May 13, 2019
by andrea
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FOI Board’s Field Visit, February 2019

‘You’re off to India – again?  I thought you were closing down!’ This was the greeting from a number of our long-time friends and supporters when they heard about our plans for 2019 as the entire FOI Board – Pam, Ted, Diana, Clare and Jan – set off  for India, arriving in Chennai in early February.  Well, it is true that we have been considering all the options – from carrying on as before, to closing down completely, to reducing our scope and focussing on just a few projects.  And if so, which ones?   It was in part to answer the many questions that these options raise that we decided that a field monitoring visit was essential this year – would it be to say goodbye? Or would it perhaps confirm some gut feelings about our future?

The Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind

First on our itinerary was a visit to the music school founded 9 years ago in memory of Pam’s late husband, Richard Walsh.  We were guests of honour at the Annual Day celebrations, with a concert under a shady awning in the school grounds attended by all the students, staff and many parents.  Pam presented prizes funded by FOI to outstanding students and it was a great pleasure to see some of the instruments, donated by YOU our supporters, being played.  The container of instruments, lockers, school furniture and play equipment sent from Geneva last summer had finally made it across the ocean to Tamil Nadu and we were able to see many of the items being put to good use at the School for the Blind and later during our visit.

After discussions, we realized that specialist teachers were needed to help students master their new musical instruments, and we agreed to fund part-time music teachers for the coming year.

Another important need was pointed out to us – the kitchen! Although the school is home to 120 blind and partially sighted children from 5 to 17, all meals are cooked in a lean-to shelter in large cauldrons over a wood fire.  Food preparation has to be done on the ground as there are no work surfaces.  The shelter is smoky and open to all weather, making it a difficult and unpleasant task for the cook and her two helpers. The school has asked government authorities in vain for help to renovate the cooking facilities, and so appealed to us. It is a big task, but much needed and we shall try to find the necessary funding. All suggestions welcome!

Education scholarships for children in Kovalam

For many years, FOI has assisted the Kovalam fishing community. Back in 2003, the Geneva English School (GES) helped build a community centre providing after-school care, snacks and homework supervision for poor children. After the devastation of the 2004 tsunami we also funded 3 new fishing boats, nets and construction materials for families who had lost everything. So it was a great pleasure to escape the endless traffic jams in Chennai and drive 40 kms south along the coast road to revisit the village and meet our old friend Narayanan the fisherman.  We were guests of honour at a music and dance display at the GES Community Centre and met some of the families and young people who use the Centre, which has been spruced up since our last visit, with a new coat of paint and a well tended yard and garden behind it.

Kovalam has developed over the years and the beach with its white sands and new rows of souvenir shops and busy snack bars has become a tourist attraction for Chennai weekenders.  But life has not changed much for the poorest families – widows and families abandoned by their fathers are particularly at risk.  We agreed to try to fund education scholarships for some of the most vulnerable children.

Helping disabled young people

While in Chennai, we visited a project that we helped, along with the Don du Choeur, back in 2005.  It has today become completely self sufficient – one of our key objectives.  It was a delight to see the Anbumalar School for the Differently Abled still run by the same family and now providing education and physical rehabilitation for 30 seriously disabled children.  The school is surrounded by a well tended garden and orchard. A large chicken run provides eggs and chickens for sale locally, helping school funds. The principal, Mr Selvaraj, explained that the school provides skills training and we met a group of older teenage boys learning to make rugs. It was heart-breaking to see the more severely disabled children in the physiotherapy rooms, but we felt encouraged by the positive, caring atmosphere, bright classrooms and the warm welcome we received from staff and children.

Tirunelveli and the Holy Angels BCV International School

A short flight from Chennai brought us to Tirunelveli and a welcome from our old friends the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who have been our partners in Tamil Nadu for the past 10 years.  We were excited to see the BCV International School again, and in particular the new primary school which opened just last year thanks to support from some very generous donors. We were treated to a splendid outdoor school assembly with songs and speeches to welcome us, before being shown some of the classrooms where desks, donated by a number of private schools in Geneva, are being used.

