survivor girl ukulele band

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

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“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.”


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

sgub in the news!!

january 2014 was an amazing news month for survivor girl ukulele band.

on the 24th, sgub got the entire front page of the variety section of the wadena pioneer journal. wow!!

my dad and two brothers and their families live in wadena, and for the last two years when i’m back in the usa, i stay in wadena and take care of my dad, who just turned 90. this article was written by ethelyn pearson, who has been in journalism for more than 50 years. thank you wadena pioneer journal, and thank you, ethelyn, for the great article!!

sgub front page of wpj

then back in my old hometown of hendricks minnesota, longtime kelo-land tv news anchor steve hemmingson gave sgub nearly a full page in his private subscription hendricks newsletter. wow!!

thanks, steve! because of your coverage, we’ve gotten a number of new likes on the survivor girl ukulele facebook page from some of my childhood hendricks friends. yay!!

steve hemmingsons hendricks mn newsletter sgub coverage

and then on the 31st, survivor girl ukulele band project made the front page of the times of india!!! wow!!

there are two americans on that page — me and justin bieber. hahahah!

thank you times of india and lawrence milton for spreading the word about survivor girl ukulele band!!!



the survivor girl ukulele band project is made up of many people who care about the girls i work with, and i wouldn’t be here without you. thank you for joining the band.

lost in ukuleleland

IMG_5270week four of the survivor girl ukulele band project just wrapped up — and so far twenty-one girls at the odanadi home have started to play the ukulele!! hurrah!! but the road here is not always smooth. the journey has had its share of bumps and bruises and even a little self-reflection on my part.

after the excitement and novelty of the first few class sessions, attendance of girls from batch one and batch two started to drop off. in fact, one day no one showed up at all. and when i added an evening class and started teaching the younger girls, wow. the abuse in their past shows in their present behavior, and the classes were pretty much chaos. but i had plans! plans that included timeliness and structure and organization! i admit it, there were moments when i felt a little discouraged. “i’m here to help you,” i thought to myself. “and how can i teach you ukulele when you don’t show up or won’t settle down?”

and then it came to me. these girls have a lot going on and have endured more than you and i can even imagine. and if i get wrapped up in my plans and my agenda and my success, i will surely fail. and really, come to think of it, i’m not here to teach them ukulele at all. i’m here to show them love. that’s it.

if i can keep love front and center, then nothing else really matters. the ukulele is merely the vehicle used to deliver that love.

i don’t mean to discount the ukulele, however. music is so powerful and therapeutic, the small ukulele can be a mighty tool or vehicle for restoration and hope. but to borrow from 1 corinthians 13, without love it is like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

and what i’m finding out, too, is that some of the girls who have missed a number of classes are catching up by practicing on their own time and learning from those who attended. i also let the older girls show up at any class, work them in, and let them give a little inspiration to the younger girls.

here’s soma*, who doesn’t attend class very often, because she loves to work. and if there is any kind of construction, cleaning, or serving  project going on, she is sure to be in the thick of it.


this past week i started my fourth batch — a group of middle school girls aged ten to fourteen.

we start their ukulele classes around 5 pm, after they’ve returned home from school at 4:30 pm and have had a chance to change their clothes and have a snack. and though they’ve been playing only one week, there was some fierce competition at the friday contest. the fourteen-year-old, bahula*, is the powerhouse in the class.

from day one she had an intensity and hunger for learning how to play the ukulele. i asked her why she wanted to learn the ukulele. she said she saw the older girls playing ukulele, and she said to herself, “that is something special. i want to do that.”


first she watches and listens intently as i show and tell how to fret the next chord, and then she tries it out herself. “sister, sister,” she says, “right?” wanting me to check if her fingers are in the right places.

and then there’s a chorus of “sister! sister!”

“it’s only right if it sounds right,” i say. “let’s hear it.” and soon the echoey room is filled with sound.

after bahula feels comfortable with the new chord, she says, “what next?”

i try to get the other girls’ attention, but they are lost. lost in ukuleleland — that magical place of sound and vibration and strum, strum, stumming and color and strings and notes and imagination.

