HeartKids Annual Awards Function, Tiruvannamalai

by

For the five years we’ve lived in Tiruvannamalai, Venilla, a woman from a nearby village, or Lakshmi, her older sister, have come to our house for a couple of hours of cleaning each week. While village people are often poor, this family is in a particularly difficult situation. They live in a house of women. Vennila and Lakshmi live with their mother and Vennila’s two daughters. Vennila threw her husband out years ago, since he was a drunk and abusive. She had the strength to do this because, many years before, her father deserted her mother and her mother had the strength to raise her two daughters without any help, and taught her girls to believe in themselves. While these attitudes seem pretty common in the West, they are unusual in Tamil villages where women are subservient to men in every way.

Vennila found a way to better herself. She has been taking sewing classes through a charitable organization called HeartKids for the last 18 months, learning to make women’s clothes and to embroider. It is a wonderful class she is taking, free to these poor village women. On completing the course, they will be given their own sewing machine. Today they are going to graduate and receive their new machine. This is a big day for Vennila, and we are happy to join her to witness the ceremony.

We rode my scooter into the village, and noticed, on a side street, a couple of buildings that we had not seen before, buildings with big hearts on them.

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Next to one of the buildings a stage had been set up and many chairs set out. This must be where today’s ceremonies will take place.

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At the back of the stage is a big sign for the HeartKids Center. From the looks of the buildings this ‘HeartKids Center’ has been going on for some time, but we knew nothing about it. This is not unusual, actually, since there is much going on in Tiruvannamalai that we do not know about. This link gives more information about this good program.

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After a bit of a wait, some girls got on the stage and started dancing.

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Quite a crowd has gathered to watch the festivities.

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This is another group of dancers waiting “in the wings.”

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Meanwhile the girls keep going.

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Kids watching from the HeartKids Center, next to the stage.

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A mother (or maybe an auntie) watching.

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It is a pretty long and involved dance. When I was about 12 years old I went to dance classes and we put on recitals. I remember just how much work it was to learn one of these dances! Weeks and weeks of practice.

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In front of the stage there must have been 100 kids sitting on the ground.

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I think the blonde woman with the camera, pictured below, is Judith Retz, the founder our HeartKids. She is from Germany and now lives mainly in Tiruvannamalai with her husband, and Indian man named Viji. Together they run the organization and raise the money to keep it going.

She started the project with a purchase of land for an orphanage in 2005. The orphanage houses children who were orphaned by the tsunami in December of 2004, and local street children as well. There are now seven houses, each with seven to nine children and a house mother living in it.

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More of the crowd. You can see Carol in her pink saree standing in the back.

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More of the audience.

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Now the dance is over.

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Pieces of torn paper, like big pieces of confetti, rain down on the dancers, tossed from the top of the Center building, next to the stage.

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Carol has now got a seat in front. One of Venilla’s daughters, Sweta (also known as “Sally,”  the Western name that Carol gave her) stands next to her.

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Something about this lady caught my eye.

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Here is Venilla, happy and excited at today’s event.

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Her other daughter, Sushmita (“Susie”). Note the Tamil-style earring, with the extension hanging from her hair. She performed with the first group of dancers.

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Another group of dancers.

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Here is the sign on the HeartKids Center building. Every day between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. about 150 kids aged 4 to 18 come to the center. They receive tutoring free of charge, do their homework with assistance, learn English, draw, etc. The majority of these kids come from poor backgrounds and are happy to leave their surroundings for a few hours each day – most of them live in simple huts without running water and electricity.

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Another dance number, this time twirling things.

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For every dance people watch intently,

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These boys are on top of a nearby house watching.

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Standing in the doorway watching.

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Behind the nearby crowd there are people standing in front of a house in the distance. They are watching, too.

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It is a big crowd! I remember when my kids had school performances; everybody came to see them.

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The three Western ladies in the crowd. This is an Indian village event. These kinds of things do not attract many Westerners.

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The HeartKids motif was used for decorations. Each heart was colored by one of the kids. They provided many ways to help, so that every child could take part in some way.

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Carol, Vennila, and the two girls, Sally and Susie.

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The kids in front are rapt, watching their friends from school perform.

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Arunachala watches, too.

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I think anyplace in the world where there are girls this age, you will see these kinds of excited faces.

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Judith saw me. She knows that I am up to something. So far we do not know each other, and have not talked.

