Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Art is all around

Originally uploaded by dalbhat
The news and various other media often seem to portray Kolkata as all doom, gloom, helpless can really feel like life is all in the gutter here if you read such reports. There is a little paradise I visit twice a week (sometimes more) on the second floor, in a rented apartment and it brings me much hope and provides me with an outlet for my creativity.

Here is an English write-up for the art exhibition that has been substituting for eating, sleeping and breathing lately...and xmas preparations as well. It was written by our principal and students. I am finding over and over that alternative really an attitude, a way of life. It's what I walk. I so wish that all my family and friends could attend this as I somehow feel it is about every step I've taken, every country I've spent time in, every journal entry I've written, every day I have spent cutting and pasting stuff, every envelope I've saved, person I have met, vegetable scrap I've mixed into the compost.....(you get the picture)


This two-day event at SHIKSHAMITRA is not just a “school art exhibition.”

Drawing, painting, sewing, various crafts, watching art pieces , films, listening to music, theatre, dancing – all of these are part of our daily classes.

✺ Anita Sardar:
“Drawing, clay modeling, sewing, theatre, singing, dancing are essential to studying anything because there are many who do not like to do just ‘reading’.”

Here “art” is not just two periods per week or an “extra curricular” activity. Art is everywhere all the time – on the walls, on doors, on the floor, on the blackboards. It is on paper and on cloth; and even in the exams. People think this is an “Art School.” Singing and theatre are part of English classes as well as those of Geography.

✺ Indu:
“Our school is different. If there is drawing and painting with lessons, then studying becomes fun. It also becomes easy to teach. In other schools, they give books and ask that you only write in there but we don’t do that here. We do writing and drawing – after we read anything.”

Not just paper, but clay and cloth are our constant companions. But we rarely “buy” these. Used papers, thongas (envelopes from used papers), thrown away paper boxes, old clothes are re-created and re-used for drawing, painting, stitching.

This exhibition gives a glimpse of three and half years of Shikshamitra’s total educational efforts. We hope you will get some idea of what we are trying to achieve and the role of Art in all of this.

✺ Shantanu Naskar:
“We can’t remember anything only by reading, so we draw what we love to do and enjoy. Then we “read” the drawing.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sharing Books

After visiting Shikshamitra during her visit to Kolkata, when she conducted two excellent drawing classes with my students, a teacher at the UN International School, Chrysanthi Fairchild, came up with this simple yet effective idea for donating books to schools here in Kolkata.

It is a fun project that is connecting up kids from the US with kids here...through their love of books! Her idea was so simple -- just give out an envelope with the Mustard Seeds Library address on it and ask children to send a book or two to someone in Kolkata. It's called Kolkata Kidz Connection.

As the books roll in (and we have already received 55 of them....), I will either place them on the shelves of our home library where many local children borrow from, or donate them to NGO schools according to the level of the book.

Here is a report from a recent assembly held at her school:

Last Friday October 3rd, the Middle One students at the United Nations International School in New York City watched Ms. Fairchild’s slide show about her trip to  India. Ms. Fairchild spoke about the sights and sounds of this far- away country and described the schools that she had visited:  the International School of Calcutta and the Shikshamitra School in Alipore. She  spoke about the lack of reading material she had noticed at the schools and how students at UNIS are surrounded by books and  take reading books for granted.
She then showed the envelopes prepared by her class and explained the idea of mailing a book or two to students in India, perhaps with a message, and how  a book can be so important to improve reading comprehension, develop imagination as well as inform a person. The envelopes were distributed and a large poster with a place for a tally was displayed in the lounge so that the students can keep track of the books sent.

For the NGO schools, we are especially in need of books for children ages 1-8: picture books and easy readers for up to Grade 2. If you would like to work with a group of children you know and make the Kolkata Kidz Connection project grow, please be in touch at The books are truly appreciate and never sit on the shelf for very long! Each book will find a proper home and an eager reader.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Recently I have befriended some very inspirational people working here in Kolkata. I could go on and on about how dedicated they are and how they are making a difference but I think their story and the people they work with say so much more. Here is an article that is due to go on the Discovering Deaf Worlds website shortly, written by a couple, Christy and Dave, who stayed at Shuktara. They are travelling the globe looking at deaf communities and decided to hang out with this organization. Christy is deaf and Dave is hearing. Their website is

I hope you will be inspired too, as I have been over and over again living here in Kolkata, and seeing so many people reach out selflessly to bring upliftment to someone else -- in this case children who were once in situations that felt completely desperate, and who have not only found hope but more importantly a sense of true security. I hope that I can find my own mustard seed-sized way to help SHUKTARA grow, to keep this Kolkata star shining on brightly.