“ok, quiet, krupya!” i say to no avail. they’re not ready to come back to me. the pull of ukuleleland is too powerful.

this little girl, mahalakshmi*, finds it especially difficult to come back from ukuleleland. she can stop strumming for a few seconds, but moment i start speaking she just has to get one or two more strums in. hahahah!!


after school is out, the littlest children at the home find their way to ukuleles and get about 15 – 20 minutes adventure in ukuleleland.

the other day this little charmer grabbed a ukulele and said, “one photo, one photo!” and then proceeded to lead me around to take photos of her and the ukulele in various locations.  we went from the hall to the weight room to the stairs. in each place she knew exactly how she wanted the photo set up. here she is on the stairs in her fancy blue outfit.


and that’s her again in the photo at the top of the page. she and her little friend start their show with their backs turned, and then they swing around and continue the performance.

and here’s me in a photo taken by one of my students.

happy me :)

happy me 🙂

thank you to all of you who have joined the band. i’m so grateful to have you along for the journey.

*names changed

ondhu, eradu, ready, go!!

c, eradu, muru, naalku! a minor, eradu, muru, naalku!! (c, two, three, four! a minor, two, three, four!)

thank you to all of you who have joined in on the survivor girl ukulele band project!!   i am so grateful and encouraged by your support!!! good news! we’re in our second week of ukulele classes at odanadi girls home in mysore, india!!

above is a day one video of my first batch of students. aren’t they wonderful?!!

one of the staff said that a couple of the girls were practicing ukulele in the dorm and the atmosphere was so calm. “the stressness all went outside,” she said. yay!!

here is the main building at odanadi girls home. the offices and classrooms are on the left and the dorms are on the right. odanadi is a 20 minute walk from where i stay.


week one’s lessons included tuning and the chords of c, a minor, and d minor, as well as the c scale and some tips on strumming. here’s pooja*, getting in tune — with a makala dolphin ukulele outfitted with worth strings from japan!

IMG_4450 2

on day two, one the girls gave me a small flower for my hair. ;-D


here’s the odanadi boys home. there are about 20 boys living here. it’s out in the country, so there’s a great view from every window.


lunch time at odanadi. nutritious and delicious. how to eat, you ask? well, first you portion off a small amount of rice with the fingers of your right hand, and then move it over into the bean area. and then you movie it around a bit so it can soak up some of that yummy sauce. then you take about a tablespoon or less of that mix in your fingers, keeping it toward the tips and never toward the palm. and then use your thumb to push that bit into your mouth. yep. that’s how we do.


day four and pooja* had yet trim her nails! in fact she had recently painted them. oh, no!! too bad they had to be cut.

oh, so much better with short fingernails!!!


two happy girls toting wonderful kala brand music’s makala dolphin ukuleles — the best beginner ukulele on the planet!!


on day five only one of my first batch girls showed up. but then along came mahi*, who sat in and was soon helping the other student. she had learned a few things from one of the other girls the night before and became very interested in the ukulele. she’s so smart and so motivated,  i swiftly added her to the batch one class as a walk-on. and two days later she won the c-scale contest!!


and here i am in yet another in my series of great light, soft focus, auto-rickshaw selfies.

see you again real soon!!

* names are changed website launched

hurrah, the website is officially launched! 20130904-015657.jpg

diamonds in the sky

last april i was in kerala and found myself wandering around the various sari departments of the chennai silks store. there are so many kinds of saris, so many colors, designs, fabrics, and qualities. “how do indian women buy their saris?” i wondered.

soon i was shadowing some customers, pretending to look at saris for myself, but in reality i was watching them to see if i could learn how they choose a sari.

on one of the floors, it seemed that sari purchases were a group endeavor. soon i was eavesdropping on a family buying a fabulous red sari. and when they moved over to try on the pink sari below, i finally started asking questions.

“is this a wedding party?” i asked.

“yes!” they said. davis, the groom, had his sister and mother and best friends in tow for the day.

seems that the fabulous red sari that they had picked out was for the bride. as part of the wedding protocol, she would change into the red sari when she came to her husband’s house.

and now they were buying a pink sari for davis’s sister.


next they let me tag along to see them purchase the groom’s wedding shirt.


in india, there’s no such thing as too much bling.


and then after the sari and wedding shirt purchases, they invited me to tag along to the jewelry store, where they bought gold chain and locket for the bride.


by now they had invited me to attend the wedding, so the next day i came back to the chennai silks store and bought a sari for myself. this sari cost about $18. wheee!!

laurie buys a sari

and of course, i couldn’t wear my black flip flops with that fabulous sari, so i found some inexpensive diamond slippers for the occasion.


finally the day of the wedding arrived, and i took the mandatory soft-focus great-lighting auto-rickshaw selfie on my way to the wedding.


