survivor girl ukulele band

bringing restoration and hope to survivors of human trafficking through the healing power of music and love

who is my mother?

the first thing i did when i got home last night was wash the urine off my face.

there was urine in my hair, too.

i could smell it as i walked down the street and as i sat in the auto rickshaw. there was a trace of urine in my hair, too. could other two passengers, squished on either side of me on the back seat, smell it, i wondered? or had it faded? did i just imagine that i smelled it because i knew it was there?

first thing in the door, i headed to the sink. the hair would have to wait until shower time.

are you my mother?

did you ever read the disconcerting children’s book, are you my mother? it was the first book that made me cry. i was quite young at the time and unsuspectingly pulled it from a stack of dr seuss books, and so i was expecting something like hop on pop — “hop pop, we like to hop. we like to hop on top of pop!” — not the heart-rending story of a little tiny bird who has lost his mother and can’t find her anywhere.

back when i first read that book, my own sweet and kind mother was just a few feet away. what a comfort. and today is mother’s day. i miss my mom; she passed away seven years ago. even more i miss my dear dad, who passed away just last october.

but because this is mother’s day weekend, somehow it seems necessary to sit down and tell you about the woman i encountered last night.

the mickey mouse sheet

you see, last night i was in garia bazaar. i had an important errand to run, and having accomplished that errand, i had a few minutes for an ice cream cone. this was not my first ice cream from the little shop, and the young fellow who scooped it for me smiled at me and complimented me on my bengali language skills and then insisted on giving me his blue plastic stool. he set it out on the sidewalk and commanded me to sit, and then he stepped a few feet away and lit up a bidi cigarette.

garia bazaar is a wild and noisy place. pedestrians, bicycle rickshaws, busses, taxis, and private cars all rushing somewhere and competing for space on the crowded street. i sat and ate and watched kolkata go by. and then a woman trudged into view. she was oldish, but not ancient. her hair still dark and pulled back. and she was wearing — not a sari or a shawl but instead — a child sized mickey mouse bed sheet. and this mickey mouse bed sheet was filthy. a special kind of filthy. not fell-in-the-mud filthy, but a grimy sweat and oil and stink and dirtiness that requires a lengthy span of time of eking out and sleeping in the basest level of existence kind of filthy.

i told myself i would run after that woman

i took a bite of my yummy chocolate ice cream cone. it was melting fast. the woman stopped for a moment, she was just fifteen feet away and had something in her right hand. and as i sat there and looked at the woman wrapped up in the filthy mickey mouse sheet, i told myself i would run after that woman and find her and give her some money.

she shuffled down the street, i finished my cone, paid for it. pulled a hundred rupee note out of my wallet, and took off after the woman. she hadn’t gone far. the man who sells padlocks and lengths of rope scolded her and told her to shove off.

the young man in the next stall was repairing an umbrella as its owner waited. the umbrella repairman, too, angrily told her to move along and his customer scowled. and when she turned around, she saw me. i noticed she had a very small cup of chai in her right hand — a paper cup barely bigger than a thimble — and the milky tea sloshed over her fingers, and she reeked of urine.

who is my mother?

i held out the hundred. her left hand found its way from under the filthy mickey mouse sheet and took the money. in a loud voice she began to speak to me in bengali. she had very few teeth and her eyes were hard and soft and desperate and grateful. she transferred the tiny sloshing cup of chai to her left hand, and the with her right hand she wetly stroked my right cheek and my left cheek and my hair in a blessing that i didn’t understand. and then she said something in bengali i did understand.

she said, “you are my daughter.”

when i walked away, i wanted to cry. i have so much.

who is my mother?

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thank you thank you thank you everyone who supports me in this endeavor. you pray for me. you encourage me, you put money in my hand so that i can do this project, and i am grateful.

 

 

 

 

the big fight

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“survivor girl ukulele band 2017 — back to kolkata again!!” is my third six-month stint teaching ukulele in a shelter home for rescued girls in kolkata, india, and i’m trying to pick up more of the language here, which is bengali. the beautiful bengali script looks like this:

আপনি কেমন আছেন? আমার নাম লরি. আমি বুঝতে পারিনি.

translation: how are you? my name is laurie. i have no idea what you just said.

doraemon in bengali

one of my new language learning tools is an episode of the japanese doraemon cartoon show. not only has the episode been dubbed into bengali, it also has english subtitles — which is super useful. now at my disposal are these lovely phrases:

doraemon-very-delicious 

khub maja! — very delicious!

eta ashambhab! — that’s impossible!

deka hobe! — see ya!

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tears fell and two girls quit the band

monday started off not well. after sunday’s successful survivor girl ukulele band performance for the swedish ambassador at large for combatting human trafficking, something changed for the worse. there was a disturbance in the band.

at first i tried to keep calm and carry on, ignore the drama and hope that the few unhappy girls would soon snap out of it. that didn’t work.

“what’s going on?”  i said in bengali.

nothing.”

“what happened?”

nothing.”

no one was ready to talk, but hot tears fell and two girls quit the band.

classes continued throughout the week; so did the drama.

friday morning those two girls quietly came into the room, sat on the floor, and joined the class. and when the class was over, those two girls remained. sami*, a senior student from last year and kalini*, a relative newcomer.

sami* has maybe a fifth standard education. kalini* recently graduated the tenth standard. sami works at her ukulele skills, but she’s an average player who struggles to stay on a beat while kalini focuses her practice and perfects her ukulele skills and has a great sense of timing. she picks up new things so quickly that she has surpassed everyone else in the room with her prowess. oh, and she sings, dances, and writes poetry. i’m not kidding.

kalini apologized to sami and wanted to be friends again, but sami wasn’t ready to forgive.

then one day we had a big fight

and as i sat there, i traveled back in time to my own teenage years, to the many times that i fought with my twin sister. we were skilled in the art of fighting and could fight to the finish about anything.

then one day we had a big fight. a huge fight. it was the hugest fight ever.

and the strangest thing happened. after eighteen years of fighting and competing, we both realized that at the bottom of our troubles was the fact that we each felt lesser than the other. my sister was prettier, smarter, funnier, more talented, more popular, more creative, more tan, more lovable than me. more worthy than me. and she had better hair.

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twin sisters — summer of ’84

you’re probably looking at this picture and saying, they’re almost exactly alike! how silly!! but it wasn’t silly at the time. and so i told sami and kalini about my sister and me. and told them that even now i find myself comparing myself to others.

i try to stay off that path, but when i do go down it, i think: who am i to do this survivor girl ukulele band? who am i to come all the way to india and try to do this ukulele thing?

i told her that she had a choice. to travel down the path of negative thoughts and anger and fighting or to choose another way. choose to look at the gifts that she has, which are many, choose a path of joy and friendship, and forgive herself for not being the best.

but what to do when you are stuck in that dark place? i told her sometimes you just have to ask for help. and i already knew the bengali words for that because we say it every day in our meditation:

i am intelligent.

i am brave.

i can do this.

lord, please help me.

and so we said those words again together in bengali, repeating the last line:

prabu, amake sahajo korun!! 

sami and kalini are back to being friends. and my sister and i have been best friends ever since that big huge fight.

this is a wild job. some days i fail spectacularly, but in that failure and weakness, there is always enough grace to find an opportunity for forgiveness and growth.

and thank goodness i don’t have to have it all figured out. that’s part of the adventure! plus lots of people have joined survivor girl ukulele band. they let me stay at their house, they give me money to meet my expenses, they give me ukuleles, they like my facebook posts, and they play benefit concerts and they uke it forward™ for me — family, friends, and people i haven’t even met from all over the world.

dhanyabad, dhanyabad, dhanyabad! — thank you thank you thank you!

for joining the band.

