Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Magic into reality by Haimanti Mitra

On a blistering, June afternoon, this year, I received the eagerly anticipated news. All six Lotus Petal aspirants for the Class 10th Board examinations had passed and performed exceedingly well too! Initially I could not believe my ears when my colleague called up and I asked immediately to see the scorecard.  Within a few seconds the scores arrived on my phone via the modern miracle we call ‘whatsapp’ and there they were...magic translated into reality. The numbers were not scores. They were individual stories of battles fought and won with grit and determination.

I was transported back to the summer of 2014 when I stepped into Lotus Petal to teach English and Social Studies. Kushal- founder of Lotus Petal and visionary extraordinaire told me on my first day of work, “When you think positive, the outcome is invariably positive.” The scorecard of the students, the evolution of Lotus Petal and the flourishing institution that I see now, is a tangible validation of those words.

As a teacher, mentor and guide I had to wear multiple hats...of a counsellor, a singing teacher and it’s difficult to believe but yes, the director of an English play! Each event was a learning experience and I have grown along with my students. Their milestones have been my milestones.  In fact the entire team has evolved with the children.

While the senior children of Pratishthan Learning Centre prepared for the ‘battle of the boards’ Vidyananda students were emerging from the chrysalis. I was privileged to mentor Vidyananda for a while and it was an adventure every step of the way. The exact time of a special moment is always difficult to pinpoint and it so happened that one day we looked out and saw neat well-groomed students studying maths, carving intricate clay models, standing in a queue-  perfect models of decorum and grace. The butterflies were out! Vidyananda evolved as only children can with their infinite capacity of hope, joy and energy.

Challenges are a part of the lives of each Lotus Petal student and individual anecdotes  would fill a book. Often in our country, circumstances and not heredity is what hinders the growth and development of a child. What makes Lotus Petal unique is that, children are given tools to chip away at the obstacles around them. There are organisations which take care of children...plenty of them. But how many extend support to the entire family of that child, consequently guaranteeing an ambience at home where the student can study and pursue his or her career plans in peace? Nutrition, health, confidence building skills and exposure to the current corporate system are just a few of these tools. I like to think of them as hammers and chisels chipping away at invisible barriers empowering a child to dream big, go forward.

I wrote of ‘magic’ at the start. Magic does not happen without hard work and when it yields a moment of wonder, we define it as magical. A perfectly formed answer, a confident morning assembly pledge, an intelligent and thoughtful discussion, Vidyananda students outdoing their seniors in multiplication tables...just a few instances of hours of hard work transformed into ‘magic’-the intangible rewards of every teacher.

The ever evolving story of Lotus Petal can be summed up in the words of a beloved poet, Maya Angelou: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Haimanti Mitra is a teacher at the Pratishthan Learning Center, the secondary school of Lotus Petal Foundation. She teaches English and Social Studies.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Everyday Hero by Saloni Bhardwaj

“Every morning I wake up feeling inspired about the opportunities that lay ahead of me to serve more” Says Kushal Raj Chakravorty, Founder Lotus Petal Foundation.

The innate desire to serve others became so strong that at the age of 38 Kushal started the Lotus Petal Foundation, an organization that provides free food, education and healthcare to the children living in the urban slums of Gurgaon. A regular IIM graduate, working full time for IKEA, a stable career with excessive international business travel, a simple family man with two daughters and a dog, really isn`t enough to some up Kushal. In the mundane he imagined the extra ordinary. In the cracks of living life in India, he saw opportunity to serve.
After forming the Lotus Petal Foundation in 2011, Kushal started doing small, organized acts of charity. 

He used his skills and business acumen to make the life of boys in Mother Teresa`s Deepashram more comfortable. Deepashram is mother`s home for the destitute. It houses orphaned and abandoned boys who have cerebral palsy or are from various special needs background. Kushal, introduced technology and new age systems to the home to make daily operations more efficient and life for the boys comfortable. He still considers the boys at Deepashram his friends and runs an art therapy program for them twice a week.

As his path progressed, Kushal considered serving the people living in the slums around his home his personal responsibility. He wanted to provide the children on the streets similar opportunity of education and better life like he did to his own daughters. It became increasingly difficult for him to realize that there were quite a few children around him going to sleep without having eaten a single morsel during the day.

Kushal modestly sums up the first few years of Lotus Petal as ‘random acts of charity’ but in the scheme of things there was very little left to chance. Every step taken was thought out, each project was meticulously executed, events were documented and what did not work, was reflected upon and redone. In his pursuit to reach out to many for doing good, he also unknowingly laid a strong foundation for a transparent organization where each system was meticulously put in place after a lot of thinking.

Soon Kushal had developed a strong rapport with neighboring NGO`s and was running some kind of programs with most to benefit the underprivileged. In his interaction with the organizations running primary schools he identified a gap that he felt was the cause that most children were unable to break the poverty ceiling. Free education in most schools is until grade 5. He often times wondered what happened to the students after that? For the fear of loitering on streets or doing their parents job, most children stayed in grade 5 for a few more years until they eventually dropped out to earn a living at a very tender age. Once this golden period of education was lost, the child would always be a menial worker and be stuck in the cycle of poverty and hardship.

This need gave birth to the Pratishthan Learning Center. This program helped students to complete their grade 10 and enter a vocational course depending upon their aptitude. While working with the teenagers he realized the degree of unrealized abuse that was meted out to these teenagers in their younger years. He wished if Lotus Petal could take care of children from the start. Two years later, Lotus Petal started the junior section called Vidyananda School. A Kindergarten to grade 5 primary school for children living in the slums.  

All education, stationery and uniforms provided in the school are free. Besides education, Lotus Petal Foundation provides children with fresh breakfast and lunch every day. An in house doctor takes care of all their primary healthcare needs and various community doctors facilitate secondary healthcare as well. The organization is a surrogate family to the students.

Kushal was born and raised in a simple Bengali home in Ranchi, Jharkhand. His humble roots, modest family lifestyle and a shoe string budget of a single salaried household left an indelible impact on his youth. The lessons learnt while growing up of managing in little and being grateful for the abundance are carefully incorporated in Lotus Petal Foundation. He ensures that the requirements within the school are kept low and constant and should be met strictly with donations. His team is very fastidious about cost cutting and managing the systems that are laid down by him. Accountability, transparency and integrity are the cornerstones of Lotus Petal Foundation.

“Service helps me to do everything better, whether it’s my job or family responsibilities or just managing my personal time. It has completely transformed my life towards the better. I am more aware that I have to make every minute count. I need to keep my focus on the most important things in my life for which I have to prioritize judicially” says Kushal on being repeatedly asked about how he manages his life and keeps a sane balance. He`s a man of few words, vegetarian & a tea totaller, Kushal leads a disciplined and regimented life.

To most of us he`s unique, to him it comes naturally. He`s not the only one but for sure he`s a special one. Some call him a torch bearer others address him as the beacon of light- but to the ones who know him or have met him, he`s really the nicest guy who was born to do what he`s doing- and that too very well. 

Written by Saloni Bhardwaj, writer,  journalist & Trustee at Lotus Petal Foundation