INDIA EXPERIENCE: Realization of a dream
Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Every student, faculty member and person in the community of Kerala has been welcoming to the U.S. Students and very willing to impart their knowledge of Kerala and India. In the morning we visited the Kerala University Research Center. Afterwards, the students visited Abhaya, a rehabilitation center and orphanage.
The Kerala University is a state funded institution and has many affiliates. At the University Center, we attended the Sociology Department and Women's Studies Center. The students here are very studious, involved, and enthusiastic to learn about us. After meeting with the Head of the Sociology Department, a very strong and intelligent woman, the American students divided up into three groups to attend classes at the University. The classes included Social Demography, Social issues in India, and Cultural Anthropology.
In the Social issues in India lecture, Professor Abraham explained some theories on the caste system in India. There are scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, which now receive certain benefits from the government. However, when the British ruled, certain castes and tribes were labeled "criminals". Now, we know that criminals are not born, but are made. In 1950, Article 17of the Constitution of India abolished untouchability. Many social issues are based on the idea of "purity" and "pollution". Professor Abraham also mentioned the roles of Karma and Dharma in relation to the caste system.
If one experiences hardship in their life or are born into a lower class, one will attribute it to Karma, or that this is their payment for something done in a past life. It is their dharma to perform their duties in their present life to achieve moksha or liberation. However, with education, people are becoming more proactive in the betterment of their lives and community.
The professor of "the Social Issues in India" also explained other topics, such as the matriarchal system in Kerala, and the Syrian Orthodox Christian sect in Kerala. In the matriarchal system when a girl gets married, she doesn't leave her family, but rather the husband joins her family. The property is transferred from the mother to the daughters, and the mother's brother exercises authority over the family. Another interesting aspect of Kerala is the large number of Christians. It is believed that in 52 AD, one disciple of Jesus, St. Thomas came to Kerala and converted a number of Hindus to Christianity.
After an introduction and interaction program between the Kerala University and the U.S. Students, we ate lunch with local students and then visited Abhaya. Abhaya is a center for orphaned girls, mentally ill patients, and a rehabilitation center for people with addictions. Professor Sugatha Kumari, who runs Abhaya, is a poetess. She explained how she founded the center. One building which houses the orphans was donated by Pillai, an Indian who now resides in Cleveland, Ohio. The Abhaya center is a nice, complete with rubber tree plants, a Bodhi tree planted by the Dalai Lama in 1992, and a large statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. We had a program in another beautiful old Kerala house.
The girls who are orphans mainly spoke Malayalam. They sang some Malayalam songs for us. A few of the girls in 10th Standard (grade) received scholarships for high marks. They gave the American students some Indian names. They sang a song that was composed by Sugatha Kumari's daughter, Lakshmi. The girls then demonstrated some Karate for us. It is great that the girls learn Karate; they build self-confidence and can physically protect themselves. We ate a snack of tapioca, fish, and pineapple. We also were able to view the girls dormitory, which was very nice. The girls were humble and looked after each other. They were little angels; it was hard to believe that they came from such hard lives. They were so excited for our companionship, they enthusiastically called out "Chechi" (elder sister) and motioned us to sit next to them. Sugatha Kumari has done a lot for the girls and mentally ill people who are in need of assistance.
Abhaya is a wonderful place which provides a lot of assistance for the community. Some students will be doing internship here. Kerala University Center was also a great learning experience for the American students and Malayalee students. Both cultures can benefit from each other.
"I attended the social issues in India class at Kerala University which was very informative. I loved visiting Abhaya also. Sugatha Kumari is an inspiring woman, and meeting the girls who are orphans was fun and moving."
Kathleen M Jelen
"The children at the orphanage were learned, friendly, and completely spellbinding. I knew within minutes I wanted to spend more time there. I would take them all home if I could."
Sarah M Gallop
"We went to the Kerala University and had a beautiful interaction with the students. We went to an orphanage for girls and it blew my mind. How beautiful the facilities were. The director of the orphanage is also obvious by well concerned with changing the lives of these girls and give them a second chance to life."
"The discussion during interaction was very good yet only a limited number of people got to speak on the issues. The Indian students were very entertaining. They performed many songs. The orphanage was an inspirational visit and I was very impressed by Sugatha Kumari. She is an exceptional women."
"The children at the orphanage were so beautiful and full of life. Although they came from the most difficult of circumstances, they smiled by as they received their achievement awards. I always enjoy our college visits. It is a great shared cultural experience between us and the Indian students."
"I had such a good time at the orphanage yesterday. It made me happy to see the precious faces of all the little girls. When we left I was very sad to leave them."
"Prof. Abraham was wonderful. I was lucky to be in his class. He answered a lot of questions I had about the caste system. The more colleges I visited the more I understand that students are the same, whether you are Indian or American. Young Indian girls doing karate. Girl Power !!!"
"Today I sat in on a cultural anthropology class at Kerala University. It was nice interaction with others with my interest in studying anthropology. "
"The abhaya orphange is truly a heavenly refuge for those who are less fortunate. Even the Dalai Lama has made his presence here and planted a Bodhi tree in rememberance of enlightenment. How fortunate are we to walk on the same ground the Dalai Lama has walked upon.
Jarrod D Gray
"Today I was able to visit an orphanage. We were able to have one-to-one contact with the children and visit their dormitories and have them show us their belongings. I wanted to visit an orphanage when I came to India because I will be doing foster care when I return home and I think the experience will be beneficial"
"The lives these girls have lived and the different social and economic situations they have come from doesn't show in their behavior or on their faces because they are so happy and joyful acting."
Welcome to Photo Session
University of Kerala
2. Abhaya; Rehabilitation Center and Orphanage 1
3. Abhaya; Rehabilitation Center and Orphanage 2
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