Camp Voice Short Films

Weekly videos of Camp Voice!!

Week 1:

Week 2:

Week 3:

Lokasamasta Sukhino Bvantuh – May All Beings Be Happy and Free

Camp Voice

Hi All,

It’s been awhile since I’ve last filled you guys in, so here is an update! I’m in Hyderabad now which is the 6th most populated city in all of India! It’s quite a different feel from Mysore, which comparatively is a small town with the population at around 800,000. The population in Hyderabad is just over 4 million! The sheer number of people in this country still amazes me, even after being here for just about 5 months.

In February, I was asked by a friend of a friend to come to Hyderabad in May and be a counselor for 1 of 11 girl’s empowerment summer camps throughout the city. I was told that for one month I’d be teaching English and talking about the gender gap in India. Before I came to India last December, I had played around with the idea of teaching English abroad so when this opportunity presented itself, I gratefully accepted. I was especially excited after my work at Odanadi to work with girls.

Now, two weeks into Camp Voice, I am SO happy to be here. In it’s pilot summer, Camp Voice aims to help young women aged 11-15 to literally find their voices. We want to teach girls how to be independent, how to stand up for themselves, and to be proud to be a girl!

All of the girls at these camps attend affordable private schools during the school year. For this demographic, it is very common that girls drop out of school at around age 15. Many of these girls get married before their 18th birthdays. Most of these young women aspire to be doctors or engineers, but unfortunately it is the reality that the majority will never graduate high school. In most traditional Muslim and Hindu families, priority is not placed on girls’ education due to the fact that after marriage, girls will go to live with their husbands’ families and become housewives. On the other hand, after marriage boys continue to live at home and it is expected that they will provide for not only their children but also their parents when they grow too old to work. In many families, it is rationalized that because girls will move away, boys should have access to better education and opportunities so most parents are in support of educating boy children rather than girls.

In addition, it is tradition for the family of the bride to pay a dowry to the groom’s family. In many families, preferential treatment is given to boys while girls are expected to be respectful, quiet young ladies and to help their mothers’ around the home. Boys are let to run and play in the streets while after puberty, girls are usually kept in the homes in order to protect them.

According to the 2011 Indian Census data, for every 1000 males there are 927 females. The number of females in India has decreased since 1991, where for every 1000 males there were 945 females. Female feticide and as well as infanticide have become increasing problems in India. In some states, fetal sex determination is illegal due to high rates of abortion of female children.

For all of these reasons, among many others, I am learning why there is so much gender inequality in India. I’m learning why so many women are not proud of their gender, why they don’t stand up for their right’s.

In so many of these young girls, effects of this preferential treatment are apparent. Many young girls are extremely shy and afraid to speak. In just two weeks it is so amazing to see positive changes start to emerge in them. They are beginning to open up and get more confident speaking out. They’re also changing their attitudes about how they see the word in terms of gender and thereby improving their self images. I’m seeing girls that were extremely shy begin to talk and understand that what she has to say is valued. They’re bonding with each other and relying on each other for support.

During the first week, we did an activity called “Appreciating Others” with the kids. We had each of them pin a blank sheet of paper to their backs and they had to go around to each other girl and write a positive thing about her on her back. The girls had a lot of fun with this. When everyone had written on each other girl’s back, we had them go around and one by one read out her compliments. One of my most quiet students got a huge grin on her face when she saw her paper and proceeded to call out her compliments in a very loud voice. It was so amazing to hear her talk so loudly and confidently!

It is so important that the girls’ families are supportive of their educations in order for them to have a chance. Part of Camp Voice’s vision is to get the families involved in order to help procure the support of education for their girls. Last Saturday, we invited all the girls’ mothers, aunties, sisters, and grandmothers to come in and join us at camp for some games, rangoli chalk drawing, and henna painting. All the women seemed to have a great time and they made some really beautiful artwork!

This week we talked about nutrition so we had each of the girls bring in a dish that she cooked with her mother at home. The girls brought in such amazing food and we had a feast in camp!

Today we visited a women’s run police station. The girls seemed really inspired. Many of them now want to be police-women. They asked the female police officer questions like, “Are you married?” and “Are your parents okay with this profession?” I think it really surprised them to see a woman with this amount of authority. They all got her autograph on the way out. We also had a news station come and report our visit! I will be on Hyderabad local news tonight! I can’t wait until we visit Google next week and they get to see what that office is like!

