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 “ukulele”

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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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.
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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.

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

 

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.

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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.
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oh, so much better with short fingernails!!!

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

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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!!

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and here i am in yet another in my series of great light, soft focus, auto-rickshaw selfies.
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see you again real soon!!

* names are changed

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:

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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:

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

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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

(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)

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?

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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

girl

ukulele

band.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: http://johnboednew.blogspot.in/2010/08/translation-give-me-some-sunshine-ost-3.html). 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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!!

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