The school was created five years ago to provide top quality international, English language education for a mix of paying and scholarship children.  The ‘scholarship’ children are all from the poorest and lowest caste in India, who used to be known as Dalits, or ‘untouchables’. Although the caste system has been officially abandoned, it is still prevalent. Girls in particular are subject to discrimination, often drop out or leave school to be married, and are vulnerable to abuse.  Our school gives Dalit children a chance to escape poverty and discrimination, and raises aspirations through quality education. The school is not yet self-sufficient, largely because it is waiting for secondary accreditation to add 8-12th grades, but we very much hope that this will happen shortly.  Meantime, we want to fund scholarships directly through a new Scholarship Fund, named in memory of Jan’s late husband, Chris Powell.  So far we are able to fund 12 scholarship children at the BCV School and 8 in Kovalam, thanks to the wonderful support of you, our friends, who are contributing to the fund.

We were eager to meet some of the girls we are helping, and Jan and Clare went home with a little 9 year old called Joyce (holding the baby in the photo).  She lives in a small Dalit village about 10 kms from the school, in a 2 room house with her brother, her parents and grandparents. Her father is a day labourer earning around 3 CHF a day, hardly enough for a large family to live on. Joyce told us she wants to be a teacher one day and loves her school.  She is typical of the girls that, together, we are helping reach their full potential and make something of their lives.

When most of the team left Tirunelveli, Diana our education expert stayed on for a further ten days to continue her valuable work, reviewing and training teachers, and supporting the management team. Her reputation has spread and she was invited to carry out teacher training presentations at two more large schools in the area.

The Friendship Home

Close to the BCV School is the Friendship Home for children living with HIV/AIDS. We were thrilled to visit the home which we founded 10 years ago, and to see the new toilet and shower block for the girls, created thanks to a very generous supporter. In the heat of the early evening, we were once again welcomed with bindis, sweets and garlands, followed by an official ribbon-cutting ceremony  and inspection of the spacious blue-tiled showers, toilets  and washing area.  The new block is connected to the main building so the girls no longer have to go outside at night, making the toilets safer as well as more convenient. It was wonderful to hear that some of the young people in the home are moving on to further education.

Musical Inspiration in the Gatt foothills

After a few days rest in Kerala, we set off for our final visit – a rather gruelling 8 hour car journey to the town of Kumily, in the foothills of the Gatts, and our base for the last part of our visit. We appreciated the higher altitude and cool evenings, as well as views over a national park where buffalo came to drink in a natural pool in the early mornings. The town is isolated but busy with small hotels catering for park visitors, contrasting with the poor rural villages on the road up. A two hour drive took us to see our final school, run by Brother Muthu, who was the inspiration behind the Music School for the Blind. Here we were joined by Kathrin Baetschmann who has spent several months working in our schools in Tamil Nadu.  We were given a tour of the school which is poor and overcrowded.  Many of the two thousand children come from distant villages and board at the school. In one large hall, 300 students sleep on mats on the floor.

Brother Muthu has taken his love of music with him. We were treated to more whirling dancers, speeches and a resounding welcome from the school band, which consisted of only drums.  Muthu wants instruments to make a real band – a band that would inspire the students, give them pride in their school and raise aspirations for their future.  We were convinced and decided to see what we could do to help.  Other requests included fitting out kindergarten classrooms which for the moment we had to say was beyond our capacity.

What next?

After three weeks which had been fascinating, enriching, exhausting, thought-provoking … it was time to return to the calm, order and cold weather awaiting us in Geneva.  So what of our hopes that this visit would help us make firm decisions about FOI’s future?  As always, after our visits to India we felt excited and inspired, and more aware than ever that though India is a fast developing nation, the poorest of the poor are being left far behind.  Girls and women in particular seem to be stuck in a time warp, subject to deep-rooted discrimination, still suffering abuse and life-limiting expectations.  The needs are still great.  Could we find a way to continue our long-standing relationship with Tamil Nadu, while avoiding taking on massive new commitments?

Perhaps we can.  Having developed such personal relationships with our projects, we do not feel ready to let them drop. The children and young adults we help rely on us. But we will try not to take on new projects, and must be stringent about where we give our support.  We will not fund any further large capital projects but will focus on the people and activities that take place inside the buildings. Our focus will be on education scholarships, teacher training, and supporting specialist staff.  In certain situations, like the kitchen for the Blind School, we will try to find partners or co-sponsors who may be able to help.

