A wonderful day.
October 27th, 2012 by Charlotte

Yesterday we had the great opportunity to visit the school in Bihar. As I live in Varanasi and the Centre of Knowledge is still under construction (no toilet, etc.) and situated in a remote area only reachable by car, I do not very often get a chance to go there. Yesterday we left with a small delegation consisting of our treasurer Mr. Ashutosh Dwivedi (who had never visited the site), my dear friend and representative of Loka’s partner Shangri-Lah Mrs. Miek Berg and myself.

After arrival in Bihar we got a small tour along the lush-green paddy fields, the cow stable, the hostel and the school.  All looked so well organised and neat and clean and shining, it was a pleasure for the eyes.

Soon after arrival the location started to get crowded with small children running here and there and elderly women and couples of the village gathering together at the entrance of the hostel. Perfectly on time at 11 am Circle Officer Mr. Anil kumar Chaudhary  arrived in his car with flashing lights, escorted by his assistants and the local press. We happily sat together with the children and elders from the village and firstly presented a Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge) picture to the Officer to thank him for his interest in Loka’s work. We found in him a person who uses his power to work hard for the masses in an honest way, which is quite unique as he is working in an environment and system that encourages greed and misuse of power.

Together with the Officer we offered sarees and dothi’s to elderly people in need residing in the village where Loka’s centre is being realised. Then we distributed notebooks, pens and laddu’s (sweets) among the village children. Everybody was exited and happy. After the function a representative of the village presented the Officer a letter signed by all the village people asking him to build a school on the government land in the village that has been kept free for this purpose for many years. The government has money reserved for this purpose but due to corruption no efforts have been done to realise it so far. The Officer promised he would do his best for the village.

After saying goodbye to our official guest we spent some time in the cow shed talking, sharing, reflecting and laughing and walked around on Loka’s land. Right next to our land there was a tree with a big branch almost hanging on the ground and a trailer was lying behind it. Some children were running on and off the trailer and others were sitting on the branch and having so much fun bouncing up and down. Their screams of joy were heard throughout the whole village and it struck me – as it does every time – that to be happy one needs so little. And that maybe the less one has, thee happier one is.

Not long after we left to the nearest city to the local police station. We had to file a complaint against two brothers from our village as they had been harassing and threatening our staff, board members and some other villagers for the last year. We had been ignoring their negative behavior and had just focused on our work but recently the situation had started to get out of hand and some poor village people where getting death threats if they wanted to enter their own land and huts. We talked to the police officer in charge and he promised he would help the village. ‘To the dirty one has to be dirty’ he said. Personally we had preferred a more peaceful solution but we felt there was no other way then to take legal action in order to secure the safety of all people in the village subjected to the violence of these two men.

After visiting the police station we also visited the District Magistrate in his house to ask his attention for this urgent matter.

By that time it was getting late so we had to return back to Varanasi. We all felt the trip to Bihar had been most useful and wonderful, seeing so many happy children’s faces and also being able to contact some powerful people about important and urgent issues concerning the village where we work.

While lying in bed that night I was thinking how great it would be if the school could open next April, being inspired by all the energetic and enthusiastic village children so eager to be educated. I decided to give my all to make this dream come true.

Charlotte Leech
(co-founder Loka)

Pranam
September 19th, 2012 by Charlotte

A respectful greeting to all readers of the updated website of Loka. This year Loka celebrates its fifth year of existence! Slowly we are moving towards Loka’s goal to strengthen rural India by providing value education and promoting a way of life in tune with nature.
Construction work to complete the Centre of Knowledge is in full progress and its opening is planned in April 2013. The Centre will consist of a Public School, a Sanskrit Academy and an Organic Farm. If the Centre proves successful, instead of expanding, its concept may be copied throughout rural India. Because Small is Beautiful. Before this can become reality much work needs to be completed.
Please pray with us that this dream may come true and that Loka’s endeavours may create MANY HAPPY SMILING FACES….. throughout the world.

My Children, My teachers
January 12th, 2010 by Charlotte

To the children of Domari, India.