Most of all, the kids love dancing in camp. I’m learning some Bollywood dances!


Sheila Dance from Jenny Lowenstein on Vimeo.

Lokasamasta Sukhino Bvantuh – May All Beings Be Happy and Free

Chapter 2: A month of Travel

Hello my friends,

These past few weeks have been non-stop on the go so I apologize for not blogging sooner. Owen and I left Mysore on Saturday March 26th. I left Mysore with mixed emotions, excited to move on to see more of India, this country I’ve grown to love and consider my second home, but also very sad to leave Odanadi and the life that I’ve fallen into in Mysore.

In the past month, a volunteer from Australia has been working with the staff of Odanadi and the children to develop a garden. The hope is that the children will be able to enjoy some of the crops produced from the garden. Fruit, because of its comparative price difference to rice and dal is a scarcity at Odanadi. The children, especially the younger ones, have trouble grasping the concept of not picking the fruit off the trees until it is ripe!  As a treat for the kids on our last day and as a lesson on what ripe fruit tastes and looks like, Owen and I went out and bought a massive quantity of fruit! We filled an entire rickshaw with 4 papayas, 4 watermelons, 6 melons, 6 pineapples, and 3 huge bunches of bananas. We also treated our rickshaw driver to a Chinese apple (a fuji apple). It seemed like it must have been a novelty for him to have a Chinese apple because he wrapped it up carefully and put it away for later after giving us a big cheeky smile. After we cut up all the fruit, it was the largest fruit salad that I’ve ever seen. It fed around 70 children and 20 staff/volunteers. With extra for the kids to get two helpings! Just to give you a sense of prices here, all of this fruit cost us 565 rupees…the equivalent of $12.55.

The children also put on a dance performance for us, and I shared a video that I made of Yoga Stops Traffick pictures. (I will post it once I am done travelling and get back to my computer that I left in Mysore). Leaving Odanadi was very difficult, as I knew it would be. It took a lot to hold back my tears. Goodbyes are also hard but especially in this situation, knowing that the children are more vulnerable and don’t really have much sense of normalcy or regularity in their lives. Volunteers come and go. It must be really hard for them to keep opening and letting people in and then they leave. Again and again. 3 months felt like a significant portion of time to spend at Odanadi. As I was walking out the gate, a few of the children through teary eyes asked me not to forget them, to send postcards, and to come back. One of the kids told me that she would be waiting for me to come back. How do you say no to that?

For the first two months at Odanadi, it was hard for me to really process how my time here was affecting me. I think that I unintentionally put all of my sad emotions away. It was easier in a way to remain strong. Somehow, probably because it’s really difficult to understand how this can happen to people, I didn’t really let it affect me. Of course it affected me, but I didn’t feel like I needed to cry every time I went to Odanadi. At about the 2 and a half month point, it was as if everything just had to come out. Part of me was really frustrated because it’s so hard to understand Indian culture, especially the caste system, when it’s so far from anything that I am familiar with. Trying to find some reason to the vast inequality that exists between castes, between genders. How do you find peace with this? How did I end up so fortunate? Growing up in the United States as a woman, as an equal. I can set my goals as high as I can dream and I can accomplish them because I have the ability and the means. Some of these kids will never get out of the slum. They will never have an education. They will never leave India.

Another dichotomy that I’ve had trouble understanding is how a caste system can exist when in India I’ve experiences some of the most genuine kindness. People here (when they like you) don’t just do you a small favor. They go out of their way, stop everything they are doing, and help you. I know I am jumping ahead here but this has happened to Owen and I twice, in the last two days. The first time, Owen and I were taking a tour of a palace with an older man named Vikram in Udaipur.

Our conversation took the path of yoga and the purpose of life, of course. Feeling a really strong connection with this man, when he asked us to come to his house for lunch, we had to accept. Owen and I got on the back of his 2 seater motorbike (I had to sit side saddle with Owen on my lap) and he drove us to his home. We continued our conversation about yoga and doing good deeds while playing keram with his grandson, sipping chai, and eating a bottomless bowl of gulab jamun (deep friend sugar coated donughts).

After we saw Vikram’s yoga shala where he teaches anyone who is interested in learning free of charge, including slum children that he believes he is obliged to teach, we made puja to Ganesh to Krishna, to Shiva, to Parvati.  His wife made us a feast of chapattis and dal and curd with heaps of sugar in it! General rule at eating in an Indian home, leave some food on your plate or else more will be brought and you will have to eat more. And if you accept more chapatti, then you must have more dal because how could you eat chapatti without dal??