to kick things off, the groom’s family had a small pre-wedding blessing in front of the family’s catholic shine.


then we were off in a bus to the bride’s parents’ house.


next came the hindu ceremony at the bride’s parents’ house.


just married — davis and his bride!


at the bride’s home, the food was served on a banana leaf and doled out from buckets.


this is one of davis’s friends who wanted to let me know how much trouble americans cause around the world.


back at davis’s house again, his sculptor friends are busy making ice swans for the groom’s family’s wedding reception in the afternoon and evening.


here’s one of davis’s friends, who gave me a ride on a motorcycle when there was a lull in the action. of course i rode side-saddle, and i felt like a real indian woman, riding along on the back of a motorcycle, all elegant and graceful.

but then something went wrong.


when we got back to davis’s house, he drove the bike down a short sandy hill and got too close to a pole, so he stopped and tried to turn the bike or something.

i’m not sure what happened really except that we came to a stop and then the bike started tipping to the right. but i was sitting side-saddle with my feet on the left.

“ohhhh, nooo!!”

once the bike started tipping, there was no stopping it, though he was holding onto it as best as he could.

thump! my back finally hit the dirt, my sari went askew, and then all i could see were my feet in the air. diamond slippers in the blue sky.

two onlookers rushed over to pick me up and dust me off, and we all laughed so hard about the ridiculous slow motion fall. so much for being elegant and graceful.

hours and hours later came the cake ceremony, with davis’s mom and dad looking on.


the second meal of the wedding, this one at the groom’s house. super yummy.


all too soon it was time for me to go, but there’s always time for one more photo with davis’s sister.


the end.

closed door, open window


there was no shortage of young women in the home wanting to get into the new beginner classes. they zoomed up to give me their names and get on the list. here was their chance. finally it would be their turn to learn and sing and be part of the survivor girl ukulele band!

large beginner classes started, and the new girls were so happy and earnest.

i can still picture reka* as she sat cross-legged on the floor and held her ukulele close. she gave it a strum and shut her eyes tight and began to hum. her head tilted to the side and her eyebrows knit together and she imagined she was playing real chords in a real song and that she was somebody. it was a magic moment.

a few days later the project was cancelled. the end.

i got to say good-bye to three of my first batch students, and when they came down to meet me i could tell they had been crying. i started crying too. no one said this was going to be easy.

and rather than get into the whys and wherefores, i’ll just get into telling you about phase two, in which laurie gets her bhelpuri and then shifts to the big city.

this guy has a stand right across the street from where i lived and serves up the best bhelpuri pettis ever!!


and this short video is of the bhelpuri man’s wife. she and i would sit together and eat and try to carry on a conversation in my limited hindi and her marathi.

after my last meal of bhelpuri i packed up, and the next day i headed to mumbai.

here is the guy i hired to drive me to mumbai. he drove like the wind.


half way to mumbai, it started raining, and it has barely stopped raining since.


in mumbai, i’m volunteering with an organization that has a number of drop-in centers in some of the city’s red-light areas. the drop-in centers provide a place for doctors to hold clinics, for social workers to provide counseling, and now for me to conduct ukulele lessons for the women working in these areas.

my commute includes auto-rickshaws and trains. mumbai trains are very crowded and never boring. on the first day as i approached my station carrying six ukuleles, i worried how i would get off the packed train. not to worry, the crowd ahead of and behind me disembarked at the same station. i had just managed to get the six ukuleles out of the train and myself onto solid ground when the crowd surging to get on nearly carried me back onto the same train!

from that busy station i take another train, and from that train i take an auto to one of the slums. i walk in a short distance and then turn into a narrow walk-way between two buildings. on the other side is a narrow raised cement footpath, and either side that path are small hovel brothels with benches and chairs outside under corrugated roofs where the women sit and wait for customers.


on my recon visit to mumbai we were invited for lunch at the new home of a female pimp / debt collector. she served goat and gravy and rice. the apartment was one-room, approximately 10″ by 10″, with no toilet. here’s a photo of the kitchen area and the goat.


and here’s a short video of a lemon seller girl on the train. enjoy!!

