Nirvanavan Foundation Trust UK
(A copy of this report with photographs in A5 booklet form is available on request.)
From the Chairperson, Richard Roberts, (a.k.a Krishnadhyanam or KD). London, October 2010.
It is now five years since I started visiting the Foundation in India. This was in November 2005. A very short visit – just one day and one night. A visit made memorable by the fact that I developed a stomach problem and my first night there was spent on a hillside in rural Rajasthan coping with my troubled bowels. It says much about the Foundation that I continued to visit. I can thankfully say that not only have I not had a repeat of the problem but on the contrary am now inspired to spend as much time there each year as Indian visa regulations allow. I returned to London in May this year after another six month visit, (my stay was extended, courtesy of an erupting Icelandic volcano.) And now in December I am in India for another six months, returning to London in May 2011. Our newsletters during the last five years give more information about the work of Nirvanavan Foundation, India.(see also the web site: www.nirvanavan.org.uk)
Established in 2001, the Nirvanavan Foundation is based in the city of Alwar, Rajasthan. It is a non-governmental, non-profit, non-denominational organisation registered in New Delhi (registration No. S 40361). Its main area of work is concerned with children’s rights. It runs the local Childline telephone helpline and supporting social work programme for children and has an education programme which provides schooling to children in thirteen villages of rural Rajasthan. The headquarters of the education programme are at Advaita Garden School, a fifteen minute journey into the countryside just outside the city of Alwar, near the villages of Hajipur, Dhani and Dadikar. Future plans include the creation of a Children’s Village which will provide accommodation for up to forty children in need of a secure home. These children will be based in five secure and self-contained homes, each with its own ‘mother’ and care worker.
The Foundation is a relatively small organisation. In the words of Nirvana Bodhisattva, its founder and Director : “We are a small organisation but the work which we do is important.” It is this simplicity and directness which has inspired me to return year after year and to work here in the UK to increase support and funding for them.
FROM THEN TO NOW
The changes in the last five years have been remarkable. Five years ago the main school at Advaita Garden consisted of one room serving as both a classroom and office/headquarters of the Foundation’s ‘Bodhivriksha’ education project. (After a survey conducted in 2003 it was decided to base most of these schools in the villages of the Nat and Kanjer communities, who are traditionally into prostitution. )
Five years later Advaita Garden School has expanded from one class to seven. There is now a school in the slum area of Alwar city and ten schools in Nat and Kanjer villages in a wide area of countryside surrounding the city, covering an area with a radius of (The Nat and Kanjer community is traditionally into prostitution. ) These smaller village schools are mainly single class schools with one teacher responsible for children of all ages.
The original one class at Advaita Garden School has now expanded into seven classes. These serve three local villages which are not part of the Nat and Kanjer community. In addition the school now has a cowshed (gaushala), which is home to more than twenty cows. In the future their manure will provide gobar gas to be used for cooking. For three years these classes sheltered in whatever shade was available under trees and makeshift canopies giving protection from the heat of the sun. During the past two years three new classrooms have been built plus another room which serves as an office/classroom/accommodation space. The original one classroom has also been expanded to provide space for two more classes.
These changes are also reflected in the basic ‘living conditions’. Five years ago water was pumped up by hand from the well, food cooked over an open fire, sanitary conditions were basic to say the least – a hole in the ground – and there was no electricity. Now, in 2010 water is still drawn from the well but it is now pumped up by a generator powered by an electricity supply and piped to the new cowshed and the new school kitchen which boasts a gas ring powered by bottled gas. Two flush toilets (western) and two Indian toilets have been built and – luxury of luxuries – there is also a shower.
Much of this development has been made possible by the generosity of donors in the UK, to whom we would like to express our gratitude for their continued support. We started with a fund-raising event in 2005 for which the target was to raise one thousand pounds, to be sent as a one-off donation to the Foundation in India. It is a tribute to the generosity and commitment of our supporters that we now, in 2010, send more than that amount each month. We rely for our income on regular donors: (75 at the moment) who contribute via standing order each month; fund-raising efforts by supporters, and occasional donations. We started sending a regular monthly grant of £750 in 2008. Prior to this the Foundation relied on whatever money was coming in intermittently to meet their commitments, making any kind of planning very difficult. We increased this monthly amount to £1,000 in 2009.
Much has been achieved with this money. It is paying for twelve schools (consisting of nineteen classes providing an education to over 500 children), twenty one teachers, two co-ordinators and a handful of ancillary staff. The success of the education programme brings its rewards and also provides further challenges, some of them financial. At Advaita Garden for instance one of the new classes takes place in the cow shed, another in the garage. The cows have graciously loaned out their sleeping accommodation, recognising the greater value of providing an education to thirty children. However, during the colder winter months they insist that they want their warmth and shelter back. The Foundation needs to build at least one extra classroom this year and another one next year, when they will reach their target of eight classes (covering the ages of 4 – 12.) Office space and accommodation for visitors is also needed.
Although Nirvanavan Foundation Trust was established as a charity in the UK in 2008, we had existed as a loose group for some years. Registering as a charity has given us a focus and an identity as an organisation which we are still developing and which will lead us and inspire us to providing even more support to Nirvanavan Foundation, India.