A Star of Happiness Shines in Kolkata

Shantara grew up on a farm in India the only deaf child of seven siblings. His father is unknown and two of his brothers died young from lack of medical care. His mother used to beat him and he was often ridiculed for being deaf. One day Shantara had enough and ran away. He boarded a train and arrived at Howrah train station in Kolkata where he would find a way to survive on the tracks. His source for food involved chasing down and tackling rats, crows and wild hens. With gathered newspapers from the streets, he would cook whatever he caught on a makeshift stove. Shantara was found and placed in several different home environments but always teased because he was deaf. Again and again, he would run away and return to Howrah station to live on his own. He was nine years old.

Anna was born in Tamil Nadu, South India. He is partially deaf, epileptic and has learning and behaviour problems. After his mother died, his family did not know what to do with him. His father took him on a long train ride. Anna fell asleep. When he woke, his father had left him. He was alone, confused and roaming around the unfamiliar tracks of Howrah station. Picked up by a local homecare, Anna was often beaten and drugged to a point of comatose to keep him quiet. He was 10 years old.

Sumon has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk without assistance. One day his brother took him for a taxi ride to Howrah station. He removed Sumon's clothes, rubbed him with dirt and left him lying on the ground with 10 rupees (25 cents) tied to his wrist in a handkerchief. He was 6 years old.

Rekha and Bapi, both deaf, possibly lived together at Howrah station. No one knows much about their families or their background before this time. They could be siblings, or just friends who met while fighting for survival. As trains arrived to this central destination in Kolkata, Rekha, Bapi, and several other children would race through the cabins, rummaging for any leftovers before the train departed on its next destination. They were 7-8 years old.

These are only a handful of stories from the thousands of children who end up at Howrah Station. Some of them are abandoned by families who want nothing to do with a child who has a disability. Others run away themselves to escape a life of abuse and mistreatment. Yet some families drop off these children with hopes and prayers for opportunity that someone better off can look after their child. What happens to these children when they arrive at Howrah station? For many, this will remain their lives, as they know it into adulthood, if they survive. Aware of the enormity of child homelessness in this area, many NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) and homecare facilities search for these children to place them in a home. But oftentimes those homes, as Shantara and Anna experienced, are abusive and unreliable.

So let us now tell you about the magic of Shuktara, a place of hope, stability, equality, safety, freedom and love. In 1999, David Earp of the UK, with helping hands from Alison Saracena and Brian Forst of the US began a home to take in those disabled or deaf children of Howrah Station. Immediate basic needs were met: a place to sleep and bathe, a staff to provide three meals a day, and most importantly, a loving, safe environment that will forever be there for them. Shuktara now provides two homes, one for 15 boys and another for 3 girls. Many of them go to school, and some even have jobs where they willingly share their earnings with other boys and girls at the home.

In these two homes, there is no oppression based on your caste level, no inequality because of your sex, and no discriminating attitudes towards any disability. Meet Pappu. Born in the Brahmin caste, Pappu was handed a life of opportunity, comfort, education and security. At age 19, by circumstance, he was living nearby the recently established boys home of Shuktara. He began hanging out with the boys, learning sign language, and getting more involved with their lives. In this time Pappu discovered a greater purpose for his life and, despite his family's strong disapproval, left their home to live with the boys at Shuktara. Eight years later, Pappu now manages the home, is fluent in sign language (as well as Bengali, Hindi and English), and has become an instrumental role model to his community.

Shuktara means "Star of Happiness" and the moment you step through the door, you understand why. There is so much love and appreciation from the eyes and hands that greet you, regardless of the unbelievable stories these boys and girls come from. By learning behaviours from humanitarians like David, Pappu, Alison and Brian, these children now take care and support each other. They have created their own family. A place of belonging. A place where they feel safe. And a place they feel free from the limitations the outside world once laid on them. This is the immaculate beauty of Shuktara.

Monday, August 18, 2008


BASHA: afternoon meal
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Today I visited Basha, which means "nest" in Bengali. This school was named to suggest that this is a place where children can get the protection and education they need to eventually take off and fly for themselves. The school started up about one year ago to provide basic primary education and health facilities to very young children from families who live in the nearby area. The students' parents work for very low wages as domestic help, drivers, rickshaw wallahs, mechanics, etc. and often find it hard to manage education for their children.

While going over the school budget and wish list with Saswati-di, the principal at Basha, I decided to use up the money that has been sitting with me from the last collection by Calcutta 100 Club. I added a little to make the amount we needed. Every evening, the children are served a meal of rice and dal, along with some other item like chicken or an egg, etc. This ensures that the child gets one nutritionally balanced meal each day and is an important part of the school program.

