Monday, November 09, 2009

Suchana cards 2009

Suchana cards 2009
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
As some of you may know, Suchana designs and prints a set of six beautiful greeting cards each year as a means of raising funds for their learning center project in Khanjanpu. Here are the latest designs, all created by students at Suchana.

You can choose from two different inside greetings: "Season's Greetings" or "With Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year" or blank.

If you know of a place where these can be sold we would appreciate hearing from you. And, if you would like to purchase a set (or more) for yourself, please be in touch with me by email and I will be happy to get them to you right away. Each set of six costs US$6 = postage. I have a big stock of these! (

This year all the funds will be used to expand the curriculum at the newly built school.

There are also cute memo pads for $1 each.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
This week I visited Anandneer to purchase some of their paper products for an upcoming holiday bazaar. I was very excited to see the beautiful, well-organized workshop and other facilities at this bright space located in South Calcutta.

Anandneer is an initiative of the REACH school, developing training and employment opportunities for a very talented group of mentally and physically challenged artisans. The organization seeks to provide security for those students who have graduated from the school and are moving onto independent livelihoods.

Some of the beautiful products being made here include wrapping paper, shopping bags, and envelopes. I got a very nice demonstration of the printing techniques used to design the wrapping paper.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Uplifting" efforts by Suchana

Book Project by Students of Suchana

For those who contributed to the Suchana Centre building fund, I thought you might like to have more information on the kind of education program going on there.

You may find this article to be of interest. It is a review of the book that Suchana recently published in Bengali, featuring creative writings and illustrations by the students. The review goes on to include interviews with teachers and shows the spirit of Suchana's philosophy!

Please note that the article has one misinterpretation: it seems to say that the children at Suchana don't go to the government schools because they cannot access them - but nearly all of them do go, and suchana acts as a back up to that.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the book, you can email me or Kirsty

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thanks to our guest

tamio: diary workshop
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
A friend of ours often has couch surfers staying with her and since two people were coming from Japan she pointed me in the direction of their websites. When I had a look at TAMIO'S website I got very excited by his collage and writing talents. He has self-published his travel diaries. Ruchira and I rigged up a way for these two couch surfers to visit Mustard Seeds on the way to their couch, and in so doing... I was able to snag another guest to come visit my students at Shikshamitra.

Last Thursday, we all sat in a big circle and talked about diary writing.
How many of you keep a diary?
When would you keep a diary?
What sort of things do people write in their diaries?
Why would someone keep a diary?
What sort of things would go in a diary?
After a discussion prompted by these questions, Tamio and I passed around our own diaries and let the children look through them. Then we talked again about what kind of things a person can include.

Using a book-origami fold we turned big sheets of brown paper into small notebooks for each of the kids and then we let them start making their own collage-filled diaries. Most of the kids got the idea right off, and started making beautiful works of art but we ran out of time so I will continue the class next week.

Thanks so much to Tamio and Jody for joining us and sharing their ideas and creativity with us!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Our annual gift of rice to Basha

MSeeds again
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
An update is needed on some of the recent fundraising and giving Mustard Seeds has done with the help of friends in Japan and the US:

This photo is a receipt showing our second annual donation to cover the purchase of rice at BASHA school. The money came from sale of handicrafts in Japan and donations received by well wishers. Basha runs on a pretty low budget but believes that providing a nutritious meal each day offers more than just an incentive to attend, it offers a chance at good physical and mental health too. They do not want to scrimp on the lunches provided to children every afternoon. I visited Basha in early August and was happy to see how big all the kids are becoming -- and smart too!

Also from funds collected in Japan, we were able to pay for new crutches for Ashok Sarkar who often visits our home in Salt Lake, and for Karuna Chitrakar's second eye surgery.

Thanks also to the Portland International Gourmet Society (PIGS), who raised money for Mustard Seeds at one of their monthly gourmet gatherings! This money will go toward Shikamitra's Learn and Earn Program.