So that’s it!  We want to continue our work in Tamil Nadu.  But we cannot do it without your help and encouragement which are  vital to us and to the young people in Tamil Nadu whose lives you are changing every day. Please go to our DONATE page, to see how you can support us.

Finally, we want to send you, our supporters, a huge hug and thank you!

The FOI Board –  Pam Walsh OBE, Jan Powell, Clare Schenker, Ted Talbot and Diana Smith

FOI PRIORITY PROJECTS FOR 2019:

The Chris Powell Scholarship Fund – education grants  for 30 Dalit children in Tirunelveli and Kovalam  – CHF 15’000

Kitchen for the Blind School, with equipment – CHF 11’000

Specialist music teaching at the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind – CHF 5’400

School band musical instruments – CHF 2’750

Teacher training and leadership – CHF 2’000

TOTAL – CHF 36’150

March 25, 2019
by andrea
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The Chris Powell Scholarship Fund

Despite the economic growth in India over the last few years, poverty and hunger are still everyday realities.  Today, 28.5% live below the poverty line – in other words on less than 33 rupees (CHF 60 centimes) a day.

For very poor children, the only chance of escaping a life of continuing deprivation is through education, which opens doors to better jobs and a better future.   Children from Dalit communities, the lowest rank of Indian society, are the worst affected. Dalits, particularly girls, still face discrimination and exclusion.  They are the ones most likely to be abused, both physically and sexually. In rural India, many Dalit families still do not send their daughters to school because they cannot afford to or do not believe that girls need to be educated.  These girls will never be able to enjoy equal rights nor a rewarding and positive future.

The Chris Powell Scholarship Fund has been set up to improve the chances of some of the poorest children in Tamil Nadu – especially Dalit girls.  With our partners in India, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, we are already helping 62 Dalit children at the BCV International School in Tamil Nadu.  But we want to do more.  Specifically, we want to provide scholarships to ensure continuity of quality education through primary and secondary years.  We want to help with transportation costs so that children in rural areas can get to school safely.  And we want to extend our reach to more children in Tamil Nadu who are in desperate need of a decent chance in life.

A Chance in Life

12-year-old Jacintha is the youngest of three sisters, and lives in a poor rural village on the outskirts of Tirunelveli. Her father is a day labourer in a local quarry and the family scrape a living. As the youngest daughter, Jacintha has to look after her baby cousins and care for the animals, as well as do her homework.  Jacintha is one of the children we have supported at the BCV International School. She has gained confidence and loves school.  English is her favourite subject and she hopes one day to be a teacher.  Through the Chris Powell Scholarship Fund, we want to help more children like Jacintha escape a life of poverty, drudgery and exploitation.

Why Chris Powell?

The fund  has been created in memory of Chris Powell, a BBC journalist and later a senior UN diplomat, who lived and worked in Geneva until his sudden death in 2008.   Chris built a successful career within the UN thanks both to his unforgettable personality, and to the power of educational opportunity.  From a humble background, he was the youngest of six children, and the first of the family to gain a university degree.  Chris was a long time supporter of Friends of India, and would be proud to put his name to this fund, which opens up educational opportunities for the poorest of the poor.

How to contribute to the Chris Powell Scholarship Fund

CHF 40 –funds one child in quality education, including fees, books and uniforms, for a month

CHF 480 – funds one child in quality education, including fees, books and uniforms, for a year

CHF 2,400– funds one child in quality education, including fees, books and uniforms, for five years

CHF 6,000 covers 12 years of education from primary to pre-university

CCP Account: 17-753012-7 

or

UBS Switzerland 1260 Nyon

Friends of India

Account 240-439931.40D

IBAN CH68 0024 0240 4399 3140 D

Please mark your payment    ‘Chris Powell Scholarship Fund’

 

 

 

March 29, 2018
by andrea
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News from Tamil Nadu – FOI visit to India, 2018

The annual field visit is a high point in the year for the FOI Board, allowing us to see for ourselves how the work we support is progressing, and to learn about the most urgent needs ahead. We do of course get reports from our partners in the field, but there is nothing like being on the spot! This year, Pam Walsh, Ted Talbot, Di Smith and myself, Jan Powell, made up the visiting team which set off for Chennai in February.