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*names have been changed.

 

 

how swede it is!! survivor girl ukulele band performs for swedish ambassador at large!!

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survivor girl ukulele band rehearses for swedish visitors

vip visit!

great news from “survivor girl ukulele band 2017 — back to kolkata again!!”:

yesterday the shelter home had a visit from per-anders sunesson, the swedish ambassador at large for combatting trafficking in persons. wow!

the ambassador and two colleagues spent the entire morning at the shelter, and part of the program was a performance by survivor girl ukulele band.

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sonali*, the girl in the orange kurta in the photo above, was my student last year. and while i was back in the usa, sonali took on the challenge of keeping survivor girl ukulele band going. she has matured into a steady and skilled ukulele teacher, and not only has she kept the ukulele classes going, she has brought in nearly twenty new students!! and more students ask to join every week!! wowowow!! i’m so proud and happy with her hard work and success!!!

performing for an audience is so empowering and thrilling for the girls. before the program, a number of the girls were nervous and said, “my heart! dook, dook, dook!!” as they tapped their chests. and afterwards the girls said, “when can we perform again?” hurrah!!

“i looked at your face…”

the swedish visitors were an enthusiastic audience for the girls’ performance, and afterwards the ambassador said to me:

“i looked at your face as the girls played, and i can tell you are very proud of them. that’s what they need. someone who shows them love. someone who treats them like they matter.”

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group photo with the swedish entourage, the shelter home staff, the girls’ dance troupe, and survivor girl ukulele band performers.

thank you!!!

survivor girl ukulele band has indeed become a very positive and hopefully permanent part of the culture here at the shelter home, bringing restoration and hope to survivors of human trafficking through the healing power of music and love.

so many people around the globe are part of survivor girl ukulele band project. your generous support and encouragement are a vital part of the project, and i want you to know that i bring the love you send to these girls.

thank you thank you thank you for joining the band!!!

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*name changed

of lice and love

the subject for one’s first attempt at training a survivor girl beautician class on how to remove lice with a lice comb should not be the worst lice case on campus. the photo doesn’t do the case justice.

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this was one for the history books. lice and learn!!

on the other hand. i was given the opportunity to show love and kindness and give gentle touch to a young woman at the shelter home whom everyone laughs at and calls dirty.

but i’m getting ahead of myself.

survivor girl ukulele band project 2015 — kolkata!! was my first experience living in a shelter home for survivors of human trafficking. there are nearly one hundred girls living at the shelter home, and they all have lice. not one to be left out of the action, i went ahead and got lice too!

the morning when i pointed to my head and said, “ookun!” (lice!) — instead of being shocked, the girls were quite pleased that i had joined their ranks, and within moments, latika* and reeti* pounced on my head, looking for lice and nits.

everyt time reeti pulled a nit from my hair, she crushed it between her thumbnails and said, “dead!”

i get a lot of hugs from my students, so there was no point in trying to get rid of the lice while i was here, but i did order a nice lice comb and other lice products to be waiting for me when i got back to the states. and when i got home i went after the lice in earnest and soon they were gone.

why not get some lice combs to bring back to the shelter home?

but the whole experience gave me an idea. why not get some lice combs to bring back to the shelter home? so i contacted a fairy tails hair care company and asked them to donate some lice combs to survivor girl ukulele band project. and they said yes!! and sent me some fabulous combs and product!! thank you, fairy tales hair care!!

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my plan was to train the girls how to use the combs and lice products — and even though it’s not possible to completely eliminate lice from the shelter home, at least the girls could keep the lice counts way down and be much more comfortable.

the ngo that conducts the beautician class invited me to spend an hour or so with those girls and train them on how to use the lice combs. the shelter home staff suggested that my first subject should be kohana*.

i don’t know kohana’s story, but there a number of things that set her apart from the rest of the residents here. she’s older; she’s thirty-one. she’s a bit rough around the edges and sometimes she’s the butt of jokes. she’s also big and strong. in the morning she’s out early, hunting for coconuts that have fallen from the palm trees. she cracks them open and rips the outer husks off with her bare hands.

one of kohana’s duties is to take care of the dogs. she brings them their food, and wherever they make a mess, it’s her job to clean it up. if there is heavy lifting to be done, kohana is often the one to do it. she clomps around in dirty salwar kameez (pants and top), and though kohana does have some friends, certainly no one had been nit-picking her hair.

the task was daunting

when the training began, the beautician class girls all scooted away. some jeered.

i sat in a chair and she sat on the floor in front of me. i gently put my hand on kohana’s head and said, “kaemon acho?” (how are you?”)

“bhalo,” she said. (fine.)

the task was daunting. much of the length of her shoulder-length hair was awash with old nit casings stuck to the hair shaft. even with the fairy tales lice good-bye treatment, it was slow going. as the comb clogged with nits and lice, i wiped it off on a disposable towel on my lap.

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the beautician class girls got bored with the slow progress and went off and painted their toenails.

i felt like quitting

the live lice crawled around on the towel that was piling up with brown mounds of nits. this was more than i had bargained for. i was getting tired, and i knew that with all the lice being flung around and wiped onto the towel, i was going to have lice all over me.

“kamon aacho?” i said from time to time, checking in on kohana.

“bhalo!” she always said.

a few of the girls came back to watch, but they stayed far away.

another section of hair. more lice product. more and more combing. this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. this wasn’t training. it was a marathon. i felt like quitting.

but i kept at it, and slowly slowly kohana’s locks were getting clean all the way to her scalp.

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the class was over, and though there wasn’t time to get all the lice removed from her scalp, kohana’s hair was free from nits and so clean and shiny looking! wow.

i told kohana to take a shower and put on clean clothes.

later that evening, in fresh clean clothes, kohana came up to me and touched my arm and then stepped back. she smiled a thank you.

and later than night when i washed my own hair, i combed out dozens of big red juicy lice. it was worth it, i thought.

“i want to bring love to these girls,” i said to myself. “and today, maybe it was through a lice comb.”

this was more than i had bargained for

the next day while i was teaching ukulele, kohana brought three chunks of fresh coconut to me! but what happened next really caught me off guard.

i was in my room and there came a knock at my door. i opened it and there was kohana — all dressed up in a red and black sari!!! wowowow!!

she asked me to take her picture. her hair was shining and so was her smile as she posed this way and that in front of the camera. “dekhao!” she said. (show me!)

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kohana in her sari. (her face is not shown to protect her privacy.)

she looked at the photos, so pleased with herself and how she looked. this was very likely the first time in years kohana felt feminine and beautiful. and when someone called to her, she ran off lightly, and it was as if her feet didn’t touch the ground.

i went back to my room and sat down and cried for a few minutes. this was more than i had bargained for.

two days later it was time to go through kohana’s hair again. now that her hair was free of nits, it was time to really give her scalp a good going over with the lice comb. this time however i set up a chair on the block just outside the shelter home dormitory.