The next day, walking around Udaipur with Vikram, it was like we were with the most popular guy in town. Everyone greeted Vikram with prayer hands and a bow of the head, referring to him as Guriju, an endearing term for guru. Little did we know, we’d just become friends with Udaipur’s town guru. Saying goodbye to Vikram was also hard. You meet some people in your life that you will never forget. We left with a see you soon, until next time. Vikram, the happiest and kindest man I’ve ever met, parted with tears in his eyes.

The second instance that Owen and I found ourselves in was when I asked a man at his shop what something that he had out front was. I noticed that he was selling henna so I asked him where I might be able to get some done in Jodphur. He told me he would call his niece who is an artist and that I should come back in 30 minutes. When I got back, (Kishan) brought Owen and me to his home and his wife prepared chai and for hours we looked at his family photo albums.

Owen shared a game of cricket with the neighborhood boys on the roof while I got my hands and feet painted with henna.

After four hours had gone by, we were ready to go get some dinner and be in for the day. However, we were not allowed to leave until we went across the street and saw Kishan’s niece’s home where she lives with her grandparents, parents, and  brothers and sisters. Three generations of family packed into one small home that she told us was around 70 years old.

Backtracking just a bit, after we left Mysore we went to Hampi where we spent 3 days. A river sprawls across the city creating lush green fields where sugar cane and bananas flourish. The city is also filled with massive boulders. Up on one of these mountains of boulders sits Hanuman Temple, the claimed birthplace of Hanuman, Ram’s pet monkey. Appropriately, on the 500 stair climb to the top, monkeys jump around and pester the people making their way up. I was told not to wear anything around my neck because the monkeys may come steal it off me! We had monkeys jumping over our heads from tree to tree. It almost seemed like an intimidation tactic! The view from the top was incredible. This was definitely my favorite spot in Hampi.

After Hampi, we headed to Goa and had some beach time at Anjuna Beach. It was a little unusual to see cows walking on the beach. Cows belong on the street, but the beach?? They seemed to be a bit spoiled, stealing food off of people’s beach chairs and blocking my view of the ocean!

We really lucked out in Goa…the next two nights we were put up at a resort owned by a friend of a family friend. Another instance of meeting people who go out of their way to be hospitable and kind… While we were staying here we saw a fort, walked on Baga Beach, and had a lot of pool time.

The next day we got on a 10 hour train to Bombay. After finding our seats on the train, the man sitting next to us brought it to our attention that we had missed our train….by 24 hours. I guess we were a little too relaxed in Goa and didn’t check the date of our train properly. Luckily, we were able to stay on the train. It only cost us double what we had paid to begin with and I’m sure the conductor pocketed that cash. This meant that instead of having two days in Bombay, we only had 12 hours. It was actually kind of nice since Bombay is very expensive and we didn’t want to be in the city for too long. Our 12 hours were action packed and filled with the old and the new, the extremely rich and the extremely poor. New modern skyscrapers stand beside crumbling old houses. Walking through a slum takes you to another road where a Mercedes rolls by. Pretty difficult to take all of this in, especially on a non-restful night on a sleeper train with Indian men running around screaming because India just won the cricket World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

After getting some good western food (two trips to Le Pan Quotidien), we got on an overnight train to Ahmenabad followed by a 10-hour local non A/C train averaging about 15mph to Udaipur. On the last leg of this train a group of about 15 men around the ages of 18-23 joined us in our compartment, (which is designed to hold 6 people). They wanted to play Indian music for us and talk to us about America. We took lots of photos and promised that we would email them to them.

Getting to Udaipur, we found a beautiful hotel (with A/C!!) and had the best palak paneer in all of India. Of all the cities I’ve visited in India, (other than Mysore) Udaipur is my favorite. It’s a small Indian city located on a lake with regal palaces including a palace built on the lake! The people here were all incredibly friendly. We weren’t haggled once. People genuinely wanted to say hello and talk to us everywhere we went..and to have their photos taken! India is a photographers dream. Everything is a photo and everyone wants their photo taken!

