Tag Archives: Children

This week, I’m watching: Mumbai High – the Musical

23 Sep

… and I urge you to do the same, if you’re at all interested in India, or education, or musicals, or how other people live; or even if none of those things float your boat but you’re at a loose end and can get access to the BBC iPlayer for the next month or so.

This one hour film,  recently shown on BBC4 as part of their wonderful India season (click on the “India” tag in the cloud to

(c) BBC

(c) BBC

the right of this post on the main blog site for my previous posts about India) tells the story of five children from the Mumbai slum of Dharavi – their backgrounds, homes, families, hopes and dreams (Raj wants to be a doctor, Mary wants to play football with David Beckham). It’s shot using a standard documentary format but is also interspersed with Bollywood/Glee style musical numbers where the children and their teachers sing, in multiple languages, and dance.

I once wrote that India, my favourite country in the world,  finds a new way to uplift you and yet break your heart every day – and this beautiful, moving, funny, emotional film encapsulates that.

Do watch it if you can – and let me know if it speaks to you the way it speaks to me.

Here’s a clip of Iffat, aged 12, telling us how she can speak six languages and gets 100% in all her subjects at school:


Ellen DeGeneres’ new GapKids line blows away gender stereotypes

20 Aug Featured Image -- 1694


Love this story – it has all my favourite ingredients: authenticity, blowing away gender stereotypes, clothes and Ellen. Best line:

“The clothing collection and accompanying ad campaign “encourages girls everywhere to be themselves, do what makes them happy and take pride in who they are,” according to a statement by GapKids.”

Hope we get this range in the UK.

Originally posted on Fortune:

“Be you.”

Ellen DeGeneres breathed new life into that old cliche at Sunday night’s Teen Choice Awards, telling her fans to be proud of their individuality. “I want to make sure that everyone knows that what makes you different right now, makes you stand out later in life,” she said. “So you should be proud of being different, you should be proud of who you are.”

DeGeneres has long been a proponent of embracing your true self—from being one of the first big celebrities to come out as gay, to infusing her unique, goofy spirit into the Ellen Show, to launching a lifestyle brand that sells clothes that mirror her own “non-gender-specific” style.

Today, DeGeneres rolled out her latest individuality-touting endeavor, GapKids x ED, a collaboration between DeGeneres’ ED line and the Gap. The clothing collection and accompanying ad campaign “encourages girls everywhere to be themselves, do what…

View original 597 more words

Supporting Plan

7 Jul

Plan_talks_Sticker_logoLast week, Plan contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working with them to provide blogging and social media support for their campaigns to support girls around the world. Apparently,  they want someone who writes about  “… life, money, girls with a healthy dose of humour …” and so it seems that I fit the bill! More importantly, I’m a long standing supporter of their work and have blogged and attended events about it before: when I raised over £300 to support their “Girls’ Night In” campaign in 2009;  at the launch of the Plan book, “Because I Am a Girl” in January 2010 and then a few months later at their International Women’s Day event at the House of Commons. It seems that I’ve just missed their event featuring Angelina Jolie and William Hague, but I’ve been invited along to learn more about their plans and how they’d like to use social media to raise awareness: so that’s where I’ll be on Tuesday afternoon. This workshop will be followed by a “Plan Talks” event featuring their long term supporter, author and broadcaster Kathy Lette,  who I remember as being fabulous at the book launch event four years ago. I’ll write about that later this week.

Cleo in Wonderland

6 Mar

Today is my last day in Goa; tomorrow I fly home via Mumbai,  after another month in this beautiful, heartbreaking, bewitching, chaotic, colourful, frustrating country.

It’s been a busy week, with a mixture of freelance writing, charity work for Educators’ Trust India and, unexpectedly,  a sidebar trip to Chennai.

Monday saw me spending the day working on the “Volunteer with Us” section of their website,  and hammering out the framework by which ETI can take on around 20 volunteers for the 2011/2012 tourist season.  We also identified 20 children who are in need of monthly sponsors and talked about how that model will work … feel free to email me if you’d like more details.