During our first couple of days in Chennai we met up with some long-standing partners who have known and supported FOI for many years. On our first morning, it was Dr Amirtham Ammu, founder of the Chris Powell Training Centre for Women and Girls who came from Madurai to meet us. She told us that the Centre could become self-sustaining this year, as she is working with some of the women who complete the tailoring course to train others. She is also building links with local businesses so that items made at the centre can be sold. She needs some help in paying the salary of a full time trainer for the next 6 months, as well as repairing some of the sewing machines and computers, and we agreed to look into contributing to these costs.

Peace and quiet in Kovolam 

We were joined for a few days in Chennai by Di and Kurt Klein, keen to see some of the projects they have supported over the years.

Two hours south, through the horrendous Chennai traffic brought us all to the peace and quiet of Kovalam Beach – or so we had hoped! In fact Kovalam has developed in the years since we first visited, and we were surprised by the busy lines of stalls and booths selling snacks, drinks and trinkets for the visiting weekenders from Chennai.

We were warmly welcomed to lunch of freshly caught fish and vegetable curries by fisherman Naryanan of the CARDT (Coastal and Rural Development Trust) and his family, who brought us up to date on the multi-use Community Centre which was built with funds raised by the Geneva English School 10 years ago. It is used chiefly for after- school support and we are looking into ideas for developing wider use of the centre during weekends.

The Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind

A four hour drive south-west, brought us to Arani where our old friend Priscilla Daniels kindly welcomed us to stay for three nights in her home. We spent our first day at the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind, attending a concert, giving out certificates and prizes, and meeting some of the staff and children. We had a useful meeting with the school director, Br Leveil. who thanked us warmly – and all our donors – for the gift of instruments and funds raised at the Arquebuse Brass Band concert in Geneva last October. The funds have been spent on new keyboards, electronic drum kits, and a sound system. Musical instruments have also been donated, and we discussed the best way to transport them from Geneva to Arani – no easy task given the complexities of Indian bureaucracy. We have enlisted help from our contacts in Chennai to explore some different possibilities.

The school is in need of a fully qualified music teacher to raise standards of teaching and allow students to sit music exams which will in turn improve their chances of finding employment when they leave school. We agreed to assist by paying the salary for the first six months while new sources of long-term funding are identified.

Kitchens for tribal children

The next day we left the heat of Arani and drove high into the Javadi hills, to St Joseph’s School which provides quality education for around 1200 tribal children. This area is extremely remote and neglected, despite the beauty of the natural soundings. We were enthusiastically welcomed by a deafening brass band, garlands of flowers, bindis, incense and a fantastically colourful display of traditional dance and song. We saw school dinners of rice and vegetables being served from a massive cauldron to a long line of waiting children, and Pam was invited to lay the foundation stone for a new kitchen at the girls’ hostel. The old kitchen is a small, leaky, unhygienic shed which fills with smoke. We had agreed to pay half the costs of replacing it during our visit last year and we were relieved to find that another source of funds had been found to make up the difference. 

Breaking the poverty cycle through education

Another two hour drive and an internal flight from Chennai took us to Madurai where we were met by a welcoming committee from our old friends and partners on the ground, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. They kindly drove us to Tirunelveli and the next morning we were at the BCV International School, which we have supported since it started 5 years ago. Since our visit last year, the new primary school building has been renovated and Pam had more opening duties to perform. The school looks wonderful, with shady trees in the front courtyard, and a cool breeze blowing through the classrooms. It was great to meet up with teaching staff and some of the children who knew us from our visit last year.

It was a pleasure also to see the Des George Learning Centre which has been set up in memory of Des in the new primary building, thanks to donations made by his friends and family. The Centre was officially opened by Di Smith who has worked with the school from the start, training teachers, and giving pedagogical guidance. The Centre is partially equipped, and we are looking into ways to get local support for completing the Centre.

The BCV school was started to provide high quality English language education for a mix of paying and scholarship students. The scholarship children are selected from the very poorest backgrounds, known as Dalits, who are victims of India’s officially defunct caste system. Dalits still suffer widespread discrimination, end up doing the most menial ‘dirty’ jobs, and have little chance of breaking out of this cycle of deprivation except through education. We are proud that there are now 75 scholarship children who are flourishing in this innovative school. A scholarship costs around 480 CHF a year and we hope to set up a fund especially for this purpose while the school gets established. We had a useful meeting with the School management team, focusing on marketing, expanding school recruitment, and exploring cost-saving options, including reducing transport costs or even finding sponsorship for the school buses!

