Program Highlights

School Sponsorship Program

Math, English and Social Studies teachers working online with students

Math, English and Social Studies teachers working online with students

In India the coronavirus lockdown is still in effect. School reopenings have been delayed repeatedly. With the virus continuing to spread and Tamil Nadu declared a "red spot" state, it is unlikely that schools will reopen before the end of the year.

The Sri Ramana School and the elementary school have been closed since March 2020. When possible, students in grades 9-12 are doing interactive online classes with their teachers on cell phones. Students in the lower grades work with their teachers on WhatsApp.

The biggest issue is that not all families have mobile phones. Even when they do, the children generally cannot use them for classwork until their parents are home from work. Since most classes are now taking place in the evenings, the teachers are working half time and their pay has been reduced accordingly: a financial hardship. Some of the teachers have been going to the villages in the evenings and teaching in outdoor spaces where social distancing can be maintained.

The children long to go back to school, but, for now, it is not safe. Lockdown restrictions have been eased somewhat so that parents can work, but income is down and hunger is a common experience. The majority of the families cannot feed their families 3 meals a day.

Food distribution at the school for those in need

Food distribution at the school for those in need

For information about sponsoring, please contact Robin Walden: sponsor@arunapartnership.org.

To support the school during this difficult time:

Shanthimalai Skill Development Program

SSDP students perform at the Alumni Meet in January, before the lockdown

SSDP students perform at the Alumni Meet in January, before the lockdown

The SSDP (Shanthimalai Skill Development Program, formerly PTP) will be supporting 26 new students for this academic year (2020-2021). In each case, these are students whose sponsors are continuing to support them as they pursue higher education or vocational training after high school. Beyond that, unless a new sponsor chooses to support a college student, no more students will start the program.

For the time being, the lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic has seriously limited opportunities available to our students. Out of 270 current high school students, 92 graduated this year. With schools unable to reopen, the state cancelled final exams for the year and declared all students "passed". Colleges and vocational programs also remain closed, so we have no placement data as yet.

Mr.Venkatesan has recently left as program administrator. Shanthimalai continues to administer the program in an effort to make sure that all students in the program can complete their studies.

Former SSDP students shared their experiences with current students in motivational talks during the Alumni Meet in January 2020, before the coronavirus lockdown

Former SSDP students shared their experiences with current students in motivational talks during the Alumni Meet in January 2020, before the coronavirus lockdown

Om Shanthi Project

Mandala painted by elderly widows at the Om Shanthi Home

Mandala painted by elderly widows at the Om Shanthi Home

Life during the coronavirus pandemic has, of course, impacted the elderly widows at the Om Shanthi Home. In spite of this, the widows are doing well and are happy with the care and love they are receiving.

Initially, and throughout the lockdown, the Home of 28 elderly widows was in complete quarantine. Fortunately the compound's beautiful garden, verandas and rooftops helped keep the ladies from missing their excursions too much. In many ways their lives are unchanged.

Om Shanthi staff check the temperatures of all the residents daily, and a doctor from Rangamal Hospital stops by each week to examine the widows and care for their health needs. Because of the high risk of contagion from the virus, it was has not been possible to accept new residents into the Home during this time. Despite occasional food shortages, the ladies have received a balanced, nutritious diet of foods that boost the immune system: fish, fruits and vegetables. Everyone has remained remarkably healthy and happy. Perhaps this time in their lives helps to compensate a little for all the misery and starvation these women have suffered in the past.

Life has been more challenging for the 148 young widows and their children (267). Until June, the women were not allowed to leave their homes to work. The Mangalam Welfare Society (formerly part of Shanthimalai Handicrafts) distributed masks, bathing and washing soap and fruit to these widows, as well as to Premalaya staff, sadhus, and many others in need. Twice the widows and other destitute women received supplies of food staples (rice, dal, oil, vegetables and different spices, tea and sugar), as well as 2000 Rupees in cash. On six occasions, the Society served nutritious meals to 300 people.

Since September 1st, the situation has begun to improve. Public transportation is operating again and more people have been able to go back to work. Mr. Manoharan, head of Premalaya Handicrafts and the Mangalam Society, and his staff have done everything they can to ease the hardships suffered by the most vulnerable of the poor. In September, when they distributed annual educational kits to the children, packs of face masks were included along with new backpacks, school uniforms, pencils, erasers, lunch bags, and geometry bags, as well as cotton shawls and bangles for the girls. Schools are still closed, but whey they reopen, the children will be ready!

Widows' children receiving gifts of school supplies

Widows' children receiving gifts of school supplies

In August, Bill and Patty Zimmerman of Peaks Island, Maine made an extraordinary grant to Aruna Partnership for the widows who work in the handicraft center at Premalaya. Thanks to the Zimmerman's generosity, the weaving building was renovated in September, with new fans and an updated lighting system, so weavers can see the threads better when they're working at the looms. All looms and wheels are being repaired to bring them into good working condition. In addition, the grant provides funds for expanding the use of organic dyes and threads. The grant also includes provisions for cost-of-living increases for the workers to help ease the stress of inflated food prices during the pandemic.

Rennovation of the weaving building and development of organic dyeing

Rennovation of the weaving building and development of organic dyeing

At the Om Shanthi Home, the next project will be construction of a second floor with four small apartments. We were hoping to rent these to generate income for the Om Shanthi Project, but now, in the midst of the pandemic, the space may be needed for isolating patients in cases of infection and for emergency space for young widows and their children, staff, or volunteers. Funding is needed for this project and for ongoing operational expenses of the Home.

Thank you for your continued generosity! Your gifts are making a tremendous difference in the lives of these women during this very challenging time.

Om Shanthi widows celebrating Diwali, the victory of Light over darkness

Om Shanthi widows celebrating Diwali, the victory of Light over darkness

Girivalam Seva

GVS

The Girivalam Seva (GVS) Project employs widows and other destitute women to help clean and care for the ancient pilgrimage route that circles the Holy Mountain Arunachala at the heart of the district we serve.

Currently 24 people are employed by GVS: 15 women and 9 men. During the complete lockdown from late March to May, governmental regulations required everyone in the area to stay in their homes. Although necessary to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19, the regulations were strictly enforced and created many hardships for families with no savings. As homes lack refrigeration, Shanthimalai provided food twice a day for the workers and their families during this extremely stressful time. Shanthimalai also established a campus to care for 60 vulnerable elderly people who had no other means of support. Ten of the GVS workers were hired to assist these elderly individuals on campus.

In the period from June through September, the lockdown eased and Shanthimalai resumed employing all the GVS workers. Throughout the summer, they worked 5 days a week, with Saturday and Sunday off. After three weeks of work, each worker took one week of vacation. Everyone received regular daily wages for each day of work during these months.

For the safety of the workers, litter collection on the path around Arunachala has not yet resumed. Instead, GVS workers for the most part have been cleaning the grounds in and around Shanthimalai and caring for the gardens. With infection rates increasing again in the area, the future is uncertain. Shanthimalai and Aruna Partnership remain ready to provide relief and support as needed.

GVS team cleaning the perimeter of Shanthimalai

GVS team cleaning the perimeter of Shanthimalai