Tag Archives: friends of CK

Illuminate India Brightens Calcutta Kids

On December 5th, Calcutta Kids received a very special visitor, Brie Mahar, who shared her inspiring story with our beneficiaries and employees. Brie was born in Kolkata and was adopted and brought to the US when she was 2 months old. She realized her dream of returning to the country of her birth when she came to Kolkata in 2011 to adopt her second daughter. During this trip she witnessed the poverty first-hand and saw the tangible ways she could help meet the needs of orphaned children in India. She was inspired to develop an NGO to advocate for and help impoverished children in India. In 2011, she co-founded an organization called Illuminate India, along with Kristi Werre who has 3 adopted children from Kolkata. Illuminate India currently partners with two organizations in Kolkata: ISRC (Indian Society for Rehabilitation of Children) and Angel House, providing basic necessities, therapeutic and supportive resources for orphans, vulnerable children, and children with special needs.

Brie, Kristi and another colleague Nicole were in Kolkata in December to visit their projects at ISRC and Angel House, and during this time also wanted to meet with other NGOs working with children. Brie contacted Calcutta Kids and we organized for her to visit our programs and meet with two groups—beneficiary women and their children, and Calcutta Kids’ staff. Given Brie’s remarkable story, we specifically invited women in Fakir Bagan who had struggled with issues of having girl children and the negative response from their families and society. In this community, as all over India, issues such as sex selective abortion, female infanticide, and gender discrimination are very much prevalent and greatly affect the lives of mothers and female children.

Brie Mahar Illuminate India Dec 2012

Brie shared with us her story of how she was relinquished at birth by her mother and taken to an orphanage. Back then, Brie was called Metali—she was a small baby, malnourished, and suffering from scabies and giardia when she was flown across the world to the US to unite with her adoptive family. She grew up in a loving family and in a typical American lifestyle,but she always wanted to know more about her country and culture of birth. She always wanted to return to India and adopt a girl child from the same place where she was adopted. After she married, she and her husband had a (biological) daughter whom they called Metali, and then adopted Tanaya in Kolkata four years later.

Despite her precarious start to life, Brie told our women that it was her mother’s love, guidance, and support that shaped her into the woman she is today. She said, a mother’s love is the most important part of a child’s life- without that love and support, a child will not thrive and reach their full potential. Our CK mothers told Brie that though they have affection for their girl children, it is difficult to raise them when their own families do not support them unless they have a boy child. Brie urged the mothers, despite these obstacles, to love and support their girl children just as much as their boy children–a girl child is just as valuable as a boy child and can have the same bright futures if their mothers believe in them. They do not need to go to America for better opportunities, but they can witness the change in their own country, in their own communities, if they understand that they have the strength within themselves to be that change. She said it was her mother’s love that now allows her to raise her own two beautiful daughters.

Our beneficiaries were deeply moved by Brie’s account, of where she had come from and where she is now- a wife, a mother, a nurse, and founder of her own NGO, helping vulnerable children. Our beneficiaries identified with Brie easily because of her background and the passion that she emanated. One mother said, “I can see that Brie is who she is because she had a mother who loved her so much, and she truly believes what a child learns from her mother will be passed on to the next generation. I feel motivated to pass these lessons of love on to my own children.”

Calcutta Kids’ health workers who also face many of the same issues were also encouraged by Brie’s story. They all agreed that what Brie has done in coming back to India, adopting a second girl child, and working with orphans is extraordinary. One of our health workers, Laxmi, who is from a very traditional Bihari family was especially inspired by Brie. She said, “I really liked to hear that even though you have a biological daughter that you also adopted a girl child and are giving her the same love and care. In our society it is seen as a huge burden to raise a daughter, let alone take a second one, but after hearing your story I realize how proud I am to have a daughter, and proud of myself for fighting to keep her in school all these years.” Brie and Nicole, thank you for visit and for inspiring the Calcutta Kids team.–Danya Sarkar

US Consul General visits Calcutta Kids

On Wednesday 28th November, the United States Consul General Dean Thompson and his wife Jane paid a call on Calcutta Kids. They arrived at our office in full pomp and circumstance with an escort of 3 police jeeps. The Thompsons have been stationed in Kolkata since August 2011; have heard about the Calcutta Kids and its US connection; and have been anxious to see our growth monitoring and promotion (GMP) program in action. The visit was a great success and a major coup for Calcutta Kids.

