survivor girl ukulele band

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

Archive for the tag “laurie kallevig”

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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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

 

 

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.

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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

 

“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

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!!!

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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.

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