Rosy is nine-years old and has been a model student at Buddha’s Smile School since she was four. Her story like many other children of Varanasi’s über-poor is one of exploitation, neglect and abuse. Rosy lives at a beggar community in Varanasi’s Cantonment area with her fourth stepfather. Her mother died from kerosene burns. This is her story.
In April 2017 Rajan Kaur met Sachin, a distressed young boy appearing as if he had been carelessly thrown away in the corner and treated like garbage. She asked about him and found he was mentally disabled and would bite.
“He cannot speak but he does actions to explain,” a community member said.
“I immediately decided we must help Sachin,” Rajan Kaur, founder and director of Buddha’s Smile School (BSS) said.
During the initial days he was extremely disruptive and bit other children.
“We moved him to the new Day Care Center, gave him a nice bath, daily meals and clean clothes and surroundings,” Rajan Kaur said. “He feels fresh everyday and so the change began. Sachin stopped biting and has become more disciplined and happy. He engages in play and other activities everyday now,” she said.
There was a time when people kicked him in his community. His name was mad boy and he was teased and discarded. Rajan Kaur took him on as a challenge and slowly he is changing. She says she wants to instill knowledge and talent inside him, to increase his confidence and bring some charm into his life. At BSS the teachers and the other students pay attention to him providing him with the love and respect he never received at home. His unsociable habits are diminishing and one can begin to see, hopefully like Sachin can, the infinite possibilities life has to offer.
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Sahil, 10, loves coming to Buddha’s Smile School each morning. He feels lucky to be able to leave his family’s open-air ‘home’ under a Varanasi railroad bridge for the safe and cheerful.
What he didn’t count on was that being a thief would cause him a bigger problem.
When one of his victims realized Sahil was a thief, the passenger managed to hold Sahil until the train got to Allahabad and he could turn Sahil over to the police.
The police took Sahil into custody, Sahil sobbed that he was only stealing so that he wouldn’t be hungry. The police, not wanting to deal further with a young minor with no identification, put Sahil back on a train heading back to Varanasi. The next day, with a big story to tell, he returned to his beloved Buddha’s Smile School.
Most of our BSS students live in similar fragile circumstances. Each BSS student who manages to survive their home life with its lack of safety nets, have the possibility of dreaming for a better life. One with food every day, and a home with walls and roof.
We are pleased to announce Buddha’s Smile School’s new Daycare Centre opened in October. The Daycare Centre will enable young female elementary school students to attend classes on a regular basis rather than staying home to care for younger siblings.
The Daycare Centre caters for young siblings up to the age of 3 years and cares for their daily needs, such as milk, food, health checkups and vaccinations. A babysitter has been employed to care for the children and the centre has been equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping facilities and multiple toys for games and learning.
In 2014 Buddha’s Smile School (BSS) in conjunction with Amistad International began a fundraising drive to build living accommodation for girls who were at risk of early marriage and/or abuse. The hostel would have allowed them to live at BSS and be safe and supported. Unfortunately insufficient funds were raised and it was decided instead of waiting to build the Daycare Centre.
Saving girls from early marriage and abuse remains an important focus and our new Daycare Centre is already changing the lives of 10 young children and their older sisters.
We’d like to thank all those who donated to enable this greatly needed addition and assure you of the significant difference it will make in the lives of the many young girls who will now be able to gain an education and an independent, fulfilling life.
Through your generosity Buddha’s Smile School (BSS) was able to support 80 middle school students this year — 40 girls and 40 boys — and we are pleased to announce all but two passed their end of year exams with good grades
“Our middle school scholarships provide students with free transportation to school, payment of school, computer and tuition fees, food, medical needs, uniforms plus cultural outings and activities,” Rajan Kaur, founder and director of BSS said. “Your support, is making a huge difference to all our children but especially to those who go on and achieve a higher education.”
Paro (left), joined BSS in 2004. As a girl, she hasn’t received much support from her father who works as a laborer. Paro’s father has drinking problems but fortunately for Paro, her mother who works as a beads locket maker, is a big supporter of her achieving an education.
“Paro’s mother comes often to BSS to discuss her daughter’s progress and continuing education,” said Rajan Kaur.