Thank you to our Calcutta 100 Club! We donated Rs. 4,800 (US$ 110) to pay for the rice supply for one year at the school. Basha uses 20 kg per of rice per month at Rs. 20 per kg for a total of Rs. 400 per month. To me, rice seemed like an essential – and something we can truly feel good about helping out with. I hope that next year at this time, we can raise that money again to keep this project sustainable.

Basha has also asked for help with teacher salaries. At the moment, the two teachers earn Rs. 600 per month (US$13.75). To show our appreciation for their important work and give them incentive to continue at Basha, we would very much like to increase this to Rs. 800 (a raise of $4.57) from the Puja festival season so let me know if you have any good fundraising ideas. Their raise would cost the exact same amount as the rice for 12 months.

I was given a breakdown of all food expenses for one month at the school:

Item Monthly need Rs./kg

Rice 20 kg 20

Wheat 10 kg 18

Milk 24 l 20/l

Cook.oil 7 l 95 l

Eggs 60 pc 2.5 pc

Chicken 6 kg 110/kg

Dal 3 kg 50

Sooji 4 kg 25

Kidney beans 2 kg 50

Dalia 10 kg 28

Channa 2 kg 35

Friday, August 15, 2008


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Last week we started a small eco-club for my daughter's class. We only have about six members right now but in fact it is really nice to work with such a small, eager group. And as they say in the world of environmentalism, "Small is Beautiful!"

We brainstormed eco-vocabulary and related all the words to each other and then we listened to a poem about how seeing birds makes one feel at peace with the world. After that we made small notebooks out of recycled paper and decorated them with these eco-stamps.

Each week, one of the children will do a presentation on a famous environmentalist or environmental movement - explaining what that person did or does to be kind to the planet or what people are doing as a group. The list includes the following (and I'd love some more ideas if you have them as I would like to have eco-representatives from around the world):

Jane Goodall / Roots and Shoots
Chipko Movement
Wangari Mathai
Sunderlal Bahagunaji
Julia Butterfly Hill
Rabindranath Tagore
David Suzuki
Vandana Shiva
Pete Seeger
Masanobu Fukuoka
Chief Seattle
Rachel Carson
Not in My Backyard
Severn Suzuki
Critical Mass

Bruno Manser
Indigenous peoples around the world
David Attenborough
Manika Gandhi

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shikshamitra Blog

These days I don't report much on this Mustard Seeds blog what is happening at the school where I teach, Shikshamitra. I guess that is because I have started yet another blog where teachers and students are sharing some of the methods and activities going on there.

This photo was taken on a recent trip to the Clay Workshop where our clay teacher does the firing of the students' work. At the moment we are making terracotta ornaments as a product for the holiday season. One of the main products being made at the clay workshop are the small tea cups that are used at street tea stalls here. It was nice to see the people behind these precious works of art that get used on a daily basis, with little thought about how they came to sit in your hand serving up a refreshing little sip of tea to keep you going!

I hope you will visit our new blog from time to time too:

Shikshamitra is a school and resource center dedicated to finding alternative methods for both teaching and learning. It is based on Gandhian thought as well as some of the ideas of Steiner, Montessori and...Totto-chan!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chautary and Mustard Seeds plant a few new KOLKATA SEEDS

Chautary visit
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Over the past few days, Mustard Seeds has had the opportunity to host friends who have come from Nara, Japan. Etsuko Yamaguchi-san runs the fair trade shop and child-sponsor NGO called CHAUTARY. Her assistant, Kanbe-san, came along with her to research and record some of the education projects their group is interested in sponsoring in the future.

Mustard Seeds is dedicated to linking people up with various NGOs in Kolkata so that everyone can understand the sort of challenges that face marginalized classes here and work together to improve the situation. After seeing the excellent work being done in the field of education for the poor by many dedicated people, Chautary has promised to work with us from now on in order to provide some financial support, even if just a little, to various projects in Kolkata, I believe that a very meaningful seed has just been planted and I wish to thank Chautary for giving Mustard Seeds a chance to grow a little more.

Here's a rough look at the groups we visited:

Day 1/ Wednesday: We visited BASHA (Bird's Nest) which is located in Gol Park. This little school is fairly new but is already providing bright primary education opportunities and health care to children between the ages of 3-6 from the neighboring areas. The children also receive a meal at around 5:00 each day. Friends from Chautary have promised to raise the money to sponsor six of the students at Basha for one year each.