Never in my life had I met such bright, intelligent and happy human beings as my children in Domari, India. They taught me that by having nothing, one has all. My children would always be able to create something from nothing. Using the nature as their playground, the shells and stones as their toys. They never longed for more and were happy with what they had. Their happiness made me realise the importance of simplicity.

My children taught me the importance of respecting ones parents and teachers. Parents are given to children with a reason. However may be their deeds, they are in this world to learn something to their children. Teachers are a source of knowledge. Real success in life will only come when respecting ones parents and teachers. Thus I learnt from my children’s devotion towards their teachers and parents.

From my children I learnt non-violence in thoughts, words and deeds. They were shocked and disgusted by the idea of eating an animal. When asking them why, they replied that animals are also living beings, which we should not kill. And they said it is bad for ones health and unhygienic to eat flesh and blood.

My children also taught me that stimulants such as alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are a source of evil. Some of the children whose parents were using stimulants, would deprive them from education. They would force their children into tough labour, to pay for their cigarettes and alcohol.
Thus my children taught to avoid all stimulants as they fulfil selfish purposes only for which always someone else will have to suffer.

My children taught that religion is about being a good human being, to live a life based on values such as Love, Righteousness and Truth. My children’s dreams were about contributing to society, rather than only living for ones own satisfaction.
Thus, my children taught me to be religious and humanitarian.

My children taught never to cry for material loss, illness or physical discomfort, but to use such situations to become more strong. Terribly sick or wounded, they always seemed able to accept it and carry on with a smile. My children also taught to always cry for Love and Knowledge, because these things make life worthwhile.

My children taught me all and I cannot imagine a better teacher than them. Their wisdom knows no boundaries and I finish with their most important gift of knowledge:

ALWAYS SMILE

Merry Meat-Free Christmas!
December 20th, 2009 by Charlotte

Christmas was originally widely celebrated as Jesus’ birthday. Now that there are so many religions living together and also many non-religious people, the meaning of Christmas seems to have broadened. Yet its essential values remain. Christmas is a time to celebrate peace and love. It is also the celebration of giving. In the West we have the ability to consume all year through, so one can wonder what the added value is of also consuming as much as possible in the name of Christmas. What if instead of giving materials, we give from the heart? We can give from the heart by being together with friends and family without the reason or obligation of many big and expensive gifts. What if we use Christmas to practise the values of respect and simplicity? A different way of giving. A way of giving that does not cost money – on the contrary. What if instead of giving gifts we give love. Instead of eating for enjoyment, we eat with compassion. What if we give a life for Christmas by refraining from eating meat? Would that not be respectful to the true idea of Christmas; one based on values?

Leo Tolstoj once wrote a striking, beautiful and truthful article called ‘The first Step’ as an introduction to the Russian edition of the book: Ethics of Diet by Howard Williams. This article had a lasting influence on people such as Mahatma Gandhi. ‘The First Step’ seems more than ever applicable to the contemporary world. Tolstoy emphasises in this article that ‘it is an illusion that one can do anything in the service of humanity without self-control’ – self control is according to Tolstoy the first step to goodness. ‘Without self-control all efforts loose meaning.’ With self-control Tolstoy means that ‘it is impossible for man living in luxury to lead a righteous life’. For example, we think we do good by continuing to live in affluence and make up for it by donating to a ‘good’ cause or doing charitable work. But according to Tolstoy, all our efforts are baseless and without meaning if we do not first improve ourselves; in the least by overcoming our lusts and diminishing our needs. ‘Before man can do good he must cease to do evil.’ (…) ‘A drunken person cannot think of friendship and love in its true sense.’ (…) ‘A self-indulgent person who sleeps long on a soft bed and never accustomed himself to the effort of labour can do very little.’ And ‘if man really pities those who manufacture tobacco then the first thing he will do is cease to smoke.’

What Tolstoy emphasises is essential. How much are we aware of the effects of our (consumption) behaviour on other people, on all beings, on planet earth? We are now being taught to buy sustainable, to live sustainable and this usually means to continue living the way we do, without any concession, as long as what we do carries the label ‘ecological’. To follow a so-called ‘sustainable’ lifestyle without diminishing our demands is superfluous; without meaning. Due to our mass consumption currently all ‘ecological’ products are becoming more and more industrialised and so are the lives of the animals that carry the label ‘biological’ when they end up on the supermarket shelves. Buying with an eco-label still seems to be a ‘way of life’ only for the higher educated and more fortunate part of society. Unless it is combined with or the effect of self-conrol, it misses the point of REAL sustainability.

