survivor girl ukulele band

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

Archive for the month “May, 2015”

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).


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.


home sweet home

here’s my room before:


and after.


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.


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.


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.


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?!


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


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


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



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.


sidewalks are rare in this neck of the woods.


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!)


 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.


the street food is delicious.


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


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.


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.


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!!!


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.


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


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



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

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