Page 1

Volume 1 Issue 11 June 2008

A Star of Happiness Shines in Kolkata Shantara grew up on a farm in India the only deaf child of seven siblings. His father is unknown and two of his brothers died young from a lack of medical care. His mother used to beat him and he was often ridiculed for being deaf. One day Shantara Shantara had enough and ran away. He boarded a train and arrived at the Howrah train station in Kolkata where he found ways to survive on the tracks. His source for food involved chasing down and tackling rats, crows and wild hens. With gathered newspapers from the streets, he cooked whatever he caught on a makeshift stove. Shantara was found and placed in several different home environments but always teased because he was deaf. Again and again, he would run away and return to Howrah

What is DDW? Dave Justice and Christy Smith are traveling the world to learn and share stories of empowerment, inspiration, and connection between international Deaf communities. Discovering Deaf Worlds (DDW) is an opportunity to give deaf people worldwide a voice. For more information, photos, video logs, and newsletter stories, visit

David Earp (center) discovered Rekha (left) and Bapi (right) at Howrah Station. Station to live on his own. He was nine years old. Anna was born in Tamil Nadu, South India. He is partially deaf, epileptic and has learning and behavior challenges. After his mother died, his family did not know what to do with him. Anna’s father took him on a long train ride, where he fell asleep. When he woke, his father had left. He was alone, confused and roaming around the unfamiliar tracks of Howrah Station. Picked up by a local homecare worker, Anna was often beaten and drugged to the point of being comatose so that he would remain quiet. He was 10 years old. Sumon has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk without assistance. One day his brother took him for a taxi ride to Howrah Station. He removed Sumon’s clothes, rubbed him with dirt and left him lying on the ground with 10 Rupees (25 cents) tied to his wrist in a handkerchief. He was six years old. Rekha and Bapi, both deaf, possibly lived together at Howrah Station. No one knows much about their families or their backgrounds before this time. They could be siblings, or just friends who met while fighting for survival. As trains arrived at this central destination in Kolkata, Rekha, Bapi, and other children would race through the cabins, rummaging for any leftovers before the train departed on its next destinaSHUKTARA, continued on page 5 June 2008 1

Discovering Deaf Worlds With Your Help

Dave and Christy teach the boys and girls of Shuktara about the world.

We have only three months left to make it back to the States and fulfill our year-long journey of discovering deaf worlds. If you have enjoyed reading our newsletter and are feeling generous today, please make a small donation to help us see this project through. We are living on a combined budget of $20-$25 per day in both India and Nepal, so donations of any size have a profound impact. You will be helping us cover additional project expenses we have for video equipment and editing, interpreting services, the newsletter you are reading right now and much more. Donations can be made by mail or online at

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” - Confucius

Christy & Dave: Currently in Nepal Due to the current political uproar in Delhi and Jaipur, which has blocked railways and created violent confrontations with authorities, we decided to fly to Nepal. Escaping the unbearable summer heat was a double incentive to change our plans. We will return to northern India in August after the dust settles and pick up where we left off. For more information on the protest, visit

International Travel Tidbits I Cant Stop Sweating! …And you won’t, at least not in India during the summer time. Deodorant is a lost cause and will only melt. A better solution is to pick up a refreshing powder to dust your body wherever there is skin to skin contact (armpits, behind the knees and elbows, etc). Try the Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder to relieve itching, heat rash and absorb the endless pools of sweat. It beats trying to have a cold shower seven times a day.

Dress Accordingly Dress accordingly. Regardless of what you wear, locals stare at foreigners. Make a positive impression and show your respect by blending in with local attire. Western cotton clothes are often too heavy (even T-shirts) and revealing for Indian standards. Drop by a local market on your first day into town and pick up a kurtha (men) or kameez or sari (women). They only cost $5-$10 a piece, but the comfort level from both the heat and the local stares is priceless.