Chandan leads the US Consul General, Dean Thompson to Ma O Shishu Shiksha Kendra

We began the visit by having tea around our lunch table while the senior management and CK Trustee, John Ambat, spoke with the Thompsons about the history; the objectives; the successes; and challenges of the organization. The Thompsons asked good questions and made several suggestions of potential collaborations we might pursue especially surrounding alternative mediums for behavioral change communication which they have seen work in various places, i.e. puppet shows and theater.

Gopal, welcomes Dean Thompson to Fakir Bagan

The next stop was Ma O Shishu Shiksha Kendra—our community center in the heart of Fakir Bagan. Wednesday was the second day of GMP—indeed the busiest of the three day program which takes place each month in which more than 550 children are weighed and measured. When the Thompsons entered the 1200 square foot center there were no less than 90 mothers and children. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson observed the weighing of the children and spent time with families waiting in line.

Danya and Sumana explain to the Thompsons about how data is collected at GMP

The Thompsons meet with beneficiaries waiting to be weighed and measured

We then organized a series of conversations so that our guests could interact personally with two of our health workers, Munni and Sima, and a few mother/child pairs. It was during these conversations that the Thompsons were really able to understand the power of the work Calcutta Kids does from the people who do it and from the people who benefit from it. After this series of conversations, Dean spoke to our health workers, about the importance of their work–that it is one thing to gain the knowledge, but the most impressive and most important thing is the transferring of that knowledge to lift up the other women in this community. Jane then mentioned that it was very evident from the way Munni and Sima spoke, how passionate and committed they were to their job—that it was good to see such empowered women in the community.

Some of the staff posing for a photo with the Thompsons in front of our office before they wrap up their visit

We are most grateful to Dean and Jane Thompson for their visit and we hope to welcome them back to Calcutta Kids again sometime soon. We are also most grateful to Danya Sarkar who encouraged and organized the visit. –Noah Levinson

AIF Fellow impressions 2012-13 (1 of 2)

I am so impressed and inspired by the motivation you see at Calcutta Kids. Every health worker I have been able to spend time with during my first month here is doing a wholehearted job to be a good resource to the organization and more importantly to the community they are serving. Thanks to our mentor Danya Sarkar, who helped us feel settled down, Pranav and I have been able to explore the community and learn all the various functions of the organization. As we make our visits into the field with the health workers, the community has noticed and recognizes us as new members of Calcutta Kids. We realized this as we looked a little lost while trying to find our way to the community center and two women immediately gave us directions before we even asked them!

The mission of Calcutta Kids can be understood through the manner in which the health workers communicate with the women of the community. Every child is important and can be given adequate care by simply monitoring them. If a child’s weight has not increased during the monthly Growth, Monitoring and Promotion Program, the health worker visits the mother in the following week and counsels her. The health workers express how they are really sad when they see no positive growth in the child. They encourage each mother to take more care of the baby, give her simple tips on how to create a healthy diet and also praise her when she has done a good job. Thus, the health workers have built a great relationship with the mothers of the community. The mothers are always happy to see the didis and welcome them into their houses. They also offer tea or lunch and ask us to spend time with them. When the health worker completes filling up her form and questionnaire, the women thank her for coming and tell her that they felt happy they got to chat with them. The women also trust the health workers as much as they trust a doctor. Even when the health workers are merely on their walk from one house visit to another, many women stop them with their babies and talk about how their child still has a cold or might have developed a skin infection.

Meeting for pregnant women lead by Laxmi Gupta

Meeting for pregnant women led by Laxmi Gupta

The success stories from Calcutta Kids are commendable and its establishment in Fakir Bagan is very apparent in the number of people who visit the clinic everyday or the manner in which we are received in each house. However, there is still work to be done. Although the women recognize the messages delivered by the health workers, many women still do not seem to be adopting a change in their habits. They usually quote too much housework and stress in their lives as reasons for not being able to follow the health workers advice. Even when they come to the community meetings, they listen to the messages or watch the videos but whether they are following the key points is something yet to be assessed. This is a project I plan to work on during my time at Calcutta Kids. I will be working out behavior change communication strategies using different methods of delivering messages to the community. I will be working with the health workers and the beneficiaries to find out why they are not able to follow simple, yet key health practices. Through the health counseling sessions, community meetings and discussions groups I hope to understand the needs of the women, analyze existing techniques of delivering health messages and find ways to improve them. Eventually, I hope to create a sustainable structure to monitor and evaluate changes in health behavior as put forth by the health workers.- Sriya Srikrishnan (AIF William J. Clinton Fellow 2012-2013)