On Tuesday I went back to the slum with the Morning Light project and spent five hours there, washing the children, handing out samosas and being in charge of Operation Underwear.  Two Swedish supporters,  Jane and Bjorn,  donated a large shopping bag full of assorted pairs of differently sized knickers … so we had a system going whereby we washed the kids,  treated their hair for nits and they then lined up in order to receive a new pair of pants.

(Over which they then re-dressed themselves in their filthy old clothes.)

Jane also provided each child with a Mickey Mouse toothbrush,  so we had an “up and down, side to side, rinse and SPIT” teeth brushing lesson in the open air.

Two children were particularly affectionate this week; brother and sister,  they came running over as soon as they saw me and then attached themselves to me for the duration of my visit,  each one clinging to a hand. Diego translated for me and I learned that the lady with them,  whom I had assumed was their mum,  is in fact their nanni – they are the children of her son and she is raising them,  as their mother died a few years ago.  I was so sad to leave them – lots of hugs all round and they cried when we drove away.  I wonder if I’ll ever see them again?

On Wednesday I spent a long, dusty and above all HOT morning at Anjuna market;  until this trip,  it’s just been the place that I visit to shop and sightsee and take colourful photos,  but this time,  I spent the morning working with Diego on the ETI fund raising stall.  I gave out leaflets,  explained what we do (“we run schools for slum children” – how about that for an elevator pitch?) and took donations of clothes, toiletries, books and money.  Some very clear national divides emerged between the passersby: Indian tourists walked straight on,  Russians stopped to look and then barked “No!” or even,  charmingly, “F*ck off!” if you offered them a leaflet; Americans were friendly, interested but usually backpacking, so had very little money to offer but always managed around 100 rupees (c. £1.40) as a donation,  with an apology that it couldn’t be more; northern Europeans from places such as Germany and Scandinavia didn’t want to chat but always stuffed a generous donation into my collecting box before walking on.

Most of the money came from the British tourists,  who were uniformly friendly, positive, supportive and generous – it gladdened my heart to meet so many lovely people,  who gave so freely of their time and their possessions. I only did four hours there and was knackered at the end of it – and there’s poor Diego,  doing a 12 hour day week in, week out, every Wednesday.  What a star.

Thursday saw a complete gear change for me;  I cobbled together a vaguely “smart” outfit from things in my traveller’s wardrobe plus some borrowed shoes and flew to Chennai on the other side of India for a business meeting-cum-interview.  After three weeks in the universal melting pot of Goa,  it felt strange to be on a plane where I was the only woman aside from the staff and the only westerner – everyone else was a dark skinned business man with a laptop and a bushy moustache.  Upon arrival at Chennai airport, I saw a billboard welcoming the England cricket team and a sign saying “hello Thompson mr”  and was then whisked away to the Sheraton hotel,  courtesy of my hosts.

TV! Hot water! Room service! A vibrating massage chair … what a contrast to the start of my week.

My “Alice down the rabbit hole” feeling continued the next day,  when I managed to have an interview, meet the England cricket team (obtaining some autographs for my taxi driver Satish in the process – he is now “Top Man in Goa”, apparently), chat to the Sky Sports camera team and meet my friend Priya from Bangalore for lunch … before flying back to Goa to head up the ETI team in a pub quiz – which we won!

Yesterday I rested,  before going to a wedding in the evening.  I knew neither bride (Feliciana) or groom (Romeo)  but was invited as a guest through my friend Renee; her landlord is the bride’s uncle (or something). So Satish drove us through the twilight to a huge, open air wedding venue,  where we joined around 500 other people in celebrating their marriage. Fireworks, confetti, party poppers, spray string, fabulous food,  Bollywood dance moves and a free bar …

Today I’m blogging, packing,  saying goodbye to my friends (although quite a few people have already left for home;  this is the Big Exodus weekend) and then heading out to a concert by the ETI children – they’re performing some dance moves – like this – at a local restaurant and we’re hoping to raise a few more donations from it.