When do we read about personal sacrifice? About living a more simple life? With this I mean less consuming, less luxurious living, less ‘want’ and more ‘give’. We are willing to ‘do good’ as long as we need not sacrifice any personal desire, while it is in this fact – personal sacrifice – ONLY that real and sustainable betterment lies and not so much in driving an electric car and building a second house in a sustainable way.

In self-control, what and how (much) we eat is essential. There is an Indian saying ‘you are what you eat’. Tolstoy: ‘The chief interest <of the majority of men> in life is the satisfaction of the palate, the pleasure of eating – gluttony. From the poorest to the richest eating is, I think, the chief aim, the chief pleasure of our life.’ Tolstoy does not say that people must cease to eat meat. But he does say that anyone who really seeks to live a good life, will firstly abstain from eating animal food. Because, ‘to say nothing of the excitation of the passions caused by such food, its use is simply immoral as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to the moral feeling – killing; and is called forth only by greediness and the desire for tasty food.’

Maybe we can keep Tolstoy’s wise words in our hearts and use this Christmas – and all other days to follow – to practise his preaching. To practise the art of being a better human being. By being more simple. Less demanding. More giving. From the heart and both in our thoughts, words and actions. If we concentrate on developing ourselves through self control, we will naturally start giving more, taking less. And we do not have to be perfect, but let us at least strive for some kind of perfection and thus make life worthwhile. Slow and good, each at his or her own pace. This way we can really contribute towards a better world. Based on experience and in a real sustainable and compassionate way.

Wishing you a beautiful Christmas.

Charlotte

Small is beautiful.
September 4th, 2009 by Charlotte

Since some weeks I am back in the Netherlands. At last a fast Internet connection and the possibility to update the web log.

After we acquired land in Bihar, a company from Delhi surveyed the land and the architect will soon start designing the buildings for the Centre of Knowledge. The construction work will be done with local and -as much as possible – natural materials, respecting and inspired by local architecture. I am now in the Netherlands among others to work and raise funds to finance the construction work. If all goes well we hope to start building at the beginning of 2010 and start the first educational programme beginning 2011. Planning is slightly delayed. We realise more and more that if you want to create something for the long term, it takes time. Our focus is on quality.

The children in Varanasi are happy and healthy, they are now going to a school for general subjects and receive extra classes in Sanskrit every afternoon. And in this season there is also a lot of farming work. There seems little time for playing… Due to the limited space on our current location, only boys are residential. Just before I left India the first contract with the parents of a girl was signed: Mona. She is a star. It is quite difficult to find residential girl students in the villages; people are prepared to give their boys, but rather not their girls. So we are very happy with Mona, she will become residential as soon as we move to Bihar and until then we make sure she has the best education. In Bihar there will be 10 girls and 10 boys residing at the Centre of Knowledge. We believe in having a small basis, because small is beautiful in every way. This way there will be a lot of attention for the individual child to develop his/her talents and discover the best in his/her own nature. Together with these residential students, the professional teachers connected to the Centre will give tuition to hundreds of children from nearby villages every day, this way the centre will have a big reach and good connection with surrounding villages. These are the future plans.

Looking back at the last eight months I spent in India, it continuously felt like nothing was moving. The more fast we would want to work, the less progress there seemed to be. And even though in the beginning this made me quite nervous, in the end I realised the quality of working slow and good, instead of fast and many. In the West I was used to doing a lot of work in a short time. After this last experience in India, I try to focus on only a few tasks, and try to do them in a perfect way. When being always busy and in a hurry, one seems to loose touch with all human feelings. It is as the philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote, that if we are concerned with that which is really important, we are never busy. Being busy means a person being partial and being cut into pieces. If one is occupied with many things it is impossible to be whole. And to experience love (in ones work), one must be whole, and if an act is filled with love it becomes sacred and carries the light of eternity in it. This according to Kierkegaard. And this is also what I experienced – after first experiencing many impatience – in India. And the thought that it is impossible not to be busy in the West, is a thought that lives only in our minds, it is not real. It is all about what we choose to spend our time on. It is about being able to make choices.