We Will Miss You Ma

On 9th August 2012, Mrs. Shwasti Chaudhuri, a founding board member of Calcutta Kids Trust, passed away. An unsung hero in almost every road she travelled, Mrs. Chaudhuri played a key background role in the establishment and ongoing success of Calcutta Kids. I wish to use this week’s blog to write about this extraordinary woman and the impact she had on my life.

In 2002, during a 9 month stay in Kolkata, I was introduced to Santanu and Shwasti Chaudhuri by dear friends of Calcutta Kids, Charlie and Cordie Puttkammer. Santanu was a retired business man and a former board member of Shaw Wallace; Shwasti had a small handmade paper factory and managed their beautiful home—one of the last standing British bungalows on Ballygunge Circular Road.

The Chaudhuris and I became enamored with each other. They were very supportive of the work I was then doing with the Ashalayam Mobile Health Clinic, but they realized quickly that the road I was headed down – non-stop work with the neediest kids in the slums – was a dangerous one—one that might very well lead to burnout. The Chaudhuris, worldly people who knew how hard life in Kolkata could be for foreigners, had seen others push too hard and then give up in desperation. And they made it their mission not to let this happen. They ‘adopted’ me and on a weekly basis would invite me to join them for dinner at one of the old British clubs of Kolkata—the Bengal Club, the Calcutta Club, the Saturday Club, or their home which is almost as big and fancy as a dinner club.

Noah and “Ma” distributing sweaters to destitute children in the winter of 2004 in honor of Fred Rogers.

The generosity showered upon me by the Chaudhuris was overwhelming, and along with marvelous conversations and delicious food and the best soufflé I’d ever tasted, I was introduced to and welcomed into a new Kolkata—a Kolkata far different than that of Mother Teresa’s work and the street children with whom I worked every day. If it was possible to fall deeper in love with Kolkata than I already had, it happened through the Chaudhuris.

My relationship with the Chaudhuris became that of a surrogate son. I soon began calling Mr. Chaudhuri “Baba” and Mrs. Chaudhuri, “Ma”. In 2003, when I returned to Kolkata for another long period of time, Ma and Baba invited me to live with them, and I continued to live there whenever I was in Kolkata until 2008.

While living with the Chaudhuris, Ma and I would regularly have long conversations. Ma would listen to me talk about my successes and failures working with the poor of Kolkata; she would listen to my frustrations; she would give guidance, but more often, she would just listen or re-direct my thinking if I was badly off the mark. Ma never told me what to do unless I specifically asked. She told me that the only way I was going to survive in Kolkata is if I made mistakes and learned from them. Ma was a great listener and someone I could always bounce ideas off.

When I was sick from dysentery or viral fever, Ma nursed me. When the Chaudhuris son Kaushik returned from America to live with them (I had been staying in Kaushik’s bedroom) Ma gave me her room so that I could stay close to the family; when I was far away from home and I lost two grandparents in just one month, Ma dried my tears. My own dear mother, Louise, was very close to Ma and they often holidayed together in the hills.

In 2005 when Calcutta Kids opened an office in Kolkata, Ma and Baba formed the Calcutta Kids Trust with an initial sizable donation. Ma and Baba were supportive of the Trust, but in a hands-off way. They knew that Calcutta Kids was my baby and they gave it and me the freedom we needed to grow. They often warned about potential problems; they often gave their opinions on ideas I would have, but they let me guide the Trust with their support. Board meetings were always held at their home and Ma would make sure that the trustees were well fed with singharas, an array of sandesh, pakoras and Darjeeling tea.

It’s because of Ma and Baba that I was able to survive as long as I have in Kolkata; it’s because of their love and support and friendship; it’s because they welcomed me into their home; it’s because they gave me the comfort I needed to juxtapose with my troubling days; it’s because they protected me while allowing me to make the mistakes which would eventually make Calcutta Kids what it is today.