I’m leaving on a jet plane,  don’t know when I’ll be back again – but I hope it’s soon.

Guest post: On the healing power of love

25 Feb

This is a guest post by Dr. Dhiru Mistry, an Indian born British GP who took early retirement from the National Health Service in order to return to India and devote his life and his medical skills to helping the poor and dispossessed.

* * * * *

Namaste, as we say in India – it is a lovely greeting from the heart. The greeting has inner significance, let me just explain briefly.  By holding both hands in a prayer position and looking at the eyes of the person you are greeting, this means that with my five senses of perception, five organs of action and with my soul I greet you. It also means that I see God in you and I welcome you with that intention and purpose. This is much better than our western greeting of just saying hello or shaking hands.

Having read Cleo’s article on the work of Educators’ Trust India, I was very impressed. It carried the point home to the reader: that in India, we have a tremendous gap between the poor and the rich, and yet out there we still have noble people who want to make a difference.

Let’s get serious.  My mind boggles to see this extreme poverty, this obvious carelessness and selfishness which is quite apparent when we visit the slums. I have the deep feeling that in the 21st century, this should not be allowed to exist – the obvious pain, the suffering born of  hunger and illness, no proper human being should allow this to happen. Well, it is happening, what are we doing? This world belongs to us all, not just the Goan, the Indians, the British but to us all, and our teaching from the great books says it all, that there should be no class based, creed based, religious based, colour based discrimination.  As humans, we  should be utterly ashamed of our apparent lack of love and concern for the needs of these poor, displaced people in our society.

At Educators’ Trust India, we are empowering these children through education and trying to give a few of them food and clothing, but this is a drop in the ocean.

Our Morning Light project,  where we provide a mobile health, education, sanitation and nutritional service to slum dwellers  is the best that I have ever undertaken.  I say this with experience – my voluntary missionary work and philanthropy in medical fields have taken me to various parts of the world – but this is the ONLY project in Goa where we are going to the poor, the destitute and displaced people.  These people are so poor, so illiterate, so hungry that they do not have the energy to know how to fight their corner.  India is boasting that they are a world power; I disagree,  as one cannot be rich by means of acquiring  gold or dollars, one gets richness when the hearts and mind and the physical health of all its citizens are fulfilled, without hunger, homelessness, illiteracy  or holding out of the hands for a few rupees.  It makes me not angry, but sad at the thought of such treatment in an open society as ours. Remember,  slavery is now forbidden, but in reality it still exists.

At Morning Light each week, our volunteers, all of whom come from wealthy Western backgrounds, see no difference in colour,  creed or race, they see all as one and the love flows. Everyone is engaged in various tasks – you will see them washing, bathing, shampooing the children hoping to get rid of their suffering due to head lice. These children just do not have the simple itching manifestation of head lice:  they have bleeding, scarring and intense itching – why? It is obvious they have been neglected.  You can also see our volunteers playing, cuddling with joy and affection at the same time as teaching some basics to the children.  I am engaged in treating the illness that comes alone, with the help of our nurse.  We may be doing basic treatments and they do not need somebody like me with extensive experience to deal with minor illnesses, but the point is that we care for them and it is done with unconditional Love.

Remember,  Love heals.

This requires patience, tolerance, fortitude, equanimity and fraternity – these will prove invaluable attributes in our pilgrimage to the souls of the poor and the needy. Remember, we need to be a flower which radiates charm and fragrance, whether it is for a poor child or a rich child.  As with all things good and noble, the project, as a mobile clinic bringing medical relief, feeding and education, empowering and educating the neglected Indians in the squalor of the slums, brings home the lesson that Love and Service are like the two wings of a bird.

Flight is not possible with just one wing alone.