“I feel so privileged I can study,” Paro said. “I take my study seriously and work hard. I would like to become a nurse.” With a job, Paro will not only have a better life and be able to support herself, she will also be able to help her family.
Ravi (blue striped shirt) joined BSS in 2004. Both his parents encourage his education. Ravi’s two sisters also receive scholarships from BSS. Ravi’s father is a cycle rickshaw driver and his mother works as a cleaning lady. Ravi’s parents motivate all their children to study and are very positive about learning. Ravi used to work as a labor with his father, but nowadays he only needs to help his father when he falls sick.
With a good education these vibrant and talented children have a chance to break free of the cycle of abuse and poverty. If you are able to support their efforts please donate whatever you can. It costs about US$500 for a middle school student to attend school for a year.
Seven years ago, in April 2009, director and founder of BSS Rajan Kaur Saini received the Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award from Wisdom in Action. His Holiness Dalai Lama handed out the award to her in San Francisco. Receiving this award felt as a big blessing and a great honour to Rajan and it encouraged her to continue her good work and to face many difficulties.
Rajan: “I never thought in my dreams that my work would be recognized and to receive this compassion award. As a teacher I always do my work with love and a pure heart. Receiving this blessing of His Holiness made me feel more confident, energetic and encouraged me to do more for so many children in need.”
Receiving the compassion award also encouraged Rajan to overcome many challenges. Rajan: ”One of the major problems is to educate these untouchable children and motivating their parents to face and overcome everyday challenges and difficulties.
In the year of 2013 I chose the children from Chaukaghat community (the slums alongside the railway tracks), who live without shelter under a bridge. I put my attention and focus on these children, and surveyed their community. It was very difficult to bring these children to BSS. They did not know what school was or a childhood life! Most parents are alcoholic and don’t bother about their children’s future; instead they send them out for begging. Fortunately we succeeded in convincing the parents to send their children to school. We now have 35 motivated students from the Chaukaghat community at BSS.
Babu, Durga and Jyoty
Rajan had to face also many other big problems and tragedies. In 2013 a boy named Babu from the Chaukaghat community was severely burnt due to an accident near the railway tracks.
Rajan told us, “Thanks to all people who gave support we were able to safe his life. It was very difficult time for me. I did not get any support from Babu’s parents, not even in blood donation. I had to declare in the hospital to be responsible for his life and death, during his treatment. I was crying internally and praying to God. Somehow a doctor saved his life.”
Unfortunately not every child can be saved. Rajan has been devastated many times because many of her students have met early and violent deaths. ”This is most difficult and so sad. There are so many problems and issues in the communities where our students live, like abuse, murder and child marriage… We lost little Durga (4) and also Jyoti (13) died in front of my eyes because of the results of the sexual violence of her husband. It made me feel guilty. I know difficulties never end. One goes another comes.”
Giving children a childhood and future
There were also many successes. Rajan: “We have 221 students in elementary school. We feel thankful and happy we can give them love and care, and a good education.” Rajan continues: “I am also proud of our students who now are in middle school, high school, higher secondary school and graduates. They are doing tremendous to achieve their goal and shaping the path for others.”
With the confidence, energy and encouragement Rajan received, she will continue to do her work and making new plans. At the moment BSS is building a small day care center for children of 0 to 3 years old siblings of girls who are, on some days, forced to stay home to care for the younger children. Rajan:”I want to run this center effectively and not let our girl students drop their studies because they have to do day care for siblings. With the day care we also provide a good environment for their little siblings to grow up.”
“My future plan and dream for BSS is to acquire a big land where we can build up middle school, run vocational classes to empower the children, who are the future of the country.”
During cold winter nights in Varanasi it is always a big challenge for our students to stay healthy. During the day the temperature is warm but as soon as the night comes, temperatures drop down to 7-10 degrees Celsius ( 44-50 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. Most of our students and their families sleep in small huts made of plastic sheeting held together with sticks, or in open air without any shelter at all. Consequently many of our students arrive at school with colds and fever. It is crucial that we help our children and their parents to stay warm at night in order to stay healthy. Thanks to BSS friends who gave donations during January we were able to distribute 170 warm blankets to our children who were in the most need of blankets.