Warm and kind wishes,

Charlotte

Beautiful Bihar
May 6th, 2009 by Charlotte

The last weeks we have spent in Bihar, purchasing land. After a year of intensive search in the area of Varanasi, suitable land to realise the Centre of Knowledge has been found in the state Bihar. We are acquiring land in the village Manikpur, Aurangabad district, at this very moment. Varanasi is growing fast, and finding suitable land turned out not to be so easy and the amount of NGO’s and schools in the area is growing so we started wondering what our added value could be. Bihar is an agricultural state and the demand for education in Bihar is much higher than the education provided. People from Bihar – if they can afford – send their children to Varanasi to study. It seems as if our aim ‘development of the villages of India through education’ can be brought into practise best first of all in the state of Bihar.

My feeling of Bihar is that it is excellent and wonderful in many ways. Bihar is known for its high criminal and low literacy rate. Not many NGO’s are working in Bihar. People and organisations are somehow not attracted to Bihar. Bihar is known to be undeveloped, but I would rather call it ‘unspoilt’. In Bihar, so it seems to me, there is actually peace. Both radiated in the unspoilt environment and through the innocent eyes of its human inhabitants. So many plants and trees are there. Little electricity and cars, and one can actually experience in Bihar an atmosphere of quietude. The people live simple and pure. Yet of course also Western influence has found also its way to these villages through television and mud houses are turning into brick houses as the man who used to be farming has now found a job being a cook in the train.

‘What is your feeling about rural Bihar?’ A man asked me. ‘Great.’ said I ‘You can learn nothing from the cities, we can learn everything from your villages’. More and more deeply I understand Gandhi ji’s words about the importance of the villages. In villages there is real humanity. Many people run from the villages to the cities. To work in a factory, to be exploited and loose all quality of life. But here in the villages they have peace, they seem happy and earn a living through hard but honest work that respects nature.

We are happy to have found land in Bihar, very happy. Besides its qualities, the problems that are in Bihar are often caused by illiteracy and unequal chances for women and men, for the wealthy and penniless. What will be a challenge is to not only educate the boys, but also the girls. The villages of Bihar are beautiful and pure, but also ruled by conservative thinking. Women and girls are to remain a life long in the house, serving its male members. Yet the girls are so eager to learn! Our work is being guided by Vedic (1500 BC) principles of ancient India, a time when women had a choice either for family life or devote life to scholarship and learning. How far India has drifted from its ancient wisdom! An experienced and knowledgeable Indian lady advised me yesterday to communicate to the people that we will only educate their children if a minimum of 60% of the students are girls. The power of the world may be hands of mainly men – but the behaviour of men depends on the women. Women are the unseen power behind the seen power and therefore their education is essential.

The plan is to start construction work in Bihar beginning January. The coming year part of the land will be rented to local farmers, this will generate some income that can be put towards the construction work for which we now need to raise funds.

We have received many wishes from people all over the world, and I am sure that thanks to these wishes we have eventually found land that is perfect to realise the aim of Loka and its sister organisation Sarvodaya in India. A deep thank you to all people who contributed so far – in ideas, wishes and financially.

Pranam.

Charlotte

Land
April 6th, 2009 by Charlotte

For over a year we have been searching for suitable land to realise the Centre of Knowledge. Buying good – problem free – land takes time and patience. Currently we are investigating two options. About one option the 20 owners will hopefully decide within the coming days if they will sell the land and then also all 20 owners have to agree on the terms, conditions, the price. And also we have to do some investigation on this land as in might be the area in which the government is planning to realise a 8-lane highway. The other land option seems more safe, but every time an arrangement is being made to meet the landowners or broker, it is cancelled, usually at the last moment. Buying land sometimes feels like a never ending story. Being a foreigner and a women there is little influence I have in this matter, other than trying to be understanding and compassionate and constantly putting pressure during the long process. In the Netherlands I usually like sitting on top of things, here I really have to learn to let go. Besides buying land the classes for the village children are continuing as usual and the residential students are preparing for their exams that will take place later this month. After the exams the students will have summer vacations and visit their families for one month. One student, Sridhar, will be leaving us soon. He has been admitted to the Banaras Hindu University and will continue his study there. We are very proud he has made it this far and hope after him many are to follow.
As soon as we have land we will be able to create a more solid basis and there will be space for more students. Let’s hope this moment comes soon. But more important than fast and soon is that we find good and pure land where the Centre of Knowledge may be able to develop, grow and prosper and knowledge spread throughout the villages of India and beyond……