We met up with Gerd Schroder and Charlotte who are volunteering at the school, and we were all guests of honour at School Sports Day which – as is typical in India – went on rather longer than expected, with rather too many speeches. It ended only as the sun went down, with more celebrations and impromptu dancing. I was especially happy to meet up with Jacintha, the little girl who we filmed last year, and to meet some of the parents watching their children compete.

Finding a new family at the Friendship Home

On the same campus is the Friendship Home for children with HIV/Aids, started with support from FOI 10 years ago. There are now around 60 children at the home and it was a complete joy to see so many of them looking happy and well cared for. The majority have lost both parents to HIV and many have been rejected by other family members, so the home is vital for their very survival. The children showed us their refurbished dormitories, which are bright and clean but lack some basics like lockers to keep personal things, and mosquito screens on the windows. The computer room is also sadly lacking with outdated or non-functioning equipment. And there are other needs such as a wall round the home’s garden to increase security. We decided we would look into fundraising for these simple things which will make such a difference to the quality of life at the home.

In the evening we were treated to a concert of dance, song, and of course speeches. Some of the children spoke movingly about how the home has changed their lives. 16 year old Dharalakshmi described how after her parents both died, she found a new family at the Friendship Home. She told us she wants to become a lawyer and defend the rights of deprived people, if her health permits. It was great to see students Maria and Priya again, who have grown up at the home and are now going on to further education and training,

On our last day we went to see the print shop which makes notebooks and exercise books which are sold to schools in the area. Any profit goes towards the Friendship Home which is not completely self-supporting yet, but we hope is on its way.

So that was it! We said last year that we would reduce the scope of what we do – sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. But at least we are not taking on any new projects. Over the nearly 20 years since FOI started, we have got to know our partners on the ground, and have seen many of the children we help growing up and flourishing. It does not feel right to stop now, especially if we can give that little extra to help the projects to become self-sustaining, or make life a little more comfortable for children who have been cut a raw deal in life. We left with a long ‘wish-list’ but also with a sense that we are making a difference to many young lives.

If you would like to contribute to any of the projects we visited this year, please get in touch with us at info@friends-of-india.org.

With warmest wishes,

Pam Walsh, Ted Talbot, Diana Smith and Jan Powell

 

 

January 31, 2018
by andrea
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January 2018 Newsletter from FOI President Pam Walsh

Dear Friends,

As we begin a new year, I would like to thank you all wholeheartedly for your continued support for our work with the most marginalized and poor communities in south India.

We are very excited about our forthcoming visit to Tamil Nadu to review what has been achieved over the past year. I believe that one of the strengths of our organization is the way we have built up close relationships with our partners in India and the people and individuals we help on a daily basis. We shall be renewing that valuable contact in February and we will do our best to keep you up to date with the progress being made.

Help for Dalit girls

At the BCV International School we shall be meeting some of the Dalit children who have had scholarships thanks to your donations. Among them is 12-year-old Jacintha, whose family survives on less than 5 dollars a day. Without the FOI scholarship she would have no chance of an education or a way out of poverty. Our aim this year is to extend the scholarship fund to reach more marginalized and deprived Dalit girls.

Music for the blind

A generous collection from the wonderful Arquebuse Brass Band concert at the Victoria Hall last year has enabled us to buy new musical instruments for the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind. Members of the Brass Band also donated instruments and we have just heard that we have been given a large container to transport them out to the School. If you have any unwanted musical instruments in good working order, please get in touch with us!

A new kitchen for tribal girls

Last year we were invited to the opening of a water purification system and a new classroom which we funded at a school for tribal children, high in the Jawadu Hills. These children are some of the most deprived and remain isolated from the outside world. At a home for tribal girls, we saw the state of their kitchen shown here! We agreed to try to find funding to renovate it, making it more hygienic as well as healthier for the cooks. We shall be visiting the home this year and hope to support the much-needed renovation.

