of the Ramboda falls and its surroundings.  I was totally lost in the natural beauty of Sri Lanka and the photographer in me was in total bliss!

After a while, we met with the Self Help Groups (SHG) at Ramboda, and were able to look through their products and give them some suggestions. On our way out, we stopped to visit a few other SHGs and I was very impressed with the bread factory they had with a whole array of breads, with nothing but a brick oven to make it all in!  No timers or temperature controls!

After a night in Ramboda, we went on a 7 hour trip to Jaffna.  The CORD Jaffna office was a small but self-contained place with a small kitchen and the basic living facilities. CORD Jaffna is looking to move this facility into the main highway to get better access to the city and more visibility.

The CORD Jaffna center offers tuition for under-privileged children. There I gave the Jaffna staff a quick training about Skype and how to operate that, as I wanted to get our CHYKs to start helping these children with their English and Math through Skype at some point.

The need for wellness counseling for the war-torn families was immediate and urgent. We visited Shanthiham, an NGO which offers health and wellness counseling and discussed ways CORD Sri Lanka can offer their services to our beneficiaries.

On our way we stopped at Ariyalai Chavakachcheri, visiting their school and the SHGs.  Their homes were shelled down and broken into pieces. They still live in these ramshackle partially destroyed structures, or small make-shift shacks they have cobbled together in the middle of that rubble, as there is nowhere else to go.  Gowrieji and her team has trained some of the SHGs to make liquid hand-soap as it has been a mandate in Sri Lanka for all restaurants to provide that. 


We also stopped by and watched ladies making mats using locally grown long grass called “Sampu” grass.  The mats looked beautiful.

The next day we went on to Killinochi and stopped at the Sri Lankan branch of the German Training Institute.  The officer there was very helpful and explained to us how we can facilitate our beneficiaries to get training from this institute.  CORD Sri Lanka does not have an office in Killinochi, which seemed to be the major stumbling block for getting training help for the beneficiaries.  I gave a personal donation to Gowrieji to start a fund for “Killinochi building” for CORD Sri Lanka.  I was planning to come back to USA and explain the situation to all of our well wishers of CORD USA to start a fundraising specifically for this. 

Little did I know at the time that right after I left, the wonderful Yatris who visited with Swami Ishwaranandaji, from Los Angeles, raised the funds needed for this project in one quick meeting there!  I can’t thank Swamiji and the team enough for this inspired giving.

We then made our way to the school in Paranthan, where major Rehabilitation programs are being carried out. A visit to the CORD sponsored Thambirasapuram Junior School where nearly 100 children are provided with a mid-day nutritious meal, extra after-school tuition classes for English, Math, and Social sciences, Tamil, History and Religion.  The children enthusiastically received us and entertained us with their song and dance.  It was so heart warming to see them laughing and playing.  We inaugurated their new children’s club there and went out to see an SHG working on coconut husk based products by hand.  It was one of the Tsunami hit areas and the salt water damaged all crops there.  Even after 10 years, the damage is still visible!  I was in awe at the sheer power of nature.

I left Sri Lanka with a lot of memories and pictures and with a lot of love and respect for the hard work Gowrieji and her team is doing there.   More photos at http://www.facebook.com/cordusa

I know everyone is eagerly waiting for the announcement of our CORD USA service visits.  We will be announcing it in March.  Service visits will be in December. Stay tuned!

Big thanks to Paulomi Campbell, Shabana Dipchand, Arista Jhanjee and Kapil Varma for their help with the newsletter!

As always, if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions, I am just an email away...

Thank you!
Subha Varma Pathial
CORDUSA Inc.
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