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Two orphanages, two philosophies ‘ one world

Two orphanages, two philosophies ‘ one world
Two orphanages, two philosophies ‘ one world
Above, students at Ramana's school and home in the village Laksman Jhula. Below, the Rishikumars from the Parmarth Gurukul/Orphanage in the village Swarg Ashram.

This is the story of two orphanages with a distance of one hour’s walk between them. They both exist in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain on the banks of the Ganga River. They are both mothered by caring and capable people. They want the best lives for their children and work hard to make that happen. We worked and played in both of them on our recent visit to India.
I felt the presence of two different worlds as I spent hours in their schools and homes over a number of days. Right off, I must state that I am aware that institutions and people are a mix of the many diverse conditions that have formed them over their years. But for this discussion, let us see these two orphanages as examples of the Western mind set and the Eastern culture.
While in India, we stayed at a spiritual haven called an ashram. These are institutions that grow around the person referred to a guru who teaches of the Hindu spiritual life and beliefs. We stayed at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh under the guidance of Swami Chidanand Sarawati. By traditions and commitment, most ashrams have a close relationship with a program or group of people who need care. Attached to the ashram that hosted the International Yoga Festival where our group resided was the Parmarth Gurukul/Orphanage.
They do not call the boys that live in the orphanage orphans. Instead, they are referred to as Rishikumars to uplift their identities. I love the name; it depicts these lively raven-haired boys well. One hundred school-age boys live, study and participate in most ceremonial activities at the ashram. These kids dressed alike in the traditional gold dhoti of India, moved like a school of fish in sync with each other. Even as they walked in a straight line, often with hands folded in prayer, they flitted in and out as young lively happy children will do.
We traveled with a group named Ambassador’s for Children. They provide opportunities for international travel mixed with volunteer service. So in between yoga classes, lectures and touring were planned opportunities to interact with local people and in this case with the wonderful Rishakumars of Parmarth Niketan Gurukul/Orphanage.
Much study was done ahead by AFC to develop appropriate activities for their classroom and play. As a result, we shared art classes using the form of a fish as a starting point, had an interactive presentation of water quality, discussed geography and managed a little English lesson along the way. These boys were like eager sponges and a pure joy to be around. Their teachers smiled with admiration for both their regular charges and us, their new friends.
Throughout our nearly two-week stay, we mingled with the boys in so many ways. At the nightly religious ceremony of Aarti on the steps leading to the Ganga River, we chanted, lit oil lamps and prayed together. During the Hindu celebration called ‘Holi,’ we threw dyed powdered in the air with them to the rhythms of drum beats. We hiked with them in the Himalayas and shared laughs and gifts when we met in our daily goings and comings.
These boys are being trained to be doctors, scientists, engineers and priests. Their language is the traditional Sanskrit of India instead of the Hindi language of most Indians. They are using it to study the ancient religious text. The adults around them told us they receive many visitors who come and observe the grounds and programs but none who interact with them as we did. They soaked up the hugs and warmth of these folks from our heartland of whom they had little knowledge.
Now travel with me by foot for an hour through the market and up a narrow path on the side of the mountain to the orphanage named Ramana’s Garden. No institutional sponsor stands behind this effort ‘ only a determined and tough ex-actress from Los Angeles named Prabha or officially Dr. Prabhavati. Her children are 60 live-in girls and boys and about 100-day time school attendees. All under the Hindu caste system, are outcasts ‘ untouchables. The system is now outlawed, but the practice is not.
This team of previously abused children is blooming in small buildings they have built out of rocks and bricks they have hauled in themselves. Every inch of land is covered if not by buildings by gardens, animal shelters and play yards. This is a happy place and let me emphasize its beauty. They operate a restaurant for which they grow organic foods and bake their own bread from home-grown wheat. Students are trained for future work here.
This is a place of preparation. Preparing children to understand their past and the strength they now possess because they have survived. Prabha’s whole mission is to help them see themselves not as victims but as capable and loved human beings who can take responsibility for affecting their own future. When they needed money, they learned to dance as entertainers, make jewelry and started the restaurant. Each child now has a bank account.
The children speak English very well and consumed the books we took them. They are eager for life and well aware of what is going on in the world. This is a team of social activists any community would sit up and notice.
Two orphanages only one hour apart with philosophy driven programs two worlds apart. Prabha still carries the Western culture of the free enterprise system and democracy. Her children are very much of this global society we hear so much about. The Rishikumars of the ashram are living with the culture of their ancestors from the Eastern mystic’s mindset. And for me, these two groups represent the issue we face today. How do we preserve and appreciate our diverse cultures and yet flourish in a rapidly changing global political, ecological and economic world?
I don’t see a clear picture of the route to take, but I do know firmly that we need to address the conditions. Look at our dilemma we face with warring nations, environmental disasters and clashing economies. I do know for sure that we need everyone and every idea and every culture in the process and in our goal.
We need both orphanages ‘ we need to understand our unity and celebrate our diversity.