Ashok Sarkar

And for those who gave to the Calcutta 100 Club effort to help get the new Suchana building up and running, here is the latest photo from Kirsty and Rahul! It's looking great and reports have it that there is a flurry of activity at the new school! I hope to be visiting very soon for a first-hand view!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Calcutta 100 Club Fundraising Update 2009

A special thanks to each and every one of you who responded to our shout for funds to help build Suchana's new education resource center and some other programs happening in Kolkata. Through your most generous contributions (amounting to over Rs. 37000) Suchana has been able to achieve its goal of getting the building up before the monsoon rains. It is very exciting to hear updates as the building work takes place. It looks like the Suchana community will actually be using the new space from July! I have to say that it really was with great pride that I handed over the funds to the Suchana Committee as it trickled in, and I hope that once the building is finished we can also help them to stabilize their all-expanded curriculum and help some other important projects here – in our Mustard Seed-size way!

In the latest Suchana newsletter, Kirsty writes:

Watching this building come up is not just’s incredible! It is the result of a combined effort by so many people –Suchana’s teachers, Committee, builders, helpers, advisors, fundraisers, friends, family, and all those of you who have helped us with donations. It’s also inspiring – this is the space where we are finally going to be able to pull together all the potential gathered over the last 4 years and put it into a structured but flexible full-time programme. That is a big responsibility – but there’s a lot of anticipation and enthusiasm here about taking this responsibility on.

The veranda roof, which many of you have specifically helped us build, is due to be completed by next week. If all goes well, we will be ‘moving in’ during the June holiday and from July, Suchana will be in operation from the new site! Through July and August we will be running our current ELG and Health programmes, and in September we will begin the new elements of the full-time programme in phases – ‘tuitions’ for middle school children; extra pre-school mornings; computer training; full-time library and supervised space for reading, completing homework assignments or working on art projects. By December, we hope to start working on extending the library facilities to new members from other villages.

Construction is never completely plain sailing though. Having finally gathered together the paper work to make an application for an electricity connection (funded by another great combined effort by the Calcutta100 Club and Mustard Seeds) we discovered that we couldn’t pay the local building tax required before an application will be accepted until after the General Election. The election has been phased and has just been finalised so if we’re lucky we can now make the application and will have electricity for our July start.

The ELG library is really flourishing, and we would be very grateful for help in expanding this extremely effective literacy resource. We have the site – now we just need more books! We especially need children’s Bengali books. Simple English books (Ages 1-6) are also useful. The books we ‘manage’ are read by many, many children!


So, hats off to each and every one of you who contributed and to my sister, Margo Baker, who has been helping me with this project! Suchana is making an effort to improve its work with the older children now studying in middle school and much of this new work will be in the early evenings. Having electricity is vital to this part of the programme in particular. In the new building, Suchana plans to open up a free study room so that children can read and work on projects in the evenings – most of the Suchana students have no electricity at home. We are making this possible!

2009 Calcutta 100 Club contributions (Jan-Aug):

SUCHANA: Kate Goldman, Jan Fujikawa, Rajita Majumdar and Family, Chris Rickerd, Rick Pestana, Jean Sullivan, Mary Clock-Rust, Sagaree Sengupta and Family, Kyoko Hosoki, Domi Long, One World English School, Jen Blain & Family, Marguerite Shaddy, Nancy Anchor, Ann Overton, Stephen Mackerras, Atula Ahuja, Susie McNaughton, Neil Haran and the Nara Team (Rex Tanimoto, Catriona Takeuchi, Makoto Takeuchi, Kiyomi Asada, Mr. Asada, Fumie Fujimoto, Junko Tsuda, Darlene Itoh, Steve Nishida, Brock McKinnon)

Jenifer Douglas and Family have made a contribution to SHUKTARA, a home for young boys and girls with disabilities.

Mary and Peter Max gave the amount to pay for this school year's donation of rice for the students at BASHA school. Calcutta 100 Club covered this cost last year and when I visited Basha recently I was told that they are counting on us for this each year!

Kolkata Seeds Japan continues to pay the rent at SHIKSHAMITRA, an alternative curriculum secondary school and also sponsor the education for six of the students at BASHA.

