Every year the Revelstoke Rotary Club supports at least one project in a developing country. In the past the club has funded water projects in Thailand and Mexico; this year, the club sent $1,000 to sponsor a hot meal program for a school in Sainji, Uttarkhand, in northern India. The children in a beautiful, yet impoverished, village attend a free school run by a Canadian, Lori McFadyen and her Indian husband, Kunwar Chauhan. The school was called Garwhal Organization for the Upliftment of the Needy (GEMS). As Rotarian Laura Stovel saw during a visit to the school shortly after its inception, the children are quick, eager learners but most struggle with challenges related to malnutrition, including rickets (a softening of the bones due to vitamin D and calcium deficiency). For many, the hot meal provided at school is the main meal of the day. The school has grown dramatically since its founding in late 2009. Until recently it has been operating out of a cow shed but in April the 125 students were able to move into a beautiful new school, renamed the Rajeshwari Karuna School.
The following is a letter of thanks to the Rotary club explaining the school’s good work and the value of Rotary’s contribution.
June 17, 2012
Dear Rotary Club Members,
This year you sent our school children $1,000.00 to help out with their lunch program. We are so grateful to you for this kind gesture. The contribution you sent was just enough to get us through our last two months as an autonomous school project until we moved into the new school building built by the HANS Foundation.
In December 2009, Kunwar and I opened our small school in response to the poor condition of education in our area. We began with just 14 students, but within one year we had already grown to 60 students. During that first year we recognized that most of our children were mal nourished and were not able to concentrate fully in class. We were operating on a very small budget from funds derived from friends and relatives, and most of those funds had to go to books and uniforms. But we managed at first to provide vegetable and dahl (lentils) to the children every day at lunch. The funds for the lunch were usually from last minute donations, and often we were left worrying how we were going to manage the next month, especially when our school population kept growing. But somehow we always had just enough, never more, just enough. And the health of our children began to improve. Along with the food, we also began to give vitamins. These came from volunteers from abroad and from good hearted people who just wanted to help out. We combined our nutrition program with a vigorous hygiene program. And over time we began to see our efforts were paying off. We noticed that over the course of a year the children’s cheeks began to fill out and the white patches in their skin (a sign of vitamin deficiency) began to disappear. But always we worried how we would get through the next month.
We were blessed when the HANS Foundation offered assistance to us with our material costs; books, school supplies, uniforms, etc. But they could not help with our other costs, which included food for the lunch program. So each month we struggled to pay teachers’ wages, pay petrol for our bus, and provide food and vitamins for the children.
In February of this year we were really worried. We were going to be moving into our new school building in April and then all of our financial obligations would be absorbed by the HANS Foundation, but until then we had to manage to provide food and meet all the other costs. So once again we were blessed because your donation arrived just in time, and we had ‘just enough’ to meet the food requirements for our now 125 children for not just one month, but two. And it was just enough.
Our children all come from very poor households. In the last year we have benefitted from the services of one mobile medical NGO who have been assessing our childrens’ growth and weight percentile. About 90% of our children are under weight and under height, measured against the Indian standard of growth charts. Our children receive enough to eat. The problem is that they do not get variety in their diet and they do not get the right kind of food. For instance, a typical breakfast might consist of tea and cookies, or roti (flat bread made from white flour). Lunch typically consists of roti. Dinner will consist of rice, lentil and sometimes vegetable, along with roti. But the plate is mainly made up of rice and very little lentil or vegetable. Secondly, because hygiene in the home is lacking, many children contract intestinal infections. Diarrhea is common, and consequently goes untreated. So along with good nutrition we rigorously treat intestinal infections as well. Fruit is eaten seasonally, mainly in summer months, and it is mainly wild fruit that grows in the area.
So thanks to you kind people at the Rotary Club, our children ate well for two more months. We provided rice, dahl (more dahl than rice on the plate is the rule!) and vegetables – a variety that changed daily from pumpkin, to spinach, to beans, cauliflower, etc. The children enjoy the variety.
Thank you so much for your support to our children. We look forward to working with you in the future and building a long lasting relationship.
Lori and Kunwar Chauhan
Sainji, Uttarkhand, India