“let’s have an ‘ookun jao!’ (lice go away!) party,” i said. i brought out my bose bluetooth speaker and played music from my ipod and made it fun. we laughed and grooved to the music and got to work.

and now as the girls looked on from the dormitory, kohana became the subject of envy!!

soon there were many calls from the girls at the dormitory windows. they tugged at their hair and said, “laurie aunty! ookun!! ookun!! ami!! ami!!” (lice!! lice!! me!! me!!)

after kohana, the ookun jao party continued with a mentally handicapped girl, who also had a thousands of lice on her head. usha*, one of my students, came up and laughed at her. but soon usha was assisting me with the various combs, anticipating which comb i would use next and handing it to me and then cleaning the comb that i had just used. after a while i asked usha if she would like to do the combing. she jumped at the chance and was soon combing out lice like a pro!!!

usha was so engrossed in the task she skipped her lunch. another girl joined in to assist, and together we worked on the worst cases until sundown.

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the next evening kohana called to me from the dorm. when i came to the window she loped over to me and showed me her new sparkling earrings and diamond studded bindi!! she looked like an indian princess!!!

and two days later, when i was hugging one of my students, kohana awkwardly leaned in — and got a hug, too. i had never seen her hug anyone before.

the woman whom no one would touch and everyone called dirty is now able to sleep at night without thousands of lice crawling on her scalp and biting her. she feels pretty and feminine. she’s fixing her hair, paying more attention to her clothing, and getting hugs. wow. this is way more than i bargained for.

we’ve had a number of ookun jao parties and more are planned. how can i thank all of you who support me in this project called survivor girl ukulele band?! i get to do this wild job because of you. thank you thank you thank you for joining the band.

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*names changed to protect privacy.

i’m not alone any more. i’m part of a band!

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survivor girl ukulele band — rehearsal time

survivor girl ukulele band project 2016 — back to kolkata!!! is well underway!!

but before i get to 2016, please give a listen to some recordings from sgub 2015! sgub gave eight performances in kolkata!!! this was a huge achievement for everyone! for me, for sanlaap india’s shelter home staff — who partnered so beautifully with sgub every step of the way, for the girls, who practiced, and prepared, and performed in front of enthusiastic audiences, and for the many around the world who support survivor girl ukulele band!!

this first recording is of twenty-two girls on stage at the american center in kolkata. my friend julie schofield, a fulbright-nehru student researcher, invited sgub to perform at her  event, “creating possibilities: empowering through the arts.” the sgub girls delivered a program of eleven songs!! they were the hit of the evening, and yep!! they felt empowered through the arts!!

“what was the best part of the program,” i asked the girls the day after.

“survivor girl ukulele band song!” saheli* said.

“why?”

“because we were all together!!”

so give a listen to twenty-two girls at the american center in kolkata singing the “survivor girl ukulele band” song, written by ed tree.

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survivor girl ukulele band on their way to a gig.

 

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entering the hall for the very first performance of survivor girl ukulele band!!

one of the first songs the girls learn to play on the ukulele is “twinkle twinkle little star.” they already know the words and the melody, so it’s a great way to show them how to find the notes and listen as they play.

the girls play “twinkle twinkle little star” so many times, i thought it would be fun to change it up and bring it into a minor key. sanya* was the first survivor girl to make the song her own. this performance was for indrani sinha, founder of sanlaap, who stopped by in early july 2015 to hear the girls play and to invite me and survivor girl ukulele band project to return to sanlaap in 2016.

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two girls in charge of tuning all the ukes before a performance

one of the girls who was in charge of the equipment and tuning is bhoomika*. she has a great talent for singing, and is a natural on the ukulele. here is her rendition of a famous bollywood song, “jeena, jeena” — which means, “how to live, live.”

this next photo was taken at a performance on 9 june, 2015 at the west bengal state child protection day.

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bhoomika later said, “i played with my heart.”

 

 

 

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this photo doesn’t show that the balcony was packed!

 

survivor girl ukulele band was added at the very end of a three hour program. many in the audience had gone by the time the girls performed. but what this photo doesn’t show is that the balcony was packed. and as the girls took their bows, they got a standing ovation from the entire balcony!!! wow!!

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walking off the stage to a standing ovation — their feet are barely touching the floor!!

by the time i was about ready to leave india and head back to the usa, survivor girl ukulele band had performed four times. the girls were having such a great time with rehearsals, getting all dressed up for the show.

neela* said, “this is not even my country. and yet here i am, performing on a stage!”

i asked rajni* how survivor girl ukulele band had impacted her life.

and this is what she said:

“i’m not alone any more. i’m part of a band.”

thank you thank you thank you everyone who supports sgub. i hope you feel great about what sgub is doing in the lives of these survivor girls. you are an important part of the band!

 

*names are changed

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shortly before i left india for the usa, sanlaap celebrated its 30 year anniversary!!

priyanka handed me her ipad, and i snapped this shot of the staff at sanlaap’s 30th anniversary party.

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a few short weeks after this party, we lost our dear indrani sinha, founder of sanlaap. she died of a heart attack in bangalore.

indrani was a major force in the world-wide fight against human trafficking, and the loving and generous and wise guiding light to all of us at sanlaap.

we miss her every day.

in memoriam. indrani sinha, 15 march 1950 – 22 august 2015.

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from kala brand music studios in petaluma california!!!

laurie kallevig talks about survivor girl ukulele band — click here for the video!!

this was taped summer 2015. i’m headed back to kolkata december 30th. stay tuned!!

  

  

upcoming benefit concert — november 15th!!! see you there!!

sgub benefit flyer 2015

this year’s survivor girl ukulele band benefit concert is going to be the best ever!!

what a lineup! brad colerick, tom corbett, bliss bowen john o’kennedy with eric kufs, and heidi swedberg with daniel ward. surprise guests and a special performance by pastor briant cuffy.

and a free yummy dinner hosted by bethany church of sierra madre and post-concert reception. wowowow!!

and i’ll give a short update about my most recent six months at sanlaap shelter home in kolkata india.

to rsvp for the dinner please contact sharon hannah at sharonhan@earthlink.net.

see you there!!

living in kolkata — city of joy!! part one

have you ever tried to imagine what it is like living in kolkata? this post is long overdue, especially for those who have yet to travel in a developing country. so finally, here goes!

let’s start with the weather. because the weather is a major player in my life here in kolkata. a very small portion of my time is in air that is conditioned.

kolkata weather

the photo pretty much tells it all:

97 degrees and feels like 119 degrees. (and for my celsius friends: 36 degrees and feels like 48 degrees).

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when i arrived in kolkata in january, the mornings and evenings were lovely sweater weather. but that ended long ago, and now the hot and humid has come to stay. that is until the monsoon arrives. there’s no air conditioning here at sanlaap, but there are ceiling fans, which help a lot, and i deal with the weather just like everyone else. when the sun starts to dip toward the west, a little haze eases the scorch, and the temperature drops a degree or two. i made it through another day in kolkata … sweaty and sticky all day and then a bucket shower before bed.

“tomorrow is forecast to be warmer than today”? bring it on!!

my digs at sanlaap shelter home

i have a room at sanlaap india’s shelter home in outskirts of kolkata. here’s the working girls’s hostel, which houses girls who are reintegrating into society and have jobs. my room is on the ground floor.

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home sweet home

here’s my room before:

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and after.

