Our dream: a digital classroom in Om Shanthi Garden

After several weeks again this winter (late Jan. – Mar.) spending time living with our dear widows at the Old Age Home, Paulette and I have arrived home. As always, saying goodbye was difficult.

Om Shanthi Old Age Home is becoming more and more a second home for us, and the women have become as second family. This visit, Paulette and I interviewed each of the women here with the help of an interpreter in order to more fully know their life circumstances, and how they each came to Om Shanthi. Oh! We were so deeply moved by their stories, tears, and expressions of gratitude; we can only honor with gratitude the trust they placed in us – Indian women are generally quite private about their personal lives. There were tears, hugs, compassion, and sisterly love. Their stories – while heartbreaking – are also heart opening. Going forward, along with our updates and newsletters we will be sending out (under separate email) one of their life stories, so that you may see what blessings your support has created. These women are now living in peace in their “forever home”. These sweet, beautiful women are very aware and grateful for your gift of friendship, connection and recognize you as being the source of their new (and well-deserved) life.

Once again, we had many new, and repeat visitors to the Old Age Home – from Germany, the USA, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, South America…to name a few.

We again went to the local goat market with Manoharan (local project manager) in the early morning hours. We selected and bought 20 healthy goats once again, and distributed a pair of female and male goats to young widows and their children – the women’s faces beaming with happiness. So far, we have been able to provide approximately 40 cows and 90 goats to young widows and their children who live in the poor communities around Tiruvannamalai.

After distributing and planting approximately 500 young trees in surrounding villages, we now will move on to another poor area, and do the same. This provides not only shade from the hot sun, but also fruit for the poor residents, while beautifying their dismal and dry surroundings.

While there, we held weekly concerts at the Old Age Home, welcoming many groups of western visitors as visitors. Their responses confirm that our home holds a high level of love, joy, and quality care. Each year, many of the same people come back to visit – along with may new folks who have heard about Om Shanthi.

The natural, open, and authentic joy and kindness of our women is so very moving; it opens all hearts. I no longer feel the need, nor the pull to visit temples in India – as I feel that here at Om Shanthi, there are 31 goddesses who live here – each with a different nature and personality – all having the common ability to turn the key to unlock your heart!

Om Shanthi Old Age Home is located in a rural and natural setting. A flock of ravens wait daily, and patiently on the veranda area for Pattu to throw some rice and vegetables into the courtyard from her plate (she, just as many others, know what it is to be hungry). Our four legged visitors include a pregnant cat whom we fed and named Mamma Mia, a few stray dogs. We also have visits from an entire tribe of monkeys – they have not only raided our vegetable garden (A sturdy enclosure will be built, when our budget allows). The monkeys are very bold – in fact, one opened the door to my (Anna’s) room, bypassed the vegetables on my counter – instead went directly to open the fridge door, stole an egg – among other things – then proceeded to enjoy the egg some yards away right in front of us on an adjacent rooftop!)

New this year were the beautiful Saturday afternoon visits from Lioba and many dear friends from Shanthimalai Ashram. We all sang, danced, drank chai tea and ate delicious pastries with the widows. Also, we thank Madeleine, an Indian opera singer from France, who shared with us the hymn, Ave Maria, with orchestral accompaniment via her iPhone, also sharing performances of dance and song with her children’s group. A special bow and thanks to Regula, who plays violin and accompanies Upahar & Vina (thank you!) with bhajan (concerts of sacred song) at our home each year. Regula collected 1,900 euros for our widows at charity concerts in Switzerland during the past year. So very grateful! A portion of this gift went to Parvathi’s care. She was hospitalized for 10 days in intensive care after experiencing a stroke. Thank you, Regula, and all your friends in Switzerland who contributed to providing Parvathi with optimal care in her final days. These high costs are not included in our budget and came just at the right time. We took Parvathi home to Om Shanthi when no further improvements were possible. After a week, she passed peacefully in her bed.

We will use the rest of this large donation for other purposes , to include the annual bussed outing of our women, employees and their children. The women and children always want to visit the water, and many of the temples in Southern India.This is anticipated to happen during in July, after the great heat subsides.

Paulette and I also exercise our creativity when in Tiruvannamalai – with projects for our young widows to make, being paid a fair wage. Together with the master weaver of Premalaya Handicraft (our sister organization which employs many young widows) we designed a pattern for new blankets, which were produced on large manually looms from brilliantly colored organic cotton, also by our young widows. With help from the tailors and women at Premalaya Handicrafts, Paulette and I helped to create beautiful, airy, flowing culottes- all made from repurposed lightweight sari material of silk or viscose. (Thanks to Sharon in the USA for providing the model item!) We have a small supply of these in both Germany and the USA – contact one of us, if interested. (All monies from the sale of these items is donated to the project.)

We are also looking to undertake a new project – a small computer training school. So many young people are unable to find employment after completing, many times, their minimal education. We wish to offer the children of our young widows and those in outlying areas the opportunity to learn computer skills, and to attend classes where they can learn English, greatly increasing their chances of getting a job upon finishing their education. Very few computer courses are offered in rural schools; though there are private courses available in the city. The children we wish to serve live in rural areas, and it is not possible for these children to go into the city (too far, few or no bus connections – and expensive) Our intention is to build a classroom at the corner of our Om Shanthi Home property where the children are introduced to the computer – free of charge, after their regular school day ends. Further, this brings our widows and women at Om Shanthi the chance to have exchanges and contact with young folk. This furthers our intention to bridge the gap between the elderly women and youth – thus supporting the shift in consciousness regarding the value and status of widows in India.

Do share your thoughts about this newly emerging plan! Your feedback is always welcome, on any topic. As the plans for this project unfold, we will keep you in the loop via our newsletters. as well as any other feedback. Please help to spread the word about our project which supports the poorest of the poor. (We have a supply of new flyers, for those of you who have opportunities to distribute them; let us know).

So many friends from all over the world volunteer providing both on-site and behind-the- scenes support – professional photographers and videographers, a journalist who writes the text for our annual calendar, some lead on-site activities with the women when they visit -so many supporters with loving hands and hearts who donate their time, energy, all contributions coming from the heart of love! Let’s not be misled: love wins! This is proven by these women who have survived all types of misery and are now living their lives, with so much joy, and gratitude.

There is so much more to do! Thank you, again, for your support!

Anna & Paulette