Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time to focus

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Around this time of year, one starts thinking about winding up the year that's finished and planning what to do next year. Recently I wrote up a short statement about Mustard Seeds that explains to a certain extent what we are trying to achieve here. I'd like to share it with all our fellow mustard seeds!

Mustard Seeds is a conceptual project for community-based action on a small scale started by Maura Hurley and Gautam Basu in a suburb of Kolkata, India. The name comes from the mustard seed spice which is an important ingredient in regional Bengali cooking. Although it is a very tiny seed, it gives a potent and delicious flavor to dishes that just wouldn't taste the same without it. Mustard Seeds aims to do small-scale, peopel-to-people projects that connect those living inside and outside Kolkata.

Mustard Seeds began in 1997 with the help of friends and family outside of India who donated books and financial contributions. The very first project was setting up a children's library and activity space in one room of their flat for young people in the neighborhood. With school and study pressure being so high in Kolkata, children feel happy to come to the library and browse through the book collection, go wild with paints, write a poem, do a craft project, or have a story read to them. The library has organized coloring contests, poster contests with environmental themes, visits to local social welfare projects, and always has a big Earth Day celebration in April. Children help maintain a small garden space, Malancha, that used to be a garbage heap and raise funds for a children's rehabilitation center in south Kolkata, RCFC.

Besides the library, Mustard Seeds self-published a children's book entitled To the Local Bazaar with a simple story that uses illustrations by a traditional story scroll artist from the village of Medinipur. Sales of this book and the postcard set that was also printed give a little more support to this artist and her family. More books that use traditional artwork are set to be published too. Mustard Seed also creates outlets for some of the budding fair-trade producer groups in Kolkata to sell their products while at the same time spreading the story of women's and rural development issues in this region.

Among various projects, currently Mustard Seed members sell jams and pickles for Ankur Kala, a women's center in Kolkata that trains destitute women to become skilled and self-empowered. Greeting cards made by physically and mentally challenged individuals at Silence and Asha Niketan, two organizations that work to make people with disabilities lead more independent. lifestyles, are also available at the library as well as cards from SUCHANA, The Uttor Chandipur Early Learning Group located outside of Shantiniketan. Profits go right back to the groups that produce them to sustain their important work.

Through numerous small networkings, Mustard Seeds works to encourage others to get to know more about the many worthwhile NGO efforts going on in Kolkata through the sale of products, written commentaries, or visits to the actual sites. Mustard Seeds does not aim to become a huge organization with a central office, but instead to inspire other individuals and families to do something on a small-scale that makes a difference to another person. Why not become a Mustard Seed yourself? What blooms where you are planted is a creative and never-ending process!

Feel free to contact us.

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