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Operation Shanti: Empowering the Poorest and Neediest

Late last year, I began working with a professional writer named Tracy Kunichika. I found Tracy through an online service that allows professionals to meet together to work on various projects.

When Tracy told me that she was in India, knowing that her last name is not a typical Indian surname, I became curious about what she was doing there. A few google searches later, I discovered that Tracy is the founder of Operation Shanti, an organization whose mission is to empower the poorest and neediest children and elderly in the world, beginning with those in Mysore, India.

The more my wife and I read about Operation Shanti, the more inspired we became with this organization's work and goals.

After several weeks of research and thought, we decided to do everything possible to vault Operation Shanti toward their most important near term goals.

You're not likely to hear about Operation Shanti through mainstream media, at least not in the near future. My experience of them gives me the feeling that they are too focused on helping the destitute and sick on a daily basis to put together a fundraising campaign that will catch the world's attention.

Operation ShantiHow many organizations do you know whose leaders don't take a single penny for their efforts? Tracy does some professional writing and editing on the side to support herself, and the same goes for everyone else who plays a significant role with Operation Shanti.

Before I reveal my hopes for Operation Shanti, I'd like to share a brief article that does a great job of explaining what they do and how they came to be. Many thanks to Deborah Crooks for this revealing look at Tracy and Operation Shanti:

What do Wall Street and India have in common?

Unless you know her personally, you probably wouldn’t guess that the one thing Wall Street and India have in common is a former investment banker named Tracy Kunichika.

Where she once dressed in business attire for a 13-hour day at Merrill Lynch, it is now common to see Kunichika riding in a rickshaw through the chaotic streets of her adopted home, Mysore, India, overseeing the work of the American Society for International Shanti, otherwise known as Operation Shanti. Spearheaded by Kunichika, the U.S.-based non-profit has a mission to "improve the lives of exploited, at risk, destitute children" in addition to the elderly and to other destitute and needy people. With plans to build an orphanage and open a community center for homeless families, Operation Shanti keeps busy by getting these mothers and children off the streets, providing free medical services to the poor and providing meals to a leper colony.

After earning degrees from both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and after a brief stint as a computer programmer, Kunichika had spent eight years as an investment banker in New York and San Francisco. The life she created was far different from her parents’ humble lifestyle in Hawaii.

“I worked 100 hours a week and loved it. It was fun even if it wasn’t balanced," she says. The hours began to wear but she had no immediate plans to leave banking. Then one day, her office went from 100 to 30 bankers within a day.

"I got laid off and was so happy," she said. Kunichika started practicing yoga and studying photography. She was asking herself ‘What next?’ when her Ashtanga yoga teacher, John Berlinsky, mentioned that she might like to go to India to practice at the source, and she thought ‘Why not…?’ Kunichika flew to Mysore in 2003, hardly expecting she’d stay in India longer than the scheduled six weeks.

"I expected it to be dirty and smelly," she laughs. "Some friends thought I’d be back in a week." Along the way, she met up with Sri Jamanagiri Swami, and her life path took a new and unexpected turn. Jamanagiri, a sadhu who lived a life of selfless service at a Shiva Cave Temple outside of Mysore became her primary teacher.

"[After] watching the way he [lived] with so little I started questioning my possessions," recounts Kunichika. "I’d ask him ‘Why are we here?’ His answer was: ‘To do good things.’"

Inspired, she read the autobiography of Mother Teresa, and recalled her own life-long interest in helping children. Troubled by the level of poverty and by the number of homeless children she witnessed in India, Kunichika began to apply her business sense to help those without. The result, three years later, is Operation Shanti.

Operation ShantiOperation Shanti has also begun to provide subsidized housing on a selective basis to street families that demonstrate the willingness to improve their lives. During the past year, Operation Shanti has managed to get four more families off the streets and into rental homes.

“The problems are daunting and the sheer number who need help can be overwhelming,” notes Kunichika. “But Operation Shanti is about working at the grassroots level and tackling the problem one child at a time--that’s how you enact change and improvement in the lives of the poor.”

