The Omkarananda Preparatory School
The Omkarananda Preparatory School, a unit of Omkarananda Saraswati Nilayam, has been established in April 1999 with the Blessings of Gurudev Paramahamsa Omkarananda Saraswati. The school for the tiny tots right from the Playgroup to Nursery and up to Kindergarten is situated in the heart of the city.
The classrooms are airy, colourful and well furnished. A congenial atmosphere is provided for teaching and learning. Innovative play-way methods mingled with Montessori techniques are used in the Playgroup, Nursery and Kindergarten classes in order to inculcate the values of learning to be, learning to know, learning to do and learning to live together, practising cleanliness, curiosity, open-mindedness, concentration, thoroughness, confidence, politeness, respect for authority, respect for time, respecting others rights and feelings, responsibility and independence - all based on a deeper understanding and faith in God. In this way learning becomes a positive and effective force in constructively channelling and focussing children's energies and broadening their horizons as well as helping them to learn skills with which they can continue learning for the rest of their lives.
The Omkarananda Educational Society
The Omkarananda Educational Society gives the invaluable gift of education to those that need it most. Currently it sponsors around 39 Primary and Junior High Schools in the remote villages of the Garhwal Himalayas.
Students and well wishers of Patanjala Yoga Kendra opened their hearts and requested Omkarananda Educational Society to carry out a special project to further develop a school called Omkarananda Shishu Shiksha Niketan, which is giving the poor village community hope for future generation.
This school is situated 50 km north of Rishikesh, at an altitude of 1300m, in a remote hill village Khadi, where local farmers grow wheat and rice. Surrounded by the beautiful Himalayan Mountains it has around 60 children and conducts classes from Nursery Class up to Class V.
After visiting the school we felt that the building needed renovation. Now the walls and floors have been renovated, new tables have been provided and the front side of the school has been covered so the children can sit outside during the classes.
Restoring the building, introducing uniforms and adding some color to these small children's lives might be simply taken as a visual, external change but has vast and substantial meaning. This example of humanitarianism has brought a breath of fresh air to these villagers’ lives and has put hope and optimism into their hearts.
The community learns the lesson of helping others selflessly while the students benefit from a more comfortable and creative educational environment. The work done gives them a chance to improve their academic achievements and future prospects.To see the children's shining eyes and happy smiles is worth all the effort.
At present we are working to provide the school with electricity, a school gate and a wall. Future plans include providing the school with an extra room for computers, a toilet and free uniforms for all students.
With people's good will we often receive used garments, such as sweaters, jackets, trousers, gloves, socks, caps, rain boots etc., which we distribute to the poor students and their families for the cold season.
We are very thankful to all our supporters. Since the new school year started in April the students have greatly benefitted from a surrounding that is much more conducive to their studies.
| Visiting Omkarananda Shishu Shiksha Niketan Schoolby Oryan Jucht
One sunny morning Usha, Narender, Vinod (the marionette bird) and myself, Oryan, visited Omkarananda Shishu Shiksha Niketan. The school accommodates nearly 60 children. The school building consists of four basic rooms with the two back rooms having no windows and as such no lighting. In the two front rooms two lessons were being conducted, one to the oldest students, a group of 10 year olds, the other to the four year olds who completely captured our attention.
Since the back rooms have no light, two classes took place outside under some shade recently provided by the Omkarananda Educational Society. Frankly, I was quite jealous of those students writing conscientiously in their notebooks while sitting outside. Only one small glance was needed to take in the natural, peaceful view of the great Himalayas and to feel inspired.
The students’ behavior astounded us. They were so polite, sincere in their studies and well-disciplined. Even unattended, the small ones went on with the lesson, each in turn going up to the board to read in Hindi and English.
We were greeted with chai and the children performed Hindi songs and dances. We gave the school some simple toys; balls, a badminton set, carrom board, rings and a harmonium. We also brought skipping ropes which only one girl knew how to use. Usha challenged the students to a skipping competition for her next visit. A water tank was also provided because the school has no running water.