*name changed.

play it again, that survivor girl ukulele band song


eleven of my students were recently restored to their homes and families. each of them brought home a kala brand music ukulele and an electronic tuner and music and lots of happy memories of our survivor girl ukulele band days.

one of the police officers accompanying the girls on their travels gave each of them a rose at the train station as they embarked on their new life.

here’s a little video montage of those days and of their departure. listen to the end — you won’t be disappointed.

i hope that they continue to heal from the trauma they have endured and have courage and hope and joy in the challenges that lie ahead. lord bless those girls!!!

ukulele. ukan do it!

everywhere i go, people want to try out my kala brand music makala dolphin ukulele.

this family was on the train to kerala. the little girl was a super-fast learner and liked it so much, grandma and grandpa and little brother barely got a chance to try it.


shoe salesman rockstar.


chennai silks sales girl.


this guy might have something here! (very short video)


aunty on the train back to pune.


one more little girl on the train, sitar style.


a new song

hello again! it’s been a while. in case you were starting to forget what i look like with soft focus great lighting and sunglasses in an auto-rickshaw, here’s a recent selfie:


seems every time i go to write a new blog post, i have no idea where to begin. and it gets even worse when i haven’t posted anything in a while. how to account for all that unblogged about time?!! well, the last few weeks have been an absolute blur, with eleven of my students about to leave for their home country — all on the same day —  and i wanted to send them off with their very own kala brand music makala dolphin ukulele. and to get that beautiful ukulele they had to earn it.

here’s what they had to be able to play to earn their ukulele:

1) tu pyaar ka saagar — chords and melody

2) kuch kuch hota hai — chords only, but the timing is tricky!

3) survivor girl ukulele band song in hindi — also tricky timing

4) c major scale — forwards and backwards and be able to name all the notes

in addition:

5) each girl had to write an original song and perform it.

before we get any further with this post, here is one of the new songs:

and then we planned out a program to play for the home before they left, and they practiced and practiced!

but it wasn’t all on the girls. on my end, i had to think about what materials to send with them so they could easily review and continue to work on their music. this whole project was an experiment, and i started from scratch. plus, i didn’t have a printer. so for two months i had been teaching mainly with this one sheet of paper:


here’s the other side. it got a lot of use!!


but then i finally sprung for a nice little printer. wheee!! and now we’re working off sheets that look like this:

IMG_2466and believe me, these took hours and hours.

i also purchased some clear sleeves and some folders for the girls in which to keep their music and chord charts.

here’s one more song, not to be missed:

requiring the girls to write an original song turned out to be so amazing. many of these young women cannot read or write. one uses her thumbprint as her signature. and none of them had ever written a song before. but they are learning how to learn. more than that, they are creating and expressing themselves through music. the range of feelings and the ideas that come out in these songs — well, i wish you could see and hear what i have witnessed in the past weeks. it is such an honor and privilege to be here with these dear sweet traumatized hurting intelligent loving and hopeful young women.

the survivor girl ukulele band project is truly impacting these girls’ lives in a positive way. thank you, friends and family for your support and encouragement. you are part of this, too!

sgub song in hindi!!

if you have a minute and forty-three seconds, this just might make your day.

it’s audio of day two of the girls working on the hindi version of the “survivor girl ukulele band song.”

back in december, with the survivor girl ukulele band benefit concert coming up, my friend record-producer-musician-singer-songwriter ed tree wrote the song for the girls. here’s the original lyrics:

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


and here’s chorus of the hindi version, written by my new friend joseph pawar.

kya ho tum gire, thaam lo ye haath
kya de khoge, tum ko hai yeh aas
kyu tum dare, hum hain denge saath
survivor girl ukulele band

and here is the hindi version of the song written phonetically in bangla by one of the bangladeshi girls. is that cool or what?


and now for the audio:

as you can tell, they love this song, and they lovelovelove singing the last line. and i think it’s because they know its about them, and it makes them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.

something special,

something good,

something strong:

a band.

a survivor




where i live, part two

i scamper down the path in the morning, excited about my upcoming day with the girls. and keeping watch at the end of the driveway is the daytime guard, who greets me with a cheery, “good morning!” and wave as i head off to work.


after a long day teaching ukulele — and counting c,2,3,4; g,2,3,4; c,2,3,4; a minor,2,3,4 about a million times! — i sometimes head to the market to buy fruit. and while at the market, i often wet my whistle with some fresh coconut water. i always buy from this coconut pani wallah, who takes time to find me a great coconut. and then i watch him risk his fingers to get to the water.


after the coconut water is finished, the wallah takes it back, hacks it in half, scrapes all the coconut flesh together, and hands me a bowl of yummy fresh coconut.


and here’s a 25 second video from inside the market. the man you see standing is the charmer i buy watermelon from, and the woman at the end is my guava lady.