Day 2/ Thursday: Yamaguchi-san and Kanbe-san visited the school where I teach art, SHIKSHAMITRA, for the afternoon. They gave the children kaminendo (packaged paper mache) to work with, and we were all surprised to see the exciting creations made using this altogether new medium. The students were excited to learn they could take what they made home too!

Day 3/ Friday: We visited the SILENCE workshop. Chautary was impressed to see so many different crafts being made all under one roof: candle-making, silk-screening and hand-painting, xmas ornaments, and jewelry making.

Day 4 / Saturday: We went to one of the EMPOWER THE CHILDREN programs called PRERONA (in the photo above). What a great time we all had exchanging songs, dances and skits as we all got to know each other a little more.

Chautary hopes to visit Kolkata on a regular basis in order to further some of the ideas we discussed this time around.

Two young girls at Prerona show some of the impressive cross-stitch they have learned as part of a vocational skills program:

Basha students get a meal each day they attend the school:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Why not join the Teaspoon Brigade?

Not too much going on here at Mustard Seeds but thought I'd include this wonderful little article that says it all to me. I am a litter gitter myself and I never stop believing that it is worth putting the stuff where it belongs rather than all over the place.

At a Roadside Vigil, an Iconic Voice of Protest

Dennis Gaffney for The New York Times
Published: June 22, 2008

WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. — Pete Seeger pulled his black Toyota Highlander into the Staples parking lot here and plucked some signs from the back seat, including one with “Peace” spray-painted in large orange letters. With that, he slung his banjo over his shoulder like an old musket and marched toward the intersection of Route 9, a bustling six-lane thoroughfare, and 9D, the “Hudson Valley P.O.W.-M.I.A. Memorial Highway.”

Pete Seeger at his post at Routes 9 and 9D on June 7 in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., the site of weekly vigils against the war.
But before the 89-year-old folk singer flashed his antiwar signs to passing drivers from this no-man’s land — a patch of green about an hour north of New York City on the Hudson River — he bent over again and again, picking up litter.

“This is my religion now,” said Mr. Seeger. “Picking up trash. You do a little bit wherever you are.”

Mr. Seeger, the man behind the founding of the Clearwater Festival, being held this weekend at Croton Point Park, is scheduled to appear there on Sunday.

But for the last four years, most Saturdays he has been keeping his vigil in Wappingers Falls, usually not recognized by the hundreds of drivers who whiz by. It is a long road from 1969, when to protest the Vietnam War he sang John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” at the foot of the Washington Monument.

“After two minutes, thousands were singing,” he recalled. “After three minutes, four minutes, a hundred thousand were singing. At the end of eight minutes, all five hundred thousand were singing.”

These days, fewer than a dozen protesters usually participate, while nearly as many who support the war in Iraq hold a counterdemonstration across Route 9. Mr. Seeger, a political activist who has traveled the world, rarely ventures farther than the few miles from here to his home in Beacon, N.Y.

On this particular Saturday, Mr. Seeger chatted easily with Chris Miller of Poughkeepsie. “He’s an ex-Army member,” Mr. Seeger said, “and they’re trying to send him over again.”

Mr. Miller, 38, served as a therapist for four years before receiving an honorable discharge in January 2006. But on Dec. 22, 2007, he said, he received orders to return to Iraq, although he is appealing that decision.

Mr. Miller said he had spent countless hours listening to Mr. Seeger’s stories, like the one about how his car windows were shattered in Peekskill in 1949 as he and his family left a performance he had given with the singer Paul Robeson, who was thought to have Communist sympathies, as was Mr. Seeger. Or the one about the Vietnam veteran who said he had come to a concert in the Catskills to kill Mr. Seeger because of his antiwar stance, but was turned around by the performance and made his way backstage to tell of his transformation.

“I smiled and shook his hand,” Mr. Seeger said. “I had my banjo. We sat down and sang, ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ ” Afterward, Mr. Seeger said, the man told him, “I feel clean now.”

Mr. Seeger said he wrote that song in the mid-1950s accompanied by the same banjo he totes around today.

As for Mr. Miller: “Seeing what Pete has gone through and always standing up for what he believed in, despite the consequences, made my decision easier to resist the war. It made me comfortable that in the long run I’ll be all right.”

At one point, Mr. Seeger looked across the highway to the knot of counterdemonstrators. “They always have more flags,” Mr. Seeger said. “But our signs are more fun.” He said he crossed the street once about a year ago and talked to a veteran.

“I shook his hand and said, ‘I’m glad we live in a country where we can disagree with each other without shooting at each other.’ He had to shake my hand. He didn’t know what to say. I even picked up a little litter over there.”