However, this visit would not have been as special without the star guest Vinod. He surprised everyone by popping out of Narender's bag and greeting the children who did not understand where this big, fluffy, pink bird came from. This talking marionette scared some children as they had never seen anything like it, but by the end of the visit they were kissing and hugging it. Vinod liked it so much that he did not want to leave.
There are so many things in this world, electricity, running water, a toilet that all seem trivial to us but to others they are not taken for granted. Not even for one moment did I feel pity for these children who live surrounded by such breathtaking nature but there is no doubt that this school and many others like it need help. Help will provide the pupils with a more comfortable environment to study in, with light not only on sunny days and a variety of games to play at break time.
We are often not aware of the change we can bring to our neighbours’ lives. Only a small gesture from us would help to dramatically improve their situation.
Children of women in prison: in support of blamelessness by blessedness
With the help of her Yoga Students, Usha Devi has undertaken a new project at the largest long-term jail in Uttaranchal. In her words:
«In India the young children of imprisoned mothers have to live with them in jail till the age of five; which means they are "in custody" with their mothers for five years. After these five years these innocent children, whose mother are sentence for their life-long terms, have to leave their mothers. Therefore, in addition to the daily traumatic experience of living in a prison, most of these children will never get family support (neither financial nor emotional) after the age of five when they have to leave their mothers, or even after their mothers are released. Therefore, long-term care and guidance for boys and girls of imprisoned mothers is an issue that ought to be addressed seriously in local jails.
By the order of the Supreme Court of India, a "Crèche" or Day Nursery for infants and young children of women prisoners must be established in each Indian jail. Now, thanks to our Yoga Students, we have been able to establish such a Crèche in the Haridwar Jail, the largest long-term jail in the state of Uttaranchal. At present, there are three children living in the jail. Their mothers have to remain there for a life-long sentence. Our goal is to provide these children with education and other necessities that are required for a normal daily life during this time. Therefore recently toys, coloring books and warm clothing were bought for them. Thanks to our sponsors, all the 3 children, Prince, Chandni and Gulafsa are going to school.
We are also trying to find sponsors to help with the continuing care of these children. Such care is very essential for the normal development and evolvement of their blossoming lives, which in turn is critical for them to succeed as individuals in their future and will help them to integrate in today's modern society. For this purpose, we earnestly ask you to make a contribution "to support blamelessness by blessedness" in the following ways:
— We are always very thankful to receive children's warm clothes and toys, even used toys that are still in good condition; we deliver these goods directly to the children. If you want to donate toys or clothes, please contact Usha Devi personally. We are always looking for more toys, teaching aids, and games for the children and welcome your contribution for this purpose.
— Sadly, the girl Chandni turned five recently, so she had to leave her mother. As per the law, children can only live with their mothers in prison till they turn five. After that they have to go back home. However, since there was no body to take care of the girl at home, she has been sent to a state-run orphanage in Nainital. We hope that we can extend our support to her now and even in future, as we could do till now. It would be sad if we can't!To help her in obtaining better education for a better future we need more sponsorship.As a future goal; we want to ensure constant care for all the children even after they leave the prison. If you have the available resources, please contact us for further details».
| Visit by Linda Burr, Principal of the Integral Yoga Academy of Australasia, Adelaide, South Australia
In December 2006, Linda Burr, Principal of the Integral Yoga Academy of Australasia, Adelaide, South Australia, visited the prison along with Usha Mataji. The purpose of their visit was to give worm clothes to the children as the winter was arriving. See, what Mrs. Burr has to say...
| Visit to the prison of Haridwar - April 2007By Jutta Bachmeier
I'm a Yoga Teacher who lives in Germany with my husband Bernd Bachmeier. Together we run a Yoga Teacher's Training Center. Since many years we have been visiting Rishikesh with our group of yoga teachers from Germany.