if you’re short on time, here’s the watermelon wallah.


its great to share the cost of an auto-rickshaw home from the market. sort of like super shuttle and leaving lax airport, the auto drivers want to fill the van so to speak. as you can see, this auto already has eight women and children, and one more girl is about to squeeze on. yay, india!!


as i waited for my own shared auto to fill, a guru-type guy dressed in all white and sporting two flat dreadlocks that reached almost to his knees got into the auto right in front of me. all this happened before i could get my camera back out and snap a photo of him. i was chagrined.

and then, oh joy! my auto wallah talked him into switching rides. he got out of the auto in front and squeezed in beside me. quickly i got my camera out and without even asking permission, took a few snaps. could not help myself.


as the auto approaches my gate, i tap the driver on the shoulder and say in hindi, “bhai, bas,” which means, “brother, enough,” (– i think!)

and here is the outside of the gate where i live. if you look carefully, you can see that by the small tree is an altar where people stop by and give small offerings such as coconut or flower petals.


the long crumbly gray wall doesn’t look like much, but at the end of the day, i’m always glad to get home sweet home!!

the sound of music and give me some sunshine

some days i feel like i’m fräuline maria in the sound of music.

sound-of-music photo

oh, there are those minor differences: she was in salzburg and i am pune; she wore a dirndl and i wear a salwar kameez; she had a guitar and i have a ukulele; she had a handsome sea captain, and i have a — hey, wait a minute!


anyway, the the joy in task is the same!!!

i now have 26 students in four different classes. they are all learning anthony raj’s “tu pyaar ka saagar”, which i’ve transposed into the key of c major so it’s easier to play. its a song they love, so they are willing to play it over and over. we start with chords and strumming and counting. we then add singing. and then we move into the c major scale — complete with naming the notes on the fretboard as they play, and from there they learn how to play the melody in fingerstyle.

here’s a 39 second video of batches 2 and 5 playing “tu pyaar ka saagar.” (i know these videos take a while to load, but if you watch this one to the end, you will be rewarded with a view of one of the dear kitchen girls hanging in there despite difficulties 🙂 )

one day toward the end of my batch 1 class, nandita* was struggling to keep up with the other girls in learning the c scale. soon there was a frown on her face as she complained in bangladshi about all the english letters in the c scale and how it was too difficult to learn. the next class i took her and another girl aside to give them special attention on the c scale. within minutes she had it. and what was so cool about her success was how eager she was to share with the other girl and teach her how to do it, too. she could hardly contain herself in her eagerness to help the other girl. yay!!

and here’s a 12 second video of yet another girl, anika, and her 3rd batch classmates working that c scale.

i wish you could see the smile of achievement and delight in her face as she finishes off with a flourish. they love learning ukulele!!

and here is alisha* who, along with laksha*, bravely learned how to change ukulele strings.


what would fräuline maria do? create contests and give prizes? i think she would!

here are the prizes from last week’s contests. the addition of little plastic rings and nail polish has upped the ante.

IMG_2070 IMG_2105

two happy winners in batch 3!

when you know the chords to play, you can play most an-y-thing.

recently one of the girls started jamming on her uke and singing, “give me some sunshine,” the catchy and yet poignant song from the much-loved bollywood movie 3 idiots, starring aamir khan.


the girls all chimed in on the song, and that evening when i looked up the chords and lyrics, it struck me how relevant the words of the song are to these girls.

here are some of the lyrics from “give me some sunshine” translated from hindi into english (adapted from: the chorus is already in english.

we kept living
an incomplete life till now,
let us live fully for a moment now
we have lost our childhood
as well as youth
now let us live fully
for a moment
give me some sunshine
give me some rain
give me another chance
i wanna grow up once again

na na na-na…na na na-na….

i’m hoping that learning to play the ukulele will be part of the survivor girls’s chance to grow up once again.

