Seva Bharti Orphanage, Kullu Valley
Seva Bharti is a relatively new orphanage having changed it's name and location as well as going from a co-ed to an all boys institution. Housing thirteen children aged ten to seventeen, they are situated upon a steep hill on the south side of Bhuntar. They live in two rooms with one toilet/bathroom and have very limited facilities with no outdoor space. It is rare they are allowed on visits outside the orphanage unless it is their daily commute to and from school or to the nearby patch of grass they call a park where on occasion they are allowed a supervised game of cricket. They all attend local government school in Kullu. We are currently visiting with these children every Sunday and one evening a week when permitted. Our goal is to help engage them with spoken English, and allow them to have fun with creative and sports activities.
The routine and everyday life here is a little stricter than at the Kalehli orphanage and the boys tend to be more reserved. Although once you get them involved in an activity they let loose, especially if there is competition involved.
Some of the older boys here think they are “too cool for school” and at times are uninterested in team activities that involve the younger ones which can be challenging however if you think of brothers with a six year age gap you would probably find a similar attitude and there are ways around it. Prizes for games and competitions can usually spark interest. One thing to note for session planning, these boys are fast learners and will move through exercises quickly!
The orphanage is typically managed by a lovely couple; however they are not the head of the organization. There is a board which makes decisions in regards to what the orphanage can and can’t do. Recently, we had fund raised and organized a camping trip for both orphanages, however even after all the governments approvals were granted, the head of the organization decided the children would not attend. We believe that they did not see the value in sending the children on a weekend trip solely for fun. Also important to know, many of the children here have extended family members outside of the orphanage which they visit during holiday times.
This orphanage would certainly benefit from long-term funding to provide facilities but mainly long-term volunteers to help the children develop necessary life skills.
Bal Ashram, Kalehli, Kullu Valley
This orphanage houses twenty-six children aged six to sixteen, again all boys. The children all attend the local government school. The Kullu project previously worked with this orphanage when it was based in the town of Jibhi, but has a closer connection since it's move to Kullu. Situated on the side of a busy main road the children have only the small yard at the front where they eat and a small dirt area to one side for sports activities. Although this is a government orphanage it also receives a small amount of funding, usually for food and clothing from local businesses.
Currently volunteers visit two- three times per week for two-three hours at a time. Activity sessions with this orphanage are always a lot of fun and again are to encourage english speaking as well as games, educational and creative activities.
The boys here are incredibly close and there is a real family feel. You will feel extremely welcome here and every session is rewarding. They are eager to learn spoken English and will try to teach you many Hindi phrases, good luck with the pronunciations! As you can imagine they can become a little rowdy if allowed too much freedom so make sure you establish your authority as well as having fun!
Communication with the staff here is limited unless you speak Hindi. You will need to get by on conversations in broken English, sometimes it’s easier to have it written down for them to read. The Google translate App can be a useful tool, and as a last resort you can ring the Local coordinator if it is very important and needs to be communicated precisely. Other than that as long as you can confirm your next visit you should be just fine.
They have a lovely dog Jack, whose head is bigger than a basket ball but don’t be intimidated, he is very friendly and the boys adore him.
The NAB School for the Blind, Kullu Valley
The NAB School in Kullu is associated with the National Association for the Blind and is one of three blind schools in Himachal Pradesh. The school has several teachers working with forty children across seven age groups. The school has a hostel attached which makes it much more accessible to children across Himachal.
We currently have volunteers visiting every Saturday providing basic English and activities for the younger children. There is also a program in place for the older children to help them prepare for independence once leaving school. The school not only provides education for the children who board there but also programs of functional education for otherwise housebound children and their families.
Our contact Shalani, the head of the organization, comes off as an eternally dedicated devotee to this cause and spares no time in sharing her passion. She runs the school with an affectionate but disciplined tone, and vets individuals in a meeting before just agreeing to have volunteers come onboard. The school has had great success providing students with a high level of education, on par with other specialized schools located in the major urban areas of India. This is something Shalini particularly prides herself upon, as for many who grow up in this region, there simply is not a possibility of relocating to a major city to attend one of these specialized schools, or being able to afford the costs associated. Shalani is routinely working to learn and practice the most current and effective teaching methods for the visually impaired. Beyond the guidelines being distributed by the major institutions, she looks to endow a bit of personal philosophy to the students at the NAB School for the blind. As a firm believer in self satisfaction and accomplishment, what is often preached is an understanding that the ability to achieve is based on your desire to do so. She speaks of the harsh realities of living life as someone visually impaired in India, and although she maintains positivity for the future, she looks to focus on preparing the students for the now.
The idea of working with children, who are visually impaired, without a formal education to do so can be overwhelming; the reality is far from that. These children are extremely sharp and excited to interact. They come from all walks of life and with different levels of ability. Worry not so much about designing a perfect lesson plan, but instead ask them what they would like help with or how they would like to spend a day. Chaperoning a trip to the nature reserve, bringing children to the park to play cricket, engaging in board games (be prepared to be beaten at chess routinely by 9 year olds), dancing, singing, messy play, anything and everything! This is a fun place to spend an afternoon and is beyond rewarding.
Shalini and her staff are extremely helpful and will be open to any ideas, concerns, or questions you may have.
Naya Sawera, Drug and Alcohol Addiction Re-Habilitation Centre, Kullu Valley
The de-addiction center in Hat is an organization with close ties to the Kullu Project as the founder of the organization’s brother, Panki Sood, was a former patient who now advocates for clean living and the benefits of rehabilitation, as well as a multitude of other charitable endeavors (he has even done Ted Talks on the subject! Check them out online). He helped this organization get up and running and maintains a close relationship. If you have the good fortune to meet Panki, he is a delightful and inspiring gentleman whose story is worthy of a listen.
This centre is currently working with sixty-three addicts aged roughly between eight-teen and fifty-five years old. Most patients stay for six to seven months but some inevitably return when they have relapses. Around 90% are non- consenting admissions and are brought by family members. The centre is managed by a very dedicated team who work very hard to help straighten out the addicts under their care. Several are themselves ex-addicts and are very committed to putting the international Narcotics Anonymous re-habilitation program into action.
They appreciate any time at all that is a variation of their regular routine. Playing music, team games, and singing will be appreciated here, however management is very easy to chat with and will definitely express if and how they would like you to work with them. This may not be as a routinely visited place as the other organizations, however is worth the visit if you are able to coordinate one. Once every two weeks would be a great amount of time spent here. Be aware that there are more than 60 folks here and you will have their full attention for the time you are given!