Owen and I have started to just get lost in the winding streets of the cities we are visiting and see where we end up. It’s always an adventure that way and you see a lot more when you get off the tourist trails. After walking around Udaipur for an hour we got pretty lost and ended up in a neighborhood where it seemed that not many westerners have ever been before. Children from rooftops were screaming hello at us and one man, within a couple seconds of greeting us, invited us into his home. I think he was so surprised to see white people that he had to ask. We probably should have gone in but we told him we were off to somewhere (which we were). We wanted to see the 7 star hotel in Udaipur. How do you get 7 stars? We went for an extremely overpriced mango lassi and walked around. Very nice..

Jodphur was also an extremely welcoming city.  A lot bigger and much more polluted, but the people were very kind. I’m liking Rajasthan (the state we’re in now). Here, we saw the fort and were able to see great views of all the blue houses. We also took a really long walk around the city, getting lost and meeting the locals.

In Jaipur, the pink city, we were a little exhausted from all the touring around. I guess we should have been better tourists, but it is what it is. We enjoyed just wandering around the city ourselves. Met some nice young men who stopped us and wanted to chat about life in the west. He wanted to know why we foreigners are always in a rush. Indians seem to have plenty of time to sit around and drink chai with their buddies. Westerners always have somewhere to go. Walking around Jaipur, I was stopped numerous times and asked if I could take photos. I love this.

After leaving Jaipur, we went to Delhi and got to see Ben! In Delhi we toured around the city on a pedal bike rickshaw! And got to go into some amazing temples.

Now we are in Dharamshala which is up in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is home to a bunch of Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama himself. Yesterday we went on an amazing hike to a waterfall. The views here are breathtaking and this town is unbelievable. It will be very hard to leave. It’s even a bit cold which is very welcomed after being in the heat for so long! Will post photos of Dharamshala and Delhi soon.

I hope you all enjoy these photos. See more on Facebook.

Yoga Stops Traffick, Odanadi Craft Show, and Adventures in Kerala

Hello, hello my friends. Just got back from Kerala last week. Went to Kochin and saw the fishing nets along the coast. Celebrated Owen’s 24th birthday! We had planned to go to the beach that day. That didn’t work out because breakfast took so ridiculously long so we ended up going to a Thai restaurant in Kochin city. Yummy!

Had my first 7-person rickshaw ride. Normally we fit 4 or 5 people comfortably… Then we visited our friend Joe’s house in the city. Ambika, Owen, and I met him on the train coming from Varkala to Kochin and he was so gracious to host us for some afternoon tea-time and snacks.

We also went on a boat tour of the backwaters and visited the “Jew Town” of Kochin.

Varkala was really beautiful. It’s located in Southwest India on the Indian Ocean. It’s a beach town with huge red cliffs separating the town and the beach. Ambika, Owen and I stayed in this adorable villa. We enjoyed being spoiled for a few nights and having a “spring break.”

Saturday Feb 26th was the craft show, which went incredibly well. Everything was so organized and beautiful. A bunch of the girls from Odanadi came to help sell crafts, do hair-wrapping, and henna. They so enjoyed the exciting day. We were able to raise around $400!

We have been busy all week preparing and spreading the word about Yoga Stops Traffick. The main event took place yesterday, March 12th at the Mysore Palace.

Finally, all our hard work has paid off. The kids lead us through 27 sun salutations in an effort to raise awareness about human trafficking and to continue to allow Odanadi to rescue and rehabilitate victims of such atrocities.

It was such an incredible experience seeing over 200 people come out to support Odanadi’s cause. What is even more incredible is that over 114 other communities hosted Yoga Stops Traffick events in over 34 countries around the world. Last year (YST’s first year), 50 events were held around the world. I can’t believe that this number has doubled in just one year. Who knows how big it will be next year!

Lokasamasta Sukhino Bvantuh – May All Beings Be Happy and Free

Odanadi Craft Show Coming Up!

We’ve been busy at work planning for the craft show scheduled for this coming Saturday the 26th of February at Anokhi Garden in Mysore, India. The kids are very excited about the show and have been busy making crafts! A few of the girls will be coming to do henna and hair-wraps and are really anticipating the event.

Boonchu designed these amazing flyers for the show!!

At the craft show, we will be selling Yoga Stops Traffick t-shirts/tickets for the event on March 12th at Mysore Palace.

Look out for photos of the craft show soon!

Lokasamasta Sukhino Bvantuh – May All Beings Be Happy and Free

Construction Begins on the Boys’ Home & Yoga Stops Traffick

Sorry it has been awhile since I’ve last posted. That just means much more to talk about.