*names have been changed

where i live

would y’all like to know a little bit about where i live and who else i hang out with besides the girls at the protective home? ok! well, i’d be happy to tell you all about it.

a man named cini happens to be a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend from my days volunteering at freedom firm. and cini, who knows just about everyone in town, connected me with a place called the maharashtra fellowship for the deaf — otherwise known as the mfd. and the mfd is just down the road from the protective home. still with me?

and the mfd had a couple of rooms in the upstairs of a big house that they weren’t using. and that is where i now live. it really is a blessing, because it is safe, has wifi, and also because it is so close to rescue foundation that i can walk there. i usually catch an auto rickshaw, but it is just a 5 – 10 rupee fair (10 – 20 cents). whee!!

here’s a photo of the big house where i live.


my rooms are on the second floor behind that staircase that you see on the left side of the building. if you squint, you can see the door to my outer room is slightly ajar. i also have access to the roof, which is a pretty cool place to do exercises in the morning if i can get up before the sun gets too hot.

and here is the room where i spend most of my time when i am home.


most of the linens from an american family who have been in pune for five years and are now headed back to the states. thank you, dear janet!!

mfd is a boarding school for over 100 boys and girls who are deaf, and one of the cool things about living at mfd is that i never ever ever have to cook. at around 8 pm i just listen for the banging of metal bowls and ladles plates and cups — i thought mfd would be a really quiet place to live, but it isn’t!! —  and then i look out the window and down below to make sure they haven’t started without me, and then i scurry downstairs and outside to the girls’ dining area. and then one of the girls signs to me, asking if i want to have food, and i sign back and say yes, and when the buckets of food are toted over from the huge outdoor kitchen, one or two girls from each table pop up and get the rice and curry, and when it is all doled out, i get a plateful.

here is the dining area where we eat. it looks a little gloomy at night, but it is always fascinating.


i love it here and am learning some sign language, too. it’s also very handy that i learned the american sign language alphabet years ago.

here’s two of the 10th standard girls who are always so nice.


and here is a short video of sarubai, who is asking me if i want breakfast. this is the last breakfast of the school year for 9th standard and below.

and that is my post for today. i hope you are having a fabulous week!!

and the winner is…

shops in pune have been closed for a week due to a bandh, or strike, by merchants against a new tax. this made it difficult to purchase prizes for the friday contests in the survivor girl ukulele band project. but thursday afternoon i found a little shop that sells bangles, bindis — those little decorative dots that indian women put between their eyebrows, and mehndi — known back home as henna.

a faded, dusty, and exotic looking old bedcover shielded the little stall from the afternoon sun, and inside the closet-sized shop the walls were lined with colorful bangles. hanging from the pole in the middle were dusty strips of cellophane sleeves that held packets of bindi that caught my eye.

kitna hai?” i asked, pointing to the bindi.

“five rupees,” said the shopkeeper, who then got up from the floor. “ten rupees, also,” she said, as she opened a plastic box that held the more upscale bindis. these had rhinestones and gold embellishments. ten rupees is about twenty cents in us dollars, so i splurged on a number of the dazzling packets of ten rupee bindis. meanwhile the shopkeeper opened a box filled with miniature bottles of fingernail polish. “ten rupees,” she said. “yes, please!” i thought to myself as i selected a number of the tiny bottles. “and mehndi?” “quick acting or normal?” she said. “normal. i’ll take five, krupya!” (please)

the next day i displayed the bindi and mehndi on the floor for my beginner ukulele class’s tuning contest.


the girls’ enthusiasm rose a few notches. “whoever tunes their ukulele the best will get to choose their prize between the bindis and the mehndi,” i said.  “and next week’s contest will include fingernail polish!” as this was being translated, the girls grabbed their ukuleles and their pitch-pipes and scampered off to find a quiet space in which to concentrate. i’ve never seen them so interested in tuning.


unfortunately, for all that solitude, concentration, and effort the beginner class tuning contest was a bit of a fail, in that no one came even close to getting their ukulele in tune. on the otherhand, they were all very attentive during the post-contest tuning workshop where we went around to every ukulele and tuned it as a team. and later in the day i noticed one of the girls practicing her tuning. next week there will be a winner in that class!

meanwhile, in my more advanced beginner class, two of the girls did extremely well with their c scales, so two prizes were awarded in that class.


and later in my kitchen-girl class, the girl who recently burned her face very badly in a pressure cooker accident was able to tune two of the four strings on her ukulele and earned herself a prize. she was wearing blue, but she was tickled pink.

and here’s me with three of my first batch advanced beginners. these girls rock!!


everybody loves a little uke

there have been a number of raids and rescues recently in the local brothels, and now the population of the home is 102 girls. and there is no keeping the ukulele lessons on the terrace a secret.

here’s where i teach. it’s called the terrace, and it’s the covered roof of the home. every day the girls’ clothes are hung to dry on the north wall of bars that surround the terrace. it makes for a pretty place with decent acoustics in which to teach.Image

every day a few girls sneak up to the terrace and sit with the class and try strumming one of the ukuleles. even the police officers who are on duty like to get into the action.