TO DONATE: Please email me for further details.

1. US • Check payable to: Maura Hurley
Send to: Margo Hurley (Calcutta 100 Club)
285 Brewer Hill Road
Batesville, AR 72501-5228
Mark ‘Calcutta 100’ in memo space

2. JAPAN • Please send by postal transfer to
The account:
mustard seed, japan
Mark ‘Calcutta 100’ in memo space

3. UK • Post a cheque made out to 'Friends of Suchana' to :
Friends of Suchana
Clare's Forstal / Throwley Forstal / Faversham / Kent ME13 0PJ
* UK tax payers should ask Angela to send them a Gift Aid form so Suchana gets a 28% tax rebate on the donation:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

EARTH DAY 2009 with Class 4 EARTHinkers

I have had the pleasure of working with some of the students at my own childrens' school in an afterschool club. We formed a small ecology club called Class 4 EARTHinkers and we have been concentrating on learning about easy things we can do to better understand the problems facing the planet and where kids fit in to make change. It's casual and fun and there is a lot of hands-on stuff too!

For the Monday Assembly at school, in honor of Earth Day, the children performed a small play called THE ABC's of Helping the Planet. The children developed their own props and variations, and all played their parts beautifully with great enthusiasm...and the audience told us that they learned a lot! Here is the play, edited a bit, in case anyone else wants to get inspired by our EARTHinkers group too.

A play performed by Class 4 EARTHinkers for Earth Day 2009

I think you all know that our good friend, Mother Earth, is in trouble.

We share the Earth with many people and other living creatures, including plants and insects. The Earth gives us many special gifts in which to live: trees for books, sand for building, water for drinking and bathing, scenery for feeling peace and harmony -- you name it, it ALL comes from our Mother Earth. With the population increasing we need to think about how we can protect the planet, and not strip her of her glorious gifts for future generations.

At school we can learn more about this incredible planet we live on and also learn ways in which to live in harmony. For this celebration of Teacher's Day, we will introduce a few ideas and suggestions for what kids can do to start making a difference in protecting the environment. This list is just the beginning, surely we can all come up with plenty more ideas of our own. It's time to become very best friends of the Earth!

A is for ANIMALS
Animals have feelings, just as you and I do. Just like us, they feel heat and cold, sun and rain. Just like us, they enjoy a comfortable place to live, good food, and loving attention. They miss you when you are away, and they remember things that have happened to them. With house pets, it is easy to provide these things but just because wild animals are not your pets doesn’t mean you cannot do nice things for them. You can help wild animals by enjoying them where they belong – outdoors, wild and free. Animals taken from the wild may not survive in an unnatural setting. You can plant colorful flowers to attract butterflies, be careful about using paper to protect forests where so many animals make their homes. Feed the birds. There are many ways. Let’s not let any one of the animal species become extinct due to human activity. The Earth belongs to everyone – animals too!

B is for BRUSH
Toothbrush that is! We all brush our teeth, right? Well, next time you are standing there brushing – check yourself! Are you letting precious water just pass down the drain or do you always remember to turn off the tap while brushing? It's another one of those very simple ways we can all help to save resources!

It is such an easy thing to do and makes a big difference! What is it? Carry your own bags when you go to the market. Plastic bags are DANGEROUS – they clog drains, are harmful to animals when consumed, and pollute the soil and air with chemicals as they never decompose. Of course we cannot get rid of plastic bags completely but we can use them more wisely and not overuse them. Why not say, “No!” to plastic bags and decorate a bag yourself. You’ll be the most fashionable shopper around!

D is for DUSTBIN
Putting all our snack wrappers and other trash items into the dustbin shows we care, and want to keep our own environment green. PUTTING TRASH IN ITS PLACE is an easy first step to taking responsibility for the earth. Please do not litter. Especially, do not throw items off your veranda or out windows or onto the roads. This simple change – that begins with you – will help make Kolkata beautiful and clean! Put it in the bin…and grin with pride!

