By N. Niranjan Nikam
They were an exuberant lot of ladies, all from the United Kingdom (UK) and a few other countries waiting in the reception area of The Green Hotel on Hunsur Road. Just that morning a few of them had visited the Government Urdu Higher Primary School at Nachanahalli Palya on Manandavadi Road and soon after lunch, nearly ten of them led by Dame Hilary Blume (Director, The Green Hotel and Founder, Charities Advisory Trust in UK) were ready to hop into the mini bus and visit a few more schools run by the Government of Karnataka.
As the bus drove towards the congested Kyathamaranahalli and entered a small lane, the women, who alighted from the bus, were surprised to see a clean, well-maintained Government Higher Primary School. There was a welcome committee with the Head Master of the School V. Ramaswamy, a disciplined, dedicated teacher and H. Saraswathi, the Director of RLHP (Rural Literacy and Health Programme) who is coordinating with Charities Advisory Trust, greeting the group of lively women.
Walking up a flight of stairs that led to the library of the school at the far end, the students, both boys and girls, all dressed neatly in green uniforms got up shyly but most of them immediately recognised the familiar of face of Dame Hilary Blume, who is no stranger to Mysuru.
“Do you recognise Madam Hilary?” asked the Head Master and most of the students immediately recalled her earlier visit to the school. The library is well- equipped with books, desks and benches (all funded by the Charities Advisory Trust) and the visitors were keen to see how many students were really into reading the books.
A few of the students got up to demonstrate how helpful the reading habits they had been inculcated with had worked. A girl from eighth standard picked up a book in English and read without any mistakes in clear diction while a few others read from books in Kannada related to freedom fighters and scientists. Then they sang a few patriotic songs.
Now, it was the turn of the motley group of exuberant women, mostly in their sixties and seventies, to become children. They started singing the nursery rhyme for kids, ‘Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes.’ Led by ‘Good Giver’ Annie Taylor, who had taught little children in Ethiopia, they began on a slow pitch and accelerated. The children who joined them sang with gusto and joy.
Impressed by the kind of work done by the school and RLHP, Hilary Blume asked the Head Master, what else they required for their school. He said that they needed a water filter and a LCD screen projector. She promised to install both through the profits earned in The Green Hotel.
“The profit of every meal eaten in The Green Hotel helps buy an egg for a child or for the books of children,” she told SOM.
The children then wanted to know more about the visitors and they introduced themselves. There were two Elizabeths, one from Canada and another from England, both of whom were doctors. There was Ann Kingston, who was the knitting teacher for the “Knit for Peace” group and Danielle Liebech, who had visited The Green Hotel five times and there was also the young L. Marie, originally from France, who is working with Hilary Blume.
After a satisfying visit at Kyathamaranahalli, the group moved towards Sathagalli, where there is a slum and another Government Higher Primary School. It was around 4.30 pm. The RLHP runs a nutrition programme here in the school premises. A few of the infants and children were sitting there along with their mothers. A young woman, fondly called Akhila aunty by the Sathagalli slum residents, had brought ragi porridge which had a healthy mix of pulses and greens like drumstick leaves.
Along with the porridge, the kids were also given boiled eggs. A few of the mothers told this reporter how useful this programme was, as it had helped their malnourished children gain weight and improve their health.
Then right next door was the Government Higher Primary School where in the evening free supplementary classes are run for the children. Children in the age group of six to 14 were sitting there quietly waiting for the classes to begin.
All of them in unison welcomed the idea of the evening classes and how they were all happy to be there studying.
RLHP Director Saraswathi asked one of the students to get up and welcome the visitors. A tenth standard student B.B. Mehak got up and welcomed the group. This girl, who is the Malala Yousafzai, (Nobel Laureate from Pakistan who is an activist for female education) of Mysuru, had stopped a child marriage in her area a couple of years ago.
One of the teachers, Seema, was a child labourer, who used to roll agarbathis. But today she has completed her Pre-University education because of the support of RLHP and Charities Advisory Trust.
The slum children here are so vibrant that when they were asked to sing a song, four girls got up and began singing Jalle Kabbu…, a folk song in faultless Kannada and dancing to choreographed steps. Asked for their names, they said Luhia, Simran, Husna and Rafia.
Everyone was moved by the effort that had gone into preparing the deprived sections of the society to face the world boldly.
“The Charities Advisory Trust is supporting many causes including the beauticians’ course, nutrition programme, sponsoring health camps from the funds collected through Good Gift India. Their focus is also on libraries and they have helped setting it up in nearly 100 Government Higher Primary Schools,” said Saraswathi.
Later, speaking to Star of Mysore, Hilary Blume said that ‘Knit for Peace’ is an initiative of the Charities Advisory Trust started as an income generation project for Hutu and Tutsi widows, victims of the Rwandan genocide and civil war.
“At our suggestion, the widows knitted school jumpers for the many orphans and we paid them by raising funds through featuring the project in Good Gift Catalogue, another of the Trust’s initiative,” said Hilary Blume.
“Good Gifts is an initiative started by me. This is a concept where the giver knows exactly where the money goes. Hence, we came out with Good Gifts Catalogue where people can identify with a range of causes; in fact, there are over 400 ways to help people take their first step out of poverty, enjoy better health and increased opportunities,” she said and added, “I ask the givers to come and see how the concept works. That is how I bring such people to visit Mysuru to see the schools and slums and how the money they have given is spent. Our next visit with the ‘Knit for Peace’ group is in early January,” she said
Asked whether she believed like many others who are doing charity work that charity is also a business, Hilary Blume said, “These are causes that I was introduced to, and continue to support, as I believe in them. I believe that once I give money, then the money is out of my hands to control. So it is important that I can trust those organisations I support. Administration is critical to keep a charity going, but too many big charities waste too much money.”
On whether she has written any books on charity having worked for more than 40 years in the field, she recalled five books titled, ‘Fund Raising – A Comprehensive Handbook,’ ‘Accounting and Financial Management for Charities,’ ‘Charity Trading Handbook,’ ‘Museum Trading Handbook’ and ‘Charity Shop Handbook’ she has written. Hilary Blume also revealed that she is penning the sixth one now called ‘The Ethics of Charity Giving.’