'A unique and magical experience'

'A unique and magical experience'

Pilar Ortiz, from Chile, stayed at Paradise Village in May 2015. While there, she met HEAL founder Dr Prasad and started a new inclusion project involving construction workers' children. These are her experiences in her own words...

Paradise Village

I arrived when students were finishing the semester and they would soon have summer
holidays, therefore I was only two days with them. The first day I played with them in
the courtyard. Later, I ate with another volunteer, Becky, and Dr Prasad. I was lucky to
meet the HEAL founder, he came to Paradise Village for a couple of weeks to see the
latest progress there. Every morning and evening we were accustomed to covering the
campus on foot to comment on the construction, making small modifications, and
appreciating the beautiful place in which we were.

Friday was the last day for the children at HEAL, they were happy because they had
holidays and they would return to their homes. They were all turning out to be very
pretty, clean and tidy; the girls, dressed in all colours, were getting ready and having
their hair braided. In the morning I went to a class with the small children, we sang,
played and they were showing me all their drawings and poems; also they sang and danced
in Telugu.

In the evening I met the eldest students, we did an activity in which each one had to say
qualities and positive characteristics of their partners. On Saturday morning, their
families came to look for them after breakfast. Before they went away, we did a photo
with all the children. It was incredible, they were happy and although they were going on
holiday had enjoyed sharing every minute with us.

For the next two weeks there wouldn’t be students at HEAL, so we thought about what we
could do during that time. Suddenly, we had a good idea… to integrate the children of
the construction workers somehow, not straight to the school because it was going to be a
very big change for them, but we could find a way to play with them and integrate them
with the others students.

Inclusion Project

HEAL Paradise Village construction started in 2012 and now, in 2015, there are still
buildings being worked on. Construction workers live here with their families but their
children were not part of HEAL Paradise Village. We were thinking about a project to
include them in our mission because our belief is that every kid deserves opportunities.
With the students on holiday, we were available to spend time with the constructors’
children, interacting with them and generating a different kind of dynamic. This is one
way to involve them in an educational space. There were 6 kids, age between 3 and 11,
plus two more under two years.

Experience and development of the project

The first day I went over to them, they were playing in the courtyard – as they had no
access to a continuous education, they would spend most of the day outdoors. They also do
not have technology, toys or materials. It seemed very interesting because we use
everything that is already designed, but these kids use their creativity to amuse
themselves, gathering stones, remains of flagstones from the construction, ice lollies,
ropes, do figures in the damp ground, etc.

The first time I approached them they were just looking at me as a stranger and kept on
playing between themselves… then I began doing figures and creating games with what I was gathering, and progressively they approached me out of curiosity and after just a few
minutes they were happily interacting with me.

Next day, I returned with pencils and sheets. I helped them to draw and gave them things
to copy. You could see in their eyes and faces that they enjoyed something so simple for
us, so basic, and yet something that we do not always value. When I came back the next
day, I found more children, so I took all of them to the same place, gave them materials
and taught them some origami. They were so satisfied! It was a really nice experience
because although we didn’t speak the same language, none were despairing or getting
angry… in fact, it happened just the opposite, we all were trying to express ourselves
by means of gestures, laughs, expressions and signs.

The following day I could not join with them because it was very hot – 45 degrees – and I
decided to remain indoors. But every time I passed across the courtyard, they were
waiting for me and were approaching to greet me. I was really excited, because they
wanted to continue with the dynamics, and I saw the happiness in their faces.

The following days they were waiting for me in the school, or if they saw me came running
over greeting me and laughing. They wanted only to play, draw and do. I went to the
institute for the blind building and there were more children! I loved how they grew fond
of me so rapidly! In the evening we played volleyball, walked to the lake and visited
their houses, which are so plain and simple.

On Wednesday morning we went to the mango garden to have fresh fruit! We walked for about two hours… the children were climbing the trees and moving like monkeys, I was afraid that they would fall… but they are expert, they picked lots of mangoes and later we
returned to their house. They were really cute, even if they took every mango; they gave
me the best ones! It was so hot during these days, but I didn’t care because seeing them
happy and enjoying themselves took my mind off the heat.

That night, I visited the house of the boys and the family was very welcoming! They gave
us mangoes and spent time just sharing and laughing… Laxmir’s husband (a staff girl)
said to me that the mom of the family was talking all the time about me. She said she was
happy that I was there – “she is really different from other people that came because
she spends time with us, sharing and enjoying”. I felt really happy and I realized that
something so simple as spending time with them and playing can make such a big difference to their lives. Just to give them attention and to make them feel special for a moment… wonderful!

In the morning, we made another walk to get mangoes, with Becky and the children. Nearby was a tractor and it took us to the place where they grew. We were picking fruit and then a man came… we thought that he was going to challenge us but his reaction was really
different: “take care, the children climb up and it is very dangerous, they can fall down…”. Later, one of them found a huge tree, the paradise of mangoes, there were millions… we took a lot of them and then we returned to their house. The family loves us very much, in spite of their poverty they give to us what little they had; they prepared sugar water, gave us their best fruits, turned on the TV and showed us their photos, what more could we possibly ask for? For me, it was an honour to share with them and to be in their house, we all were happy and contented. The following days it was already part of our routine to visit them, they always looked after me excellently; they gave me a flower, prepared sugar water and sat down with me to have a nice time.