In Omkarananda Ganga Sadan we have found a wonderful clean home where we find peace and spiritual growth, which enables us to practice Yoga more effectively.
On every visit we look forward to meet our friend Usha Devi. Since years we have been seeing the activities that she has been undertaking in various social areas. Personally, I'm touched by her great enthusiasm with which she devotes herself to help the disadvantaged, and by the efficiency with which she manages the Yoga Center and a Preparatory School in Rishikesh.
During our visit last year Usha told us about a prison in the vicinity of Haridwar, in which live around 30 to 40 female inmates. Some of these women have children living with them. The children are allowed to live with their mothers up to the age of six. However, without external help such children cannot go to school, nor can they get toys or emotional encouragement from outside. So, a member of our Yoga Group undertook the sponsorship of a little boy.
Such a sponsorship means that for a regular payment of about 600/- INR one can help the child to go to school. School & bus fees, books and uniform etc. all is covered under this amount.
This April I had the opportunity to visit the prison myself with Usha Devi. The armed officers guarding the high walls and a massive steel gate were very friendly to us and welcomed us.
Within the prison I was impressed by a large garden. The officers explained me that the inmates produce vegetables, fruits and herbs in these gardens. Other inmates were occupied in various tasks according to their abilities. Some were teaching their fellow inmates English, Hindi and Urdu. With great pride they showed us the good report of a girl who has been doing well at school.
Thanks to the efforts of Usha, toys, including a swing and a slide, have been installed in the crèche for the children. Children's room seems like a little kindergarten. A young friendly woman looks after the little group. We had brought some clothes, toys and sweets with us for them. I was so touched by them, and I just wish I could do more and more for them.
Everywhere we went, we sow flowers, shady bushes and green trees. Without the massive walls and armed guards this would be the most pleasant place to live.
We are grateful that people like Usha exist today, who do their utmost to establish sympathy and dignity among human beings.
| To all the Yoga Students who have donated money, clothes, toys or cookies to the women and children at Haridwar Jail By Dianne Brooks
I went out there with Usha on the 2nd January 2008 and helped her distribute everything.
It was a great day. As soon as we entered the female compound the children spotted Usha and rushed over to touch her feet and hug her. It was lovely... Usha giggled and stroked and pinched their cheeks and chatted enthusiastically with them all. The youngest girl accepted my hand and led us to the small playroom that Usha has successfully organized, furnished and equipped with some toys and games, all of which have been donated by her huge efforts and her Yoga students' generosity.
Through money donated and the cooperation of the jail, Usha is not only improving prison life for these innocent children, but she is also trying to raise enough funds (from us) to pay for the children to attend day school outside the jail. Usha is really making a difference and anything we can give will help greatly. Thank you Usha!
200 note books and 400 pencils with erasers and sharpeners have been distributed to the prison inmates so that the uneducated inmates can begin to learn to read and write.So now the well educated inmates have started to teach their fellow uneducated inmates. Some inmates have started to learn Urdu, others learn Hindi, yet some others have even started to learn English.
Thanks to the students of the March-07 Intensive Course, we could collect enough money to buy a swing and a slide for the children in the jail, which have already been installed now. We hope the children will really enjoy them.
Love, Dianne Brooks.
| A Visit to Roshnabad Prison
Open learning in closed cells
Prison means complete isolation from society. Usually prisons are known for their strict atmosphere, their inmates' hard life and officers' harsh behaviour. But Roshnabad prison is an exception to this notion. I had an opportunity to visit this prison with Usha Mataji on 24th September 2008. Since she has been supporting children education in the jail for the last 3 years, the jail authorities invited her to the inauguration of the study center of IGNOU and NIOS in the jail premises. The chief guest was Hon. Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Maj. Gen. (Retired) B. C. Khanduri. Also present were the Education Minister, Uttarakhand, District Magistrate, Hardwar, Chairman Municipal Corporation, Hardwar, and many other important dignitaries. The beginning of these centers was not only a gift for all the inmates, but also a meaningful attempt to lead them towards a right path of open learning in closed cells.