As he chatted, Mr. Seeger broke into “Take It From Dr. King,” which he wrote after the Sept. 11 attacks, in a voice as worn as an old phonograph record.

“Don’t say it can’t be done,” he sang, tapping out the rhythm on his thighs as his Adam’s apple bobbed to the music. “The battle’s just begun/Take it from Dr. King/You too can learn to sing/So drop the gun.”

With songs like that one and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an anti-Vietnam War anthem, it is easy to assume he is a pacifist. But that assumption would be wrong. His family tree is adorned with both Quakers and a Revolutionary War veteran.

“Hitler had to be done away with,” said Mr. Seeger, who served in World War II.

His 1966 antiwar anthem, “Bring ’Em Home,” resurrected by Bruce Springsteen in recent years, includes the words: “There’s one thing I must confess/I’m not really a pacifist/If an army invaded this land of mine/You’d find me out on the firing line.”

Asked whether he thought that protesting by the side of the road would help end the war, he said: “I don’t think that big things are as effective as people think they are. The last time there was an antiwar demonstration in New York City I said, ‘Why not have a hundred little ones?’ ”

He said that working for peace was like adding sand to a basket on one side of a large scale, trying to tip it one way despite enormous weight on the opposite side.

“Some of us try to add more sand by teaspoons,” he explained. “It’s leaking out as fast as it goes in and they’re all laughing at us. But we’re still getting people with teaspoons. I get letters from people saying, ‘I’m still on the teaspoon brigade.’ ”

Tattapani Clean Up

On the morning of June 5th, World Environment Day, we were trying to leave Shimla to drive to a small hot spring valley village called Tattapani. The rain just kept coming down in buckets and we were not prepared for it. Just walking to the car which was parked below The Mall (only for pedestrians) would have had us completely drenched so although we set out once, we headed back to "waterproof" ourselves for that day, and the rest of our trip.

Many of the mountain towns we passed through had strict bans on plastic bags which, unlike in Kolkata, are actually enforced. So, finding plastic to line our bags was going to be a bit of a mindbender. I headed down into town from the YMCA and was accosted by a mob of young school children on their World Environment Day parade. They had faced the rain too, but it didn't stop them. I gave them a hearty thumbs up in support of their efforts and headed down behind them to find my "silver lining," all the while making a mental note that it was World Environment Day and wondering what could I do to mark it. I found my plastic supply in a bin in the back of a suitcase shop, big bags that were once suitcase wrap!

Anyhow, after putting all of our stuff in bags inside of our packs, we were ready to head to Tattapani. We arrived after coming down about 3 hours from a 2000 ft. elevation in Shimla to a 600 ft one -- to a warm climate and a beautiful rocky river that begged to have us while the afternoon away. I found my Environment Day task awaiting me here: small packets of chips, shampoos and conditioners, underpants were strewn about. I will never understand why people in India seem to take no responsibility for keeping their sacred areas clean. This was a perfect case, take a bath in a holy hot spring and throw your shampoo and underpants over the side into the spring itself, all the while feeling very religiously pure of heart.

While the kids made long canals and riverways in the sand, I spent about two hours cleaning the area up and could really see a difference when I called it a day. After dinner, the kids and I made some signs and we asked the man who ran the guest house if he could please put the signs up, along with some bins so that customers had a place to throw their rubbish. He welcomed our efforts and our suggestions and took photos of us all for the local newspaper!

My Environment Day message to the world?
Please don't trash the Himalayas:
Bring your plastic bag to the cities!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Merit Awards at Suchana

Our friends who run Suchana sent us a report and photos on the awards ceremony that took place last week on 21 April. It was a nice little session with distribution of 43 very practical prizes: umbrellas were given to the youngest children so they can come to school in sun and rain; clipboards and pens to the middle groups; and English-Bengali dictionaries were presented to the older children. The prizes were awarded not only for effort, progress, and cooperation (rather than skill levels), but for student contributions to the annual show, good use of the library, and other areas. Needless to say, everybody was extremely happy.  

Mustard Seeds wishes to convey a special thanks to our friends, Etsuko and Michael Yamaguchi from the Chautary shop and NGO in Nara, Japan, who made a generous contribution toward the purchase of the merit prizes awarded at Suchana this time. We would also like to thank Siobhan Wilson, owner of the fair trade shop, Kolkata, in Brighton who has given a contribution to Suchana for the purchase of Bengali children's books for the library.

For those who don't know, Suchana is a community group working in rural West Bengal, focusing on education and health. The education project (the Early Learning Group) is a group of children and teachers which meets three times a week to participate in an activity-based learning curriculum aiming to support and encourage those children who attend regular school, and provides an introduction to literacy to those who don't. Currently, over 120 children participate. The health project now works in all six of the Suchana villages, delivering primary health information in a participatory format and linking villagers in with locally existing health services. Suchana has recently purchased land close to its current location, and is making preparations to erect a multi-purpose building (or two!).