In many ways, my life is what it is today because of Ma and Baba. Without Ma and Baba I certainly wouldn’t have survived this long in Kolkata and Calcutta Kids would likely not exist. And without my being in Kolkata, I never would have met Evangeline—my life partner.

This photo was taken at Noah and Evangeline’s wedding in India on January 14th 2012. Evangeline is sitting on Baba’s lap, and Noah is standing between his mother Louise, and his Ma, Shwasti.

Even after moving out of their home, I remained a son of the house. Ma and I spoke on the phone nearly every day. And oh how I will miss that daily phone call. But even more than the phone calls I will miss the one-on-one conversations we had over tea lounging on the bed; I’ll miss Ma’s infectious smile; and I’ll miss her scolding me for chewing on toothpicks and pulling hairs from my head when I am anxious.

Before Ma died, she told her family that I was like a son to her. The Chaudhuri family gave me the honor of carrying Ma’s body from the house to the hearse, and they asked me to participate in the Hindu rituals which a son performs for his mother. I’m deeply grateful to the family for giving me that honor.

Calcutta Kids will be forever in debt to Ma for all her love and support and to honor Ma’s life, we will continue to provide the best possible care to the pregnant women and children of Fakir Bagan.–Noah Levinson

Milena Commits Another $50K to CK

During my first summer in Kolkata in 2000 while working at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitutes I met Milena Kotys, a social worker from New Jersey. Milena has remained a dear personal friend and is also a close friend to Calcutta Kids. In 2007, Milena’s father Wasyl passed away and a year later to honor her father, Milena started the Kotys Memorial Fund—a permanent endowment in the name of Calcutta Kids to fund our weekly health camp. In 2008, the weekly health camp cost around $5,000 per year to run. And safe investment returns in India are around 10% so Milena set a goal to raise $50,000.

Three years later, at a Kotys Memorial Fund fundraiser hosted by Ginny and Ravi Akhoury, I shared the following toast with Milena:

“Milena: Congratulations! You have done it. You’ve delivered on your promise to raise $50,000 for the Calcutta Kids endowment in honor of your dad. Fundraising is not easy and you should be incredibly proud. I feel so fortunate to have had you as a partner in raising funds for Calcutta Kids—and even though the goal has been met and your commitment has been fulfilled—I hope your assistance will continue. It’s been beautiful watching you through this process as every solicitation you send out; every phone call you make; every event you plan is done with such love, such intentionality; because you treat each of these acts as a tribute of love to your dad. I’m sure Wasyl is among us right now with a big smile on his face—the smile surely represents pride in what you have accomplished; and gratitude for the way you and your family have chosen to honor his life. On behalf of the many women and children in Fakir Bagan who receive free life-saving services because of your work.”

Between the establishment of the Fund and 2011, the weekly health camp turned into an outpatient daily clinic with a full time female doctor. The costs therefore increased, but the interest from the Kotys Memorial Fund has substantially helped in covering the operating expenses of the clinic.

Milena is currently in Kolkata for a few weeks and she’s been spending a lot of time at Calcutta Kids. Yesterday, she shared some observations with us about the clinic which I have paraphrased below:

Milena Kotys with members of the Calcutta Kids team (August 2012).

“The weekly health camp has been turned into a high quality primary health clinic open five days a week. It makes me so happy that more patients can be seen more frequently. The weekly health camp was in a dingy room in the slum and now it’s in a clean, spacious, well-organized space with privacy for all patients; food and drinks are provided as well as all necessary medicines and yet there is still no charge to the patients and their families. There is even a security guard who keeps the clinic safe and welcomes the patients. Doctor Mukherjee is lovely and the staff is professional and kind. And the data system is just awesome. It’s wonderful to see the digital growth charts marking the progress of each child.”

Milena also sang the praises of the community health workers knowing that none of the work we do is possible without them.

Pleased with what Calcutta Kids has been able to do with the money she raised in honor of her father, Milena announced that over the next few years, she will raise another $50,000 for the Calcutta Kids endowment—again in honor of her father Wasyl.

