India

A Very Good Reason to Smile

February 2016

Many people who travel to India experience something profound and eye-opening which leaves them forever changed. 

For Patrizia De Chiara (pictured below), a freelance communications consultant based in Amsterdam, her profound experience came from her time working with the underprivileged and homeless children of Buddha’s Smile School in Varanasi.  

Three years ago, during a “In the footsteps of the Buddha trip” in India with her friend Do, Patrizia came to know about Buddha’s Smile School and was immediately inspired to get involved.

The school was founded by a woman called Rajan Kaur Saini to educate children who would otherwise never have the opportunity.

After being deeply impressed by Rajan and her school, Patrizia kept in contact with Rajan and then in November 2015, decided to travel back to India to support the school for one and a half months with much-needed fundraising and communications.

During her time there, Patrizia also helped facilitate the donation of Little Sun lamps to the children of the school and she has shared her wonderful experiences with us here.

Volunteering at Buddha’s Smile School for street children in Varanasi, India

By Patrizia De Chiara

On December 1st I flew to Varanasi in India to work there as a volunteer in Buddha’s Smile School, an elementary school for 220 poor and streetchildren in the village of Sarnath.

Sarnath is a well-known place for people interested in Buddhism. It is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists, where, over 2500 years ago, the Buddha gave his first teachings to his disciples. One of the main subjects he talked about was ‘Generosity’. Nowadays you can visit a beautiful park and walk around the Stuppa, which is a tall tower built on the exact place where the Buddha sat with the monks and gave his first sermon.

Approximately 200 meters from this park, there is a street with little plastic huts, which belong to the ‘beggars community’. The children of this community used to beg near this park and the museum of Sarnath every day. Now they attend Buddha’s Smile School, where they receive education with love, care and motivation, and a daily nutritious meal!

The students from Buddha’s Smile School come from ‘untouchable’ and refugee communities, segregated in urban slums, village huts and a leprosy colony. In school they are taught Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Hindi, Drawing and General Knowledge.

A few days before Christmas the students of class IV and V received a very special presentation. They were taught about solar energy! How does it work and how can you use it? We showed them the Little Suns, which were donated by a private donor from the Netherlands.

The students were very interested in the Little Suns! After showing them these solar lights, they had to answer questions about solar energy.

Badel (the boy who was begging in the picture above!) was proudly assisting the teacher in the class room!

As we had received 30 Little Suns (and have 220 students attending our school), we made a list of the children who needed these solar lights the most. A lot of students live with their families in huts or open air, without any electricity…
Rajan Kaur Saini, founder and director of the school, handed out the first Little Suns to students from the Chaukaghat community. They live in open air under a railway bridge, without any shelter.

These children live under very harsh conditions. Their lives are often in danger, because of sleeping outside, in open air. The Little Suns give them some protection and comfort at night. They also use the Little Sun lights when early in the morning they walk to open fields in their bare feet to do their ‘toilet needs’, before jumping in the school bus to go to Buddha’s Smile School.

Close to the Railway station, we visited other students and their families. Student Manish was very happy to receive a Little Sun. He and his family live in a hut without any light or electricity. The little boy with

Manish is on the waiting list for next year to attend the Buddha’s Smile School!

We also visted students from the ‘Beggars Community’ where the Little Suns were very much welcome too!

And at last we went to visit the students who live in the Bengali Refugees Community. The families live in village huts made from garbage. Most parents of our students work as ragpickers and gather garbage which they recycle. Rajan Kaur Saini instructs the families how to use the Little Suns.

For these poor children receiving a Little Sun was a big motivation to come to school every day and learn new things!

On January 10th 2016 I finished my volunteership at Buddha’s Smile School. My visit to this school made me deeply realize how important primary education is as the first step in breaking down the cycle of poverty and caste-based discrimination. And I was very much impressed by so much love I felt in the school!

So I you are planning to go to India, and visit interesting places like Sarnath (Varanasi) or Bodhgaya, please don’t forget to visit Buddha’s Smile School. This is a place of pure love and generosity. You are MOST welcome!

For more information please visit: www.buddhas-smile-school.org

Best wishes,

Patrizia De Chiara