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Birthday Reflections by Dr Kiran Martin

My dear friends,

It gives me great joy to write to you on the eve of my 58th birthday, particularly because I am delighted that the High School students from Asha slum communities have received outstanding results that have surpassed all my expectations. An 18 year old young boy called Prince who lives in Mayapuri slum colony has topped the Asha batch with 93% and scored 100% marks in History. He tells me that he crosses the railway line that runs outside his shack to go to the toilet in the open, everyday. He studies all night because he just can’t concentrate with trains passing by his shack every few minutes during the day. He tells me he uses ear plugs to try and drown out the deafening sound. His father is an illiterate manual labourer who has been carrying bricks to construction sites all his life. And then there’s Hari Om from Tigri, whose father is a roadside cobbler and an alcoholic. He has endured so much financial hardship that the family has been living on rent in a slum shack for the past 13 years. He has scored a stunning 90.7% overall with 92% in Economics. Devinder’s mother sells lemons and green chilis from street to street in her slum, in a basket she carries over her head. With hope in his eyes he tells me that he has scored 90.7% with 95% in Geography, and it is his passion to read Geography in an Honours Programme at Delhi University. Pinky’s story brought tears to my eyes because its so similar to my own. Her mother died when she was just 7 years old, after which her father remarried. He and her step mother have abandoned her, and she lives with her old grandmother. She told me she couldn’t count the number of times she has gone to bed after just a cup of tea or a glass of lemon water for dinner. She has scored 84.5% and she was sobbing uncontrollably when I put my arms around her and promised her that her dream of going to university would certainly come true. These are but a few examples among hundreds of young people who have done brilliantly inspite of living in the kind of hardship that you and I might find difficult to comprehend.

As the children were encouraged and inspired at every step of their journey by the Asha team and Ambassadors, I shared with them that it was important to be ambitious. I reminded them that ambition, the desire to achieve something, requires both energy and goals to succeed. We may have plenty of energy but no goals. We may pursue one opportunity after another without success, and wonder what it is that we want out of life. On the other hand, we may have goals, but not enough energy, and we may find ourselves wanting to achieve success, but quit when the work becomes too hard or too much. I shared some stories of great people who had failed so many times but embraced their failures and saw them as learning experiences. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, attempted to create many light bulbs before he developed one that actually worked. And he said: “ I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. “

At this stage of my life, as Asha will soon enter its 30th year, I believe every slum child needs a champion, someone who will never give up on them, and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Someone who will affirm them and praise them for their inner qualities, so that they will strive to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. Someone who will protect and defend them, be proud of them, and love them unconditionally. May we connect with every child in ways that help them to flourish in all the dimensions of their lives and to be the very best versions of themselves.

As hundreds of students are seeking to get into university at the end of this month, it is my hope that not one of them will be disappointed or turned away from financial support. I look to the global Asha family once again at this time, believing that we are all in this vision together, and that each one of us will play our part in transforming the lives of our slum children. You will shortly receive an appeal from the Asha Team that describes the details. I am deeply grateful to you for the many ways in which you have supported and encouraged me as I am about to enter the 59th year of my life.

With all my good wishes!

Kiran Martin

 

 

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New Year wishes, 2017

What joy it gives me to have the opportunity to once again bring you my warm greetings for a Happy New Year!

2017 will be for us at Asha a year filled with exciting possibilities. The Asha Ambassadors in the slum communities whose lives have been transformed through their educational opportunities, are now ready to reach out to young people from slums all over the city! They have already begun visiting so many slums with the good news that the lives of the young people there are going to change forever. Slums where this news has never been heard or received, slums where the hope of a better life has never been experienced. The Ambassadors are also visiting the neighbouring local public schools to look for bright children living in poverty, with the goal of inspiring them to dream big and work hard to transform their circumstances.

The word that I am going to lay hold of as we enter 2017 is ‘Inspiration’. It comes from the Latin ‘inspirare’ meaning ‘to breathe into’. What a wonderful word! It is a beautiful contagion that passes through individuals. Bringing about a new way of seeing. Raising the sense of possibility in others. Motivating others to be brave enough to take steps towards something truly great. It is like a burst of energy, like the wind blowing through the window of the mind and the spirit, that then take flight.