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i like what i’ve done with the place, don’t you?

screens on the windows are rare here, so the mosquito net not only looks cool, it’s super handy for getting a good night’s sleep and keeping the mozzies at bay.

the working girls’ hostel is one of the newest buildings on the campus, and thus i have one of the newest bathrooms. in this photo you can see the bucket water heater that was lovely to have in january. it is collecting dust nowadays. the kitchen doesn’t have much in it, but that’s ok, as i get my meals from the main kitchen in another building.

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a long cobra snake

the sanlaap campus is swept clean every morning, occasionally a long cobra snake is seen crossing yonder in front of my building. yikes.

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saw a huge bengal monitor lizard and nearly jumped out of my skin

the grounds even have a cement pond. not the kind you would go swimming in, but it is lovely to look at, especially at sunset. i have yet to see the bengal monitor lizard that frequents the pond, but i’ve seen others in my neighborhood.

the first time i saw one — a huge bengal monitor lizard!! — i was on a bicycle rickshaw and nearly jumped out of my skin. i said, “ohh!” and my rickshaw wallah said, “ohh!”

my hand was still on my thumping heart, and again i said, “ohh!” and the wallah said, “ohh!” this continued until i calmed down.

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on my way to the city

i teach ukulele five days a week, and i live quite far from the center of kolkata. when i first arrived here, i wondered if i would ever learn my way even out to the main street. my first forays to the city had a steep learning curve. but now that i know my way, why not come along for the adventure and see what i see.

the first leg of the trip is a fifteen minute walk. when the sun starts going down is when people come out of their homes and enjoy the few degree drop in temperature.

this couple has a little sundries business not far from sanlaap. aren’t they cute?!

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and sometimes they open up the neighboring shack for his clothing repair business.

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on the banks of the same pond, these lovely ladies sit out every evening.

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next along the way these boys sometimes play caroms. caroms is huge in india, and these guys are amazing shots.

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 transport

if i’m lucky, after fifteen minutes on the dusty trail, there’s a bicycle rickshaw available to take me the rest of the way to the main road. its a bumpy and spine-tingling ride.

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sidewalks are rare in this neck of the woods.

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when i get to the main road, very often an auto-rickshaw is waiting for one or more additional passengers. the autos here are all shared, with three or more people squished in the back, and two passengers riding in the front, snuggled close to the driver. then its a chicken-playing, swerving and braking hair-raising close-shaving life-before-your-eyes-flashing wild ride to garia bazaar.

from garia bazaar i can catch another auto-rickshaw or the metro train or a taxi. (but more about all that in part two!)

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 food and drink in kolkata

weekend trips to the city include a stop for a cold coca-cola at raj’s in garia bazaar. the cooks are often shirtless, and were very good sports about getting their photo taken with me.

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the street food is delicious.

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this tea stand has been here a while. who needs starbucks?!

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these little roadside shops look so great at night, don’t they? i often stop at this one on my way home for a little snack to bring back to my room.

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i love living in kolkata! it’s hot and sweaty and wild and frizzy — and one day i got color all over my face, but it’s such a privilege to work with the girls at sanlaap, teaching them ukulele and sharing your love that i rarely miss the luxuries of being back home in the usa.

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i hope from these photos you can get a little sense of what it’s like to live in kolkata. lots of bad things happen in this city, but lots of good things happen too — and i like to think of one of them is survivor girl ukulele band! thank you thank you thank you for supporting this project financially, through your love and friendship, and through telling a friend about survivor girl ukulele band.

girls of sanlaap rock survivor girl ukulele band song!!!

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faces are not shown to for privacy and security

a brief history of survivor girl ukulele band

six years ago, after a few months volunteering as communications coordinator for freedom firm, an anti-trafficking organization based in south india, i came back to the usa to help take care of my mom. she was dying in minnesota. and after she died i was back in pasadena california and pretty bummed out.

one of my friends who reached out to me was sharon hannah. she called me up and dragged me out to listen to live music at a little venue in south pasadena. sharon’s friend brad colerick hosted, and every wednesday there were new people standing up front a microphone with their guitars and singing their hearts out. i hadn’t ever seen anything like it, and it sure lifted my spirits.

the wednesday regular singer-songwriters soon became my friends, and in no time that circle of friends connected to other circles of friends who played guitar and sang, and it wasn’t long before i wanted to learn how to play the guitar, too. so i borrowed my friend amy’s beach guitar, learned a few chords, and was on my way.

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back in india with my guitar

soon i returned to india, guitar in hand, volunteering with another anti-trafficking organization hoping to find a meaningful way to be involved in rescue and restoration. one day i was invited to the field for a training event, and i brought my guitar. after the training, we sang “twinkle twinkle little star” and “happy birthday,” and then the girls zoomed up to the guitar and wanted to know how it worked and could they strum it. it was from that experience i got the idea for survivor girl ukulele band project. but i wouldn’t have had that guitar in india had it not been for my music community back home in pasadena — who are inspirational and foundational to survivor girl ukulele band project. sharon hannah, brad colerick, john o’kennedy, severin browne, tracy newman, alper akture, chauncey bowers, ed tree, and lorin hart, phil parlapiano, and mark pocket goldberg, to name a few. IMG_2582

survivor girl ukulele band song

so when i told my music friends about my idea to learn the ukulele and bring a bunch of ukuleles back to india to teach rescued girls, they all dove in and supported me. ed tree wrote this song for the girls:

survivor girl ukulele band

if you’re down, we’ll lend you a hand if you’re lost, we’ll show you a plan if you’re scared, we will understand, survivor girl ukulele band

no matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been, the door is always open, we will let you in

there’s a brighter day, there’s another choice, there’s a melody, waiting for your voice

(chorus)

see who you can be, see how you can grow, see what life will bring, blessings overflow

there’s a brighter day, there’s another choice, there’s a melody, waiting for your voice

(chorus)

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when i first introduced the song to my students at sanlaap, i sang the hindi version, but these girls didn’t want to learn the hindi version. they wanted to learn it in english! so even though most of them don’t speak or understand much english…

the girls of sanlaap rock the survivor girl ukulele band song!!

at the end of the song you can hear the girls saying “pyaar, pyaar, pyaar!”, which means “love, love love!” as you can tell from the recording, the girls lovelovelove this song!! and here’s the version back home at the 2014 benefit at bethany — with a little help from my friends.

music and love change lives

music and love change lives. and moving from listener to participator impacted my life on many levels, including this wild thing called survivor girl ukulele band project. who’da thunk i’d be teaching ukulele in india when i first went out to listen to some live music?

i wish you could be here and witness the perceptible change in the culture on this campus. the girls are not only excited about ukulele class, they’re happier. they’re kinder. they’re laughing more. and they’re feeling good about themselves and their accomplishments. all of this has a ripple effect, and even girls who are not in the ukulele classes are singing our songs!

looking for a positive change in your life? run out and get yourself a ukulele, find a ukulele jam, and experience the joy of playing ukulele with some new friends! 😉

thank you

thank you thank you thank you for your financial support, words of encouragement, and your friendship in telling a friend about survivor girl ukulele band project.

thank you for joining the band. IMG_3711

i am intelligent. i am brave. i can do this.

