Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and the happiest 2016!

Loving wishes from all our children :-)

KPMG organised a Christmas Carnival for all our children! It was a wonderful Christmas present for the kids!! :-)

Thank you once again KPMG!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Our first batch's 10th standard results!

It is with immense happiness that I share our 10th standard results!

This is our first batch to appear for the 10th standard examination under the NIOS board.

All students except 1, have passed in all subjects. And ALL passed with a "first class" aggregate!

The 1 student who has failed, has failed in only one subject. And has passed all the rest!

Pragadeesh has done very well with:

86% in English

76% in Social Studies

74% in Mathematics

78% in Tamil

63% in Science & Technology

Dharini has done well too, with:

82% in Tamil and 67% in Science.

Kudos to all the teachers who have worked hard to bring our children up.

Thanks to all our sponsors who have made education a reality for underprivileged children!

16 Dec 2015

Celebration Lunch!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tsunami Relief Work 2004

Tsunami 2004! 

Home was 200m from the beach...and our school, Gurukulam, hardly 50m from the beach! I had just finished breakfast when the first wave stuck. Hearing people shout, I ran out to see black waters rushing towards me.

I felt that it would stop before it reached home, and lucky for me, it did!! 

The water stopped hardly 2 feet from where i stood! Although in most other streets on either side of ours the water had reached almost 1km inland!  The mosque diagonally opposite home was broken to bits and had collapsed. So were the walls of the empty plots closer to the beach! Gurukulam school building, hardly 50m from the beach, on the parallel road to ours was intact! Not a scratch! While the walls of the plots adjacent were broken up completely. Home and school escaped the wrath of the Tsunami. However, that was the only good news. The entire first row of houses in Panayur kuppam were broken up, the boats smashed into each other. Hundreds lost their lives along the coast in Chennai. Pannayur was lucky. The fishermen had spotted the wave and had all run to the East Coast Road 1 km away from the beach. Only 1 man lost his life. 

We started relief work the very next day. The karate students were of course the very first to join in, followed by all those who had been in touch with our school. We started distributing rice, dal, blankets, cooking stove, vegetables, clothes to all the displaced families around Panayur!

Word soon spread about our relief work, and we had volunteers joining in from Loyola College, Stella Maris College, Ingram Micro, Caritor and around 10 volunteers from Mumbai. I still am not sure how they heard about our work and volunteered! But they did! And they stayed at home for well over a month and helped the effort immensely. We were on "Radio Mirchi" FM, "Cafe Coffee Day" joined in as the drop off point for clothes, blankets etc that people came forward to donate!

"Yogoda Satsanga Society of India" supported our initiative and volunteers from YSS joined in along with Swami Krishnandaji, Swami Sudhanandaji and other monks whose guidance was invaluable. 

The first 2 weeks were spent reaching out to villages along the coast, after consulting the Tamilnadu Kancheepuram Collectors office on where people required the supplies most. Those were hectic days of packing through the nights and taking the supplies in lorries with volunteers and distributing them to all at each village we were asked to help. It was non stop activity. Hard to describe the solidarity, warmth and a sense of oneness among the volunteers during this time! We hardly slept, it was non stop work.

Within a few days, 8 villages and about 4000 people were provided relief with more than 5000 kgs of rice, 1500 kgs of dal, utensils, safe drinking water, medicines, blankets, sleeping mats, toiletries and more. Our special appreciation and thanks to Mr. D.Arun, I.F.S, District Forest Officer, Cuddalore District and G.Gopalkrishnan, PAG Collectorate, Kanchipuram for their help in coordinating our efforts to reach the most affected areas.

During the relief work, we saw homes battered up, whole rows of houses washed away, grown men crying and a sense of "oh my God!"...."is this possible?". At one coastal village where we did quite a bit of relief work, Pitchumedu, at least 1 person in each family had died in the Tsunami. I saw a woman gone crazy from despair after she had lost her husband, son and daughter! She could see no reason to be alive! We did a few counselling camps for the village with trained psychologists. 