We also had to take extra care of the youngest children of our school. Most of them come to school in their bare feet. Besides the risk of injuring themselves by stepping in a sharp object walking bare-footed, they also run the risk of getting sick during this cold winter period. We are very thankful that we were able to purchase warm cozy winter clothes and shoes and socks for our students in Nursery and Kindergarten. For some children it was a new experience: wearing shoes for the first time in their lives!
Buddha’s Smile School has started with the construction of a small day care center for children in the age of 0 to 3 years old. This new center will enable girl elementary school students to attend classes on a regular basis rather than intermittently stay home to care for their younger siblings.
Rajan Kaur Saini, founder of BSS explains: “On days when the parents of many of our older girl students find work, they insist that the older daughters stay home from school in order to care for younger siblings. That means many of our girl students fall irretrievably behind in classwork.”
One example is Buli (7), a student of the Bengali refugee community. This school year Buli did not come to school regularly. Only twice a month her mother allowed her to come to school, because she had to take care of her baby brother while her mother collects garbage. That’s why the school decided to put Buli off the school list, so another child can come to school. Buli came to school since Nursery and loves to come to school. When the new day care center is ready, Rajan will have to convince Buli’s mother to send Buli with her baby brother to school again.
Therefore BSS has asked their donors to help build a day care center. One foundation who responded is Amistad International. Amistad’s executive director, Karen Kotoske “We are very enthusiastic about helping this urgent need. Building a small day care center is urgently needed so that BSS elementary girls don’t have to miss classes. The BSS board of directors has made a good strategic decision. A day care center will help to keep their younger girls in school so that they can at least complete elementary school.” Human Y Terre, a NGO from France, is helping BSS with the operational costs of the day care center.
The design for the center will be a 950 sq ft. room for the main child care with bathrooms, wash-up sinks and mattresses for children’s naps. There will also be an assembly space for the elementary students and possibly a small office for BSS staff. The expected opening of the day care center will be in the summer of 2016.
Sharmili, a young girl-child was hit by an auto Rickshaw a few days ago. Sharmili is from a beggar community in Sarnath near Buddha’s Smile School.
“We regularly pick-up Sharmili and her elder brother Biru with the school bus,” Rajan Kaur Saini, founder of BSS said. “They enjoy coming to school and I was told after her accident with the auto Rickshaw, Sharmili cryed all day and night, asking her mother to bring her here. Fortunately her mother eventually did bring to BSS as Sharmili’s foot needed cleaning and a proper dressing applied. We also gave her medicine and Sharmili’ foot started to heal.
“A few days later Sharmili and her brother failed to attend school even though our bus had gone to pick them up. They were not at their hut so on the second day we started looking for them. We finally found Sharmili alone and begging at the Sarnath museum. We picked her up and brought her to BSS. Her wound was very dirty, smelling and badly infected so we took her to a Doctor.
“Now we are ensuring she has daily medicine and the wound is a clean and dresses each day,” Rajan said
“I couldn’t help myself, I went to their home and scolded her mother and father. But in truth this is what happens all the time here due to the poverty and illiteracy of the many of our children’s parents — the whole family suffers, but the children, and especially the girl children suffer most,” Rajan said.
We found Raj and Shalu (Brother and Sister) at the railway station slum community in 2013. They simply caught Rajan Kaur Saini, founder of Buddha’s Smile School’s attention and were brought in and registered as students.
Presently Raj is studying in Grade-1 and his sister Shalu in L.K.G.
“It was very difficult to convince their parents to send them to school,” Rajan said. “Their father being an alcoholic and very ill mannered and their mother working as a junk picker and selling on the junk for money.
Raj and Shalu used to beg on trains. They didn’t know about school and school life and studies before coming to BSS.
Now they had fallen in love with BSS and regularly attend school.
As they had their huts illegally on railway tracks, police kicked them out from that place, they moved to a near by village.
With the constant effort of Rajan to contact and trace them out and convincing the parents BSS was able to bring back both the children to school and now they are happy and coming to school daily.
