The Girls of Maasila Home
When I arrived “home” at the art gallery after my first visit to Auroville, I opened my laptop and typed into Google: “at-risk and disadvantaged girls in Pondicherry, India”. I knew what I needed to do in Pondicherry, and that was to give my time to others that needed it most.
I didn’t anticipate what would come next, but I do believe that everything happens for one reason or another. Our path is already paved and we are simply on a journey that has been predefined. When we start to accept this, we realize there’s no point in having fear or worry.
During my Google search, I came across a local non-for-profit organization by the name of OuiCare. OuiCare’s mission is to help the disadvantaged population in the state of Tamil Nadu. They do so through rural medical camps, continuing education, and their home for girls which they call Maasila Home.
I took a leap of faith and emailed OuiCare. I let them know that I was in Pondicherry for the next month and would like to meet with their team in person to see if there was anything I could to do help. Not expecting a reply back, an hour later a message popped into my inbox from a woman named Aasha, asking if I could come into their office the next day to meet the founder and her team. I instantly replied to her: “YES! I’LL BE THERE!"
The next day, I found my way to the OuiCare office – which just so happens to be on top of my favourite ice cream store in the town. YUM! Not knowing what to expect from the meeting, I went in open-minded to learn about what it is their team was doing and what they needed help with most. I was greeted by Aasha when I arrived at the office. She is a warm and caring woman and I instantly knew that we would get along well. I was then introduced to Kart and Azath. Azath being the founder of OuiCare. Both of which are extremely welcoming and kind men. There was instant synergy in the group and it made it easy to feel comfortable and honest with each other.
In our meeting, I discovered that the Aasha and Kart worked for Azath’s technology company Auroinfotech and on the side, they collectively ran the non-for-profit, OuiCare. I was truly inspired by the group! They not only devoted a large portion of their time to helping others in need, but they were able to do so by sustaining themselves through running this technology company. They had managed to find a balance and this is something that truly inspired me. You cannot pour from an empty cup. In order to help others, you must be able to help yourself first. Months before meeting the OuiCare team, I knew my long-term goal was to find a way to split my time 50/50. 50 percent of it going to for-profit initiatives and 50 percent going towards non-for-profit initiatives.
What caught my attention in our meeting was OuiCare’s focus on at-risk and disadvantaged girls. They established a safe space for 9 girls under the age of 16 called Maasila Home. The home has space for upwards of 20 girls but due to a lack of funding, only 9 presently live there. The girls have a safe place to live and play, a structured schedule with school and extra-circular activities, a healthy balanced diet, and medical attention when needed. OuiCare’s intention is always to maintain quality, therefore even though there is room for 20 girls, they don’t want to become like other orphanages in India where overpopulation occurs and resources are slim to the point the children suffer.
The 9 girls come from rural villages in the province of Tamil Nadu, and have been chosen to live at Maasila Home due to their personal circumstances. Later that day, I was invited over to the home and met all the girls. To say I was moved by this experience is an understatement. They became an extension of family to me. My little sisters. It’s one thing to see a situation like this on TV or hear about it through the news or through someone you know, but to see it firsthand, it changes you.
Despite circumstances, they are happy. Youthful. Grateful to be living in Maasila Home. They are opinionated, motivated to learn and do something great with their lives, and the best of all, they take care of each other. They are nurturing and loving to one another. The older girls are role models to the little girls and it’s adorable to see this dynamic in the group.
The night I came home from my meeting with OuiCare and being introduced to the girls of Maasila home, I felt moved, motivated, inspired, and focused. I felt for the first time that my work and effort has the potential to have great impact on others for the greater good. That is fulfillment. That is purpose to me.
The remaining month I spent in Pondicherry was extremely busy and overwhelming but was the most fulfilling work I’ve accomplished to date. Throughout the week I would go to the home to teach the girls yoga and lead them through personal development workshops. At the same time, I was leading planning and process workshops with the management team. Azath and I would run around town during our “free” time to purchase emergency items needed for the home leveraging the donations that we were able to raise back in Canada during this month. Before I left, we were able to purchase and install a new fridge, washing machine, security cameras, and a water filter.
Initially thinking that my volunteer time would be temporary in Pondicherry, the opportunity presented itself with the OuiCare team to become a partner to them through Crown + Bliss. It was without hesitation that we aligned on terms and from there Crown Unite was launched. We are committed to helping drive OuiCare’s mission forward. Not only in helping Maasila Home’s immediate needs with funding and awareness, but through our established long-term plans. Our future plans include expanding and evolving the efforts that are already taking place, but for all girls who need a Maasila Home. My goal is to empower the local team to do what they do best, and to support them in ways that is long-lasting and not simply focused on temporary solutions.
What is different about our partnership with OuiCare in compared to other Western organizations, is that we are committed to redirecting 100% of all Crown + Bliss received donations to Maasila Home directly. No administration fees are taken. It’s important to me that all for-profit-initiatives will fund administration costs associated with my non-for-profit initiatives. I want people to know and feel confident that their contributions are going directly to the source. If I can simply be a vessel to help connect people who are able to help others in need – that to me is success.
I’m planning on returning to Pondicherry every year and my next trip is anticipated for fall 2018. If anyone who is reading this is ever interested in donating their time to assist the team in Pondicherry, India, please reach out to me. I’d be more than happy to assist in coordinating volunteer opportunities for you or someone you know. The girls are in dire need of English tutors and wellness coaches/instructors, and love to learn anything and everything from English speaking, positive, and forward-thinking individuals.
Helping others, especially girls and women, is a lifelong mission for me, and I truly believe this is just the start of a tremendous amount of great collaborative work and effort to come. My initial focus is on the team in Pondicherry, but my future plans include expanding these outreach efforts internationally. Every girl and woman in this world deserves to feel inspired and empowered. I believe our background and personal circumstances should not dictate our future. We are all equal not because we are female but because we are human beings.
I can’t begin to tell you how far a single Canadian dollar goes in India. You can buy a meal for one dollar. As a point of reference, $200 CAD covers all costs and education for an entire month for ONE girl at Maasila Home.
One moment that I’ll never forget while I’m alive is an evening I went to the home to practice yoga with the girls. Grace, who is 14-years old and living there with her little sister, was attempting to lift up into Urdva Dhanurasana (wheel pose). She was struggling to push her hands into the ground and lift her hips high into the air. I knelt down beside her and I said to her: “Grace, can I help you?”. She then said to me: “Sister, everyone is able to do wheel pose except me. I can’t do it. Maybe this pose is just not for me and I’ll never be able to do it”. I then thought that I could assist her by standing in front of her and helping to lift her hips into the air, but I knew that she was physically strong enough and already had the technique to do this without my assistance. She just needed to believe it. So instead of providing her hands-on assistance I said this to her: “Grace. I know are able to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Even if it seems like the most impossible task in the world, if you believe you can do it, you will do it. Imagine yourself in the wheel pose even before you start. Mind over matter, girl!”. Moments later, without any assistance or adjustment to her technique, Grace gracefully lifted herself into the strongest wheel pose I ever did see. It’s one thing to give inspirational advice to others, but to believe and apply it to life is a completely other ballgame. Grace taught me that day just how powerful our mind truly is.
I have faith that these 9 girls are going to conquer the world and I’m going to be on the sidelines cheering them on.