Visit to HoPE Learning Centers at Gururajapet and Pattabiramapuram in April 2014

By Valli Wells

Tripura Foundation is Dr. Pillai’s non-profit organization that has several service projects up and running in various counties. He has a great vision for how simple sounds can change the destiny of children.

In April, 2014, I had the great joy of visiting two of the Tripura Foundation HoPE Learning Centers in Tamil Nadu (a state in southern India) which include children using simple sounds as part of their on-going program:

  • Guruvarajapet (sponsored by Ms. Stacey Lawson of USA)
  • Pattabiramapuram (sponsored by Ms. Jo Magnani of UK)

We first started with a visit to the Muruga temple at Tiruttani. This is a famous vortex for peace which has been visited throughout the centuries by various saints and siddhas, including the siddha Agastya who is said to have worshipped Muruga here and received the divine gift of the Tamil language. At the end of our visit, we saw some peacocks (a bird associated with Muruga and symbolizing Infinite Light). I looked at the largest peacock and said the word “Mayil” (Tamil word for peacock). He immediately turned toward us and opened his tail feathers to their fullest spread. My guide smiled and said, “Muruga has given you a special darshan!” It was a delightful omen for the rest of the day.

The two HoPE Learning Centers we went to are in villages in a rural area which traditionally has had agriculture as a mainstay. However, due to the watershed levels dropping lower and lower over recent years, employment options in that field are becoming greatly reduced. The up and coming generation needs to learn new skills to break out of poverty cycles.

I was accompanied by my guide, Mr. Duneshakar, who has himself experienced positive transformations in working for Dr. Pillai’s companies. When I first met him several years ago, he was a young and rather shy packing clerk in the Shipping Department of AstroVed. Now he has matured into someone who is a candidate for a Master’s degree and confidently carries a United Nations card showing his involvement in relief work which is a big jump in “status” for him.

The children at Guruvarajapet greeted us warmly with flowers and smiles. They had organized a program for us that included dancing, singing, acrobatics, yoga, sharing of science exhibits, mime performances and more. I was impressed with how bright and alert all the children were. If it was not their turn yet to perform, they were sitting patiently and giving their attention and support to the ones who had the spotlight. There was no boredom or mindless chattering or fighting. They were demonstrating great teamwork. The children themselves were serving as emcee, coordinating the music to play and getting the next group ready for their turn. We commended them and their teachers for doing such a good job at this Center as this has helped create a model for other Centers.

In addition to the children’s project, we saw another program at Guruvarajapet for women who are enrolled in a tailoring class. They are learning to sew and make garments which is a skill they can use at home and make extra income for their family. Their instructor showed us the various kinds of stitching and garments the women are learning to make, and the women had sincere messages of thanks for the Tripura sponsors and their heartfelt request for the tailoring class to be continued in their area. This pathway to economic relief is deeply appreciated by the local women.

At Pattabiramapuram, we found out it was a local festival day, and some of the children had participated earlier in a kind of “fire walking”, so we admired their courage for that. The ones who had done this had a special thread tied around their arm with a turmeric root.

The children greeted us with homemade cards and local flowers, and despite the heat and their earlier exertions for the festival, they rallied to share a happy program with us. Their laughter and smiles were wonderful to see. The Center was clean with evidence of various artwork projects in different mediums as well as various lessons in chalk on the walls. The children carried themselves with confidence, and it was clear their teachers are leading them with love.

We praised them for becoming positive role models in their area.

Dr. Pillai has a passion for feeding people, and we were at Pattabiramapuram in time for the children to have their “snack”, a tasty dish of very healthy mix of cooked channa (garbanzo beans) with some delicious local greens and spices. The children were nicely organized and did not mob for their snack. They waited with patience to be served. Before eating, the children pray their gratitude, including regular prayers for the Tripura sponsors. This was very touching to watch.

I have met the wonderful sponsors Stacey Lawson and Jo Magnani on previous trips to India, and I send them both waves of gratitude from the Centers and add my thanks to them for their generosity in supporting these programs which are simple, yet effective, in truly changing the lives of many in this area.

*All Photos by Parthiban