E is for EARTH DAY
Earth Day happens on April 22. The first one was held in 1970, thanks to a US Senator who decided to do something about the polluted highways, rivers, and air around him. That year, millions of people organized parades, rallies, nature walks, and community gatherings. People collected trash, planted trees, shared ideas, and rode on bicycles instead of cars. New laws were passed to protect the water, air, soil and wildlife. Now many kinds of celebrations are held around the world to show how much people care about Mother Earth and want to learn how to protect her...but why not make EVERY day an Earth Day??!!

F is for FIND OUT
If you are concerned about environmental problems, start to find out more by reading the newspaper and books, checking out the Internet, or contacting organizations around you who are working to make changes. You will be surprised how much there is out there – and how much fun it is to start being environmentally informed!

G is for GARDEN
You don't have to have a lot of land to experience the joy of watching a seed sprout and nurturing the plants. Make a veranda garden or find a small space outside where you can put in a few plants and tend them. It is great fun to grow something you can eat with a friend!! Helping to green our surroundings means cleaner air and more peaceful surroundings for everyone!

H is for HEALTH
Take care of yourself! If you really want to help save the earth, start by helping yourself first. Eat healthy foods (not too much junk food or sweets), sleep well and enough, and avoid too much stress. Schoolwork is important but it is not the end of the world if you aren't first every time. Try to find organic vegetables. Last but not least, LAUGH! We may not be able to solve all our problems with laughter, but we can make the world a more pleasant place to live in for ourselves and for others!

I is for IDEAS
If you are concerned about the planet, share your IDEAS with your friends, family and teachers, or write something to the newspaper. Young people have a big stake in how environmental problems are dealt with and your IDEAS and creativity could be an important voice. What’s YOUR idea?

J is for JUNGLE
The word ‘jungle’ has a romantic image (remember Jungle Book?). Unfortunately there are fewer and fewer jungles left today. If you live in Kolkata, you could take a trip down to the Sunderbans or try one of several national parks in Orissa (Simplipal) or Bihar (Hazaribagh). Maybe you will catch a glimpse of our friend, the Bengal Tiger! Exploring Nature is a great way to understand our place in the ecosystem.

Even though some problems seem very big or too difficult to tackle alone, one should never give up hope. Find people who think like you. Work together when tackling a difficult problem. Sometimes it takes a long time before you can see any results, but don’t give up. Keep trying to do at least one nice thing for our planet every day. We all need to start somewhere and if we all work together we will have a healthier world with protected wildlife and cleaner land, water and air…What on Earth could be better than that?!

L is for LEAK
If you notice a leak in your tap, quickly put a bucket under it to collect and reuse that water. Repair it as soon as possible – water is precious. Remember: Always try to minimize the amount of water you use for washing clothes, dishes, and yourself, and don't throw oil or poisons down the drains. It all comes back to us, and threatens animals and plant life in the water!

M is for MAKE
Instead of buying greeting cards and gifts, why not make your own from recycled materials you collect? A hand-made presentation always means much more to the receiving party! Collect cardboard, papers, and wrappers that might add a sparkle to what you make -- that's recycling at its best!!

N is for NATURE
You don't have to go far…Nature is all around you -- even if you live in the city. Don't forget to stop and smell a flower, note its name, watch an insect or bird move, notice the shape of a leaf, etc. There is a lot of interesting activity around you that you can learn from – so don't miss it!

O is for OLD
In these modern times everyone is telling us that NEW is best but OLD things contain memories, family history, and love that can never be found in new items that don't last. Use the things you have until they become old, instead of always replacing them with new things…and you may find that they tell a unique story in the end! After all, OLD IS GOLD!

P is for POWER
How about SOLAR? India has something very plentiful…and that's the SUN! The sun is definitely one of the energy sources of the future! Solar panels may look like futuristic, expensive equipment but new designs are proving all the time that it pays to install them. Even in cloudy conditions, they take energy from the sun, a free, renewable source that is available to everyone and causes less damage to the environment.