If you would like more information, please contact Kirsty or Rahul at:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earthinking happening!

emma: 6
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Thanks to everyone who has submitted their eco-tote designs so far. Since Earth Day is every day we plan to allow another week or so before we announce any winners! Keep them coming, folks!

Ayonika's Earth Message:

Dear Earth,
I am so happy you give us all the things like water, oxygen, and so many other things. I say thank you. All the other animals and humans say the same thing. And we will all try to save animals and trees that you have given us.
Thank you, Earth!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A WEE Little Update

I just wanted to inform you that the women selected at Jeevika have started their course and are really enjoying it. I was told they were really impressed with the facilities there. Thanks to everyone who worked quickly to make this happen...especially the Batesville, Arkansas Calcutta 100 Club contingent and Shara Alexander!

Here is a note I received from Jeevika Development Society:

Dear Maura di,

Thanks for your help in organizing so many production orders and the fund for the tailoring training. The training will be conducted through the Bhowanipore Education Society.

The training will be of three months duration and will be held twice in a week. 10 girls will benefit from this training. We thank you once again for organizing 10 thousand rupees that enabled us to participate in the training. We also request you to convey our sincere thanks to our well wishers

Thanks for your sustained cooperation.

Jeevika Development Society

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Join our 2008 Eco-Design Contest

2008 eco-design contest
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
We are getting ready for Earth Day on April 22nd at Mustard Seeds Library. Yesterday the kids who came had a great time helping me with the clay I had let sit a bit to long get moist again so that we can mold it. A few managed to make it soft enough to work with and form little people and fruits. We all enjoyed getting covered in Earth and it was a nice way to start the month of April which we decided will be dedicated to eco-awareness in many fun shapes and forms.

Two years back we had a great time desiging some excellent eco-Tshirts at Mustard Seeds Library and these were hung up in the library for a long time inspiring us and visitors to do more for the planet (or do less). The winning shirt designs were presented with handcrafted, eco-friendly prizes. This year we are asking you to design your own cloth tote bag so that you can say, "No thanks!" to plastic bags when you are out marketing.

We invite anyone to enter -- from anywhere on the planet. Just email me at so I can send you the PDF file to print, design and mail to us -- as soon as possible!

We look forward to getting entries from all over -- so spread the word and ask your friends to join too!

Send your entry to:
Mustard Seeds Library
A5 Vidyasagar Niketan
Block EA / Sector One
Salt Lake, Kolkata 700 064 INDIA

Here are some links on this topic sent in by friends:

Make every day Earth day...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Calcutta 100 Club swings into action for JEEVIKA Development Society

Jeevika stitching
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
It has been a while since the Calcutta 100 Club jumped into action but I recently received an urgent request for help with raising some funds for an organization I have been working with for more than eight years here in Kolkata.

Women in the Jeevika Development Society tailoring and embroidery-based income-generation program in Joka have the opportunity to attend a 25-day fashion design course at the Bhawanipur Educational Institute here in Kolkata. It starts this month! A very reasonable rate (10 women for Rs. 10,000/approx. US$260) has been offered to the group to participate, but lack of funds is holding them back. Women will learn about colors & designing, how to make patterns, and running an electric sewing machine (they are only familiar with manual models): skills that could lead to further empowerment for these women who mainly come from rural backgrounds.

I am sending around information to all the members in our Calcutta 100 Club, a small effort by friends and family of Mustard Seeds to raise money when it is specifically needed for a certain project. The idea is simply that we gather just 100 friends who are willing to give at least $10.00 at a time. If we get 100 people involved, the amount will eventually come to $1000 each time, a significant amount to make a difference on a specific “mustard-size” project in Kolkata. We are not at 100 people yet but...some examples of what we have been able to do so far include buying school books for children participating in Dr. Jack Preger’s Calcutta Rescue street children education project; build a house for a village artist and her family; provide money to Sangeeta Mondal who had a very successful leg operation and is now walking.

If you would like to make a small financial contribution just this once, or want to join our tribe of me and I will tell you how. In the event that we go beyond our goal, I'd like to set the money aside as a fund for when courses such as this are available in the future. Please be in touch! Thanks always

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sharing Talents and Time

Originally uploaded by dalbhat
A few classes back, I taught a short lesson on vibration, sound, rhythm and we made a glass xylophone at school. I thought to myself after the class, "I don't know how to teach music...I wish I knew how to teach the kids some basics about music...they really need that...."