* * * * *

Educators’ Trust India now have a Justgiving page. Please click here to make a donation if you can – even a few pounds or dollars makes a huge difference to both these children’s lives and to the work carried out by Dhiru and his team. Thank you.

In the shade of the banyan tree

24 Feb

Yesterday Diego from Educators’ Trust India drove me about 20 kilometres inland from the Goan coastline, to a field not far from the famous weekly Anjuna market,  which is taking place as I write.

In this field is a banyan tree,  pictured,  which is regarded as holy and sacred around the world and which here is also on the site of an open air Hindu temple, complete with altar and access to clean running water.

It’s also the place where the Educators’ Trust India team have struck a deal with the local Hindu priest to use the land for a few hours each week (for the payment of 300 RS – about £4) as part of their mobile Morning Light outreach project.  I witnessed this last year and wrote about it here – it’s a change of location for the occupants of this particular mobile slum,  as the police moved them on earlier this month – in spite of having happily solicited and accepted bribes in order to allow them to stay.  As the land is holy,  they can’t and won’t camp upon it,  but the familiar blue plastic tents, open fires and cooking pots are sited just a few yards away.

We arrived in two cars and on a fleet of scooters and the ETI volunteer team soon spread out in a well practiced routine,  taking plastic sheets over to one area to set up two impromptu “schools” for groups of children aged five and over or five and under and carting plastic bowls and buckets over to the cold water tap in order to commence Operation Bath Time.  The fact that the children came running over asking to be washed is a huge improvement on only three months ago;  with patience and love,  Diego and the team have persuaded the parents and children to trust them.  Meanwhile, resident doctor Dr. Dhiru Mistry,  who truly believes that we are all privileged if we can help the poor,  put up a portable tent on the back of his car in order to create a makeshift surgery,  thus allowing the children and adults to be treated in privacy. Dhiru explained that, as a doctor,  wherever he is, he believes that his patients deserve confidentiality, dignity and respect and this tent device allows him a modicum of this.

During our visit, he treated five children and one adult, mostly for ailments which included the usual coughs and colds, head lice and scabies but also a really nasty foot infection on a child – caused,  as described before,  by the lack of shoes.  One little girl was quite ill,  suffering with dehydration and malnutrition;  Dhiru treated her with intravenous antibiotics and fluids and left some medicine with her mother,  but explained that he was unable to provide his preferred drug in case it reacted badly and caused diarrhoea – a nightmare in an environment with zero sanitation.

Meanwhile,  other volunteers were washing the children,  using tourist donated shampoos and soaps and then drying the kids off  with discarded beach towels.  Once clean,  we used imported head lice lotion to treat the children’s hair,  which bizarrely they seemed to love – perhaps it was the attention,  as they are all hugely tactile and love hugs and piggy backs.

Then it was meal time – and we all shared donated bread rolls,  samosas, omelettes, milk and fruit – suggested by Dhiru as being both nutritionally sound (protein, fruit, carbohydrates) and portable.

Another big change from December is that when we left,  all the mothers (still no sign of the men) came up and shook our hands and thanked us – some had tears in their eyes and hugged us,  saying “thankyouthankyouthankyou” over and over.  The shift from the hostility we experienced only a few months ago is very marked – and welcome.  They now know they can trust the ETI team to turn up, feed and support them,  treat them with dignity and respect – and not involve the police,  crucial for this particular community.

Some of the volunteers were new and were profoundly shocked by what they saw,  but all were keen to stay involved and to do as much as they can to help out over the next month or so.

Dhiru has written me a moving and very beautiful guest blog piece on why he is so involved with India’s poor – coming up next.

Meanwhile,  if you’d like to support the work of the Educators’ Trust India team,  they now have a JustGiving page where you can donate – thank you.

Sangeetha, part two

21 Feb

I’ve just persuaded Sangeetha to let me take her photograph – here she is, second from right, with her 11 year old daughter (with the plaits), a friend and the extremely photogenic Parras!


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