Ask Questions! To get to know your local environment you will need to ask some simple questions. For example, Where does the water you drink come from? Where does the garbage you produce go? Where are the vegetables you eat grown? Getting the answers to these will start you on your way to understanding your surroundings and will make you curious about things you can change.

R is for RECYCLE
Recycling is when things that have been used once are processed and turned into new things. Paper, plastic and aluminum are easily recycled at factories but we can do important recycling in our everyday lives too. Use both sides of every paper, keep receipts for memo paper, separate items that can be recycled by someone else and be sure you give them to a collector. Other good R's? Let your kitchen wastes Rot in a special place called a compost heap; Reduce how much you use; Repair things instead of buying new, Reuse an item in a new way; and Rethink how you do certain things related to waste.

S is for SHARING
Sharing things is a friendly way to help conserve resources. For example, instead of buying every book you want, become a member of a library. Or share your books, games, toys, art supplies, etc. among your friends instead of everyone having to buy their own. Adults and children can share a ride with a friend on the way to work or school – save some fuel. Just slowing down our fast-paced city lifestyle to SHARE some time with an elderly person, and hear the stories of yesteryear can save the planet in an extra special way.

In rural societies human activities did not demand moving around since most people worked close to home. Urbanization (people living in cities, not villages) has changed this and we all routinely travel far from our houses for our daily business. Unfortunately this means production of noxious gases from buses, taxis, and private cars. Did you know you can do without this pollution? Simply choose mass transportation: ride a tram, bus, train – going by bicycle or just on foot is best. How can you reduce your carbon footprint on Mother Earth?

U is for USING
This one is about "using" energy – wisely. Electricity is a bright idea, a hot idea, and a cool idea! It gives us light, heat, air conditioning, and other great things. We need to be careful how much electricity we use because most electricity comes from burning coal or oil – and causes air pollution. So turn off lights, TVs, battery chargers, computers when you are done using them. Then you won't be an energy "loser" -- you will be a winner! And so will the Earth.

V is for VISION
The word vision has a simple meaning – to see. When one can SEE far ahead in time, it has a very different meaning. What we do today and what we plan to do tomorrow always has its effect on how our day will go next week. In other words, we can plan our future by doing the right thing today. If we use up all the oil and coal reserves in the next ten years, we will end up with no fuel and a polluted atmosphere ten years from now. A person with vision will reduce the use of fossil fuel and plan to produce machines that use alternate sources of energy. Let us all create an inner vision time that looks ahead for future generations.

W is for WATER
When it comes to water, "what goes around comes around" is an important saying. Water keeps all of Earth's creatures alive so we really need to take care of it. That means two things: keeping water clean and making sure we don't waste it. The Earth will always have the same amount of water but the number of people sharing it continues to grow.

X is for “DON'T” SMOKE
There is more and more advertising directed at young people to get them to take up the smoking habit but whatever you see, remember that smoking is not cool, and it is very unhealthy for the smoker and the people around them. If someone you love smokes, ask them to find a healthier way to relax and get rid of tensions – so you can relax too!

Y is for YOUTH
And don't forget YOU! The youth of today are the "citizens" of tomorrow. If we all make an honest effort to study environmental problems and work on solutions to them, we will be doing a great service to the next generation. It really IS up to us!!

Z is for ZOO
We all love a trip to the zoo but nowadays we can learn all about animals and wildlife by reading books and watching TV. Is it really necessary to keep our friends the animals, who are happiest left in the wild, in small cages in the city? You can learn more about animals by viewing them in their natural setting anyhow. Let's think about this important issue all together!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Trailing Shuktara

Discovering Deaf Worlds (DDW) is an opportunity to give deaf people worldwide a voice. Founded in January 2007, this organization travels the world to learn and share stories of empowerment, inspiration and connection between international Deaf communities.

DDW's first documentary film, is the remarkable story of 18 boys and girls in Kolkata, India who were given a new chance at life after being abandoned by their families or escaping abusive homes. While many non-governmental organizations in India often overlook homeless children who are deaf or have cerebral palsy, Shuktara embraces them.

