Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Her full name is Durgesh Nandini Das but at Mustard Seeds, we know her fondly by her nickname, Reena – much simpler to say.

Reena was born and brought up in Assam. She moved to Kolkata after she married in the year 1976. Her father, the Late Kali Prasanna Das, was a well known freedom fighter and an All India Trade Union Leader. The prime minister asked him to accept a nomination for Member of Parliament but he refused this offer because he didn't want to work under someone else. He was one of the first 'rail roko andolan' in Indian Railway (stopping trains as a means of non-violent protest). West Bengal's late Communist leader, Jyoti Basu, wrote a letter to him asking him to stop the railways.

With a lot of inspiration to respond to the injustices present in the world around her, Reena began her lifework in 1999. When she was living near a refugee colony that set fire one day, her father gathered up all the family belongings and began to cook food to give to those who had been victimized by the fire. Reena never forgot this act of generosity, she grew up in a home where she learned that if someone has a problem you should always help them.

Later in her life, she was working in an office on Middleton Road and began teaching Muslim street children on the footpath. She continued doing this work quietly on her own after work for one year.

Finally someone gave her support and she was granted one room from the building owner to start teaching the children there. She gathered the students after office hours and the total number of students reached 90 at that time. She now knew that this was her lifework, and that she did not want to work in an office anymore. Although she was only working part-time, she eventually decided to give her job up so she could fully dedicate herself to developing education opportunities in extremely marginalized communities.

Some people in her family told her to stop doing this kind of work and make money for her own family but she knew she wanted to continue. Around this time, she met up with our dear friend, Rosalie Giffaniello, who said she would be very happy to support Reena's important work. Now, by teaming up with Rosalie's organization, EMPOWER THE CHILDREN, and gaining a much wider support network, the two women have opened several beautiful schools: one school in Ulta Danga (vocational skills training), one school in Dhakindari (a large slum/literacy and skills training program), and one school in Krishnapur (mainly vocational skills with some literacy). An NGO near Middleton Street continues her literacy work for disadvantaged children there.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


During the week from 27 September to 1 October, 2010  Mustard Seeds conducted a used clothing drive at Calcutta International School. We had great help from Mrs. Pratima Nayar, Lee Ann Merrill, and Joydev Das who took charge of the whole operation by helping to set up the collection centre and make sure that donations were cleared from the school on a daily basis.   CIS students, Joselyn, Malini and Rahul helped a lot with carrying the bags out of school and sorting.  

Bundles and bundles of used clothing, still in good condition, came in each day with the help of the entire CIS school community.  These were then carried out of school, taken home, and sorted in specific bundles for WOMEN, YOUNG WOMEN, GIRLS TOPS, GIRLS SLACKS, MEN, BOYS TOPS, BOYS TROUSERS, BABIES, ETC. to make distribution more straightforward on the receiving end.  Lastly, a big thanks to Lalu for driving all the way from Santiniketan and back to help us with the distribution! 


 The clothing was then sent by truck to Suchana Community School in Khanjanpur Village (W. Bengal).  Donations of clothing for teens and older people were also made to Prabartak Home in Salt Lake.  More children's clothing is also being sent to Belun village and Shikshamitra school.  There was such a large amount that we decided to spread it around wherever we felt it could be useful.

As you can see from the beautiful note and photos we received from SUCHANA (see below), the clothing was well received and it seems our efforts made a real difference to the children and families in the Suchana community.  Don't they look grand in their 'new' clothes!

Thank you to everyone who made this effort a success.  Hopefully we can make the Puja Clothing Drive an annual event at CIS!

 Note from Kirsty at Suchana:

“We spent a happy morning on 24th October giving out 230 sets 
of clothes to Suchana children and other family members. 
These were collected, sorted and sent to Suchana in an inspiring 
effort by Mustard Seeds-Kolkata and Calcutta International School. 
Teachers spent Saturday making up sets for individual children and 
Sunday admiring everyone's outfits. This was recycling for joy!

Many thanks to all those who donated clothes at CIS, 
and to those who painstakingly helped Mustard Seeds 
with sorting, sizing, and ordering.  
You created a lot of smiley faces today.”

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Magic School House Donations Welcome at Shikshamitra School

Do you have children who have outgrown the popular Magic School Bus book series, and these books are now just sitting on a shelf gathering dust? If so, please consider donating them to SHIKSHAMITRA open learning centre in Kolkata (where I work).

We have several students who have started to read at this level and are extremely interested in these books. We are hoping to try to collect at least some of the titles; used books from well wishers would be very appreciated. There is also a need for certain titles in this book series in our Education Resource Centre; they can be adapted for teacher training as well  (into Bengali).

