Thursday, March 19, 2009

Escuela Marina Solina

I came to Puri to meet up with Martin. Martin has come to Puri to look at a school that has been successfully running for 5 years. The children who attend the school are either orphaned, live far away, or are too poor to go to public school in the city. The school is run and funded by a Spanish woman from Galicia named Neneta. Neneta is a regular here in India, and has been coming to India every year since 1984. Martin has also spent alot of time here in India. Martin has been wanting to help out in some way to give back to a country that has given him so much. Under the guidance of Babaji (Shivanada) Martin was directed to contact Neneta, who was also guided previously by Babaji to open the school.
Neneta originally helped to reopen a school in Juanga, Orissa that was destroyed by a cyclone in 1999. The cyclone killed 100,000 people, and destroyed many of the small surrounding villages. Many of the survivors survived only by huddling together in large groups that made them too heavy to be carried away by the winds. Neneta singlehandedly raised enough money through raffle sales and donations back in Spain to rebuild the school. She then created an NGO called Shanga that helped generate more funds for the project.
Neneta decided to let the project go in 2005 when an American NGO stepped in and wanted to take over the project. Neneta again started looking for a way to help the children of Orissa. Orissa is one of the poorest states in India, and the people of Orissa are heavily trodden with troubled times. The annual monsoon wipes out much of the agriculture, and villages often get flooded and washed away.
One day Neneta was talking to Babaji who suggested that she go to Puri and see how she could help in the villages around there. Once in Puri, Neneta then met a wonderful man named Umesh who owns a local travel agency. He also wanted to help his people and agreed to assist Neneta in her vision of building a school. The two of them then found a plot of land in the jungle in Pubai ( 1.25 hours from Puri) which they purchased and started building a school.
The journey to the school was a beautiful drive- we drove through tiny villages alongside emerald rice paddy fields and watched the sky get framed by palm tree groves. Many villagers looked at us with curiosity as we bumped along the dirt path in the white Ambassador. Once we arrived at the gates of the school, a flood of children came down to meet us. They greeted Umesh and Neneta first, and then came to greet Martin, Dina, Mano, and myself. Many of the children bent down to touch our feet and then touch their foreheads in a sign of great respect. Hands searched for clearance to greet us with "Namaste! Como estas? What's your good name??" It was very touching and tears quickly sprung to my eyes.
We spent the evening touring the school and trying to get comfortable in the 40 degrees heat. In the evening, the children run 1 km to a nearby lake where they take a bath. Every evening after the bath the kids have a yoga class, and man are they ever flexible! From standing upright to bending backwards into bridge, getting legs behind heads, twisting themselves into a pretzel...they do it all! I watched the session with extremely wide eyes, gave an occasional gasp, and tried to mask a whole lot of envy.
The children finish the yoga session with chanting. Two young girls led the opening bhajan which was then sung by the rest of the group. It was a beautiful experience listening to the tiny voices lilt and sing, and then echoed back in response by the rest of the group. The children sit straight backed in half lotus position with closed eyes and their hands folded gracefully into namaste at their hearts. On this evening after the chanting the children were then sprung into their music class. Normally the music class falls on the weekend, but because it was a special evening (as we were all there visiting), the teacher decided to showcase his workings with the students. The music teacher is a man from a nearby village who comes on the weekends. He plays the tabla, harmonium, and other traditional instruments. He also had a rich melodious voice, and sang us a haunting traditional Orissa folksong that made my heart ache. The children sang many songs for us, in both Oriya and in Spanish. Neneta then brought our talents to the table- we had an impromptu talent show! I bellydanced 2 songs for the kids, Martin played a song on his guitar, and Patri (a Spanish girl who was also at the school visiting with her boyfriend Arthuro who painted a vibrant mural in one of the classrooms) sang a Orissa song that she had learned over the previous days. The kids then volunteered to get up and perform...some of the shy girls sang sweet love songs with Filmi style dancing, some of the boys did outragous Bollywood disco, and one even dramatically told a joke which made us all laugh even though we didn't speak Oriya! The children are rife with talent and eager to learn. I taught them how to zaghreet (a Middle Eastern ululation that is made by chirping La-la-la really fast) which I am sure will drive the teachers all wild!
The kids love being in school and seem to all work hard. 97 children sleep at the school full time, while the other 150 go home in the evenings. The children that stay at the school sleep together on the classroom floor on palm mats.
The next day we had another impromptu talent show where I was again asked to perform and this time got a few of the young girls up to dance. Their ability to move was astounding and I was suprised to see such natural ability. Neneta asked me to teach a dance class for the girls later on in the afternoon which I did in the hot, hot heat. I had about 30 girls in the class and had alot of fun teaching them. Many of them danced very naturally and often added their own bit of expression and flair. I was exhausted after teaching for only 30 minutes, but they just wanted to keep on dancing!
The school is doing well but donations are always needed to keep the project moving. There is currently no running water nor electricity at this point, but Neneta hopes that in the near future the funds will be there to bring these vital things to the school. Neneta is also looking to hire an english teacher for the school.
I am personally involved in helping this school reach its highest potential. Neneta and Umesh have worked so hard to establish a solid foundation for Maria Solina. Presently there is no way to donate internationally, but there are established Spanish and Indian bank accounts. I talked to Neneta about setting up a PayPal account, so hopefully when she goes back home to Spain she will get it going.
The current website for the NGO Shanga is but I believe that it is in Spanish.

In terms of donating, it only takes a few dollars a month to make a difference. For example, the cost to feed 1 child is a mere 0.10 Euro cents per day. As I said earlier, Neneta's current wish list items are to provide running water and electricity, an english teacher for the school, and to bank some money for the Stage 2 and 3 buildings that will serve as dorms for the students and teachers. Neneta has funded the school solely on money that she has made back from donations from friends and family. She also receives nominal donations in a collection box placed on the wickets from clients at the bank where she currently works. She is going to be retiring at the end of this year, so she is a bit nervous about the loss of funds from the bank donantions.

I will list Neneta and Umesh's details in case you want to contact them to help out in anyway.

***For you dancers- any old dvds or cds that you have lying around would be greatly appreciated as Neneta wants to get a CD, tv and dvd player in the future so that the girls can watch dance videos to learn moves as there just isn't any funding available at this time for a dance teacher. I wanted to sponsor a teacher to come to the school and teach dance but the teacher Umesh talked to charges 3000Rs/ a month which is quite steep. I will be sending over some videos so if you want to get them to me I will post them all when I get home. They LOVED bellydance, but would take any videos as long as its some form of classical dance.

Neneta Herrero
Umesh "Travel Fair"
Check out Babaji in the movie Baraka...he looks SOOOO YOUNG!!!

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