India’s poor have very little opportunity to improve their lives. Operation Shanti’s mission is to give the street population a new way to tackle one of their largest obstacles. Many of the women on the street have been abandoned by their husbands and have turned to prostitution in order to support themselves and their children. Recently, Operation Shanti has helped by providing birth control and offering educational opportunities to the children.

“When we place a destitute child into a residential school, as we have done for a couple of kids to date, it is more than about providing an education,” Kunichika continues. “It’s about giving them status as human beings in a society where the poor have very little opportunity to improve their lives.”

Her organization also seeks out other NGO resources that could be beneficial to the poor. They have registered a couple former homeless women at the local HIV/AIDS clinic and have helped other women who do not want to bear any more children to receive tubectomies. Once the children’s home is up and running, Kunichika and Operation Shanti will broaden the scope of their attention.

"We’ll go anywhere there’s need. Mysore is just the beginning," she says.

Most of Operation Shanti's programs are designed to help break the cycle of poverty for destitute children. To do this, they help moms and grannies of these children - many of these moms and grannies were abandoned by their husbands. The women and children in Operation Shanti's programs live on city streets and in villages. They are kicked out of their houses because they can't earn enough to pay rent, and typically earn just enough for their daily food.

Here is a look at Operation Shanti's core programs:

Street People Program
Street People Program. Resources for kids and moms living on the street. They help 30-40 kids, moms, and elderly every day.
Karunya Mane
Karunya Mane. A safe haven for destitute kids and the elderly. Opening February 2008.
Asha in Class
Education Initiatives. Schooling, school supplies, tutoring for difficult to place children.
Project Food
Project Food. Over 200 hot and nutritious weekly meals, daily dietary supplements and vitamins for the malnourished.
Medical Care
Project Blesssed Hope. Medical assistance for everything from sore throats to pregnancies to tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS care.

When I asked Tracy about Operation Shanti's most pressing needs, she replied with the following:

  1. We are purchasing for our facility (Karunya Mane) solar panels, to heat water for baths for the kids and elderly. Using solar panels is cheaper than using electricity, and more environmentally friendly -- they will be used to heat water for baths, and cost about US$3,000.

  2. We need to purchase mattresses for our residents, so they have something to sleep on. These cost about $20 each (twin size) and we need about 60 of them, which totals $1,200.

  3. We need to purchase a van for transporting people here and there -- to school, to use to buy provisions (huge things of rice, lentils, other goods for cooking). The used van we are looking at costs about $7,500.

So here is what I am thinking...

These near term needs total $11,700.

My hope is that together, our readership can raise this amount for Operation Shanti in one week.

I know this goal might seem crazy, especially since I have never done any fundraising before. But I truly believe this is possible.

As of this writing, we have close to 35,000 newsletter subscribers, and my guess is that at least half of our subscribers have been with us for more than two years; some have been with us since I wrote my first official newsletter back in September of 2004 (I am thinking of specific people as I write this).

Operation ShantiIf just 10% of our readers donate $5 to Operation Shanti this coming week, we can raise $17,500. And here's a point that I want to emphasize:

Any gifts that Operation Shanti receives will be put to use for the projects mentioned above almost right away. Other than minor bank and credit card processing fees, there are no fundraising fees to pay, or a series of administrative hoops to jump through before our donations end up benefiting the poorest and neediest children and elderly in Mysore.

100% of our donations will be used to immediately benefit children and families who need and deserve to be empowered.

I've been careful to tell Tracy that I have no idea what to expect with this call for support. But my hope is that collectively, we can exceed the goal of raising $11,700 in one week, because I know that every penny that is raised for Operation Shanti will be used to help transform children's lives.

So here is what you can do to help create a gift that Operation Shanti and the children and families that they serve will never forget:

Please go to Operation Shanti's Donation Page and make a donation that is within your budget. Please remember: we are counting on the size of our readership to provide a level of support that isn't realistic for most of us to provide individually; even if you can only donate $3, please consider doing this, because your contribution will make a difference!

In the Comments section of the donation page, please mention that you are a part of our readership, and let Tracy know which of the needs listed below you would like your donation to be put towards:

  • Solar panels for shelter

  • Mattresses for shelter

  • Used van for transportation of food and residents of shelter

By including this information in the comments section of your donation, Tracy will be able to let me know how much we raise in the days ahead; I didn't want to ask Tracy to do this because I know how busy she with all of Operation Shanti's programs, but I really want to be able to report back to our readership on what happens.