All of us at Calcutta Kids are deeply moved by Milena’s generosity, and grateful for her commitment to the mothers and children we hold so dear. Thanks Milena. –Noah Levinson

Calcutta Kids in Kathmandu

As one of 21 recipients of the 2009 South Asia Region Development Marketplace Awards to “Innovate for Nutrition” Calcutta Kids was invited to participate in a World Bank sponsored conference titled “Knowledge Sharing Forum on Infant and Young Child Nutrition” which took place in Kathmandu Nepal on June 12th and 13th. I went with our director, Noah to represent Calcutta Kids.

Along with representatives from the other 20 award winning organizations, the forum was attended by nearly two hundred representatives from governments, international NGO’s, and civil society organizations working to alleviate the horrific nutrition indicators which plague South Asia. The forum was also attended by journalists from throughout South Asia with the idea that in order for the public to care about nutrition, media information must be accurate and urgent.

The conference was jointly organized by the World Bank, UNICEF, SAFANSI, and presentations were made by representatives from all those organizations as well as those from organizations such as FAO, CARE, DFID, and the Micronutrient Initiative. It was interesting and fun to meet some of the world famous nutritionists and development workers whose work we regularly use and are inspired by at Calcutta Kids.

While nothing particularly new to those of us committed to improving nutrition, some of the important and shocking truths which we were reminded about and which should be shared whenever possible were:

  • Julie McLaughlin, Sector Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population in the South Asian region of the World Bank informed us that the latest estimates show that over 336 million people in South Asia are facing chronic hunger.
  • It was also discussed that the South Asian region, has the highest prevalence of malnutrition in the world and the child malnutrition in the region is estimated at 46 percent. It is worse than in Sub-Saharan Africa where the corresponding figure is 26 percent.
  • Melanie Galvin, Regional Director of MI, reminded us that that entrepreneurship cannot be possible without healthy population. If the population is deficient of vitamin A and iodine for example, how they can move forward for entrepreneurship?

Noah and I found two of the presentations particularly exciting.

The first by Tina Sanghvi, the Bangladesh senior country director of Alive and Thrive said, “The crisis (of malnourishment) is here and the solution is in our hands”. She continued by saying that the knowledge gap is the main reason of high rates of malnutrition in South Asian countries. Another point she highlighted was that many mothers have no idea that a malnourished mother can also breast feed properly and that is a serious problem. Tina also shared some terrific TV commercials on health messages that Alive and Thrive has created and now show regularly on Bangladeshi television channels. Calcutta Kids was able to get copies of some of these high quality commercials and we plan on using them with our beneficiaries.

The second was by Leslie Elder, Senior Nutrition Speci alist at the World Bank who gave a fantastic presentation on responsible and effective ways to scale up programs. When Calcutta Kids is ready to scales up its programs, the framework that Leslie shared with us will certainly be an invaluable resource. Leslie’s presentation can be found here.

For those of you who might be interested, you can see all the presentations given at the forum by visiting here.

It was a fantastic experience to participate in the forum and to be surrounded by so many people who deeply care about the very same issues we care about at Calcutta Kids. -Sumana Ghosh

New Child Development Corner

Despite the sweltering heat in the last couple months, and the impending torrential rains of monsoon, there is a lot going on at Calcutta Kids this summer. In the midst of all the new activities, in mid-May, Calcutta Kids received the wonderful news that we will be receiving a small grant to set up a child development corner in our new community center, from the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust. We are very excited about this prospect, because a child development corner will allow us to provide a more holistic approach to child growth and development within the larger young child health initiative. In the past six years, we have made remarkable improvements in the nutrition and growth of young children in Fakir Bagan. The average birth weight has increased from a dismal 1.8 kg in 2005 to 2.8 kg in 2011. Indicators of children’s nutritional status have improved greatly– in the past three years, the severe malnutrition rate has fallen by more than half, from 12.3% to 5.5%. However, there is still a lot to do to ensure that children in this urban poor community are able to achieve optimum development.

Calcutta Kids became conscious that in Fakir Bagan slum as in most urban poor settings, young children have little or no access to play and stimulation. There are no playgrounds for children, and although there is a maidan (field) nearby, it is frequented by older children and teens, and usually only boys. Young children (under 3 years old) are often seen sitting passively on a cot or in the doorway, while their mothers are doing domestic work such as cleaning, cooking, fetching water, or part-time factory work such as sewing garments or making zippers. In homes, families rarely have any toys available for the young children, a luxury that many cannot afford.