At Shadhika Foundation’s first-ever Partner’s Conference, for the women from the several Indian organizations which help girls attain an education, the Chennai, India conference attendees included Buddha’s Smile School founder/director, Rajan Kaur. The participating women shared the stories of their organizations, discussed their challenges and learned more about fundraising for their work.
Rajan Kaur Saini, founder of Buddha’s Smile School reports, “This conference was helpful for me. All the NGOs are working for women but in different ways and in many sectors with their teams. The conference helped me to learn to become a better speaker even though I am a silent woman but I am proud of the work we are doing. I am devoted to the bright futures of over 300 children. Every time I can learn from another person, this helps me meet our challenges at BSS. I am happy and I believe in my work. I believe that every child’s success, girl or boy, will be fruitful for the entire community. I thank Kim and Shadhika for inviting me to be a representative of Buddha’s Smile School.”
We went to visit the Bengali refugee community in the summer of 2012 and found one of our young girl students, Tamanna taking care of her newly born sister. Their mother was badly sick. We asked Tamanna if she would return to Buddha’s Smile School but she replied she couldn’t because she needed to look after her sister. After summer vacation we had a new intake and I felt sad about Tamanna as she was a bright intelligent child who had progressing well in her studies and I didn’t want her to dropout after progressing so far.
All summer it upset me when I thought about this big loss of opportunity for Tamanna and the benefits that BSS could continue providing for her. She has such a bright future.
So I decided to allow Tamanna to bring Jasmine to Buddha’s Smile School with her. At the age of 9, Tamanna bottle fed the newly born Jasmine every three hours with complete care. Jasmine became the most fortunate and special child of BSS being raised in BSS since at the age of 6 months among 220 children. Even her name was given to her by us.
Now Jasmine is 3 yrs old. She is a happy, curious child who attends school everyday with Tamanna who is now 12 years old. Even on Sundays I am told she waits for the school bus to. Jasmine likes to write on the blackboard and we allow her freedom to go into every class. She is the happiest child and likes to color.
Jasmine is the favorite BSS child of our youngest daughter Rosy. When Rosy arrives home from school she bathes Jasmine putting fresh clothes on her and giving her milk — Jasmine often falls asleep in her arms.
As the Covid19 pandemic hits India, the BSS staff got organized to keep the children engaged, by teaching in local communities.
Since the beginning of the COVID19 outbreak in India, the Buddha’s Smile School has had to adapt to face the local reality: because of the lockdown, families that were already very poor found themselves in extremely precarious situations. This loss of income was coupled with the health crisis and the closure of the school. For the children, the change was particularly brutal.
In order to keep on supporting the children – and through them, the families and local communities – the BSS team reorganized itself to keep on teaching to the pupils: every day, for 5 months now, 8 to 9 teachers have been visiting several communities to give lessons, supervise exercises and answer questions. The goal? Visit all children at least once a week.
“For us it is very important to maintain this link between the school and the children, to cultivate the learning dynamic and to continue to support them in their schooling, and in general,” explains Rajan Kaur Saini, Founder of BSS.
For many families, the health crisis is also an economic and social crisis as most of them have lost a big part of their income as day laborers or beggars. In order to support them, part of the donations collected by the association have been used for basic needs: food, warm clothing, etc. “These donations have enabled many families to get through the last months,” explains Rajan Kaur Saini. “Thanks to the winter school uniforms the children have been able to better withstand the cold winter temperatures, and by meeting part of the families’ food needs, we enable the children to devote more time to their learning.”
Today, everyone is eagerly awaiting the resumption of school activities (scheduled for the 1st of March) to get back to school, meet their classmates and keep on building their future.
Recently we had the privilege to welcome American singer and songwriter Betsy Rose. For many years already she is spreading the message of justice, peace and love in the world. Where she is, she touches and moves the hearts of people. In our school Betsy Rose sang different songs in English and Hindi, and played for us on her guitar.
One of the songs she sang together with our students was “We shall overcome”. This is a special song for our students, who live under very harsh conditions.
All students of BSS sing it every morning in their class room, before school starts. It is a song about strength and hope for a better future. Singing this song with Betsy Rose was an unforgettable experience.
See on the video below how impressed the children were!