the fellow below was also very interested in the uke that i often carry around in my backpack. we met on a number of occasions at this little chai shop down the street from the guest house where i stayed when i first arrived in pune. the first day we met he asked, “you are from nigeria?” i didn’t quite know how to answer that.

the next time we met he asked to try out my ukulele.

after i took this video on my iphone 3gs he said, “tell me again, how much does that phone cost?” i told him that phones like this are a couple of hundred dollars and then about $100 a month on a two year contract. the small crowd that had gathered calculated the cost of an iphone in rupees, and their eyes widened. he liked my uke, but really really really liked my iphone. i get that lot.

and here is a video of roma*, who is from bangladesh and is super quiet. she may not have the best technique, but she is always there and loves to play.

“this is a chance.”

we are just four days into survivor girl ukulele band lessons, and it is amazing to see what the girls are accomplishing. last friday when i visited the protective home for girls who have been rescued from brothels, they sang me a song — tu pyaar ka saagar, your love is like the sea. so i got a guitar hero to figure out the chords for me and was able to start teaching them to play the song with just a few chords, c, g, and a minor.

on day one, i started with three girls each in two separate classes. in each class one of the three girls spoke english. someone advised me to limit the classes to a half hour each, because the girls would be unable to be attentive for more than that.

monday’s first class went for an hour and forty-five minutes, and they were tuned in every minute.

a couple of the girls came with long fingernails on their left hands, making it difficult for them to fret the chords. they love their long fingernails. but they all agreed to cut their nails. through the translator, one of the girls said, “nails can grow, but this is a chance.”

on day two i combined the two classes, and now have six girls in the class.

here’s a video from day two, where the girls are practicing moving from the c chord to the g chord.

on day four, one of the girls showed up late, and didn’t want to tune her ukulele because she felt she couldn’t do it. she was also struggling with a stiff strum hand.

i took her aside and helped her “dekho aur suno” — hindi for “look and listen” — as we looked at the electronic tuner and at the same time listened to a pitch pipe and the sound of each string as we found the correct tuning.

then i tried to get her to relax her strumming hand, but she couldn’t do it. so i had her take ahold of my strumming hand. when we started to play, she wanted to take over and control my hand, but after a minute she was able to relax and let her hand move along with mine. still, it didn’t immediately translate into an easy strum on her own.

for the next hour and a half as the group played and practiced changing chords, she struggled with a stiff strum. then just before the end of the class, she started strumming with a nice easy stroke. she was so happy and we all clapped for her. she said, “you take my hand. now i can do it. i miss you.”

and here’s a video day four of the girl i mentioned earlier who said, “this is a chance.”

can you believe it? this is just her fourth day of playing ukulele!

“but we have 400 girls. where can we get more ukuleles?”

our survivor girl ukulele band project is nearly underway. i say “our” because i’m not doing this all on my own. many people are part of this endeavor, and i’m grateful for each and every one of you!!

here’s the low-down on week one in india. after 22 hours of air travel, i was glad to have friends in navi mumbai who had invited me to stay with them. and they didn’t seem to mind that i arrived at 2:30 am, in fact they rustled up some food and we talked for hours.

the next day is a blur, but the day after that i pulled out my list of after-care homes in mumbai and called one, a well-known protective home for girls who have been rescued from mumbai’s brothels. i asked them if they would like to hear about my ukulele project, and they said, “yes.”


three hours later, i arrived at the head office on the other side of mumbai. when i pulled out a couple of orange and candy-apple red makala dolphin ukuleles, they said, “ooh, they’re beautiful!” and i when i told them that kala brand music had partnered with me and donated twenty makala dolphin ukuleles and that i wanted to teach twenty survivors of human trafficking how to play ukulele and help them form a survivor girl ukulele band, they said, “this will help the girls! yes!” and then i played ed tree’s “survivor girl ukulele band” song, and they said, “we must translate that into hindi!”

and then they said, “but we have 400 girls. where can we get more ukuleles?”!

so i will be on the lookout for more ukuleles, and if anyone is heading over to india, please put a makala dolphin ukulele or two in your suitcase.

slight change of plans: rather than stay in the super congested city of mumbai, i am shifting my base of operation to another city. a friend of a friend made a few phone calls and got me a low-cost room at a nice guesthouse as a base from which to look for an apartment.

here’s a photo of the guesthouse telephone. you don’t see too many of these classics around anymore.


