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There are many stories I could tell about a 2008 journey to India and the incredible experiences occurring just about every day. The trip at times was physically and mentally tiring and trying, a life altering event that touched my soul causing me to look closer at my core values, unveiling a new path to be aware of. Travel from Delhi to Rishikesh, the children, the orphanage, and the Himalayan Mountain Retreat  where I first saw the Himalayan Mountains are each their own story. This post provides the significant highlights of the trip; the children, the orphanage and the Computer & Library Project.

The journey begins…

RishikeshAfter being unemployed from a high tech start-up company a friend and past colleague Elisa Logan made me aware of a humanitarian effort in India to help the “untouchables” at Ramana’s Garden* orphanage. Elisa was helping to spearhead the effort and already had her trip in order. Untouchables are the lowest of the caste system and according to some should not have food, water or shelter. Ramana’s Garden is located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Rishikesh, India. It was time to give back and feel good about a work/volunteer effort. Immediately, I began to make the necessary arrangements with the U.S. organization heading the effort, Ambassadors for Children. Within a few weeks friends and family donated $2,500 toward the effort making a total of $11,000 raised for the Computer & Library Project.

View from AshramThe eleven hour flight to Delhi was long and uneventful. While I was collecting my bag from the carousel in Delhi airport a man approached and asked if I knew Ted Chokas. In a tired surprised response I told him Ted was my father. Brewster, who was part of the group, is good friends with my father’s best friend. Was this a welcome, you’re supposed to be here sign? Such a coincidence. Twenty of us collected our bags, loaded into a van and made our way to a YMCA for the night. Little sleep was had that night before a long trek to Rishikesh by bus, train and SUVs. My weary morning eyes were now opened to the poverty, poor living conditions and the quality of life many have.  It can’t be explained, only witnessed.

Sunset Over the GangesI checked into the Parmarth Niketan Ashram then ventured to the sacred Ganges River watching people, spiritual ceremonies and wandering playful monkeys. I was truly in another world. The following morning our group started the walk to Ramana’s each carrying the 50 lbs. of books to be added to the library. The mornings were quiet as the town awakened. People were bathing in the Ganges and vendors were opening their shops while sacred cows roamed the streets. Most of us were silent as we walked through the poor conditions we’ve never experienced before. A highlight of the walk was crossing the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge just before arriving at Ramana’s Garden.

Lakshman Jhula BridgeThe orphanage houses 60 children and provides education to 160 from four to sixteen years of age. We met the founder of the orphanage Dr. Prabhavati Dwabha, a woman of strong stature, who told us the story how the orphanage was meant for her to build, an amazing story in itself. The café at the school opened for lunch serving the freshest and safest food in Rishikesh. When finished we were given a tour of the impeccable school grounds and finally met the children we heard so much about.

Outdoor ClassThe children were happy, healthy, and well mannered and spoke English very well. They wore uniforms and many boys wore hats. The temperature was a warm 85 degrees and I asked why they were wearing hats. They simply answered, “Because we like to!” Fair answer, as I had to laugh. During the three weeks at Ramana’s I never witnessed bullying or rough play. Each morning the children begin the school day with prayers and songs before heading into classrooms. While waiting for the computer equipment, desks and chairs to arrive I would go into different classrooms and teach the class in progress. Learning is by memorization and there’s little experiential learning, possibly from being without family. I taught outdoor recreation and math classes, having fun with the kids, playing with them in the schoolyard.

PinkyI was called Mr. Greg and asked for help when computers and peripherals needed to be locked away for the night until classroom security was completed. Even if a student carried an empty box they were proud to be involved. Late each day an angel named Pinky kept me company while I was working. Pinky has eye injury from her infant years which didn’t keep her from reading, writing, or drawing. Each night keeping me company until it was time for dinner. If I could have brought her back to the United States I would have. The choices where to eat dinner were in the café with people from around the world, or with the children. The choice was simple; I chose to spend eating with the children. Each evening we laughed and talked and they asked many questions. So many I hardly had a chance to eat. At the end of the meal each would clean their own dishes and prepare for evening prayer and song.

With Monique in LabThe effort took two weeks with help from the local electrician, computer technicians, and maintenance operations person. The morning after the classroom was finished I was in the courtyard surrounded by 160 children. I told them how much I enjoyed their company, how special they are and to use the computers to enrich their education and become who they dream of being. The words were hard to say during this special life moment. As one of the children was tugging on my hand I was asked, “Mr. Greg, why do you cry?” Hmmm…I wonder why?

– Greg

“The way to be strong is to help the weak. The way to have wealth is to give things away. The way to lead is to serve.” – Kent Nerburn


Final words…

The Computer & Library Project was a huge success. One thousand pounds of books were added to the library and with funds allocated by Ambassadors for Children and private donations the number of computers, peripherals and teacher salaries exceeded expectations. Ramana’s Garden has the largest computer classroom outside of colleges in Northern India.  Funding and donations covered the costs for:

  • 9 – Laptops each with a wireless mouse and keyboard
  • 9 – Desks and chairs
  • 1 – Locking security cabinet
  • 1 – Printer/Scanner
  • 1 – 22″ flat screen monitor for the teacher
  • Wireless network
  • Internet access for one year
  • Years’ salary for a computer teacher and librarian
  • New electrical connections
  • Increased classroom security

Non profit charity for Ramana’s Garden:

* Video shows areas from the ashram to Ramana’s Garden.

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