Incredible Support for the UU Holdeen India Program

By Derek Mitchell

Derek Mitchell, the new Director of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP), shares the following update:

During August and September, friends of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) have shown incredible support for the work of our partners.

An Uplifting Musical Contribution On August 13th Keith Arnold and David Burrows of the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado held an evening of song and stories to raise support for UUHIP’s work in education. Last February Keith and David spent a month teaching music at the Eklavya Parivartan Vidyalaya residential school for girls in Usgaon, Maharashtra, seventy miles from Mumbai. The school provides an education to 170 tribal girls, some of whom come from tribes with female literacy rates close to 1%. UUHIP partner organization Vidhayak Sansad established the school to change this tragic and unjust scenario, allowing hundreds of tribal girls in the Thane District of Maharahstra to become the first educated women in their families. Keith and David are music teachers in Colorado. Keith is Minister of Music at the Jefferson Unitarian Church and David, an expert in woodwind instruments, has been Choir Director at Columbine Unitarian Church and involved in the children’s music program at Jefferson Unitarian Church. The administrators in Usgaon welcomed Keith and David to spend a month teaching protest songs, in the social justice spirit of the school, spirituals, and flute and assisting the English teachers with their instruction. I had the pleasure of meeting Keith and David during their time at the school in Usgaon. They were the model for volunteers. They came well-prepared for the culture, language, and environment that they encountered in Maharashtra and were as eager to learn as they were to teach. It isn’t easy adapting to the chaotic schedules and confusing mix of languages anyone new to India finds, but Keith and David went through it all with a smile! Inspired by their experience with the students in Usgaon, Keith and David resolved to hold musical recitals in the United States to raise $5,000 for UUHIP’s work in education. That amount would allow one student to attend the school in Usgaon for ten years, from the first grade to the tenth, after which students can go to college in India. The recital in August featured classical songs in French and German, flute music, and a performance of “Silence and Music,” a choral piece by Keith that he conceived while in India. Keith and David also presented on their time at the school and the incredible impact it has on students’ lives. I was moved to learn of the reactions to the event and the generous contributions those attended made to UUHIP. Dea Brayden, special assistant to President Peter Morales, sent us her reflections:
Keith composed a choral piece that was stunning. He was inspired by his time at an ashram. That's where that music began in his head…I can tell you that people were so so moved by the slide presentation and by the videos and recordings of the girls singing and of life at the school. Of course, Keith, David and I were in tears.
Keith and David followed up this event with another recital for UUHIP at the home of UUA President Peter Morales and his wife Phyllis Morales. They have now raised $3,971 and plan to hold more musical fundraisers, inspired by the impact it will have on educating disadvantaged youth. The UU Holdeen India Program is deeply grateful to Keith and David for their outstanding commitment. One Young Woman’s Dedication to Education in India Early in September, Kathy Sreedhar, Director Emerita of the UU Holdeen India Program, called to tell me that her seventeen-year-old niece Emily Teall was about to donate $10,000 for our work in education! I was overwhelmed by the news. That would allow twenty new students to attend for one year. What had inspired this young woman, still in high school, to make such an incredible contribution? Kathy told me that Emily had always known about our program’s work in India through what her aunt told her growing up and the kind of education that the school in Usgaon provided tribal girls. When she turned sixteen she surprised Kathy by donating to our program everything her family and friends gave her for her birthday. She also told Kathy that she was celebrating her birthday by taking friends to a speech by Elie Wiesel. She’s quite an amazing young woman! That year she and her parents made a personal visit to the school in Usgaon. The girls studying at the school greeted them with songs and laughter. Pictures here of the students show just how warm and welcoming their smiles can be! The Tealls saw the plaque outside the school, dedicating the building to Kathy Sreedhar for her nearly three decades of guidance and support to the institution. They also had an inspiring interaction with Vivek Pandit, one of the founders of the school and now a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the state of Maharashtra. He told us later how impressed he was to meet a sixteen-year-old American so dedicated to the education of tribal children in India. After Emily decided to make her contribution of $10,000, we asked her what had moved her to provide such incredible support to UUHIP. She’s a modest person and didn’t want to discuss her own motivations, but offered these reflections on the responsibility of those more prosperous to support the disadvantaged:

I believe that the difference between haves and have-nots is one of birthplace, luck or opportunity. Those who lead a life of affluence therefore have a moral responsibility to aid those in need. It costs little to those with wealth and could make a huge impact on those without; they in turn will better the world for themselves and for others, both rich and poor...Those with money also have a moral responsibility to aid those without because indifference or inaction sits no better morally than acting against someone.

Emily graduates from high school this year and we have no doubt that she will continue to inspire others with her vision and dedication. UUHIP is profoundly appreciative of her contribution to education in India.
Pictures September 253