The inclusion project, was progressing very fast. One day, I spoke with Jyothi at the
school and she was very interested in it. Then she talked with the kids, brought them
materials and we went to a classroom. We did not know how they were going to react, we
were thinking that they would get bored and go out… but again a surprise, they were
happy and enjoyed every moment there, and they remained in the room although I was not
there.

HEAL students return to classes after their holidays

The first days were relaxed and they only played, had fun and had time to relax. Then,
progressively, they joined in with the returning classes without getting stressed by the
sudden change. Also new pupils came, and Jyothi gave a speech to introduce them to HEAL and its founder. We showed them the interview that Dr Prasad had given on television.

Around the middle of the week they began classes, and finally I could see what I was
waiting for – the boys of the inclusion project were incorporated into classes with HEAL
pupils. It was very exciting to see as they were sharing everything together, and the old
students were helping them to enter into this new education world.

For future volunteers

If you are reading this probably it is because you are interested in the foundation and
would like to take part, or simply out of curiosity. I believe that a good way of joining
the HEAL family is by participating as a volunteer… as much time as you want, from one
day up to months! You will always be made welcome, both the staff and the children will
be excited to meet you. I’m sure you will find it a magical and unique experience. If you
want to come and be a volunteer, but do not know exactly what you are going to do, don’t
worry, they will guide you and there will always be something that you can do to help. We
all have skills and a personal knowledge, although we are not always aware of them, so
let’s learn to discover them… and not just that, the most important thing, let’s share
them with others, let’s open our heart to give and to receive.

Days with Dr Prasad

I came to HEAL by chance, and at that time the founder of the organization, Dr Prasad,
was visiting for a few weeks to see the progress and give advice to the workers. I could
never have imagined how lucky I would be and the wonderful experience that I hoped for
with HEAL really became a dream come true. It is a Village which has a school, a
residence for girls, one for boys, and also being built are a pre-school, a skills development center, a school for blind children and a health centre.

Prasad is an incredible man, has a big heart and full of love for all. From the first time I met him he was very friendly and helpful, concerned that I was comfortable, and I was surprised because his greeting was with a big hug (I didn’t see that in India or anywhere else, that someone would say hello to a stranger with so much affection). He told me that I could stay for as long as I would like and assist in any project.

Each morning we woke up at six to walk the field and, in the afternoon, through the
buildings to see the progress and make changes. In the evening, we went to the roof to
enjoy the open air, the stars and the breeze after a hot day. Conversations I had with
Prasad and Becky were about how easy it is to enjoy life, appreciate nature and things as
they are. Life is simple and beautiful, we must seize doing what we like and helping
others; we should share our love and affection with those around us because we are all a
big family and in any part of the world must be able to feel like home. “Our world view
depends on the perception that we have at that time, and each experience gives us a new
vision of the world, we’re constantly changing,” says Dr Prasad. So we have to be aware
of that in order to be able to understand each other and not get stuck to what we think
is the truth.

Prasad is a brilliant man. I don’t need to say that he is intelligent and successful in
his profession; there are many people like that in this world. What clearly marks the
difference is his way of living and thinking. Prasad is a simple man and charming, with
an incredible vocation, aid to all alike, and every time you speak to him you can
appreciate his infinite passion. He not only speaks and gives speeches, but when he was a
teenager he created a foundation in his town and has been consistent throughout his life.
In addition, the model that has been implemented is not based on traditional education,
but goes beyond that and wants to allow children to live full and happy lives and to be
able to develop their full potential. While there is a strong emphasis on study and
discipline, there are recreational spaces, meditation in the morning, large common spaces
for sharing and an emphasis on spiritual and human relations.

I am so grateful to have met Dr Prasad. I am proud to have been able to share part of my
life with someone like him, days that I have been able to think and wonder about with
regard to what I want to do in the future. He is an example to follow, he works hard and
deserves all the credit that you can imagine, but he is not interested in that… while
he was here, every day was intense and exhausting because a lot of visitors came to meet
Prasad and his project, to be part of the foundation. There was also a meeting with the
sponsors who are currently working here. Finally, before returning to the UK, Dr Prasad
was invited to take part in a television program, which was very successful… we
received several calls, people interested in helping and participating in the project.
This new concept is constantly expanding, it is something unique in the world and people
are gradually becoming more curious to know what it is.

It was a pleasure having participated in the HEAL family.

With love and affection,
Pilar Ortiz
May 22, 2015

I believe that a good way of joining the HEAL family is by participating as a volunteer... as much time as you want, from one day up to months! You will always be made welcome, both the staff and the children will be excited to meet you. I’m sure you will find it a magical and unique experience