I am grateful to the other Trustees for their support and encouragement. Swami Pragyamurti Saraswati, founder and director of the Satyananda Yoga Centre in London is a long time friend of Nirvana Bodhisattva, founder and Director of the Foundation in India. In the tradition of seva (working for others) which exists in India, he receives no salary for his work and has dedicated his life to helping others. Having met in the Satyananda Ashram (Bihar School of Yoga) in Munger more than thirty years ago, they have continued their association and she has supported his work for many years. It was whilst I was living at the Centre that I first became aware of the Foundation. Joanna MacDonald has visited the Foundation in India now for the last two years and is planning to return again in January 2011. We are happy to welcome Satvikananda as our newest Trustee. She came to visit with her husband Sam in 2009 and is returning again in November (2010). I hope it is assuring for our donors and supporters to know that all the Trustees therefore have firsthand experience of the work of the Foundation in India. As Trustees of Nirvanavan Foundation Trust UK we want to assure you that your money is being well used! I myself monitor the accounts of the Foundation so that I can vouchsafe that our money is being used responsibly.
As mentioned earlier, we increased our regular monthly payment from £750 to £1,000 during the last financial year finishing on 5 April 2010. As well as our regular monthly donors, fundraising efforts during the past year have included sponsored yoga practices in different parts of the country, sales of toys, plants and cards, a sponsored walk by a junior school in Wimbledon, South London, money raised at weddings and birthdays (– no funerals this year!) sales of embroidered pillow cases made by women in the villages of Rajasthan, as well as donations from many small yoga classes and ‘Nirvanavan Evenings’.
I again spent six months here, from November 2009 to May 2010. I spend my time teaching (music and English), gardening, painting and decorating, and generally helping out - mainly at the main school at Advaita Garden but also sometimes at one or more of the small village schools. More information can be found in the newsletters.
Earlier this year we established a PayPal link on the website. This enables people from all over the world to contribute. So far this has resulted in donations from Canada, New Zealand, Iceland and the UK. PayPal also makes it possible for supporters from anywhere in the world to make regular monthly donations. Previously this was only possible with a UK bank account. (Transaction fees for international transfers of money are exorbitant!)
We also welcomed our first patrons , Nina Wadia and Sunny Ormonde. (Nina plays Zainab Masood in BBC TV’s Eastenders and Sunny is better known as Lillian in the Archers.)
During the coming year we shall be working to increase the number of standing order donors and to provide whatever support is necessary to assist in various fund raising events. We are looking at various ways of bringing in more money, for instance collection of used printer-ink cartridges, collection of unwanted cars (not many maybe but still a potential income) and even taking part in a lottery run specifically for charities. We will establish a page on the website dedicated to informing people about donating to us in their will.
We also intend to apply to Charitable Trusts for funding. We as Trustees of Nirvanavan Foundation UK are very aware that our present donors give their money knowing that more than 97% of it goes directly to the Foundation in India. We cannot use this money to pay professional fund-raisers. However, none of the Trustees have any experience in professional fund raising and there is a vast source of money available if you know where to go and how to go about it! We have managed to establish ourselves as a charity by doing all the work ourselves (having initially been quoted a fee of £2,000) and our running costs are minimal. (Please see a brief statement of our annual accounts for 2009-2010 which are attached. More detailed accounts are available on request.) If we are going to be able to help the Foundation in India consolidate their work and also contribute to the creation of a children’s home/village at the Advaita Garden site we will need more money.
To this end we shall be asking existing supporters for a loan of £2,000 to hire the services of a reputable fund-raising company. The idea is that we will ask four/eight people to become Nirvanavan Foundation Fund Raising Champions by lending us £500/£250. This will be paid back when we receive our first grant. We are in consultation with two companies who have vast experience in this field. Our most likely company has offered us a reduced fee of £2,000. Their contract includes a guarantee and an offer to return the money if we are not satisfied with the service they provide. They also offer to continue working with us until our fund-raising bids are successful. They have looked at our work and are confident that we can obtain funding from Trusts.
I am finishing this report at Advaita Garden School near Alwar city. The school now has one hundred and eighty children receiving a basic education along with three hundred more children in the village schools. At the moment Nirvana is at the hospital talking with doctors about the health of a parent of one of the Foundation workers. The Foundation will help pay the hospital fees. Earlier today he was in consultation with another family whose daughter is being married next week. The Foundation will help with wedding expenses. Last week doctors from a local cancer unit asked the Foundation for financial support for a child patient whose parents cannot afford medical fees. Last month the Foundation hosted a cricket tournament in the slum area of Alwar city. On December 25th there is an exhibition of drawings from the Art Mela for World Peace, an annual event organised by the Foundation which involves children from all schools in the area.
The support provided by Nirvanavan Foundation Trust UK enables Nirvanavan Foundation India to help improve the quality of life here in so many ways. Equally important is our goodwill and our moral support. On behalf of the Trustees I thank all our supporters and well wishers and look forward to our future together.
NIRVANAVAN FOUNDATION TRUST
70, Thurleigh Road
London SW12 8UD
Web site: www.nirvanavan.org.uk
mobile: 07905 534217