Patanjala Yoga Kendra (Omkarananda Ganga Sadan), Rishikesh, takes initiative to preserve the childhood of those who without committing any crime are forced to undergo imprisonment. It shows a ray of hope to the children of prisoners, whose future seems to be totally in dark, by granting them financial, educational and moral support. These children are being sent to Police Modern School, Hardwar, for their studies. Chandni, a girl child, who lives in women cell with her mother, will soon be sent to "Almorah Bal Grih" as she has completed her six years and therefore can't stay with her mother any more as per the jail rules. Usha Mataji has taken the responsibility to provide these children with a better future by helping them with books, clothes, shoes, school fees and other requirements. These children always eagerly wait for her next visit.
Freedom behind Bars
I was surprised to see the prison's activities. It has such a clean, homely and hygienic environment that it can be called a "Tapasthali" (a place to perform austerity) or an Ashram (a place of spiritual seclusion). In fact, the so called jail is a reform center, because it provides maximum opportunities of learning to its inmates. Besides teaching traditional methods of learning like weaving, stitching, growing herbs etc. it also promotes modern computer education. It is the state's first and country's third jail to have a website of its own.
I have complete hope that the attempt to reform the inmates and transform them into an independent and responsible citizen of the State will succeed. My thanks to those who work selflessly to carry forward this farsighted mission!
| Prison Visitby Narendra
On December 1st 2008, several Yoga students had the privilege to accompany Usha Devi to the prison in Haridwar. The Rotary Club were hosting a special event where an ex-prisoner from Bihar was addressing the inmates. After 15 years in prison, this man had radically transformed his life and was serving his community in the education sector. His speech was an inspiration to all.
When we arrived it was immediately apparent how much respect and warmth all prison officials showed towards Usha Devi. Where she walked people affectionately pranamed, welcoming her as Mataji. She was escorted on to the stage to sit with a few dignitaries. At the conclusion of the main speech, the master of the ceremony surprised Usha Devi by inviting her to address the some 300 assembled persons and guest. With great composure she stood at the podium and spoke to the audience, in Hindi!
Usha Devi’s talk acknowledged the prisoners' efforts at creating a unique natural environment inside the prison walls. She told them that once they are out, through strong will power and perseverance, there will always be a possibility to make their life successful. She encouraged them to use their time only to do their studies and constantly improve themselves, so that they can start a new beginning. Through faith in God and themselves, they can build up their future and start a new life. The inmates and guests received Usha Devi’s talk with excited applause.
At the conclusion of the talk, Usha Devi was given an award in appreciation of the continued support of the prison project. We then had an opportunity to visit the women's section and give toys to the two children who live there with their mothers.
This was a truly heart warming experience and we all felt inspired by Usha Devi’s example of selfless service; that the expression of our yoga practice is conveyed by what we do for others off the mat.
| Latest News from Chandni by DianaJanuary 8, 2009
I went to the orphanage yesterday (Wednesday). My friend Tara Datt, an old friend who owns a local shop and guest house here in Pappasali took me there.
Tara was such a great help because he could translate, and he discovered that he knew the two ladies who take care of the children. They all grew up together!! So this was good to have a strong connection.
Chandni looks well and remembers you. Her hair is shaved short like all the 37 boys and girls at the orphanage. She was shy to speak (I remember she was shy at the jail too) but answered my questions when asked. The orphanage, of course, is very basic but looks clean and well organized. It’s dark inside, cement building (the usual), cold, but has a sunny open area where the children sit and play together and can look out at the valley below. 10 of the children are Chandni's age. She has her own bed and shares her room with two boys?! Her big black and red bag was on her bed. The children were all quite playful and relaxed around the two ladies... and while Tara chatted with them I walked around the building looking at all the rooms. The children all followed me laughing and showing me their beds. Chandni seemed relaxed with the children, smiling and laughing a little.