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The show’s emcee, speaking mostly in Tamil.

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The next act comes on stage. They are all dressed in pants and tee shirts. Each performer comes up and bows to the audience.

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They take a moment to meditate before their performance.

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Then they start giving us a yoga show. I have to say these 12 year olds are a lot more flexible than we grownups.

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A yoga-based lift.

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A group movement. On the sides are backbends.

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In the center is a balance pose, on one foot.

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These girls are showing off!

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The crowd loves it.

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Another lift, more acrobatic.

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Look at the leg positions of these girls!

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Helping set the center boy’s balance.

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Another fancy group position, featuring the balancing boy in front.

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Headstands.

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Stretches. It hurts me just to look at this pose.

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Up on one foot, grab your other foot and pull it up. Easy? I don’t think so.

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What is the position of the two girls in front—“bow”?

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A respectful close.

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The crowd loves it.

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Now one of tonight’s features, cute little girls dancing.

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Happy mommy.

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The confetti at the end.

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The girls get to take a ‘curtain call’ (even though there is no curtain).

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Now four older girls.

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This guy got into the act. I am not sure if it was rehearsed, or the guy just jumped on stage.

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Carol and her two girls.

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This is Raam, Rajan’s son.

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The end of the four girls’ act.

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It’s getting darker. The lights decorating the center glow more brightly.

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Now it is time for awards.

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These are the third place award winners in all the class levels.

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Second place awards. The small boys in front to the right are Judith and Viji’s sons.

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First place awards.

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In the back of the stage they start bringing out sewing machines.

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Meanwhile another group of kids puts on a skit.

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I guess this is a tree, endangered by a woodsman.

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Another boy comes and stops the woodsman. Woodsman, spare that tree!

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Then there was a series of short one-person acts. I guess this is a businessman, with his hat and case.

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Some kind of performer.

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Cool dude, with his sunglasses.

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Now another skit.

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In this skit, the smallest boy is dressed up like an important older man, dressed in his white shirt and dhoti. People come and pay their respects.

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His attendants follow him around and keep him shaded with the umbrella. He has a moustache.

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Now the special part of the ceremony, awarding the sewing machines.

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These women have been in the class for eighteen months.

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They attended class for three hours each day, six days a week, for one and a half years.

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Judith and Viji’s younger son is in the foreground.

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Before the sewing machines were given, each woman’s records were checked to make sure her attendance was good, and that she completed her assignment, especially her final big project.

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Here is Vennila getting her machine. Yay!

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After the awards were given to the students, the students gave awards to the teachers. Venilla is the spokesperson for the group.

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Here is something for Judith and Viji.

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It is an embroidered wall hanging, made by each of the women in the class.

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More awards to people from the school.

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Here is Vennila’s certificate, suitable for framing.

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Then one last dance number.

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Finally many people got up on the stage dancing. A dance free-for-all.

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Such good work: An orphanage, a kindergarten, tutors for 150 children, and now a women’s program to teach tailoring.

This may seem funny to Westerners, but in India most tailors are men, even for women’s clothes, so teaching these women a commercial skill is a women’s empowerment program. Good work, HeartKids Center!

Here is a photo of HeartKids, from their web page.

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It makes Carol and me so happy to see these kinds of efforts. This grew from the caring of one German woman who decided she could do something to help. Thank you Judith Retz, and the many people who help you and donate generously to your trust.

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4 Responses to “HeartKids Annual Awards Function, Tiruvannamalai”

  1. Judith Retz Says:

    Thank you very, very much for this lovely report of our function!
    Judith

  2. Ludmila Kotomina Says:

    Dear Richard, many thanks for your report! Ienjoyed every pic . What a good day (event) it was! Thank you
    Mila

  3. Meera Rammohan Says:

    Dear Richard:
    THanks for this v nice report! I live in Chennai and following your blog for about a month or so—I also like your updates on the Inner Path and other such…Do keep posting on Thiruvannamalai events.I do come to Ramanashram quite often.Meera

  4. Sunanda Maldonado Says:

    Thank you for this lovely report, Richard. I first met Viji years ago when he worked for Kumar at Shanti Internet. Then I used to see him and Judith and the first baby as they lived in the same road as Sivasakthiamma. Viji told me that his wife had started the HeartKids programme – how wonderful to learn that it has grown into such an amazing enterprise.

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