A haven for HIV/Aids children

Our Friendship home continues to flourish. Children with learning difficulties are getting special help from the teacher we have sponsored since last year. Robert and his sister, shown in the photograph, are Aids orphans who were abandoned on the steps of the home two years ago. We are looking forward to seeing the progress they have made since we last saw them. We would like to fund another minibus for journeys to school and hospital for the home’s 60 children, as well as continuing to fund scholarships for further education for girls.

As we announced at our gala event in May 2017, we have replaced membership fees with a pledge system. We do rely on your pledges to help fund our projects – and this would ideally be through a regular monthly standing order. This would enable us to continue the work with the projects we are now focusing on as we move towards ensuring that they become self-sustaining.  May I take this opportunity of wishing you and your families a happy and peaceful new year.

With warmest wishes,

Pam Walsh, President, Friends of India 

Please donate to: CCP Account: 17-753012-7 or UBS Switzerland 1260 Nyon, Friends of India Account 240-439931.40D, IBAN CH68 0024 0240 4399 3140 D

January 15, 2018
by andrea
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Penfriends finally meet in Kovalam, South India!

Friends of India has received some lovely news of a student from the Geneva English School who has been visiting Kovalam and is currently spending a few days teaching at the BCV International School.

Pam Walsh, FOI President:

In the year 2000, Zara Plummer was a schoolgirl at the Geneva English  School. I was invited to give a talk about our work helping children – especially girls – to access education in South India. We had decided to build a multi-purpose centre in Kovalam, south of Chennai and thanks to Zara and her classmates (who ran a marathon around the school ) we raised CHF 12’000. We set up the GES Multipurpose Training Centre in 2001. Children from villages all around assemble every day after school for supervised homework and a snack. 17 years later, Zara is in India, teaching environmental studies to primary and secondary school children in another of our projects, the BCV International School in Tirunelveli. Zara and Keerthana, who was the first little girl we helped in Kovalam, became pen friends and they have just met for the first time!!

After 18 years as penfriends, Zara and Keerthana meet for the first time at Chennai airport.

Zara Plummer:

Pam visited my primary school when I was 7 years old and set up an initiative to send school supplies and raise funds for a multipurpose room in Kovalam. After sending a pencil case with basic school supplies and a little letter about myself, I received a response from a very grateful girl, Keerthana, who was around my age. We began to write to each other and exchange little pieces of information about our lives, giving each other insights into different cultures and unknown places. Being interested in geography and travel, this always interested me and we kept in touch first through letters, then emails and now Facebook and other social media. I feel like I have been a part of Keerthana‘s life and watched as her English progressed and she no longer needed to use a translator to communicate with me. I even remember one birthday, when I was perhaps 10 years old, I received a call from her and we talked like old friends.

Finally, 17 years later, we have met. It was the most incredible experience to step off a plane at Chennai airport and be met by Keerthana and her mother (who had diligently woken up at 5am to make sure I didn’t get lost somewhere between the airport and their home). I spent 3 wonderful days with her and her family, during which she showed me around her village as well as nearby Chennai and other places that were important to her. On the evening of my second day, which had been spent visiting Keerthana‘s secondary school and temple and playing games on the beach with her family, we walked home and stopped off at the multipurpose room built back in 2001. The experience was surreal and it was amazing to see a new generation of children completing their homework, talking and playing in the building 16 years later!

After some very emotional goodbyes and an infinite number of promises to return as soon as possible, I moved on to Tirunelveli where FOI has helped to establish the BCV International School.

Zara is able to spend a few days at the BCV International School, working with primary children, teaching care for the environment as well as English classes.

Here I am helping younger children with reading and pronunciation as well as teaching classes on geography, economics, and environmental stewardship (encouraging the children to care for the environment and consider the impact of their actions on the world). The school has just opened a new building and it is wonderful to see that it is already growing to fit the new space. I am also hoping to identify further needs of the school so that myself and FOI can improve facilities and further encourage its expansion.”

Zara celebrates ‘pongal’, a local harvest festival, with children from the BCV International school. Rice, cereals, sugarcane and turmeric are cooked in a new earthenware pot until the mixture overflows – a symbol of abundance.

