The place is bare bones, stark and yet full of life. Women and children bustling in and out.
Women are usually domestics dropping off their babies and very young kids in the day care being run by this group (again bare bones, a place for the children to be safe. That's it.)
Women may also be those coming in for literacy lessons or to see a doctor in the clinic.
Children might be part of the day care, or coming in for the one meal the organization provides to kids that they sponsor. Similar to other organizations that ask you for $25 to sponsor a child for a period of time, Deepagriha also has a program for children of low income from broken homes or who are orphans or who have lost one parent and are essentially living with relatives. Rs 10,000 (around $200) supports their education and living, a couple gifts for Christmas and Divali along with one meal, eaten at and provided by the organization.
Right away I ask for one girl child I'd like to sponsor. What I really like about the program is that they encourage you to stay for the ride. i.e sponsor the child ideally until he or she is independent--which is at 18 or so.
Many from the program have gone on to college and many want to give to the organization by sponsoring other kids. Nice.
There are rural projects where kids live and study. They are trying to get solar and wind companies to fuel those residences.
Projects are planned to help farmers harvest rainwater and such and educating their children about seeing agriculture as a modern occupation and not a burden to be afraid of. I ask to be involved in fundraising for this. My contact gleefully agrees.
I go back to the day care room. A small 7X8 or so area with sheets on the floor for naps. A handful are napping. some are playing with the ayahs there watching them, chattering amongst themselves.
A little girl about my son's age is at the door, with studs in her ears, smiling broadly. I stoop down and hold her. Heart wrenching and yet heart warming. I ask if I can donate clothes and toys. Sure, they say.
I spend a lot of time asking what their needs are. They have just lost a grant writer. I offer to help out in that area. And offer to ask friends for donations since I have seen what they do and plan to be involved.
Yesterday I conferenced with a volunteer from the UK who has been working as their grants person for five months. She is to send me the work she has done so I can see how I could help. Instinct tells me there is a LOT to be done. Can I do it? Should I volunteer more time than I can give? I'll do my best, I say bravely. I haven't written a grant but I know what it entails.
The room of volunteers is entirely white.
All the volunteers are foreign, I am told--the ones that come for a period of time anyway. Employees are dedicated locals but somehow volunteering just isn't in the Indian psyche.
Most of their donors, foreign (from abroad. Indians too from abroad but very low local involvement.)
I am appalled, ashamed.
I promise myself to do my best to help.
Make sure you see what it is that we do, Ashlesha, my contact tells me. People get stuck in the office with their computers and it becomes easy to forget what we do and whom we touch. Absolutely right. Will do, I say.
Soon it will be time to put my money where my mouth is. I wonder if I can.