Well, you know how the saying goes? Be careful what you wish for!

The next day I was talking to my friend Rosalie who organizes a lot of volunteers who come to Kolkata to work at various schools and NGOs. She said the volunteers working with her this month were both musicians and had been doing terrific music workshops with children at her schools. One thing led to another and a workshop was organized for my students at Shikshamitra last Friday as well.

Alice and Hannah, both from England, had a very well planned out two-hour program that taught the students all the basics of making music. At the end we all put on a short performance that was recorded. They went over concepts like tempo, rhythm, pitch, dynamic, and articulation -- and then put it altogether.

Thanks to both of them for bringing this unique experience to our school! Good luck on your endeavor to do more workshops like this designed to attract a variety of participants.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fuuwa: Community Free Space

Originally uploaded by dalbhat
After the workshop in Sasayama, we were all invited to stay the night at Free Space Fuuwa. When we arrived there were about 25 people around several tables that were fitted together and every person in the room brought a dish. We went around the table and each introduced both ourself and the dish we brought. Then we had a discussion about Kolkata NGOs and the fair trade movement.

I was so inspired by the sincerity at this space, which is the dreamchild of a woman named MUKAI Chihiro-san. She originally worked as a social worker but also wanted to live in a rural setting. She put it altogether to establish FUUWA, which caters to elderly and young people living in the community. If you take a look around, you can see that everyone who visits is allowed to share something and although Chihiro manages things, she is happiest when she can facilitate someone else's learning and achievements.

In the evening we all sat around, after a very long day, and drank the most delicious lemon sake drink...followed by a pot of hot tea. I didn't want the night to end, or the peace to stop flowing.

The four shoji screens behind Chihiro in this photo were done by children who live in the village. The photo doesn't do them justice, they are gorgeous.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Visiting the Rakutendo Home and Shop

rakutendo genkan
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
One of the reasons for my coming to Japan this time was that I was invited by my friend Chiaki-san and her husband, Muu-san to do a presentation together. The idea is that we would combine my experiences working with children in India with their movement to introduce bean cuisine to a wider and wider audience, as a means of reducing the amount of meat consumed in the world.

We created a workshop where I introduced a few simple ideas about living in India, by showing various things from India, and then Chiaki-san introduced the food that children in Kolkata eat each day: dal and chapati (rooti in Bengali). The workshop was held up in the mountains at the Sasayama Children's Museum, a creative facility established in an old primary school that allows children to explore the world around them on many levels. It was so much fun watching three - ten year olds trying so hard to make their chapati puff up perfectly in the final step!

Mustard Seeds is very proud of the project it has collaborated on with Rakutendo and Jeevika Development Society, a womens' handicraft training center in Kolkata. Rakutendo is a vegetarian bean cuisine club that studies recipes using beans from around the world and packs kits that give the exact beans and spices needed to make the recipes. A member receives the kit in the mail each month.

About three years ago, when I was leaving Japan to return to Kolkata, Rakutendo's Bean Cuisine Club members developed a
pot cover that not only keeps food warm but allows you to take beans
off the gas burner earlier and keep the cooking going for the last 15
minutes under the pot cover. Sooooo...if 100 people save 15 minutes of gas every time they cook, it really adds up. I had asked them to put on their thinking caps to see if we could create some sort of fair trade project within the group; and I like that this product is something that also protects the environment! The pot covers are made of handloom kesh made by the Tagore Society in Santiniketan: weaving old sarees together to create incredible and one-by-one unique patterns. Even each label, a little smiling bean (thegroup's motto is "All we are saying ... is give beans a chance..."), is hand-embroidered by Jeevika, along with all the sewing on the cover itself. They are just about half way through the third order of the pot covers. Each order was for 100 pieces. That's a lot of pot covers.

Ahhhh. I love this sort of thing! Now we are working on a spice holder pouch for members to keep their spices in. Wish us luck!

Thank you to Rakutendo for making doors open for me...and so many other people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Taking Mustard Seeds to Japan

Originally uploaded by dalbhat
As I prepare to head to Japan, to do some exchange projects and presentations on the topic of Children in Kolkata, I have to review just exactly what we have been doing lately. It is always good to review the work at the beginning of the year, and this has given me the impetus to put it down in writing once again.

In Japan, I will be doing some mini-exhibitions of my students artwork on the theme, "Who am I?" as well as making dal and chappati with Japanese children, and of course, selling handicrafts! A big thank you to all my friends in Japan who have helped arrange venues for me to share my experiences and the products from Kolkata!

