Report on how work and development continues in Orissa.
Report on Palli on Unnayan Seva Samity (P.U.S.S.) September 1999
By Malcolm Harper - Chairman
I was able to spend some time with PUSS in July, when I was in Orissa conducting a post-graduate course in rural development at the Xavier Institute of Management. There are now 70 girls in 'our' boarding section, all of whom attend the PUSS school in the village, along with some 250 other children from the village. The very fact that parents from the village, of all castes, are willing and indeed eager to send their children to school along with girls from sexworkers and leprosy settlements is a major social advance in itself.
Over half the girls are from leprosy 'colonies' in Bhubaneswar, the State capital, and from the neighbouring city of Cuttack. About 30 are from two sexworkers' villages in the State, and others have been found wandering around the railway station platforms or in the streets. There is. sadly, no shortage of recruits, and as PUSS becomes better known more and more people bring girls to Naharkanta.
One little girl who joined recently had run away from the hut by the railway where she lived with her mother, who is a sexworker. She fled when her mother had the temerity to ask her 'father', the pimp who controlled her, for some more money to buy food for her daughter and eight month old baby boy. The 'father' seized the little boy in a rage and threw him to the ground, apparently leaving him for dead. The little girl was found wandering in the street.
The new accommodation for the girls, which was paid for with the lottery grant we obtained, is at last nearly completed, and it is planned that the girls should move in during October. There are six rooms, each with four double bunks. Each child will have a storage space for her own few possessions, and every room has two fans and two lights; this is real luxury by the standards of rural Orissa.
The remaining girls will sleep in the rooms where they all used to sleep, and Kadambini and Patra are undecided as to whether they should take another thirty girls, bringing to total to one hundred, or whether they should stop at seventy.
Whatever their decision, there will be a continuing need for our support. Bozaid in Bozeat have generously undertaken to sponsor ten girls, for a total of £1200 a year, and this is a very welcome addition. We still need more sponsors, however; there are few better ways. Do tell your friends about this opportunity to help really needy people, without having to worry about how much of your money is going to pay for offices, administration and fund-raising.
The open area below the new sleeping accommodation was already being well used when I visited Naharkanta. A training agency held two training courses there in new methods of making handicrafts from jute fibre, and I was also able to purchase a small supply of these and other products made at PUSS. We helped Eric Green to sell some of these at a craft fair in Northampton in August, and we plan to sell more at a Charities Fair at Middleton Hall in the shopping centre in Milton Keynes on Saturday, 16th October. Please come to see and buy them then and thus to make some more money for PUSS.
The area below the new accommodation area in Naharkanta was also used as for discussions when I took my thirty students for a 'field visit' to PUSS. Although most of the students were from Orissa, it was a real eye-opener for them, and they realised that rural development involves more than a knowledge of economics and sociology. Kadambini and Patra attended the evening session at the Institute after their visit, when the students presented their views. They described the difficulties they had experienced in building PUSS to its present position, and some of the students seemed to be genuinely inspired by what they had learned.
The school continues to flourish. Kadambini is making good use of what she learned from the Montessori and other schools she visited in England last year. The maximum class size is thirty; this is remarkable in rural India, where classes of fifty or even seventy are common, Ten of the children, two of whom are from the original boarding group who were able to come to PUSS thanks to your support some seven years ago, are in the tenth or final class. Some will go to local colleges, others may earn their living through making handicrafts as they have learned at PUSS, and one of the original boarding group is determined to return to PUSS as a teacher.
Kadambini is well aware that there is a limit to the numbers that can be accommodated at PUSS, without losing the homely atmosphere that is so vital. She hopes that in the long term the PUSS concept will be spread by 'alumnae' from Naharkanta, who will start similar schools elsewhere in Orissa, with guidance and assistance from PUSS.