Savitri
March 7th, 2009 by Charlotte

Savitri

Since December I have been in India. Besides continuing classes for the village children, our main aim has been to purchase land as we are currently working on a temporary location. Finding land is quite a task in India. Although it is a huge country, land is wanted and many times only sold if some problem is there. For more than a year we have been searching problem free land within our budget and are quite positive to be able to do so before the end of the month. But then again, nothing is really sure and it might as well be after one year.

Besides the educational activities and searching good land, something else has been filling the days. A sweet God gifted miracle called Savitri. We found her living on the streets with her daughter -like so many others. But there was a shining light in this women’s eyes that draw us towards her. Savitri is 25 years young and her body is partly mutated as some years ago her husband and his family put acid on her face and breast, as they wanted money from Savitri’s family. Savitri has been begging besides the river Ganges to keep her and her daughter alive and save for plastic surgery. Fortunately we found a doctor who wants to operate her free of costs, if we take care of her. For this reason she has been living with us since some weeks. Unfortunately her daughter died just before she came, which must have been quite a hard experience for a young mother. When I look at Savritri and think of all the things she has experienced in life, I can hardly imagine a person having reason to stay alive. Being abandoned by her own family, being mutated for life by her husband and only recently the loss of her child. And then I see how she is sitting there, quietly, for hours she can be fully focussed on colouring a picture, without looking up or saying a word. She tells stories to the children in night time about a King who had nine wife’s. With a twinkle of naughtiness in her eyes she throws the water of her glass to a boy who is teasing her. Even the fact she is hiding the strictly forbidden tobacco in her underwear makes me laugh. She has started assisting teaching the very small village children, and is great doing so. I can hardly imagine life without Savitri, as if she has always been there, to me she is the symbol of pure happiness. She is a living example that no matter what happens in life, how much suffering there is, there are always reasons to smile.

This morning when I went to wake up Savitri, I thought we would never experience her light again. Normally she is very easy to wake up, but this morning no reaction was there. ‘Suprabhatam Savitri’, I said maybe a hundred times. Still no reaction. After ten minutes of calling and shaking her, I realised there was something seriously wrong and called the others. She was fully unconscious and stiff, but her pulse was still there. We immediately brought her to hospital. We had to wait some time as the doctor was having breakfast. Eventually the doctor tried to bring her back to the world, without success. We went to the next hospital and there they put her on a drip and said the doctor would come at nine. It was half past seven. This was the emergency department. While waiting great fear came into my mind, for many reasons, but above all I was just very sad that she might never experience the operation and become a teacher one day and enjoy a problem free life. She had suffered enough, how much more can a human being take? Then, suddenly, her eyes moved and there she was, Savitri was alive! “What is your name?” I asked, full of fear her brain had fully lost all functions by now and she would be living as a plant for the rest of her life. “Savitri”, she said and the famous twinkle came in her eyes. Tears of joy were there. For the symbol of joy and happiness was still alive and hopefully to be many more years with us. Dear sweet Savitri, wishing you from now on only love and beauty in your life…..

From Varanasi,

Charlotte

Why?
October 12th, 2008 by Charlotte

This week I gave the first presentation of Loka at Eekels, the company that supports Loka. It was for a group of around 50 people who were having their yearly ‘sate-barbecue’. It was great to have a chance to talk before the employers of the company that has been supporting us right from the beginning, to give them some feeling about what they are supporting. I believe presenting is a big responsibility and a great opportunity. If done well it can have a big effect on people. But in this case, after giving the presentation at Eekels, I left feeling something was missing. But what? Today I discussed the presentation at Eekels with my partner in India, to find out what had to be improved. We soon came to the point. He said that I should not only tell WHAT we do but WHY we do it. And what had happened? I told everybody WHAT we do. But never WHY. That is why something essential was missing.