Mustard Seeds •••
Small efforts for Big Results in Kolkata, India

The mustard seed is an important part of Bengali cooking. Although it is very tiny, it packs a potent and powerful taste!

Mustard Seeds is a small-scale family project that runs a community library and does fundraising projects for several social development and environmental organizations in Kolkata. It is our hope that, just like the mustard seed, through our small efforts and limited time, we can participate in some of the important projects to alleviate poverty and strengthen education opportunities in Kolkata and outlying rural areas - by creating cultural exchanges, giving financial support, networking and distributing information whenever possible.

Some of our major projects include:

We run a small lending library in our apartment in Kolkata for neighbor children. We organize various projects for kids to take part in and keep a blog called MANGO SMILES, a newsletter the children help put together. Children can access books on the environment and other world issues at the library (see 
MSeeds believes that income generation is the best way to support marginalized people, so we continue to purchase high-quality craft items made in vocational skills programs, and continue to sell them as a means of telling the lifestories of the people who produce them. We are always looking for volunteers to help us give these groups more exposure by offering to sell handicrafts at small shops, fairs, cafes, etc. Please be in touch if you have ideas!

Jeevika Development Society provides rural women from very low-income backgrounds with embroidery and tailoring skill training and a fair wage for their work. Through the help of well-wishers, we sell their unique kantha stitched handicrafts at small venues and fairs in Japan, the UK, and the US. We also sell some of the colorful handicrafts made by street children and young adults who take part in the schooling and vocational skills program at Calcutta Rescue (founded by Dr. Jack Preger). Mustard Seeds also designs silk-screen greeting cards with a group called Silence, which gives handicraft training and employment opportunities to deaf and 'otherly abled' workers.

A few of the other groups we work to support through financial contributions (thanks to members of our Calcutta 100 Club, who give a small donation for specific projects every once in a while) inclue :

• Balia Bio-Agro Mission, is an organic farming initiative offering free education to migrant workers; Empower the Children, which also provides education opportunities to some of Kolkata's poorest children.

• Suchana, is a rural school that has been running for over three years and is ready to move into its own building. Suchana serves three villages in Khanjanpur in West Bengal by offering study-support to children in government education programs, and to pre-school learners. We are collecting funds now to help them build a proper school building so if you have a fundraising idea, be in touch!

• Shikshamitra, an alternative education model school working to address complex issues related to education in India - and show positive examples! Maura works as the arts and crafts teacher here, and helps manage the Learn & Earn Project. Several visitors have come to share their time and talents with our students. This creates meaningful exchanges that last a lifetime.

To the Local Bazaar (¥500) is a children's book we published using illustrations by our friend, a village pata story scroll artist Karuna Chitrakar. It is written in English with Bengali subtitles. We have also made a postcard sets using artwork by artists from the pata tradition. We hope by making these we can bring this traditional art form to the attention of more people and help support Karuna and others like her through its sales.  Last year, Mustard Seeds raised enough money to significantly support the building of a house for Karuna and her family. Thanks to everyone who put their efforts into this project.

Please be in touch if you have ideas.
If you would like to make a donation in Japan, send by postal transfer to:
mustard seed, japan

Please contact me if you would like to send support from other places and I will let you know how.

Thanks for your interest and support.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Garden sketching

boloram's gadaphul
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
On Thursday, my students from Shikshamitra finally, finally, finally came to visit Mustard Seeds Library and the garden spot, Malancha. They came by bus with three teachers from our school and a teacher from the Swanirvar school in the village. It was so wonderful to host such important people in my life. After the initial settling down, kids looking at books, building train tracks, cuddling stuffed animals, we went down to the garden, and I showed them how I feed the compost heap. I showed them how we reuse the overflow of water from the tanks on the roof of our neighboring apartment building to water the garden each day and I introduced some of my favorite plants. I tried to explain how every leaf that falls, and every dead flower is recycled back into the soil. Tried to tell them why the little garden space gives me such hope.

Then each of the children found a space in the garden and concentrated on one of the plants and did their sketching activity. I also sat down to try a little sketch but my mind wandered with so much activity and the excitement of having all the kids over. I sadly had to set it down.

Right then – I remembered it. More important than the actual finished picture, the act of sketching like this, of plopping yourself down to look at something carefully and place it upon your page in some pleasing way, is such a very nice activity for learning patience, concentration and problem solving. I hope to go down and do a little myself while the garden is still in bloom and smiling with all the admiration being showered upon it lately.

We hung all the finished sketches up as an exhibition at Mustard Seeds Library for the children at Vidyasagar to add to when Sunday rolls around!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Interesting on Education in India

Something we are working to aspire to at our school