Beyond fulfilling the near term needs mentioned above, here is a look at what our monetary donations are capable of doing through Operation Shanti on an everyday basis:

  • $25 feeds a child for two months, or provides a lunchtime meal for 200 destitutes

  • $50 buys a daily breakfast for fifteen street kids for a month

  • $250 provides basic medicines for 200 destitutes

  • $500 fully supports two children for a year

  • $2,500 sponsors the Street People Program for 6 months

Once again, here is the link to make a contribution today:

Operation Shanti's Donation Page

For a look at some of the children and families that Operation Shanti has already touched and empowered, please view the following brief video:

Finally, here are answers that Operation Shanti provided to some of the questions that I had while I researched their operation:

Q: Are you planning on building a city-based community center from the ground up? Or are you hoping to find an existing building that you can rent or buy for this purpose?

Operation Shanti: We are planning to rent a facility for our city-based community center, as the center should be located in the city, which is quite crowded and building a new place would be nearly impossible. If the right building came along to purchase, we would consider that but it is unlikely as that is prime property area.

Q. How much money do you need to open a community center for your Street People Program? How much money have you raised for this purpose thus far?

Operation ShantiOperation Shanti: We have not raised any funds for this particular purpose so far, as we have been focused on raising funds for our shelter on the outskirts of the city for destitute kids and the elderly. To open a city-based community center would cost anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000, depending on the type of building we either rent or lease, size, location, etc. The amount of funds we could raise for this purpose would basically dictate the type of building we could rent or lease.

Q. Have you moved into your new shelter, Karunya Mane?

Operation Shanti: We will begin moving people into Karunya Mane during the first two weeks of February 2008.

Q. About how many children will Karunya Mane be able to house?

Operation Shanti: Our goal is provide quality care and services for our residents. We could probably house up to 100 people, but we want to maintain a quality living space and services, and for that purpose, estimate that the building can hold up to 60 elderly and children comfortably.

Q. About how much money is required to run Karunya Mane on a daily or weekly or monthly or yearly basis?

Operation Shanti: We estimate that, once occupied with 50-60 residents, monthly costs will be about $30,000 to $40,000 per year. Each resident (elderly or child) is expected to cost about $350 per month to support, all inclusive.

Q. The $20.00 that is used to feed close to 200 people each day - how many times per day are you able to feed these people?

Operation ShantiOperation Shanti: The $20.00 to feed close to 200 people is used to provide a hot, nutritious lunch every Monday to 200 people. So each meal costs about 10 cents per person.

Q. What are some typical meals that are served in your Project Food program?

Operation Shanti: We serve a typical Indian vegetarian dish for our Monday lunches, food that we ourselves would eat -- meaning that it is clean and nutritious (a bit spicy for the western stomach but quite acceptable to the Indians we feed). We use quality ingredients (for example, you can buy rice here for 15 rupees per kg which is not good quality, or for 20 rupees per kg, which is what we use).

We serve breakfast to the kids and moms on the street on Thursday mornings, which we purchase from a street vendor (it’s good business for him, as he’s also quite poor). We also serve breakfast on Tuesday mornings, which is donated by a local eatery in the area.

Q. How many workers - paid and volunteer - are involved with all of the Projects that make up Operation Shanti?

Operation Shanti: In the US, there are four nonpaid board members and one volunteer CFO. One board member is also a nonpaid President.

In India, there are four board members, all nonpaid. There is one volunteer CFO (me) and we currently have eight volunteers in India that have been with us for over two years. We typically have one or two additional short-term volunteers for between one and three month periods. After we open Karuya Mane, we will be able to use additional volunteers there.

We have hired a house mother/day manager, a cook, and a teacher for Karunya Mane. These are the only salaried workers to date. We expect to hire 2 to 3 of our street women to work at Karunya Mane, to provide them with steady work, either housekeeping or tailoring. We expect to add more caretakers as we expand the number of residents at Karunya Mane.