Please help us to make these books a part of our curriculum which aims to make learning fun and accessible to underprivileged children!

No donation is too small. Just pop the book(s) into an envelope or box and send them to us directly at:
SHIKSHAMITRA: An Open Learning Centre
62B Alipore Road
Kolkata 700027 INDIA

In particular, we are looking for the following titles for our library:

The Magic School Bus: And the Climate Challenge
The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses
The Magic School Bus At the Waterworks
The Magic School Bus And the Electric Field Trip
The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane
The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body
The Magic School Bus The Search for the Missing Bones
The Magic School Bus Twister Trouble
The Magic School Bus The Giant Germ
KICKS UP A STORM: A Book About Weather
INSIDE RALPHIE: A Book About Germs
GETS EATEN: A Book About Food Chains

To be honest, any titles are appreciated. Thank You! 

If you have any questions, you can email me at mseeds.maura@gmail.com

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Mseeds bookmarks
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Some time ago, I met a woman from the States who has co-founded the organization Destiny Reflection here in Kolkata. This organization seeks to empower young women who have been trafficked in the sex trade or who are at risk of becoming so.

Seeing this as an important issue, especially in the porous border regions where Nepal, Bangladesh and West Bengal borders meet, Mustard Seeds is happy to give support to this group in the form of product development and marketing. Whenever Mustard Seeds comes across a vocational skills unit with goals and projects that echo our own, we try to identify and develop at least one product that we can produce and sell for them. Through this product, we can tell the story of the women who make these and create a network of people who want to learn more.  Placing orders with the organization is one of the best ways of showing our support and creating meaningful work.

I am delighted to announce that Destiny Reflection now has an official website so please take some time out to learn more about this small, but quickly expanding organization that is working hard to address the issues of exploitation and poverty, especially amongst women.

If you wish to show your support with the purchase of bookmarks, please be in touch by email. Thank you to Susie McNaughton and Neil Haran for offering to host a small coffee morning fundraiser with Mustard Seeds in Ennis, Ireland this summer.  These and other products by the groups we network with in Kolkata will be on display!  Also, please let us know if there is a cooperative or bookshop that might be interested in selling these.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Earth Day Design Contest: 2010 Winner

Mustard Seeds would like to thank ALL of those who participated in this year's eco-design contest. The task this year was to design a flag for Mother Earth. Our participants were from various schools both in and out of Kolkata!

The design shown here is one of the winners for design and artwork, by Akash M-B, age 11. We also acknowledge others whose designs really wowed us: Rahul C., age 9, for his original design which incorporated real leaves; Elizabeth R, age 9 for her friendly reminder to HELP Mother Earth; and Aman, age 8 who created a dramatic and colorful image of a peace sign protecting the planet. We have some nice eco-prizes for those who won and certificates for everyone who entered. These will be distributed next week.

We chose this flag because the artist was careful to describe each element in the design:
"In the flag, the blue represents water, the green represents trees and forests, and the white represents snow. I've drawn some endangered species in the places where they live. I hope you like it" His work has a bold design, a heartfelt message about an issue that concerns him, endangered species, and a well planned, succinct explanation of his work. We do like it – and would be proud to fly this flag high!

The winner for the written part of our contest is Anuja B, age 9, who took out some time to gather her thoughts on an issue she cares about, water. She shows how she tries to protect the planet:

Water is a very important natural resource. If we do not conserve it, we WILL run out of this precious resource sooner or later. Whenever I brush my teeth, I think about the Earth – and turn the tap off. You may think that we have a lot of water left but you are wrong. You might not see it, but when you do a simple thing like turning a tap off you are saving a lot of water. I hope this essay inspired you and now you will also join the quest to save Mother Earth!
- Anuja B, age 9


All the work that came in is beautiful and is now adorning the walls of Mustard Seeds Library so please come have a look if you are in the area. Here are some more of the nice writings that our Earthinkers sent in. We thank them for taking the time to spend a moment thinking about this planet home we all share:

Plant Trees
I am worried that the trees are finishin on the Earth. I am worried about the Earth getting drowned in water. If global warming happens fast all the world will melt and become water covering the land. Where will we live? We should plant more trees to cool the Earth. Stop cutting trees.
-Viraj, age10

The environment around us is changing a lot. There are many things we should be concerned about, but I am mostly concerned about the pollution. This is not an issue in many other countries or places but I can see that it is in Calcutta. Everywhere I go, I see some trash around me. If this keeps on going, soon Calcutta will have trash covering the full roads! Then what will we do? There are many ways to stop this from happening. One is that more trash cans can be put in places. That way people will throw their trash in the bins and not litter the roads. The government could also make a law stating that anyone who is caught littering will have to pay a fine. The first way will probably be more effective since there are so many people in Calcutta! These were just two of the many ways we could stop having trash everywhere we go. Just keep in mind that this is just one problem and that there are many more!
-Avantika, age 12