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of children. In fact, play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. In this light, Calcutta Kids appreciates the need to create a child development component to ensure this basic right, with the goal of improved cognitive growth and overall development for all our young children in Fakir Bagan.

The child development corner in the community center will be a safe, clean, and stimulating environment for young children to simply play – to create and explore the world with toys, with other children, and with their caregivers. The project will also facilitate parents’ and caregivers’ understanding of the importance of play and stimulation in child development. It is anticipated that this type of play will provide the needed stimulation that will help very young children with both gross and fine motor skills that will allow them to reach appropriate developmental milestones, develop new competencies, and improve cognitive development. It is hoped that this unique early childhood stimulation project will serve as a model for other NGOs in Kolkata who are working in child health in the urban slums.

Stay tuned for more updates on the child development corner which should be fully established by early 2013. –Danya Sarkar

Swarathma Brings in the Monsoon

I pegged Swarathma as a small time band from a mile away. It was presumptive, sure, naïve even, but it didn’t occur to me that anyone else would play for an NGO in the dusty heat of a slum for free. Little did I know how wrong I was.

When Noah divulged the details to me, I found out that the band is actually something of an Indian phenomenon. Their first album won them Best Band, Best Album, and Song of the Year at India’s most prestigious annual rock awards show. They were on the iconic TV series The Dewarists. They have toured Australia, Britian, and Morocco. And now they were playing for Calcutta Kids.

Back in the old days, for every paid gig they played one for free. They’ve since run out of enough time to keep up the one to one ratio, but when they can they still try to play for those who would not see them otherwise. Thanks to their bassist and spokesman Jishnu’s old friendship with Evangeline, the final concert on the tour to mark the launch of their second album would be in Fakir Bagan.

Weaving around piles of sand and through patches of the road lost in mud, Evangeline and I eventually led their van to Howrah and the impromptu stage that had been miraculously constructed for them. I think the band was almost so impressed as we were, and the juxtaposition of big-band electronics and crumbling-wall school grounds was immensely pleasing.

I picked out a spot in the sea of rickety plastic chairs that bulged at the edges of the colorful canopy above it, and the band sound checked as the crowd filtered in. Chandan and Kalyan lugged some wooden benches out from the school to augment the periphery as it became clear that spectators would outnumber chairs. When all was said and done, a floor of women and children—often balanced on laps or sitting together two to a chair—gazed up at the first bandstand of their lives.

Just before the band went backstage to change into performance attire, their lead singer arrived. No one was going to disappoint the crowd by admitting that he had been missing—the doctors had to knock him out cold at the hospital the night before to put a dislocated shoulder back in—and the band assured us that they could play without him. But after we left him at the hotel and told him to lie low, he just couldn’t. So with a piece of cloth to support his arm (to everyone’s amazement, he even replaced that with a guitar strap when the concert began, strumming away as though nothing had happened), he made it just in time. Security—a graying old man with a stoop and a hard stick—almost wouldn’t let him in. He didn’t have a ticket, after all.

When the band took the stage and plunged into their first song, it seemed to me that an almost tangible incredulousness emanated from the audience. The end of the first number and no more than a sparse acknowledgement of applause underlined the pristine newness of the occasion: the crowd did not know how to react simply because they had never reacted to such a thing before.

Slowly but surely, though, the audience grew less self-conscious and more absorbed by the music. Jishnu has a way of connecting with the floor before him, and in between songs he lightheartedly instructed the crowd in performance manners—when to clap, when to cheer—and introduced the songs that followed, explaining their significance and meaning. On the second song there was little cooperation when he tried to stimulate a clap, but when he motioned for the mothers to lift up their babies in front of them with the chorus of the fourth, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. He even seamlessly promoted Calcutta Kids’ new and critical mantra: “A child gaining weight cannot be very sick. A child not gaining weight cannot be very well.”

As the concert went on, the clouds around us darkened, rumbling closer. Just as the mood was reaching unabashed exuberance, the thunder clapped above us and the rain began to fall. At first, no one seemed to know what to do. As soon as it became clear that an inundation was in store, however, the crowd lurched into motion, fleeing either home or into the schoolhouse next door. The band and their helpers scurried to protect the equipment from the blowing rain.