It was time to help the villagers stand on their own feet. Yogoda Satsanga Society of India and Trust Children got the approval from the Kancheepuram Collector to adopt Pannayur Kuppam. After 3 to 4 Panchayat meetings with the whole village, we decided we would:

1. Repair all the fibreglass boats to pre Tsunami condition or better
2. Get 63 catamarans ready for the families who had lost them
3. Build up the entire row of houses that had been swept away
4. Buy new nets for every affected family
5. Build toilets for the village as they had no toilets in their houses pre Tsunami.
6. Build a new shed for them to work on the beach.
7. Build a community building.

In short, get the village back on their feet! And help them get back to earning their livelihood. Additionally we would also build them a new shed on the beach, a community building and toilets.

We immediately found a boat builder from near Pondicherry who would stay at Pannayur to carry out the repairs. 

The second phase of the relief work started with gusto!

We cleared up the rubble and started getting the first row of houses ready

The  construction of the toilets were started. Mr Madurai and Mr Muthu, both of them fishermen and fathers of our school children oversaw the construction...

New bundles of nets were bought and handed over to each family!

Logs were bought in Kerala and transported back to Panayur, where we got 63 catamarans ready!

None of this could have happened without unrelenting work from all our volunteers! 

Alpa Shah and Nitin Agarwal who were working with Caritor along with some of their colleagues were the first to join in, along with 8 volunteers from Mumbai. Rishabh Kaul was one of the volunteers from Mumbai. Read about Rishabh's experience by clicking on this link . Vishal Khushalani, who was working with Ingram Micro joined in, and along with Alpa Shah kept track of every penny that came in as donation and every penny that was spent! Not an easy job. This was apart from the non stop relief work! Shivaji and his wife from YSS put in as much time as his work permitted, Sangeeta Puranam from YSS was another invaluable member of this team whose energy never flagged! along with many others spent a good part of Dec 2004 and Jan 2005 working virtually non stop to bring about solace to those affected.  Mythili Ravishankar and YSS devotees from Singapore pitched in by collecting donations. Students and staff from UWCSEA (United World College South East Asia) raised a considerable amount towards relief work and one of the UWCSEA teacher joined us at Chennai for volunteer work. Swami Sudhanandaji and Swami Krishnandaji from YSS were always there to guide and encourage us. Among the fishermen, Madhivanan, Madurai and Muthu were there every day of the relief work. Selvam, Saravanan, Ali, Ramesh and most of the karate students pitched in their time and effort virtually everyday!

Working non stop, we managed to get 24 fibre glass boats and a good number of catamarans ready by the 24th Jan 2005! Less than one month! It felt like a miracle!! The idea was to get the fishermen back on their feet at the earliest we could.

On the 24th Jan, we went out to sea. 24 fibre glass boats and around 12 catamarans. This was probably one of the biggest number of boats to go out to sea after the Tsunami. Muthu caught a 3-4 feet fish that we "sold" to the Chief Guest of the day - Cine Actor Suriya. A big event was organised which was well covered   by the Doordarshan TV. 

(1) Swami Sri Krishnanadaji of Yogada Satsanga Society of India  (2)DIG of Police,Mr.Kamaraja IPS (3) Representative of Collector, Project Manager (4) Movie Star Mr.Surya (5) Mr. Deenadayalan, District Collector graced the occasion.

The event was a big step in the fishermen's lives. After the Tsunami, there was a huge fear in their heart and minds. The sea that was their livelihood had become a monster in their minds! They were not sure what they would find in the sea after the tsunami! The evening before going to sea, there was a huge reluctance and fear. It took quite a bit of motivational talk to allay their fears and venture back into the sea. During the sail, I could feel their apprehension! To allay their fear, I called for a swimming competition between 2 boats and jumped into the sea (before my fear set in! :-)). One by one the fishermen jumped in and then I saw the smiles, laughs and finally their normal ease at sea. 

The work continued non stop.

The rest of the fibre glass boats were repaired, all their engines tuned.

The catamarans were made ready.