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fair Trade Begins at Home

Ankur Kala Squash
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
The number of useful products available from NGO vocational skills production units here in Kolkata is truly impressive: drink concentrates (see photo) by Ankur Kala, greeting cards, soaps, wrapping paper, matchboxes, hand-woven wash rags, spices and spice mixtures, eco-tote bags, blankets, gift items. I think we all know by now that making purchases directly from NGOs and village artisans means you are able to decide exactly what your money is being for.

If you live in Kolkata, in the summer months, you should definitely know about Ankur Kala's Jam, Squash and Pickles production unit. The women trainees at Ankur Kala produce bottles of squash in seasonal fruit flavours.  I highly recommend the naturally made Lemon Squash as an alternative to any of the cold drinks you might normally reach for during the hottest months.  Other delicious flavors are the Pineapple, Mango and the new Lemon-Orange Ginger combo!  All you need to do is add a bit of squash to a glass, add water,  stir – add ice if you like – and enjoy this deliciously refreshing summer drink cooler!  You can also prepare a full bottle to keep in the fridge. An added bonus is the glass containers which are earth friendly and allow us to avoid more plastic bottles which are not recyclable. Ankur Kala will take back bottles when you are finished.  For the health conscious, there are selections such as karela juice, carrot juice, and mousam (sweet lime) juice.

I order several bottles at a time and have even become a distribution outlet for those who like this product in my neighborhood and at my children's school. THey make the perfect gift for teachers as school lets out.  I've sold 30 bottles for Ankur Kala in the past two months! If you place a large order, they will deliver, or you can call and order for pick up from their workshop on Park Street (close to Park Circus).  It's a nice way to give this dedicated organization your support.  Please place an order and spread the word!

ANKUR KALA was started in 1982 by a dear friend of mine, Annie Joseph. The organisation aims to provide impoverished and marginalized women opportunities to break free and stand on their own by developing business skills and training in various crafts and food production. Ankur Kala provides skill training in batik, tailoring, catering and the production of jams, squash, pickles, etc. The group is commited to holistic training so that the women trainees will be agents of change in society.

Opting to stay out of shops like Archies and the big shopping malls cropping up all over the city for gift items means you can use your spending power to support excellent projects and spread the word about these NGOs who are always in need of our ideas and support.

If you would like to order, please be in touch with:

Annie at Ankur Kala
3 Meher Ali Road
Kolkata 700 017
Tel : 033 2287 8476 / 2283 5990 / 6517 6649

* Ankur Kala squash is also available at Sasha Shop on Free School Street

Exercise your purchasing power by putting your money where it can really benefit locally!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Calcutta 100 CLub 2010: Supplies for the Kitchen at BALO

Balo is a small, volunteer organization working in the Howrah district of Kolkata, a satellite town of Calcutta, that is in an extremely dilapidated state. Howrah is situated beyond the river Hooghly and connected to Calcutta by the famous Howrah Bridge. It is an extremely marginalized area that is known to have been the inspiration for Dominique Lapierre's famed novel, The City of Joy. Residents in the area where Balo is working to provide some basic relief and education services must cope with open sewers and garbage pits on a daily basis, along with scarcity of water taps and lack of any toilets. Most families live all together in a single brick room or shanty, with the door being the only source of light.

Balo aims to involve the local people in all aspects of its initiatives. In particular, Balo' is involved as much as possible in the training of young women from this Howrah area. Balo runs a program that provides young women with technical sewing and embroidery skills. The courses are run by a local Indian woman and an Italian seamstress, Elisabetta, who journeys back and forth to Howrah share her skills and designs. The young women are producing handmade fashion clothing and accessories, which are sold in Italy at special events and venues. The women are receiving very fair salaries for their work and are supported with livelihood needs. This activity provides funds to support the other work being done by Balo'.

Balo also runs programs to sponsor the education of children in English-medium schools and to provide nutritious meals and day care to youngsters. Recently they purchased a small flat in order to have a permanent place where healthy meals can be prepared for the younger children, especially. They are hoping to set up a kitchen in this flat and have asked help from Mustard Seeds. 

For the next Calcutta 100 Club project, I'd like to propose we collect the amount they need to purchase the cooking pots, gas stove, utensils and other basic kitchen items. The estimated amount for this is Rs. 8,000 which is approximately US$ 150. Please email me if you would like to put your C-100-C $10 contribution towards this (mseeds.maura@gmail.com).