My desire for 2017 is that my team and I are a source of inspiration for these young people. May they believe that the beauty and goodness within them can awaken them to greater and nobler possibilities. May a power greater than them burst forth deep in their unconscious, bringing about a new way of seeing and believing.

Let us all lay hold of this word in the New Year, remembering that those who are open to inspiration are more likely to experience it. Let us recognise its sheer power and potency to bring about a revolution in our lives.

My older daughter was named ‘Prerna’ which in Hindi means ‘ Inspiration’, and it is to her that I dedicate this reflection.

My team and I will need your support more than ever as we launch out into the deep in the New Year. It is with gratitude and good wishes that I end my blog.

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Asha communities setting brilliant examples

You may have heard that on November 9th, the Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi announced that the currency of 500 and 1000 rupee notes had been demonetised, and will no longer be valid. His government took this decision in order to fight corruption and black money in India. Since then, ordinary Indian citizens have been queuing up outside banks for many hours daily in an effort to change their old notes for valid currency. Over 80% of India’s economy being a cash economy, unlike in developed countries, and with millions of Indians outside the banking system, this has caused much distress among the poor, most of whom belong to the informal sector and are on daily wages. The government is making every effort to deal with this crisis that will take time to ease due to the huge population needing cash for their daily lives.

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Source: PTI

In the midst of all this chaos, I heard amazing stories in the Asha communities that I was deeply touched by. Stories of neighbours helping each other with cash that is so rare, people displaying untold generosity towards each other, community members standing with each other and supporting one another, and people still displaying good cheer and optimism through this period of adversity. And all this without any respect for religion, caste, gender, colour, or status at a time when boundaries and walls are defining the perspective of vast numbers of people all over the world.

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What a wonderful example the members of Asha communities set for us all! May we see equal worth and significance in every human being, and may we display the highest standard of generosity and kindness as we watch them in action during one of the most trying times in India.

Here are a few glimpses from my visit…

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With the wonderful Asha team!

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Dr. Kiran’s Meeting With Ambassador of Ireland HE Brian McElduff

Dr. Kiran with HE Brian McElduff, Irish Embassy

Dr. Kiran expressed her gratitude of meeting the Ambassador of Ireland to India HE Brian McElduff-
It was a delight to meet with the new Ambassador of Ireland to India HE Brian McElduff this morning. We spoke of the long standing relationship between Ireland and Asha, going back about 20 years. He was really pleased to hear of the various activities of Friends of Asha (Ireland), particularly the relationship with the various Irish schools and churches. He is keenly looking forward to meeting with the school teams in October, and has offered to host them at his residence.
The Irish Embassy has been hosting Asha interns since 2012, and many have gone on to getting really good jobs. He met with Rekha who is currently interning at the Visa Section. He was also glad to hear Usha’s story, and congratulated her on her achievements in Australia.

Thank you Your Excellency for taking out the time to meet with us.

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Meeting with Dr Harshvardhan

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It was wonderful to meet with India’s Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, and Senior Leader in the Modi Government, Dr Harshvardhan. He was delighted to hear of Usha’s visit to Australia and gave her his blessings and good wishes for a bright future ahead. He was also so pleased to hear of the Asha school leaving results this year, and warmly congratulated Asha and the students, particularly the toppers for such an excellent performance. He has promised to attend Asha’s Celebration of Learning event in July once all the college admissions are over.

Thank you, Dr Harshvardhan for your deep interest in and encouragement of the work of Asha!

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Essence of Affirmation – The Way Forword

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On the eve of turning 57, I have been reflecting on one of the Asha values that has brought out in my team and communities all that is right, and good, and beautiful. It has multiplied their joy, stimulated them, quickened them, and whirled them into action!

The Asha value I am thinking of is that of Affirmation. When we recognise in others a commendable skill, personality trait, or action, it must be noticed and named. The practice of affirmation is life giving, bringing peace to a fearful heart, supply into want, health into sickness, solutions to problems. We blossom in ways that are wonderful to behold. Our strengths, capabilities, and talents are brought to life. We feel empowered, and our self esteem is strengthened.

When we affirm others, we demonstrate that we are on their side. They are then far more inclined to take our counsel to heart when we have some constructive criticism to offer down the road. We therefore earn the privilege of offering feedback that can help a person understand behaviours or actions that require change.

Behaviours that are rewarded and celebrated are also more likely to be repeated. When we are seen as people who look for the best in others, others feel safe in our company and like to be around us.