The first row of houses were built. They were thatched in the same manner as the pre Tsunami, while we improved their living conditions by putting in a concrete flooring. The thatched roofs are comfortable in summer and practical.

Nets were bought and distributed.

2 large thatched huts was made ready on the beach where the fishermen could repair their nets, sort out their equipment etc.,

41 toilets were built and handed over. A big function was organised. Minister for Law and Information Technology Mr D Jayakumar was the Chief Guest. It was pouring rain. The shamyana (tent) that was put up for the function blew away in the strong winds. When the minister was contacted and briefed on the weather, it was heart warming for us to hear him say – “Come rain or storm I will be there! My friend has called me to preside and I shall be there!”.  The Minister having been born in the fishermen community connected closely with the fishermen and made the function a most memorable one. Swami Krishnandaji spoke from his heart and touched many hearts around.


One of the fishing villages had a peculiar problem. It was 1.5 kms inland, connected to the sea by a river. The tsunami had closed the river! It was filled with debris and mud. The boats were 1.5 kms inland with no way of reaching the sea! 

Once we decided to help, the work was started with a war footing! Specialised labourers were brought in. The local villagers formed the bulk of the manual labour. They were also paid a small amount. Muthu, the fisherman from Pannayur, stayed back in Annamalaicherry and oversaw the whole project to completion. 

Small parts of the river were blocked. They were first drained of water by pumping it out and then desilted. 

The whole project was completed in a record 10 days!!

The fishermen of Annamalaicherry dedicated their entire first catch to the volunteers who had helped them!


The memories of Pitchumedu are etched in my mind forever! The first sight that I encountered on entering the village was a woman crazed by grief. Lamenting loudly on the loss of her husband, son and daughter. She saw no reason to live! Every family in that village had lost someone close!

Along with Swami Krishnandaji and other volunteers we provided a lot of support to the villagers. They were provided nets, boats and most of all psychologists were invited and a camp conducted to alleviate the mental agony the village had gone through.

Spoken English and Computer Studies

While the relief work carried on, we also set up a "Spoken English" class and "Computer Study" class. Both were run away hits!!

We had students from 7 year olds to 45 year old in the Spoken English. It again reiterated the belief with which "Gurukulam" was started. Every one understood the necessity of spoken English. Our volunteers took this as seriously as the relief work. And the classes helped a large number of the villagers of Pannayur.

The "Computer Studies" was "over subscribed" and we had to choose 5 girls and 5 boys as the first batch. Volunteers from NUS Singapore conducted the class for 3 months. The students learnt the use of "word, excel, powerpoint and paint".  

More memories:

Standing: Ramaswami, Anita, Kadar Bee. Sitting: Sangeeta Puranam, June, Vishal, Alpa, Volunteer

With Sangeeta Puranam in a Spoken English class

Volunteers from the fishermen, included are the karate students

Madhi, the boat builder and myself

Swami Krishnandaji with karate student volunteers

A boat thrown inland by the tsunami

Battered houses

Madhi, Madurai, Selvam along with others from Annamalaicherry

Swami Suddhanandaji bringing solace to the affected at the hospital
Panchayat meeting at Panayur, with Vishal in the foreground
Lighter moments during the relief work with Alpa, Akash, Vishal and others

With Sangeetha Puranam and Muthu at Annamalaicherry

Commencement of work at Annamalaicherry

Community building for Panayur

Psychologist camp on the day of handing over the community building

Volunteers with Swami Suddhanandaji

Tsunami's havoc

Logs for the catamarans at Pannayur

Madurai and Muthu (in the centre) planning the construction of the toilets

logs for the catamaran

Fishermen of Annamalaicherry jubiliant after they could start fishing

Relief work at Annamalaicherry

Swami Suddhanandaji distributing relief material with volunteers

With the fishermen at Pitchumedu

Swami Krishnandaji distributing relief material at Pitchumedu

Spoken English by Vishal

24th Jan 2015

Pics from 24th Jan 2015

With Alpa and Vishal

Completing the repair of the fibreglass boats and engines

With Vishal addressing the women at Panayur towards better sanitation

boats leaving on the 24th Jan 2015