Perhaps unexpectedly to the westerners among us, the deluge did not bring with it a downhearted regret that the concert had been called off before its due course. Instead, the cooling blessing of storm and rain stimulated the same energetic exuberance that had radiated up moments before at Swarathma. As we huddled inside to wait out the downpour, we figured that nature could have given us fifteen more minutes of music. But we agreed that no one could have planned so powerful a coda to the slum’s first concert.—Evan Mullen

Walking the Walk

As a fellow with the American India Foundation Clinton Fellowship For Service, I have spent the past nine months working with Calcutta Kids. It has been an incredible experience, and the things I have learned while working here will remain with me throughout my life and career.

One thing that has really impacted me is how this small, but mighty organization is not just one that “talks the talk”. Every day, every employee, every community member is provided with love, compassion, and a sense of humanity that so many organizations may lose as they get caught up in their day-to-day work. “Walking the walk” is what has made Calcutta Kids such a beloved organization in this community. I wish you could see them in action too. Here’s just a sample of the amazing things I’ve seen, which are just a part of Calcutta Kids’ daily work:

– I’ve seen the Community Health Workers in homes, teaching families intimate lessons that will improve their health; teaching mothers how to initiate breastfeeding; and being the first visitor a new mother receives after giving birth.

– I’ve seen technical staff carefully stop programs that turned out to be ineffective in our area.

– I’ve seen the staff embrace a child from the neighborhood, teaching him English, providing him food, and even brushing his teeth when his mother cannot.

– I’ve seen the work in the clinic, where the technical staff knows the names and faces of individual mothers and children.

– I’ve seen mothers come to receive diarrhea treatment, and stay for nap under a fan with her child without any disturbance by the staff.

– I’ve seen severely malnourished children literally being wrapped up in the arms and love of every staff member – from our cleaners to our doctor – as the mother comes daily to learn how to provide proper nutrition for her child.

– I’ve seen management put aside social norms to prove Calcutta Kids values girl children as much as boy children.

– I’ve celebrated with the staff when babies are born with a good birth weight, when our support group started coming to meetings without being called, and when 86 people came to the clinic the day a new immunization was offered (more than 50% increase from an average week of immunizations).

– I’ve joined in concern when unhealthy children come to the clinic, and have seen the staff go to great lengths, sometimes even on the weekends, to ensure the child’s health improves.

Calcutta Kids is not fancy, and we like it that way. Our interventions are simple and heartfelt. The staff prides itself on feeling like family, and the community members are treated like an extension of that family. The facilities are clean and the women are respected. I’m grateful I was able to spend my Fellowship with an organization as sincere and hard working as Calcutta Kids. – Margy Elliott

Witnessing the Growth of CK, Two Years Later

CK Staff at Opening of Community Center in January

As part of Calcutta Kids’ Richard Skolnik Internship Program, I spent the summer of 2010 creating a behavior change communication curriculum to combat diarrheal disease among children in Fakir Bagan. Almost two years later I have found myself back in the Calcutta Kids office once more, this time working to develop standardized training and counseling materials for our team of community health workers. Returning to Calcutta Kids has granted me the opportunity to witness first hand the incredible organizational growth that has taken place since my first internship. Here are some of the biggest changes I’ve observed:

– The Diarrhea Treatment Center has transitioned into an Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (IMNCI) Clinic: During the summer of 2010, the diarrhea treatment center was entering its first phase of construction. Two years later, construction has been completed and the DTC has now become Swastha Kendra (health center), with an expanded role as an IMNCI clinic in order to increase the range of services we can offer to our beneficiaries.

– The opening of the new community center: Calcutta Kids has opened a new community center, Maa O Shishu Siksha Kendra. Since its opening, Maa O Shishu Siksha Kendra has hosted community meetings, mother support groups and the monthly Growth Monitoring and Promotion program.

– A much larger staff: In order to support its organizational growth, a number of new staff have been welcomed into the Calcutta Kids family. Employee additions have occurred at all levels, from leadership, to community health and social health workers, to support staff. I have enjoyed working with a number of new faces, however, was very excited to return to a majority of the same colleagues I worked with during my first internship. High staff retention is indicative of the strong commitment Calcutta Kids employees have to the organization’s mission and its beneficiaries.

Although my second internship will shortly be coming to an end, I know it won’t be my last time working with Calcutta Kids. I eagerly await returning in the future to marvel once more about the organization’s impressive growth. – Lisa Hendrickson