It is important that affirmation is specific and consistent. Affirmation in the presence of others where appropriate, is key. This means that we are giving public honour and respect for a person’s gifts and abilities.

Everyday I see the amazing effects of affirmation on the members of the Asha family penetrating so deeply that their entire attitude, behaviour and actions are affected. The way they experience events, and the emotional climate of their relationships, has completely changed.

Let us embrace affirmation as a value to be practised everyday, and remember that our affirmations can have a profound impact on the lives of others.

With all my good wishes and thanks for your kindness and generosity towards Asha.

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Meeting with the Australian High Commissioner

I had the immense pleasure of meeting with HE Ms Harinder Sidhu, the recently appointed Australian High Commissioner to India this week. Ms Sidhu was delighted to hear that Usha, a young girl from the slums, is now, with Asha’s help, a journalist, and will be accompanying me to Australia. She was excited to hear more about the trip, and expressed her very best wishes. She is so passionate about critical issues relating to the urban poor and we are looking forward to working together with great anticipation. Thank you, Your Excellency for your warm welcome!

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Mother’s day experiences

What a wonderful celebration we had on Saturday! I’m not sure how many of you know this, but there are a number of Asha kids that I have been mentoring directly for over a year, although I’ve known most of them for a long time. I keep adding new ones as I spot amazing talent and vast potential. We meet at my home quite regularly, and we have grown to love and cherish each other so much over the years. They read out letters, poems, and cards with beautiful emotions expressed through laughter, tears, and hugs. They made contributions and bought me a beautiful cake and a lovely dupatta (Indian stole). I feel so fortunate to have these relationships in my life; they have enriched me in unimaginable ways.

Here is a selection of beautiful photos and heart-warming letters that I hope will inspire every reader.

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New year greetings to Mr Advani

Met with senior most leader and patriarch of the BJP today, to bring greetings for 2016 and seek his continued support for the work of Asha. He was very happy to hear that 1500 Asha students have gained admission to Delhi University so far in spite of such huge challenges.

He encouraged me to continue the mission till each one was gainfully employed, and promised all support. He has been a strong supporter of Asha for the past 15 years, and has continued to follow the journey throughout his association.

 

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UN International Day of Non Violence

The UN International Day of Non Violence is on October 2nd, to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869, and this year, we will be commemorating his 146th birth anniversary. Non Violence is one of Asha’s key values, and I have been thinking a lot about it these days. During my 27 years at Asha, I have witnessed violence in many shapes and forms, from physical violence, to the violent effects of power structures oppressing and harassing the poor, systems, large and small, that incorporate prejudice and exploitation. I began to put to the test the philosophy of non violence from Asha’s very early beginnings, as I dealt with the oppressive and unjust systems on a daily basis.

The Asha communities have received great enlightenment and joy through the practice of non violence that has become a moral imperative, a way of life. It is a weapon available to all of us, and is a wonderful technique for resolving conflicts and achieving desired ends. The goal of non violence is not to defeat the opponents, but to win them over. This then does not alienate our opponents, and in fact, leaves open the possibility of conversion.

In my experience, we invite violence from opponents if they are humiliated or provoked. We are here to fight the antagonism, not the antagonist. Therefore personal sincerity in our interactions that foster trust, can break the cycle of violence and counter violence.

There can be the great temptation to self-righteousness and an unwillingness to see the other’s point of view. Efforts to try and understand the opponents’ motivations, and the lens with which they view the world can affirm their worth as well as their capacity for growth. This can also challenge them to examine their values and beliefs. This way, the oppressed and the oppressor are both liberated. A strong sense of the inherent dignity and worth of each individual brings us closer to an understanding of our shared humanity.

Non violence rejects passivity and submission, and is not an attempt to ignore or avoid conflict or oppression. In fact, it requires a great deal of courage and strength.

Gandhian non violence, termed ‘Satyagraha’, aims to attain the truth through love and right action. It demands the elimination of violence from the self, as well as from the social, political, and economic environment. The end result hoped for is a peaceful and just society.

In closing, for those who might be pessimistic about the ability of non violence to resolve conflicts, I ask, Have you tried? I have, hundreds in the Asha communities have, and it works beautifully. Would you like to consider celebrating October 2nd as Non Violence Day?

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