Selfless work
So why do we do what we do? Why do I dedicate myself to Loka, to a small local initiative near Varanasi and why not work for Oxfam or UNICEF? To be honest I have never felt the desire to work for a charitable organisation. Organisations are organisations and for all that I could see organisations were spending much money and I saw no fundamental changes happening, anywhere. Moreover, most social workers I met have never inspired me more than any other person has. However, something happened to me when I visited India some years ago and came across people working selflessly. Working selflessly, this was something until then I had only read about in books: Mother Theresa, Gandhi, big examples. Individuals who used their strength and power to do things millions of other people could have done, but never did do. Moreover, these individuals achieved more than all these millions put together. And why? Because they worked selflessly. It is as Albert Einstein said: ‘Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile’. Experiencing these people in India who wanted to give without the desire to receive, was something more developed in a human being than I had seen in my 30-year life in the West. Until then I had only seen many taking, wanting and expecting. To experience the happiness and lightness of unconditional giving, that sublime way of living…. For me this experience was the reason to give up everything, my apartment and other possessions, all future plans, desires, most luxuries and dedicate myself to the same cause, ‘the art of giving’ (in which I still have much to learn…).

About intentions
It does not matter what you do but how you do it. This sentence I keep on repeating. It is not what we do, but why we do what we do. If a job is just for the money, it is the same as being a thief. No, even worse, it is pretending not to be a thief but being a thief. Is there anything more shallow and untruthful then spending a lifetime hankering after money? Money is meant as a means, not as an end. If something is done from the heart, meant for something higher than the ‘own small world’ it is real and true. It all goes back to the intention of the action. And working with pure intentions can be practised in any job and in any situation – for this it is not needed to be a social worker. What is needed is the strength to face reality and introspection.

Why? The most important question. Because it gives life meaning to know why. Because by asking why in the end we might grasp something of that what is called truth, we might catch a glimpse of the light that is called reality. And if we do so… we will never ask ‘why?’ again.

As pure as a child.
September 28th, 2008 by Charlotte

For more than a month I have been back in The Netherlands now. Mostly doing practical work such as administration and tax work for Loka and getting in touch with people and organisations supporting Loka and by making new contacts.

In India I was mainly teaching and absorbed with everyday management, caring for the children. Now it is essential to get the long-term vision sharp again. And to every day ask myself: is what I am doing now really important? Is it essential? What does it mean in eternity? Such fundamental questions ‘trouble’ my mind.

More and more I realise that doing good has nothing to do with what kind of job you practise. If you are for instance a lawyer or social worker. One is not definitely better then the other and both are needed in today’s world. I believe goodness cannot be judged by outward actions, but goes back to the intention of the person working. And to be a truly good person – that is really the art of living. Henry Thoreau, one of Gandhi’s inspirations, says about philanthropists ‘ There is no odour so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted’ and ‘Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavour to become one of the worthiest of the world.’ He means to say that being a human being has nothing to do with doing good but with being good. By being truly human. By every day improving ourselves, taking out all ignorance. Then naturally we will do good to the world, deeply, honestly and from the heart.

Carrying this knowledge in my heart, I try to improve myself every day. By listening to the language of the heart. By eating natural food. By rising early, keeping the body fit and healthy, by contemplating and meditating. By simplicity. By studying the words of great souls that have wondered on the world. And above all: by trying to be truthful in thinking, speech and actions.

The more I try to be pure, the more I realise how much dirt has already gathered inside my mind. And by realising that I cannot expect to find that what is good, pure and truthful in the world outside me. If there is a place truth and purity can be found, then it must be found within. Power comes from within. Love comes from within. Truth comes from within.
Only strong will power – the power from within – can make us stay pure and strong in every situation.

This thinking about being pure also makes me realise why it is so great and so important to spend time with children. Because children are naturally pure. Are they not our greatest teachers? Our best examples? Let us be like children…. carrying the experience of an adult, but still, being able to smile and react as pure as a child…..