After a very challenging pre-travel paperwork/ computerized protocol, Anna and I arrived safely in India, mid-January with our 30 day visa, and other multiple required documentation due to Covid, in hand.
Omicron is fairly quiet in Tiruvannamalai, though many here lost multiple family members and friends due to Delta. At the time of our arrival, lockdown here consisted of all stores being closed on Sundays, with a curfew throughout the week between 10 PM and 5 AM.
(interestingly enough, this was lifted after our first week, due to municipal election activities. Now, at this point, the curfew has not been reinstated due to the low Covid numbers).
Much of the population continues to suffer from lack of employment. During Covid, we prioritized our attention to provide food to those who didn’t have enough to eat. We extended this focus to include the many unemployed. (while government employees have been provided benefits which helped carry them through, most middle and lower class residents received minimal, if any, support from the government. Many, out of work, have had no option but to turn to private money lenders who have take advantage, charging 30% annual percentage rate for loans which people take out just to get by; and most scarcely managed to pay the minimum required monthly interest payment. The economy still has minimal signs of recovery. Nonetheless, these people carry their destiny with great dignity and minimal complaint.
During our stay, we visited six of the 27 widows who were given a cow through our cow sponsorship program , an aspect of support for our young widows in the program. Each cow cost 675 $ many thanks to the donors!
We rode some distance through the beautiful countryside; the long rain season has produced beautifully green fields of rice. On one hand, the extra rain has been a blessing, as south India often suffers from drought. However, the excess rain has its shadow side: a disease very similar to human chickenpox can be deadly for the cows. The veterinarian gives injection of antibiotics, and luckily, only one calf has been lost to this disease.
The widows who received the cow had been carefully chosen by our project leader, Manoharan, with the help of our newest social worker, Yogeshwari. This has been a great support to the widows and their children, who live at the absolute minimum level of existence. There has been no work for the past two years due to Covid. Each cow averages 3 Liters of milk per day, and the widows can sell this for an average of Rs.26 – 35 per liter. (this helps to supplement/replace their income from coolie (field) work which pays Rs. 150 ($2.00) per full day of work, when it is available (and is limited to 15 days per month, per the government).
The women in the program can keep the first calf born, thereafter, any additional calves are given to a new woman in the program. (It is important to note that although the women sell the milk from hand milking, the mother cow naturally holds a reserve of milk which can only be accessed by the suckling calf – thus, the calves are nourished and healthy).
Once our construction project has been completed (more information on that in a bit) we look to providing more cows to needy widows. We are also looking to set up a donor sponsored program providing a pair of male and female goats ($225) to eligible widows. The goats will give 1 liter of milk daily, can be sold for Rs.120 ($1.60). The owners will also be able to sell the babies – on average, two babies are produced every six months. (If you would like to donate a pair of goats, simply respond to this email).
The highest of kudos and regards to all of the staff at (Premalaya Handicraft) and the Om Shanti Old Age Home, who have done the most remarkable work managing each of the various aspects of our program!
Our newest construction project has just begun, after two years of delay due to Covid, and 6 weeks of flooding! We thank our generous Rotary clubs in Germany in the US for their patience, trust, and confidence with this delay created by natural causes.
This newest construction consists of four apartments to be built on the rooftops of our second and third buildings: Florence Home built in 2015, and our third building, Kati Home, built in 2018.
Two of these apartments will be utilized for women with children who present with an emergency situation. The other two buildings will be utilized as medical isolation units, which has prove necessary, as per the pandemic.
We were just beginning to get our feet off the ground with our School Sponsorship Program for the widows children when Covid struck. As situations normalize, our intention is to reactivate the implementation of this important aspect of our work.
A little bit about our new social worker, Yogeshwari: She has learned English, is fluent in computer science, and has much compassion and understanding of the women’s plight. Her own mother is a widow who has supported herself and Yogeshwari by cleaning and grooming the temples.
Currently, we have 30 women who are housed and/or are working at the Om Shanthi Old Age Home. Additionally, we provide support to 175 young widows who continue to live in the community with their approximately 250 children.
The women at Om Shanthi Old Age Home continue to be happy and well in their “forever home”.
A new activity for the women are singing lessons, where they learn to sing holy mantras. Independent of the lessons, every day at 4:30 PM after their walk, they all sing together as a group. When we first heard them we thought it was a CD; they sounded wonderful! (When asked why they did not sing on Sunday, they responded that singing is forbidden on any day that they eat an egg. South India is primarily vegetarian; the government mandates meat or eggs once a week as a protein source. ). By the way, if you didn’t know already, Om Shanthi Old Age Home won the governmental award for the best old age home within 100 km!)
Our other new staff members are Kamala, Sumata, and Radha at the Old Age Home, who are replacements for two members who retired.
It is with sadness that we anticipate an imminent farewell to Nagamal as she leaves her body, passing on to the world of spirit. Nagamal was one of our first residents in 2012, whose spirit has always been fully alive, her laughter and smiles enthralling everybody. Most recently, she displayed symptoms which have been diagnosed as late stage lung cancer. Fly high, dear Nagamal, we wish you a safe and peaceful passing!
Thank you to all of you who are connected to the Om Shanti Widows of India Project! Without you, we could do very little, together, we can do so much!
Please visit www.WidowsofIndiaOmShanthi.in for more info, photos, and to donate as you are able. So much appreciation!