Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ONE DAY THE TEACHER WILL COME: One of those moments (two, actually) that changes everything.

             Twenty years ago, Nick Hansen was traveling in Bihar one of the poorest states in India.  Nick collapsed and a doctor told him, he would recover but he was going to need a lot of rest and time.  The doctor suggested a Bodh Gaya where they were used to Westerners and their strange ways. 
               Bodh Gaya is the Mecca of Buddhism.  Around 500 or 600 BC a wealthy Prince named Siddhartha sat under a giant tree to meditate and fast until he was transformed into the enlightened and loving Buddha, the founder one of the world's greatest religions.  Millions of pilgrims from all over the world go to Bodh Gaya every year so, yes they were used to the weird ways of foreigners.  

the temple at Bodh Gaya
        Nick went to Bodh Gaya and as he became strong enough to walk around the village, he met Deepak Kumar. They became friends and Deepak said, “let me show you my little village where I grew up, Piani, in Jharkhand India.  It’s not far.”  
              As they were walking around the little village where Deepak grew up, they noticed a little boy sitting in front of an abandoned building.  It wasn't the first time they'd seen him.  The little boy was there every day, sitting on some old sacking with a few tattered books alongside.  The building had no roof, no door, even the window frames had been ripped out for firewood.  They asked the boy what he was doing.  And the boy said, “this is the school and one day I know the teacher will come.” 

           Nick has been on a mission ever since.  He went back to Britain to raise money for a school and returned to the village in 1992.  He and Deepak Kumar started a small school with local teachers and from that simple beginning People First was born. Now employing over 70 people the trust now works in health, education, child protection and welfare, women's rights and poverty. 
                Years later, in the winter of 1999, my friends Michael Kilgroe (that's Michael in the column on the right) and Patricia Burbank went on their own pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya.  They got off  the night train from Calcutta in Gaya at 4 AM.  It was cold and desolate.  The train platform was dimly lit and seemed deserted. 

               Patricia and Michael were California pilgrims, therapists and teachers, tired and sleepy but glad to be so close to their desitnation.  They found the taxi stand beside the platform but there were no taxis. They'd have to wait until morning.  Too dangerous. Too many bandits at night.  “Don’t even leave the platform.”
             As they waited, forms rose up from the platform like small ghosts.  One by one they were surrounded by little children in rags.  The children were orphans and abandoned kids with no one to care for them, no food, no money: barely surviving on scraps they could beg from strangers or by selling water on trains. 
             It was cold, the middle of winter in the north of India and some of the children slept on the bare concrete train platform without a blanket. They were “platform kids” some of the millions of orphan and abandoned children in India who “live” on the train platforms.       

            For Michael and Patricia, seeing those children was  one of those moments that changes everything.  It would change Patricia and Michael’s lives and the lives of tens of thousands of children around the world. With any luck, it will change the lives of millions of children in the future.  Patricia said. “We hav do something for these children. We have to.”    But how?  When the need is infinite, what can you do?  


         When they got to Bodh Gaya the visited the school that Nick Hansen and Deepak Kumar were running, how wonderfully efficient it was.   $4 would educate and feed a child for a month.  They would go back to Palo Alto to found One World Children's Fund with $10,000 of their own and their friends and family's money. 

School Kids in Marin, California sing their hearts out for kids in Africa

        Last year One World Children's fund raised nearly $600,000 for needy kids in America and around the world.  And they did it with a grand total of 2 employees. 
(to be continued)

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