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faces are not shown for privacy and security.

you may remember my post about latika*, the girl who got discouraged and hid behind her ukulele because she didn’t think she could retain anything she had learned and wanted to quit. many of my students, like latika, have very little education and don’t have much confidence about learning. they’re only girls, they are poor. they have been neglected and abused. their experience has told them they are worthless. they are good for only one thing. these are the negative messages they have heard their whole lives.

i am intelligent. i am brave. i can do this.

i felt it was high time they start telling themselves some new things. some good things. so i went online and got a few phrases translated into bengali and printed them out and inserted the sheet at the back of their music books.

the next day we opened the books to the back page, and i gave a few instructions.

ami buddhiman hoi!” i said.

the others repeated: “ami buddhiman hoi!” — i am intelligent.

they giggled a little at such a statement.

ami shahoshi hoi! …. ami shahoshi hoi!” — i am brave.

they weren’t expecting this statement either, but they liked it.

ami eta korte paree…. ami eta korta paree!” — I can do this!

now they were having fun.

prabhu amake shahajo karun! amen…..prabhu amake shahajo karun! amen.” — lord, please help me! amen.

everyone clapped!

there was a charge, a new energy, in the room. just saying those words, out loud, together. then we said them all over again in english.

and then we took one minute of silence to meditate on those words. and in the silence they settled down and were ready to learn.

i wondered, would this new way to start the class work? was it helpful? was it meaningful?

the next day, the girls sat on the floor ready for class. and the first thing they did was open their music books to the last page. they were ready to say those good things to themselves again. and they said them with gusto.

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the next weeks when i walked by their building someone often yelled: “laurie auntie!! ami buddhiman hoi!! ami shahoshi hoi!” from their window. hurrah!IMG_1982

dental swat team arrives

some days after we started the opening meditation, a dental team led by dr bob zimmerman from the usa deposited stacks of big gray plastic trunks in the building where i live. IMG_0992
the next morning they came back, unpacked the trunks, and within a short time, had transformed the room into a working dental suite that included six colorful beach chairs fastened on top of the gray trunks. three dentists, their assistants, and a cadre of other helpers were ready for patients. they were like a dental swat team.
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i heard loud crying and wailing outside my door.

i was in my room getting ready to teach my morning ukulele class, when i heard loud crying and wailing outside my door. “that sounds like sanya*,” i thought to myself, and quickly went out to see what was going on.
there was sanya, in the beach/dentist chair, scared and crying and refusing treatment. she was surrounded by people trying to calm her down and convince her to get treatment, but she wasn’t having any. she jumped off the chair and scooted outside.
i followed her and gave her a hug. she was shaking. she clung to me. and all the girls who were waiting for treatment were wide-eyed with alarm.
never in my life did i think i would be using my in my meager bengali/hindi mix to convince these girls to get dental treatment, but that’s what happened. in the few words i knew, i told sanya that those people were my friends and they were good people. and then we repeated “ami shahoshi hoi. ami eta korta paree. prabhu amake shahajo karun.”  — i am brave. i can do this. lord please help me.
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and then i got out a ukulele and we started singing together.
for a while sanya continued to cling to me. she could have left. but she didn’t. and after a while she got back in line for treatment, dragging me with her.
she went back inside and got her treatment, and i held her hand.
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dr. bob zimmerman and son

i held a lot of hands that week. and sometimes they really crushed my hand. with a few phrases and a few songs i was able to convince a number of girls who had jumped out of the chair to go back and get treatment. and i held their hands too.
 dental team women
thank you, amazing dental team, for the great work you did at sanlaap. thank you for allowing me to participate on the fringe of your project. and thank you thank you thank you, everyone back home for your love and support in survivor girl ukulele band project. it was a privilege to hold those hands, and i wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.
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* names changed.

sounds of survivor girl ukulele band 2015 — kolkata!

the wait is over! it’s time to hear some of the sounds of survivor girl ukulele band 2015 — kolkata!

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for privacy and security, girls’ faces are not shown.

if you do nothing else today, listen to this girl sing and play a famous bollywood song, called “jeena jeena.” there are some fairly loud noises in the audio, so maybe don’t crank this on your earphones 😉

 

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and here’s a little bit of twinkle twinkle for your day!

 

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and here’s a little mash up i wrote to teach the girls the very common c, a minor, d minor, g7 chord progression. it’s called “ami tamake bhalo bashi / baby.” (ami tamake bhalo bashi means “i love you” in bengali.)

 

i hope from these recordings you can get a little sense of what it means to these girls to learn to play ukulele. it wouldn’t be possible without you. thank you thank you thank you for supporting this project financially, through your love and friendship, and through telling a friend about survivor girl ukulele band.

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why does she love me?

the morning sgub class

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for privacy and safety, the girls’ faces are not shown.

 

in my 11:00 am ukulele class there are ten survivor girls. i don’t know all their individual stories, but it’s not uncommon for these girls to believe are that they are stupid, that they can’t learn, and that they are worthless. those beliefs are reinforced by the fact that they have had very little education and they don’t really know how to learn.

shortly after i arrived at sanlaap, a shelter home in kolkata for rescued girls, i performed an impromptu outdoor concert for about forty girls. they were a generous audience, and my “kuch kuch hota hai / baby” mashup was a hit, so most of the girls came to their first ukulele class with some excitement and enthusiasm.

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not so with latika*. she sat there on the mat as though she were on a train to siberia. disengaged and gloomy, her eyes were downcast. but as the class progressed, all that changed. everyone had a lot of fun; we laughed a lot and sang a lot. all the girls were successful. and latika left with a big smile on her face. “hurrah!!” i thought to myself. “a breakthrough for latika.”

latika won’t play

the next week however, latika missed a class that included a lot of practice on “twinkle twinkle little star.” then the very next day — as all the other girls were sailing smoothly through the song — she wasn’t playing as well as the the other girls. she couldn’t keep up, she missed some notes, she got lost, and she stopped playing.

very discouraged, she put her ukulele on the floor.

“latika,” i said. “ok. you and me.” we played a few lines together, singing out the names of the notes. she made a few more mistakes and put her ukulele back on the floor. she made a hand motion by her head as if to say “everything is gone” and she said something in bengali. her face was like a storm cloud and her voice was like thunder.

kya bol?” (what did she say?)

“she said she can’t do. it’s all gone out. she can’t learn. she’s finished,” said preeti*, the girl who speaks english.

latika picked up her ukulele and hid her face behind the head of the ukulele.

i took her hand and said, “oh, latika, ap hogaya nahin (you are not finished). absolutely not. hogaya nahin.

we went through the song again, taking special care on the parts she was having trouble with. she was getting it. i could see hope and confidence building. another student pulled her aside and helped her, too.

soon latika turned back toward me and touched my arm. she was ready to play. everyone got quiet and we all watched her play. her fingers trembled as she fought every line against making a mistake. could she do it?

yes!! she made it through! everyone cheered! and latika laughed and laughed like she just heard the best joke ever.IMG_0540

and when we moved on to another song and started to learn the g chord, she was among the first to catch it, and with a smile that lit up the room, she began teaching others.

why does she love me?

a few days later one of the older students of the morning class led an evening practice session. i stopped by and looked in the window. “is latika here?” i said. “yes, she’s here,” said preeti.

latika said something in bengali.

“latika says you must really love her,” said preeti.

“i do,” i said. “i love all the girls.”