"(Before), they were written off as incapable of learning, developing as individuals or integrating into society," says Shuktara Founder, David Earp. "(Now), the boys and girls grow in every sense - physically, in confidence, in skills, in communication."

Shuktara is a home filled with love that seeps into your heart. Instead of being reckless, aggressive and angry, these kids show affection, gratitude, and support for each other. They have created a family of their own. The home is run by David Earp who has become a a good friend of mine here and his dedicated friend Pappu. They are doing fundraising to be able to purchase the house where the boys live so that they can ensure a PERMANENT house for the boys, and hopefully next, the girls.

About 8 months into the worldwide trip by members of DDW, they made it to Kolkata at last - and were introduced to David, Pappu and the boys and girls at Shuktara. They said that they were so touched by the energy of the house and the family-like environment that has been created there that they decided to return. Out of over 100 organizations in 8 countries that were visited and documented, Shuktara was the only place they returned to. They spent a total of 5 weeks with Shuktara, and two interns from Galladuet University with language development training. DDW intends to work with Shuktara from here on out--a lifelong commitment to continue providing deaf role models and language development teachers to further the communication skills of all of these children---though many of them are no longer children!

Please have a look at this heartwarming video -- I look forward to the full-length that is due out soon and will be shown in NYC and Rochester, among other places. If you have an interest in supporting Shuktara in some way, please be in touch!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Help to Build a Permanent Learning Centre in rural West Bengal!

This Christmas and New Year we spent time at our friends place just outside of Santiniketan in rural West Bengal. As some of you know, these friends run a school for some of the surrounding villages, it is called Suchana. The program is very dear to my heart and I have taken part in some of the classes and planning over the years. This new year, as I took a beautiful morning walk over to the site where the new school is being built (funds providing), I made a new year resolution to get the word out about this project and raise funds to get the school built before the monsoons.

My first channel is you, my friends and those who have given to the Calcutta 100 Club before. With just $350 we can get the electricity and phone lines connected for the school. This can be done as soon as the money is raised. If we can raise my targeted $1000 through other means and widening our circle of supporters for this particular project, then we can also help to put some roofing over the outdoor verandah spaces, which will double the classroom space.

I know times are difficult, but I can guarantee the worthwhile, progressive work being done here. I am asking you to put on your thinking caps for ideas and/or give a minimal amount on your own if possible. If you can think of ways to raise money through schools, kids groups, offices, churches, bake sales, creative projects, etc. I think we can really make a significant change in this village through our combined efforts -- and I will be happy to take you there for a visit when you visit!

Again, it doesn't have to be anything too grand. I've seen that with a little bit from many, good things happen can happen – quickly. And the neat thing is that we can say that, TOGETHER, we helped create a more just, more creative, more caring learning environment for these children.

Send me an email if you don't understand any part of this I tend to be very confusing, I know. Or if you want to brainstorm fundraising possibilities. My sister, Margo Baker, is collecting the money (checks made out to me which are deposited there and taken out in cash here) and keeping track of donations in the US. This information is on the Calcutta 100 Club form/School building info sheet which I can email you upon request. There is a postal transfer account in Japan and the school has a trustee fund in the UK (email me for details).

1. US • Check payable to: Maura Hurley
Send to: Margo Hurley (Calcutta 100 Club)
285 Brewer Hill Road
Batesville, AR 72501-5228
Mark ‘Calcutta 100’ in memo space

2. JAPAN • Please send by postal transfer to
The account:
mustard seed, japan
Mark ‘Calcutta 100’ in memo space

3. UK • Post a cheque made out to 'Friends of Suchana' to :
Friends of Suchana
Clare's Forstal / Throwley Forstal / Faversham / Kent ME13 0PJ
* UK tax payers should ask Angela to send them a Gift Aid form so Suchana gets a 28% tax rebate on the donation:

I am putting this out there...with a hope for a new learning centre to sprout up in one of my favorite places, Khanjanpur Village! From there, the possibilities are endless.

Thanks always,

PS: More information (such as building updates, newsletters, photos, etc. can be provided if needed for a board or display)