Q. How many of your team members live in Mysore for most of the year?

Operation Shanti: Everyone who works or volunteers in India (except for short-term volunteers) lives or stays in Mysore for the majority of the year. Aside from short-term volunteers from countries other than India, we believe in utilizing the local population as best we can.

Q. Do you welcome new volunteers from outside of India? If so, do you provide housing and food for such volunteers? Is there a minimum length of stay that you recommend for such volunteers? If someone is interested in volunteering, who do they contact?

Operation Shanti: Yes, we welcome volunteers from outside of India. In fact, many of our volunteers are foreigners who come to Mysore to study yoga and during their time here they volunteer a few hours per week. In general, we ask volunteers to commit at least one month but exceptions are made from time to time depending on how the volunteer would like to help us and the skills they offer. We do not provide room and board for our volunteers; however, we are happy to refer people to local resources who can help volunteers locate housing.

If someone is interested in volunteering in India, they may send an email to the address listed on our website (info at operation-shanti.org - please replace the "at" with the "@" symbol).

Q. How are monetary donations managed and distributed?

Operation Shanti: Donations from US and other non-Indian residents are held in the US, and the US charity distributes the funds to our bank account in India. Funds received in India from Indian residents are held in our Indian bank account.

Q. Beyond making a monetary donation, what can our readers do to support Operation Shanti?

Operation Shanti: Please see our Get Involved page.

Operation ShantiQ. What do you envision for Operation Shanti this coming year? In five years?

Operation Shanti: In the coming year -- we envision opening and operating Karunya Mane and slowly but steadily growing the resident population there. In five years, we ideally would have laid the groundwork for a city-based community center, and be planning to secure a piece of land on which to build a second Karunya Mane. The government here does donate land to charities, but one needs at least three years of operating history to qualify for that, so that is something we keep in mind.

We also continually expand our network of contacts here in India, mostly related to other charitable organizations that provide services that our people need and use (HIV/AIDS-friendly clinics and hospitals, detox centers, training facilities, educational facilities, counseling services, etc.), as we know we can’t do it all.

A lot obviously depends on the funds we raise and the people we can find to help us who are like-minded and only want to serve, selflessly. Based on that, we are not limited geographically to where we go to help, as long as we are helping the poorest and neediest, wherever we are.

Once again, here is what you can do to help create a gift that Operation Shanti and the children and families that they serve will never forget:

Please go to Operation Shanti's Donation Page and make a donation that is within your budget. Please remember: we are counting on the size of our readership to provide support that isn't realistic for most of us to provide individually; even if you can only donate $3, please consider doing this, because your contribution will make a difference!

In the Comments section of the donation page, please mention that you are a part of our readership, and let Tracy know which of the needs listed below you would like your donation to be put towards:

  • Solar panels for shelter

  • Mattresses for shelter

  • Used van for transportation of food and residents of shelter

By including this information with your donation, Tracy will be able to let me know how much we raise in the days ahead; I didn't want to ask Tracy to do this because I know how busy she with all of Operation Shanti's programs, but I really want to be able to report back to our readership on what happens.

Thank you so much for taking time to learn about Operation Shanti. Please consider sharing this information with family members and friends.

For updates on what has happened since the publication of this post, please view the following pages:

 
 

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Thank you for sharing

the info.and the opportunity to help out a little. I truely believe we can meet your goal,Dr.Kim!!!

Sending positive energy.

“I had no idea of the

“I had no idea of the necessity of the need. I am ashamed that i feel self-pity for my lack of wealth in my life..but then it is relative isn't it. I am rich in comparision. I can give a donation monthly. and so can all people living in one of the…”

Particularly in poor or Third

Particularly in poor or Third World countries, it is very important for people working in the disability field to remember the basic needs of many disabled people and disabled children. Too often we see what happens here. A well intending rehabilitation worker arrives at a village happily and tells the mother, "I just arranged for your deaf child to get a hearing aid and attend the village school." The mother replies, "But my child died yesterday from hunger and diarrhea." So it is important for the rehabilitation worker to look at the whole needs of that child and not just the disability. The whole needs are often more urgent than the disability needs.

 

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