“she said, ‘why does she love me?'”

i wasn’t ready for that question. there were so many reasons. so many things i could say. i thought of a friend who called me shortly before i left. he asked me how the benefit concerts had gone and what my plans were. i told him how much money had been donated so far and what my budget is. and i told him that this year i really hoped to buy a scooter. and not just any scooter. an orange scooter. the orange scooter of my dreams. before we said good-bye he said, “well, i’ve got some money here, and i want to give you some. you go buy that orange scooter. and bring my love to those girls.”

and i thought of all the love — from my sister and brothers and dad and cousins and nieces and nephews and music family and bethany family and other dear friends in my life — that i carry to these girls here in india.

how could i tell her about all that love that i carry? i didn’t think i could explain all that.

so i said, “tell her i love her because when she smiles, she lights up the room.”

thank you

thank you to indrani, the founder of sanlaap, and the wonderful sanlaap staff for the warm welcome and collaboration on this project!!! here’s a card that one of my students made with toilet paper roses to give to indrani to thank her for allowing sgub project to come to sanlaap.

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thank you, to kala brand music for the beautiful makala dolphin ukuleles — the best beginner ukuleles on the planet!

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and thank you to worth premium ukulele strings — the strings that make these ukuleles sing!!

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this photo from the 2014 bethany benefit concert represents just a small portion of the lovely people who have joined the band. thank you thank you thank you dear friends and family and all who love me and support this project. what a blessing to carry your love with me and give it to these girls. i could not do this project without you.

official group photo -- sgub benefit 2014

 

 

and when i play, my mind is free

survivor girl ukulele band 2015 — kolkata! — is underway, bringing hope and restoration to survivors of human trafficking through the healing power of music and love!!

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on january 22, after more than 40 hours of travel, i arrived at the sanlaap (pronounced shonglaap) shelter home in kolkata, the city formerly known as calcutta. it’s winter here, and the weather has been wonderful, but it’s quickly ramping up to soon be rainy, hot hot hot, and super humid.

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my first student!

the very night i arrived, tanvi* dropped by my room and started playing ukulele. yay!!

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currently i’m teaching two or three classes a day and have sixteen students. i also try to facilitate an evening practice session for my morning class.

and here’s part of the morning class! i wish you could see the struggles and triumphs and challenges and failures and obstacles and victories!! it’s pretty wild. stay tuned for a full post about this class!

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one of the first things i did was buy colorful new floor mats and two lamps to make the teaching area cozy and comfortable. can you see in the photo that one of the lamps is a ukulele?! when i saw that ukulele lamp in the shop, it said, “buy me!” and i said, “ok!!” hahah!!

in early march i will start new beginner classes, and already there are more than ten girls asking to get into the new classes.

twinkle twinkle little star

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one of my students has started a fabulous ukulele notebook, and as you can see from her notes, we’re learning “twinkle twinkle little star.” its a song both my students and i already know, which makes it much easier for them to learn and for me to teach.

the evening class has six students, and they are a dedicated bunch. the other night we’d been playing for over two hours, and i was getting hungry. “class hogaya?” i said (class finished?) “no!!” they said. “one more!!” we’re learning “purano sei diner katha,” a classic bengali love song, and between that and “twinkle twinkle little star” and pachelbel’s “canon in d” in c, they want to keep playing and learning.

and when i play, my mind is free.

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the other night i asked the girls what they thought of playing the ukulele. prem* said, “at first i thought it was hard. but now i think it’s easy. and when i play, my mind is free.”

it’s moments and journeys and outcomes like that that this survivor girl ukulele band project is all about.

thank you

it is such a privilege for me to be here and do this work called survivor girl ukulele band project, where i try to give these girls a glimpse of something else, something new, something good, something light, something joyful for their lives — as we strum on colorful little ukuleles and learn and laugh and play and sing.

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thank you thank you thank you for supporting me and this project through your friendship, your love, your financial gifts, your hugs, and your words of encouragement.

 

* names are changed.

two benefit concerts raise support for sgub 2015 — kolkata!!!

sgub song finale -- sgub benefit 2014

the fifth annual survivor girl ukulele band project benefits last fall were the place to be!!! the artists and the audience and the cause combined to make magic and raise funds toward survivor girl ukulele band project 2015 — kolkata!!!

the first concert was at bethany church of sierra madre. we had some great volunteers helping again this year, ed tree repeated as musical director, and my bffla, sharon hannah, did an amazing job as producer and promoter.

sharon and laurie at sgub benefit 2014

we raised over $6000 for survivor girl ukulele band project!!!

chava pollack and corrine cunningham helped bring in the cash.

chava pollack and corrine cunningham

the evening started off with a lovely dinner of delicious indian food hosted by bethany, and then pastor briant gave a welcome and prayer.

pastor briant welcome

 

notable women in attendance, beverly thompson, lois tedrow, britta lee shain, and sharon hannah:

ladies at the sgub benefit 2014

 

we like to think the sparks first started flying for these two at a past sgub benefit. and here they are again in the same seats. heart.

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dana charnofsky and lorin hart.

dana chernovsky and lorin hart

 

two great talents, john cartright and beverly mickins.

john cartright and beverly mickins at sgub benefit 2014

berrington van campen and lynne popadak.berrington and lynne at sgub benefit 2014

 

the best dressed award goes again this year to rick and lisa mystic of the wild mountain mystics. don’t they look amazing?!!

rick and lisa mystic at sgub benefit 2014

laurie with frank schifani, and look who showed up — ukulele master, abe lagrimas!laurie frank schifani and abe lagrimas at sgub benefit 2014

 

lorin hart and valerie kuhns and aireene espritu.

lorin hart valerie kuhns and aireen espiritu
marcel shain shot some great video of the night, which follows. thanks, marcel!!!

and now for the music. first up, kendall forrey.

 

next up was aireen espiritu accompanied by ed tree.

 

followed by tim tedrow with john o’kennedy.

 

and now for lorin hart along with ed tree

 

john o’kennedy, who four years ago came up with idea of doing a benefit concert for my work, always puts together something very special. here he is with the fabulous beverly mickins, john cartright, mb gordy, and wes miller.

 

starting out the second half of the concert was special surprise guest: heidi swedberg!!!

heidi swedberg rocks the house -- sgub benefit 2014

 

the tall men were the featured act of the second half of the show, led off by marty axelrod.

all the tall men group -- sgub benefit 2014

 

then john stowers

 

next up, jeff kossack.

 

severin browne

 

jimmy yessian

 

and then ed tree got us dancing in the aisles.

 

and finally the survivor girl ukulele band song (written by ed tree) finale featuring lorin hart and bliss bowen along with all performers and anyone who had a ukulele!!

wow, what a night!

official group photo -- sgub benefit 2014

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brit rodriguez and heidi swedberg and the smoking jackets played the second benefit, a matinee at the coffee gallery. you can see some videos of that fabulous afternoon (and much more) at dave clausen’s emajor9productions youtube channel! thanks, dave!! here’s the link

but meanwhile here’s a few photos.

brit rodriguez at the coffee gallery

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what a super afternoon of music and fun and love for survivor girl ukulele band project!!!

coffee gallery benefit -- heidi swedberg and the smoking jackets

thank you thank you thank you all for joining the band!!!

two upcoming sgub project benefit concerts in los angeles!!! see you there!!!

