Presentation of Shanti Joy Nivas – Pondicherry
Every year in January, the Pongal Festival celebrates the start of the Sun’s six-month travel northward toward the equinox, an auspicious moment for Tamil people all over the world, including Pondicherry. The festival lasts four days. The first two days, while the houses are cleaned and old clothes disposed of, people visit their neighbours and family members. The third day is devoted to honouring cows and buffalos, as, according to the legend, cattle accepted to help humans in their field work only at the condition that they would be celebrated once a year. The last one, people thank the Sun God for giving its energy to the earth and allowing food to grow.
During Pongal, people chew sugarcane and decorate their houses with kolams.
Kolams are geometric shapes drawn with rice flour in the doorway of the houses every morning as a sign of welcome and good luck. Decoration is not the main purpose of a Kolam. In olden days, kolams were drawn in coarse rice flour, so the ants would not have to walk too far or too long for a meal. The rice powder also invited birds and other small creatures to eat it, thus welcoming other beings into one’s home and everyday life: a daily tribute to harmonious co-existence.
Every year, Shanti holds a kolam competition for the children, who are divided in three age groups.
A jury composed of “adults” (generally donators and friends of the association, local or foreign) ranks their creations according to a series of criteria including symetry, colours, creativity, etc. In each category, three winners receive a small present.
The children prepare food of their choice at home and bring it to Shanti where they share it to everyone.
The children prepare food of their choice at home and bring it to Shanti, where they share it to everyone.
Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry, Sri Lanka, as well as Tamils worldwide.
The day marks the start of the sun’s six-month-long journey northwards (the Uttarayanam). This also corresponds to the Indic solstice when the sun purportedly enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Makara or Capricorn. Pongal is mainly celebrated to convey appreciation to the Sun God for providing the energy for agriculture. Part of the celebration is the boiling of the first rice of the season consecrated to the Sun – the Surya Maangalyam.
Shanti, a registered (regd. No. 2179 of 1997), non profit, non governmental organisation was founded in 1997, in Pondicherry.
Shanti is dedicated to the welfare of mainly girl children and to the empowerment of women with the eventual aim of handing over the running of this organisation to them, the beneficiaries.
Children at school
Here, in India, it’s absolutely basic to have a knowledge of fundamental English, the only language that truly unites the people from the different parts, speaking different languages. A working knowledge of English also facilitates getting jobs in whichever field. ‘Shanti’ started with four girls admitted to an English medium school in 1997. Today (2010) it has more than 130 children admitted in different schools. These children are alert, sensitive and creative. After finishing their school around 4 p.m they come happily to ‘Shanti’ for further coaching. Qualified teachers guide them from Monday to Friday from 5 p.m to 8 p.m.
Main objectives of Shanti
• Providing education to girls from deprived families who are eager to learn.
• Assisting struggling women (in many cases single) to have a better future with greater economic freedom by creating small time jobs for them and / or providing them with the basic amenities in food, clothing and shelter.
In India one is always struck by the strength, patience, diligence and tolerance among the vast majority of women form the deprived sections who endure quietly untold physical and mental hardships and bear the burden of the family. Shanti has helped so far many women and their families in the neighborhood by responding to their varied needs and diverse problems. A few examples of the assistance given are construction of coconut leaf huts, providing electricity, basics like stoves, utensils, fans, bicycles etc., clearing of loans (taken at high rates of interest), help start small ventures with low investment, like the selling of tender coconuts, fire wood, vegetables, snacks etc. and supporting mothers and their newborn babies.
The self-confidence of the children going to proper schools and the self-esteem of the women of Shanti has increased considerably, as a result. They now know that someone cares for them and respects them.
Shanti thanks family, friends and all those who believe in and support its cause.
The crèche came into existence, very naturally with a few little ones, whose mothers had to go to work (as house-maids, for road building, to construction sites, etc). Gradually more children joined and the crèche was named ‘Joy Nivas’ (house of joy). Today (in 2010) there are more than 50 tiny tots, but preference is given to girls again, grouped in three batches (according to age).
They come at 8.30 in the morning to play, learn alphabet, numbers and nursery rhymes. Then they have a mid-morning snack, listen to stories, do clay modeling, collage, drawing etc. and go back home at 12.30.
Free distribution of school-material
Besides getting children admitted into various schools, Shanti provides for every academic session, books note-books, uniforms etc., to deserving children in the neighborhood who cannot afford it.
The Sunday get-together was started in order to develop a closer relation with the children of the village and their families. It is mainly from this group that every year a few kids are selected to be admitted into proper English medium schools. The highlights of the Sunday get-together are:
• Imparting English and general knowledge
• Playing games-indoor as well as outdoor
• Organising workshops on dance, theater, painting etc.
• Serving a balanced meal before leaving for their homes
Medical assistance & nutrition
Each child is regularly monitored for general medical check-ups. A medical booklet for each is maintained with proper records by a lady doctor who visits ‘Shanti’ twice a month. As and when the need arises, they are taken to hospital for necessary treatment. Special attention is paid to nutrition in the form of food and vitamins and that children and mothers are well taken care of.
Festivals & birthdays
Important festivals like Deepavali, Pongal, Ganesh puja, Christmas, Easter, Children’s day etc. are celebrated with the active participation of all children. Simple games are organized and prizes distributed.
Children receive a new dress on their birthday, which invariably concludes with a children’s party.
The hand-work program was initiated for unemployed women. Tailoring, embroidery, crochet etc, are taught to them. This was in order to assist women to have a better future with greater economic freedom. Apart from getting decent salaries, they feel good to be in an environment that is friendly, non-commercial, in a climate of freedom where they are protected and guided.