I took a big bag of sweets for all the children and for Chandni I took two fantastic colouring books (Gods and Goddesses) a box of coloured pencils and sharpener, some fruit, cookies, incense and a toothbrush.
Usha, I have never seen a orphanage in India... so I have nothing to compare it too - but I think it looks ok. Tara said they are both good ladies.
There appears to be no stimulations for the children (not like Haridwar jail play room)... no swings, toys, games, balls, music etc... but I expect this is normal! There is a TV in one big empty room. The children did not look depressed. They were all excited to see us. The Govt school is next door but it is closed for the holiday.
I will go again and see Chandni. I asked the ladies what I should bring... useful things etc... they said warm clothes, jumpers, trousers, socks etc. So I will find some in the market.
Bye for now Usha,
| A Good Start into the New YearJanuary 1, 2010
The 1st of January started as a cold misty morning, as ten Yoga students gathered with Usha to make a New Year’s call to the local jail. All of the students from the Yoga Hall had donated biscuits and sweets to be brought to the women inmates of Haridwar Jail.
On arrival we were ushered through large gates, stamped and then brought to meet the assistant governor. He explained to us how over the last seven years that he, his superior, colleagues and inmates had worked to provide a holistic approach to reform. A genuine man, committed to improving change, he explained the importance of “Jail” within society and society to jail for reform and re-integration. The jail had created its own self sufficient farm providing food for the 1000 inmates, an Ayurvedic garden for use both internally and externally and all of their own fabrics and clothes were made in the jail. It provided a learning centre for inmates to train in new skills. All of the work was done by the inmates who were in turn paid for their labour with wages been sent to their families outside.
We were specifically there to visit the women’s section. There are 28 female prisoners and three children. The children stay with their mothers until the age of six and attend the local school outside the prison. The children once they reach the age of six leave the prison and go to the family. We gave out the biscuits to the women and gifts to the children who were as delighted as all of us were to be there and meet them.
It was a real eye opener to see how positively and successfully a jail could be run, as opposed to a place of doom it was providing a positive place for reform. A great way to bring in the first day of the new year and Thank you to Usha, and all the staff and inmates of Haridwar Jail.
| Prince and Gulafsa in the School, April 2010
| Another Visit on 23rd January 2011. Playing with Prince and Gulafsa.
Usha invited a small group of yoga students to join her on one of her regular visits to the women's section of the Haridwar prison.
Today she will be paying the school fees till the end of the session, which allows the children to leave the prison each day and attend a school nearby.
For this visit the students at the Patanjala Yoga Kendra collected together several bags of cookies, soap, incense, ghee, some coloring books and games for the children and their mothers. They received these small gifts graciously and thanked us in their mixed dialects.
Usha tells us that Prince is now more than 5 years old and will have to leave his mother and go to an orphanage in March. We all feel heartbroken for him.
Our thanks to Usha Devi and to Mr. Pavan Kothari, the deputy jailer, for allowing us to visit the women and children of the Haridwar prison today.
Women's weaving/crafts projects
Tihar Jail, Delhi
Tihar Jail is the largest prison in Asia; this prison program assists the rehabilitation of women inmates at this location. This "Weaving Behind Bars" venture allows women inmates an opportunity to express their creativity by providing them with training in the arts of weaving, sewing beautiful soft toys and stuffed animals, and by candle-making.
These beautiful finished products are available for purchase at the Omkarananda Ganga Sadan Gift Shop. Sale of these gift items assists the women with much-needed income; these products are also marketed worldwide by another foundation. After release, many women are able to find work using their handicraft skills and selling their products; more than 350 women have benefited from this project so far.
For further information on this and other prison programs in India, visit: www.indiavisionfoundation.org