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SGUB Coffee Gallery Flyer nov 2 2014 v3

searching for saja

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saja the smart and the brave

saja* is one of my survivor girl ukulele band students from bangladesh. she is smart and brave.

held captive and used in forced prostitution in central india, saja found a way to escape from her brothel and made a run for it. she then went to the police and led them in a hunt and rescue mission in which twelve other girls were rescued and ten brothel keepers and traffickers were arrested.

in ukulele class last year, saja was focused and learned quickly; and though she sings way off tune, she has beautiful control and coordination in her fretting and strumming and a gift for musical phrasing and timing, so when saja plays ukulele she makes music.

 

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saja wins a prize

 

saja was one of eleven survivor girl ukulele band students from bangladesh to whom i said goodbye in may of last year. they each went away with a folder of music charts and a kala brand music makala dolphin ukulele, and i knew i would never see most of them again. but four of the girls said they lived in or close to dhaka, and when their train chugged out of pune junction railway station, in the back of my mind i hoped and i wondered and i prayed that maybe i could travel to dhaka and some day some how some way i might find those girls and see them again and let them know that they are not forgotten. and i hoped that i would find them safe and healthy and happy.

i connected with a powerful ngo in dhaka and sent them the list of four names in hopes they could help me find those girls, and in late april i traveled to dhaka. it was late monday night when i arrived in bangladesh, and i was quite sick. to make things worse, next day i learned there was no information on the whereabouts of the four girls.

the next day i was even sicker, and again there was no information. next day was the start of a three day holiday weekend so like, no information, and i was getting even sicker and needed to get to a doctor. honestly, i was getting a bit discouraged.

concerned for my situation, my twin sister in minnesota sent out a prayer request to thirty of her friends, and out of the blue my friend anne from my church in california emailed me and asked how she and the prayer team at bethany could lift me up in prayer.

by saturday i started to feel a bit better, and then sunday i got a call. there was information. addresses for all four girls. and the address for one, saja the smart and the brave, was not far away from the ngo office. soon i was on my way to join shahida from the ngo in the search for saja.

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searching for saja

29/b, anondo bazar road, pirerbag, dhaka*. saja’s address when she was repatriated last may!

as we neared the neighborhood i wondered if she would be home or out at the market. i carried a ukulele in hopes that someone would see it and say they know the girl who has a ukulele. each young woman i saw on the way could be saja. she could be on that next bicycle rickshaw just ahead! or just around the corner! or somewhere down the street!

29/b, anondo bazar road — it sounds pretty straight forward. but once you get into those densely populated areas with narrow winding lanes and seemingly no system to the street numbers, it’s anything but.

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we found 29/a and c and d and e anondo bazar road — but no b. we found 28/a, b, c, d, e. we found 30/a, b, c, d, e. we searched high and low and in-between. we got advice and directions and help and tips and suggestions from a dozens of people. the minutes turned into hours. our inexhaustible bicycle rickshaw driver took us down every street, every path, every lane, every alley.  there simply was no 29/b, anondo bazar. we looked and we looked and we looked but it just wasn’t there. and neither was saja.

we had to give up. we had to go home. we didn’t find saja.

 

**********          **********          **********          **********          **********          **********

 

two days later we got new and heartbreaking information on saja:

saja is somewhere in dhaka. she is now married, and her husband is forcing her into prostitution in a dhaka hotel or hotels.

saja the smart and the brave….you are not forgotten. this is not the end of the story. you are out there somewhere and some day some way, i hope that we will not only find you, but also that more and more people will come together and work for change in this world where stories like yours are not rare but happen every day.

 

 

*names changed.

 

 

the bieb goes on

13 april 2014 — four months to the day after i first started teaching at odanadi seva trust in mysore — survivor girl ukulele band went public with a mashup of a well known bollywood favorite, “kuch kuch hota hai” and justin bieber’s “baby”!!! it was a bit rough around the edges and only a few girls performed, but it was a lot of fun and a big milestone for survivor girl ukulele band project. hurrah!!!

not to be outdone, the boys of odanadi wanted to learn the song too, so here’s an audio recording of that same “kuch kuch hota hai / baby” mashup. if you have one minute — this is not to be missed!! the bieb goes on!!

if you listen very closely you can even hear pinkie the kitten singing along 🙂

hello kitty: pinkie!

pinkie loves to sing and play!

 

it’s the hot season here now, and schools are taking their summer break. some odanadi residents have gone home for a few weeks, while some of the college girls who have been too busy with their college courses to learn ukulele are now joining my classes. and there are some new little ones who want to play too!!

new student checks out the tuner

new student works on tuning her uke

 

two weeks ago, after the school exams were over, miriam’s* grandmother came to collect her.  she was a dedicated student, thirsty to learn more and play well. here she is, leaving with her very own kala brand music candy apple red makala dolphin ukulele complete with worth premium 100% fluorocarbon ukulele strings. (can’t help pitching my amazing sponsors 🙂 )

going home -- with a ukulele

miriam, going home — with her very own makala dolphin ukulele

she won’t be coming back to odanadi, and i have been thinking about her and missing her, but — good news! miriam called me today: she is doing great and is happy and wants another lesson on 12-bar blues. yay!!!

papu* has gone home for the summer, but his father lives a few miles away from the odanadi girls’ home, so he comes to the girls’ home for ukulele lessons. papu said that his father asked him, “where did you learn to play ukulele?” and he said, “a foreigner came and taught me.” and now he is teaching his father and his uncle how to play, too.

papu

i don’t always know if i am making an impact in the lives of these kids, but i believe that God wants me here and will bless the project in ways i hadn’t even anticipated — and here’s an example 😀

 

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last month i started a gofundme campaign to raise the necessary funds for the last months of my time here in india before i head back to the usa in june. thanks to many generous donors, my financial needs have been met. i am so blessed to have the love and prayers and financial support of so many in this wild project called survivor girl ukulele band. thank you thank you thank you!!

 

*names changed

 

two weddings and a funeral

mysore gold train car 2

at the bangalore railway station

where to begin. i’ll start with some good news.

in december, shortly after i arrived in india, i got a call on my mobile phone from an unknown number. the person on the other end was speaking quite excitedly, but i couldn’t understand what she was saying, so i said in my limited hindi, “kaun?” “who are you?”

“bindu! bindu!” she said.

“bindu?!! is that really you?!” i said. i could hardly believe it.

“ya! bindu!” she said, laughing.

“yay!! i’ll call you back tonight!!” i said.

bindu* was one of my survivor girl ukulele band students from last year in pune — and i hadn’t seen or heard from since she left for home in may 2013, so i was very excited to hear from her. later that night i had a hindi-speaking friend call on my phone to bindu and ask her where she was and how she was doing. bindu said she was in mumbai and that she was married and that i should come and see her! i was so happy!

then in february i got a call from the mother of another of my students, preethi*, who is from pune. when preethi was released from the protective home in pune she was quite sick, and my last text to preethi asking how she was had been unanswered. when i asked how preethi was i couldn’t understand anything her mother said except, “please come my house,” but i knew something was wrong.

a couple of weeks ago, i set out on the 28 hour journey to pune and mumbai to see preethi and bindu, worried that something had happened to preethi.

soon after my arrival in pune, i heard the bad news. preethi was dead. she died in october 2013. she was only 19.

and i thought to myself, how does this happen?! a 19 year-old girl just dying like that?! what did she die from? did she have the correct diagnosis? was she getting the right medicine? so many questions.

a friend agreed to accompany me to preethi’s mother’s home and translate. her mother told me that many times preethi said, “call laurie madam,” and that they tried my number. but by then i was back in the usa and my indian number was switched off.

it’s true that the life-expectancy of a prostitute in india can be very short, but this was a complete fail. i failed preethi. her family failed preethi. her friends failed preethi. her doctors failed preethi. and the government system along with the ngo that kept her locked up without medical attention failed preethi. we all failed preethi.

i can’t believe that she’s gone and i keep thinking of all the things i could have should have would have done differently. now it is all too late. it’s a sad and messy story and i am still trying to process it.