i will be working in the ngo’s smallest home, which houses forty girls. it is super exciting to think about growing this project to 400 girls. i’m quite sure that some of the first girls will be able to teach others, and so on, until the only limitation will be the number of ukuleles available — and my own skill on the ukulele. i just hope i can stay one step ahead of those girls!

below is a video of what i had for dinner last night. masala dosa on the street. i’m experimenting with video, so please let me know what you think.

and that’s week one in india. so far, so yay!!

catching up

in case you’ve wondered what i have been up to since my last blog post, here’s a few notes and photos to catch you up.

april 2012 — to guwahati, assam to volunteer with 7 sisters international. here’s a photo of the brahmaputa river.


may 2012 — write, produce, and direct short film, “i want to be.”


— last day in guwahati, ride elephant!!


june 2012 — back to minnesota, usa —
start taking care of my dad who had a stroke in december of 2011. he’s doing pretty great!!


— start playing ukulele!


august 2012 — start editing “i want to be” project.

september 2012 — to california for two weeks! hang out with friends, work with producer/musician ed tree on original music for “i want to be project,” and say good-bye to my 1985 volvo.


october 2012 — still taking care of dad, still working on the edit.

december 2012 — twenty donated kala brand makala dolphin ukuleles arrive to take to india.20130316-014855.jpg

january 2013 — to california for three weeks — survivor girl ukulele band benefit concert!! big thanks to sharon hannah, brad colerick, ed tree, john o’kennedy, bliss bowen, lorin hart,
severin browne, phil parlapiano, dale laduke, brendan carlson, and bethany church of sierra madre, and everyone who came to support!! — and world premiere of short film, “i want to be.”


march 5 2013 — back to india!!


cool things i’ve been doing

one of the things cool i’ve been doing at apne aap was get involved in the “cool men don’t buy sex” campaign — a call for india to get help stop sex trafficking by signing a petition. the petition will go to the president of india, smt. pratibha devisingh patil, asking her to amend the immoral traffic prevention act and criminalize the purchase of sex similar to what sweden and norway have done. the idea is that if you eliminate the demand, then you will eliminate trafficking.

we went out to a student fest at delhi technological university to collect signatures.


jessica and aparna collecting signatures at delhi technological university

a high percentage of the students are men, and it was interesting to see the various responses to our petition. as soon as some heard what we were about, they turned and went the other way. but many of the students signed enthusiastically. here’s a few of the encouraging comments that they included with their signature:

i am very grateful to you that you have raised voice against this issue. and i am totally agreed. thank you.

we have to take strong action against this and it’s very necessary to buildup some rules and regulations.

i appeal to the concerned authorities to protect the women against male violence & to give them freedom so that women can enjoy a fearless life.

women signifies power. we must stand and support women and give them their basic rights. we must respect them and give them their proper place in society because without them our life would be incomplete and the life cycle will not run! save girls!

i think and believe that prostitution must end and respect for women must increase. they are mothers and sisters.

and if you would like to sign the petition, here’s the link:

sign the petition

i also designed a poster for the campaign. it will likely not see the light of day other than here, but i rather liked it. and yes, that’s my rear end!


my poster idea (done on doodlebuddy)

one day i brought my guitar to the field office and learning center on the outskirts of delhi, where apne aap works with girls and women of the perna caste. in this community of the perna, a high percentage of the families engage in intergenerational prostitution. the females are married off when they’re only fourteen, and soon their husbands or fathers pimp them out to support the family.

girls come to the center to learn sewing and computer and other life skills. here’s one of the posters on the wall:


"girls should get married after 18 years, have a child after 20 years"

i had the chance to play my guitar and sing the abc song with two little girls, who did a nice job strumming the strings while i played the notes.


playing guitar

then we were off to another perna community to present an apne aap legal training on domestic violence. it was meant to be a training for the women, but no women showed up, so they rounded up all the little girls instead.


girls at the legal training

after the training i brought out my guitar again and we sang twinkle twinkle little star. then i tried to teach them the hindi version of “sweet home chicago.” i’ve been working on that song for over a year — but it turns out some of my hindi lyrics didn’t make any sense! so that song was a big fail. but it was someone’s birthday, so we sang happy birthday instead. yay!


singin' a couple songs!

the girls were entranced by the guitar — wanted to strum it, wanted to know how it works. it’s a dream of mine to learn to play the ukulele, and — when i come back to india full-time with an organization — start an all survivor-girl ukulele band! 😀

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