What’s going on at Odanadi? … Well firstly, with the money that you all helped me raise, electricity was installed at the boys’ home. Let there be light!! This is a huge improvement. I thank you all again so much for your donations. It’s really wonderful to actually see progress, especially when this progress makes such a big difference. See Tom’s blog to read more about construction of the boys’ home and to see blueprints of the new building.

In order to build the new boys’ home, Odanadi is in the process of raising $150,000. Currently, the boys live in a temporary home and have been living without electricity and running water for 7 years.

We are also busy planning Yoga Stops Traffick. The main event will take place this year at Mysore Palace on March 12th. Last year over 300 people came together and were led through the sun salutations by the children of Odanadi. People also gathered together in 55 cities around the world, raising awareness about the human trafficking problem. Last year, $25,000 was raised. We are hoping that this year will be even bigger. If you are interested in scheduling an event in your hometown, please reach out to me and I can send all the details to you. Any group of people can host an event. Typically, groups have either performed 108 sun salutation or dedicated a regular yoga class to the Yoga Stops Traffick cause. Coni from White Orchid Yoga in Tampa, Florida will be hosting an event! Please find info about the event at www.whiteorchidyoga.com.

In order to get the word out about Yoga Stops Traffick on March 12th, we are planning a craft show on February 26th at Anokhi Garden, a local café in Gokulam, Mysore. Here we will be selling crafts made by the kids: embroidered purses, jewelry, pillow cases, juggling balls, bookmarks, knitted accessories, as well as postcards and greeting cards. Some of the girls from Odanadi will also be doing henna painting and hair-wrapping! Yoga Stops Traffick t-shirts and tickets will be sold at the show.

Other news … I’ve been teaching yoga to the girls twice a week. Some of the volunteers have joined in too, which has been fun. It’s been challenging to modify the classes based on the different ages and abilities that show up, but it’s a great learning experience for me. I’m starting to build teacher/student relationships with the kids and I’m feeling more comfortable adjusting and leading classes. Of the kids that come regularly, they seem to be benefiting from it and are very appreciative. I feel motivated by their gratitude and take pleasuring in teaching what I know.

I also want to share some photos from Stanly and Kumundini’s house-warming party. Stanly is one of the co-founders of Odanadi. He and Kumi have been so welcoming and kind to me. When Ambra was here, she stayed with them and Kumi taught her dance and cooking. They have just moved into a new house so they had a big celebration before they moved in.

Thanks for reading! Please pass on the word about Yoga Stops Traffick.

Lokasamasta Sukhino Bvantuh – May All Beings Be Happy and Free

More from Mysore

This week has brought highs and lows. I’m beginning to feel more grounded here: in my practice and with in my everyday routine in Mysore. When I first got here, it was definitely a sensory overload. Not as much as when I was here in February because I had a better idea was to expect, but still arriving here after the disorienting travel from the States I was turned around. Now that I’ve established a routine for myself, I am just beginning to feel some changes…both in my physical and emotional self.

I am very lucky that Ambra extended her trip in Mysore. We had a very special time together, but unfortunately had to part with heavy news. On New Year’s Eve, we received a call that our grandmother was in the hospital. The preceding morning we heard that she had passed away. Having Ambra here through this very sad time was such a blessing. We were both a bit out of sorts hearing this news while in India. It’s very hard to be away from home knowing what is going on back there and wishing to be with the rest of the family. Ambra and I were able to say goodbye to her together in our own way. I’m glad that we were able to be together and establish some closure during this very sad time. It’s always very surreal dealing with loss, and especially when I feel so far away from my family and my life at home. Aside from this, I genuinely feel that I am in the right place right now and following the right path. I am definitely learning a lot about myself and my limits.

This past weekend, the volunteers at Odanadi took a trip to the boy’s home which is about 20 minutes away from where the girls live. It was really wonderful to visit them. The boys seem very happy and self-motivated. They have set up multiple gardens that they take care of. I was very impressed by how well they take care of their home. Currently, the boys are living in a temporary house. Next week, Odanadi will start construction of a permanent home for them. A portion of the donations that you all gave will go towards the construction of the home. However in order to build the home, Odanadi needs more funding. I am continually accepting donations for Odanadi through the PayPal link on this blog. Some photos of the boys and their home…

Lokasamasta Sukhino Bvantuh – May All Beings Be Happy and Free

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