November 6, 2017
by andrea
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A Star Performance in aid of the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind

As the opening notes of the Diamond Jubilee rang through the magnificent Victoria Hall in Geneva, we knew we were in for a special evening. This was no town hall ‘oompa’ brass band, this was the Geneva Arquebuse Brass Band under the expert direction of Jean Pierre Chevailler. The atmosphere in the hall warmed and the applause lengthened for each number, almost lifting the roof for the virtuoso performance of Variations sur Carnaval de Venise by trumpet soloist Francois Seigneur

The highpoint of the evening, however, was the guest appearance of soprano Marie-Najma Thomas, now studying at the Geneva Haute Ecole de Musique. Indian by birth, Marie-Najma was adopted from a Bombay orphanage when she was three years old by a French family and discovered her gift for music at a very early age. We invited her to visit the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind in Arni, Tamil Nadu in January this year, her very first visit to India since she left as a toddler. As she explained to the audience, she was able to introduce the children to western music, and experienced the smells and sounds of India for the first time that she could remember. It was a very special and poignant moment when she performed at the Victoria Hall, to raise funds for that same music school.

The audience was genuinely moved by Marie-Najma’s rendition of Mozart’s Hallelujah, as indeed was the band. Director Jean Pierre Chevailler commented that it was the first time the Arquebuse Band had performed with a singer who had no need of a microphone. In a very unusual move, he invited her to sing again – to the delight of the audience.

The evening was skilfully compered by Jenny Klein, who introduced Pam Walsh to explain the work of Friends of India and the needs of the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind. Despite competition from the fabulous autumn sunshine, the audience had turned out in force. When FOI Treasurer Ted Talbot took to the stage, he was thrilled to announce that the collection had gone beyond all expectations, with 9,400 CHF donated – not just enough to pay for much-needed musical instruments and a sound system, but also to go some way to funding a school bus to take the children to concerts and other events.   Further donations have reached just over 10,000 CHF, a fantastic achievement. Enormous thanks are due to all of you who contributed.

It goes without saying that we are extremely grateful to the wonderful Geneva Arquebuse Brass Band and the Victoria Hall for choosing Friends of India as their ‘good cause’ this year. And of course to all of you who came along to enjoy the evening and reached in your pockets to support some of the most vulnerable children in Tamil Nadu. We will be bringing you updates on how the money is spent and some reactions from children and staff at the Music School in due course. Once again – Thank you!

September 11, 2017
by andrea
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Brass Band Concert to raise funds for The Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind

The brilliant Arquebuse Brass Band of Geneva, one of the most acclaimed brass bands in Switzerland, will be giving a concert on Sunday 15th October 2017 at the Victoria Hall in Geneva. The entrance will be free, with a collection for the Richard Walsh Music School for blind children in Tamil Nadu, South India.

The concert will be from 17h00 to 19h00 and promises to be a spectacular event, with quite a few musical surprises!

Seats will be reserved if you register before 30th September – info@friends-of-india.org, so please note the date in your diaries!

India has one of the highest rates of childhood blindness in the world.  Visually impaired children thrive with specialist education and support but there are not enough places for the children who need that help.  In 2009, Friends of India built an extension to a school for blind and partially sighted children to provide specialist music education.  Eight years later, what started as an extra-curricular activity for a few students, has become an integral part of the school, enabling hundreds of visually impaired children to discover, experience and explore the universal world of music.

The music school, which is named after Richard Walsh, late husband of Friends of India’s founder, Pam Walsh, now needs more instruments, a proper audio system and a bus to transport students to concerts and events.   Please help us raise money to spread the joy of music to children in need in a small corner of Tamil Nadu, south India.

We look forward to seeing you on the 15th October!

 

May 17, 2017
by andrea
1 Comment

New Pledge Scheme announced at our Coming of Age party

 

Nearly 100 friends and supporters gathered together to celebrate our 18th Birthday  in Geneva on 13th May.

FOI President Pam Walsh and Board members cutting the birthday cake!

At the party, which immediately followed our AGM, some changes and a new pledge scheme were announced. Here is an extract from Ted Talbot‘s speech given on the evening:

“Dear Members and Friends of Friends of India,

I want to share with you all a decision that has been taken at our 2017 AGM – that we are streamlining, simplifying and modernizing the FOI organisation:

Streamlining – which means that we are not looking to take on any new projects outside of our four chosen areas of support which are:

  • giving Dalit children access to education;
  • giving love and a new life to HIV AIDS orphans;
  • giving a new dimension of music to the lives of blind children;
  • giving women skills so they can earn a salary to help feed, clothe and educate their children.