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in sharp contrast to preethi’s story is that of mina*, another survivor girl ukulele band students from last year. last june, soon after she was released from the protective home, she got married, and i was invited to the wedding. here are a few photos from mina’s wedding:

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arrival back home after the temple wedding ceremony

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bashful bride

mina is surrounded by some really good people who love and support her, and is very much enjoying her new role as a housewife.

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from pune i caught a bus to mumbai to meet with bindu. bindu doesn’t speak much english and i don’t speak much hindi, so it took a number of phone calls with a translator-friend to arrange a time and place to meet: platform 10, kalyan junction.

when i disembarked from my train at kalyan junction, i spun around in the surge of hundreds of people. where was bindu?

my phone rang. it was bindu. “bindu, where are you?” i said.

“ya!” she said.

the crowd dissipated. and there on the next platform over, in bare feet and a blazing yellow sari, was bindu.

it was like a scene out of a movie. the long lost friend, now found. we each ran up the stairs and met on the bridge and hugged and laughed.

then she led me barefoot through the maze of the station and the narrow side-streets and out to a busy road where we caught an auto-rickshaw.

i had no idea where we were going, but as we sped down the road i pulled out my iphone for some selfies of the two of us. bindu snuggled up against me, her chin on my shoulder, her cheek pressed against mine. together we smiled into the camera.

“oh, bindu, bindu,” i said.

“yeaah?” she said.

“it’s so good to see you!!”

“ya!!” she said, and we laughed and smiled, pleased at the selfies we were making.

i clicked off my camera. we couldn’t talk to each other much, but it didn’t matter because we were together. despite the heat and humidity we sat close to each other for the next forty minutes as we bumped along toward her home.

bindu brought me to her home, which was little more than a shack. on the floor a plastic political poster with some padding underneath serves as bedroom and sitting room. on the other side of the room, a makeshift shelf holds a few kitchen items.

she introduced me to her her husband, who clearly loves her.

“are you happy?” i asked.

“ya!” she said.

bindu's kitchen

bindu’s kitchen

the whole afternoon i felt like i was in a movie and this was the happy ending. after the horrors of the brothel, bindu has overcome many obstacles. she’s found true love, has her own snug little home, and carries hope and joy into her future. i can’t claim that survivor girl ukulele band played a major role in this happy outcome, but i am thrilled that bindu contacted me, that i was able to see her, and that i am able to share the story of her new life.

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these are just a few of the stories of survivor girl ukulele band project. i’m so grateful for the many family and friends around the world who are a real part of this project through your love and prayers and financial support. thank you.

pune 2014 auto-rickshaw selfie

 

* names changed

 

 

survivor boy??? ukulele band

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did i mention the boys? yes! i’m now teaching ukulele to boys — because boys are survivors of human trafficking, too.

a few weeks ago i started taking the trek out to the odanadi boys home. it’s two hours away. one of those hours is on a bus, and the other is trudging a dusty road in the blazing sun.

it’s quite a breath of fresh air to be out at the boys home. the boys — in contrast to my girl students who fight, yell, and slap a lot — are very kind to each other. they play ball together, and the bigger ones look out for the little ones, and they’re so well-behaved and attentive that even though i arrive at the boys home wilted and windblown, i leave refreshed and inspired.

on the way back to town gajendra* gives me a ride on the back of his ancient bicycle, which is outfitted with a super-comfortable wire book-holder contraption. the bumpy dirt and stone road makes the ride a real treat. and keeping my feet off the ground gives my core a good workout, too. it’s a very glamorous and exotic life that i lead here in india.

binod*, who had to wait for the second batch class, was so excited to learn how to play ukulele he started practicing on the box 🙂

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kayaan* is a natural talent with a great ear. he picks it up so quickly i feel like a teaching genius.

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this is chandresh*. he’s eight years old and he says, “sister!” and when he has my attention he says, “sister. slowly.” and then he shows me what he’s learned.

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even though the boys classes started after the girls, they are quickly catching up. i see joy and a sense of accomplishment on their faces, and i feel so privileged to be here doing this survivor boy??? ukulele band thing.

i couldn’t do this with out the many back home who pray for me, encourage me, and fund me. thank you for being part of the band.

*names are changed

 

p.s. in the hot season, i have since started taking an auto-rickshaw to and from the boys home — which saves not only time, but a lot of wear and tear 🙂

“i want my mother,” she said.

it was early evening at odanadi and i was hanging out with one of my ukulele students,14 year-old miriam*. i’d stayed late to catch a ride home with someone who had a car, and miriam and i were on the outside veranda overlooking the dusty courtyard.

the sun had disappeared, and the hushed gloaming enveloped us.

miriam, who had been bubbly a few minutes earlier, was now quiet and downcast.

“i want my mother,” she said as she gazed over the darkening courtyard. “i want my mother.”

I thought of my own mother.

“ya. i’m sure you do,” i said.

it was that magical time of day, and i flashed back to my own childhood, when the neighborhood kids would squeeze a last few minutes of playtime out of the dusk. and then we’d all scamper back to our homes and inside to our bright and cheerful kitchens and loving mothers who were cooking up something good to eat.

“but i don’t want my father,” she said.

she paused for a moment and looked up at me. “do you know why i don’t want my father?”

“no. i don’t.”

“because he killed my mother.” she looked away. “that’s why i don’t want my father. i want my mother. i want my mother.”

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later that evening i learned that miriam’s father killed her mother in front of her and her small brother.

miriam is one of my most dedicated and enthusiastic students, and she has a smile and light about her that can make your day. but quite often, if something doesn’t go her way in class, for example someone gets a prize that she feels they didn’t deserve, she rails against the unfairness of it all, quietly places her own prize back in front of me, and lays down her ukulele. “i’m not coming to class anymore,” she says and flounces toward the door.

“i will miss yooooou!!” i call out as she exits the room.

she always does come back to class the next time. and always with a huge smile, ready to jump in and learn and play and laugh and have fun.

at the summer break after exams, sometime in early april, her uncles and aunts will come to collect her, and she will not return to odanadi.

i then i really will miss her.

and what will become of miriam? will she continue her studies? will she be happy? will she safe?

the survivor girl ukulele band is a short-term project with long-term objectives. it is my hope and prayer that the time we’ve had together and the work that she has put in to learning the ukulele will have dividends of joy and fun and hope and healing for years and years to come.

i don’t know what her future will bring, but when she says good-bye in april, she will leave with her very own ukulele and she will know how to play it. and she will know that i love her. and the rest is in god’s hands.

the more time i spend with these girls i more i appreciate my family and my friends back home. i’ve been so richly blessed with a loving family and an ever widening community of friends. thank you for the love and support that sent me here to do this thing called survivor girl ukulele band.

*name changed

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