Simplifying – which means we are changing our approach to membership and fundraising

Modernizing – which means we are going to use social media as much as possible for communication.

We want all of you, our supporters, to be united with us, as members of the FOI family, in what we strive to achieve – but without the formality of a membership fee. Why have members been paying a fee and getting no special benefit for it? We have money in our operational support budget and so we have set the current membership fee at zero francs. Instead, anyone who gives money to FOI is automatically a member and (if Swiss residents) can deduct their donation for tax purposes.

So how do we intend raising money to continue to support our key projects? We would still like you to suggest a gift to FOI instead of flowers at a memorial or a Christmas/birthday present, BUT we are asking every one of you to pledge your support for what we are doing by pledging a sum of money – large or small, to show solidarity with us and enable us in turn to pledge with confidence, our support for the requested needs of our implementing partners.

We are asking you to pledge your support now – by filling out the FOI Pledge Form and sending it to me, Ted Talbot, as shown on the form. Your pledge remains totally confidential and may be cancelled at any time.”

Ted Talbot, FOI Treasurer

At the celebration party on May 13, we received pledges for Chf. 12’500. Thank you!

April 28, 2017
by andrea
0 comments

Trip of a lifetime for a blind music student to the Richard Walsh Music School

When FOI President Pam Walsh met Marie-Najma Thomas in Geneva last year, it wasn’t long before she came up with a new idea. She wanted to take Marie-Najma on the trip of a lifetime, to visit the Richard Walsh Music School for blind children near Vellore, South India.

The reasons? Marie-Najma is herself blind, studying for her Masters degree in Baroque music at the Geneva Conservatoire. She was adopted as a three-year-old toddler, abandoned in an orphanage in Mumbai, and has grown up in northern France, far from her birth country.

Marie-Najma knew that going back to India would be a powerful and emotional experience but she quickly felt at home in the heat and sunshine, and with the new spicy tastes and smells. It was also the first time she had taught young children, so there were challenges too as she introduced them to the unfamiliar sounds of western music. Marie Najma Thomas shares her impressions of this very special visit:

“Thanks to Friends of India I was lucky enough to spend several days teaching western music to a group of blind Indian children at the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind. It really was an unforgettable and unique experience for me.

At first I found the social and cultural differences striking and I have to admit a bit overwhelming for me. However, the welcome that I received from the Brothers who run the school was really so warm and generous I soon settled in. They really were extremely attentive and caring to me throughout the week I spent with them.

The welcome I got from the children was also absolutely wonderful and completely unexpected. During my stay I was able to work with the children, getting to know them a little, and finding out how best to teach them so that they could learn and retain the music we worked on together. At first it was quite tricky to develop a contact with them, particularly because of the language barrier. But gradually our understanding of each other grew and the children learned faster and faster. We practised four English songs (Silent Night, Do Ré Me from the Sound of Music, Yellow Submarine and Frère Jacques) and with lots of rehearsal and patience they were able to perform some really interesting work, specially considering that they were completely unused to western music.

An outstanding student at the Richard Walsh Music School for Blind Children is presented with a prize by Marie-Najma Thomas, Pam Walsh and Ted Talbot

It was a great joy for me to share so much more than just music with them, and it was this that helped to make my visit to the school such an enriching experience.”

Marie-Najma Thomas, Geneva

April 14, 2017
by mayomayhem
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Friends of India – A Celebration

Friends of India – a Celebration

Saturday 13th May 2017 at the Crowne Plaza, Geneva

Aperitifs at 19h00, followed by a delicious Indian meal, including wine, water and coffee.  There will be live entertainment with music from the 60s to present time, so don’t forget your dancing shoes!

The all-inclusive cost of the evening is CHF110 per person.  Should you wish to make up a table of 8 or sit with a couple of friends, please add their names to your reservation.

Please reserve by Friday 21st April by sending an email to info@friends-of-india.org, attention Clare, and make your payment by Friday 28th April to our Post Office Account:   CCP 17-753012-7 – Friends of India – chemin de la Combe 28, 1260 NYON Please add  “FOI Celebration”  in the relevant box.
We very much look forward to sharing and celebrating with you.

Dress code:  Smart, with a touch of India if you wish.

(This event will be preceded by our AGM)