Discovering Deaf Worlds

Uddami, Achieving Full Potential

Uddami’s Alison Saracena (left) and Rabia Khatoon during their interview with DDW. The average cost for a six-month basic computer training course in Kolkata, India is about $400 USD, which seems menial by Western standards. But when the average income for those living in poverty, a bulk of the population, is only 3,000 Rupees ($70/month), many are left behind. That $70/month often supports survival and basic needs for an entire family, leaving no surplus or opportunity for educational expenses of any kind. Computer knowledge and skills are a gateway for finding work, earning a decent income, and creating a better life. In 1999, the Uddami Computer Training Centre was established by Americans Alison Saracena and Bryan Forst. After falling in love with India on previous visits, Alison and Bryan created Uddami, a non-profit, to provide a valuable service to low-income communities of Kolkata. The school began as a basic typing class using two personal laptops. Prior to Uddami, classes of 60-plus students would fight for time on the one computer provided to practice for the National Open School exam. Eight years later, Uddami has grown to become a full-on free school for those in poverty with seven computers (and several others provided by Uddami Software Services), accepting 36 students per semester, and offering several additional attributes: a teacher training program, an apprenticeship, computer training for the deaf, a partner program to assist other non-government organizations, and a library with books in both English and Bengali. Uddami has worked with 12 deaf students, many from the Shuktara homes (see front page). As deaf students excelled in the training programs learning computer skills, another challenge arose. Due to the lack of accessibility for language development, many of these

Uddami founder Bryan Forst (center) at work with the next generation of Uddami graduates. students were unable to find employment. “This is a failure of the institution of education in Kolkata, not of the students themselves,” states Alison. “We want to accept more deaf students in the future, knowing that a job awaits after graduation.” Uddami continues to advocate for the deaf community and is keeping their doors open for future opportunities. With students coming from a culture of class and gender inequality, Alison and Bryan go beyond the realm of computer training and education. The students who walk through the doors of Uddami leave six months later with a newfound sense of self-confidence, pride, and independence. For example, Rabia Khatoon was living on the streets with her family. Had she not found Uddami, Rabia’s course would have been set for a pre-arranged marriage with children before her 20th birthday. Through her training and interactions with Alison and Bryan, Rabia has established an identity and become an empowered woman. She is now a teacher and runs the computer training program. As a product of her own self-motivation and the opportunities provided from Uddami, her income supports most of her family. Uddami, which means “achieving full potential” in Bengali, is making a difference in the lives of many. While initial funding was provided by sponsors, Uddami is working towards the goal of self-sufficiency. Its IT company, Uddami Software Services (USS), established by Alison, Bryan and founding partner Urmi Basu, applies a large portion of its profits to the day-today operations of Uddami. USS also employees eight former graduates from the Uddami Computer Training Centre. For more information or to make a donation, visit June 2008 3

A Thank You to Our Sponsors The Next Generation of WebSites Take charge of your site Your website is your brand. It’s you, Your company, appearing in the landscape… Take charge today!

Ralph P. DeStephano Donate to DDW by going online!

add your logo or banner to the DDW website!

Over 17,000 cumulative hits from 92 countries! Contact for more information, options, and pricing.


Discovering Deaf Worlds

Shout -Outs! Shout Shout-Outs! -Outs! David, Pappu, and the boys of Shuktara…Thank you for picking us up at the airport. Spending this week with you all has impacted us on a level we still can’t fully comprehend. See you in August! Alison and Bryan…Thank you for opening your homes and your lives to us. We are in awe of the work that you do and hope this is the start of a lifelong friendship.

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love. - Mother Teresa Newsletter services provided by T.S. Writing Services, LLC A Deaf-Owned Company

SHUKTARA, continued from front page tion. They were seven to eight years old. These are only a handful of stories from the thousands of children who end up at Howrah Station. Some of them are abandoned by families who want nothing to do with a child who has a disability. Others run away to escape lives of abuse and mistreatment. Yet other families drop off these children with hopes and prayers for opportunity that someone better off can look after their child. What happens to these children when they arrive at Howrah Station? For many, this will remain their lives as they know it into adulthood, if they survive. Aware of the enormity of child homelessness in this area, many non-government organizations and homecare facilities search for such children to place them in homes. But oftentimes those homes, as Shantara and Anna experienced, are abusive and unreliable. So let us now tell you about the magic of Shuktara, a place of hope, stability, equality, safety, freedom and love. In 1999, David Earp of the United Kingdom, with helping hands from Americans Alison Saracena and Bryan Forst (see page 3), began a home to take in the disabled or deaf children of Howrah Station. Immediate basic needs were met: a place to sleep and bathe, a staff to provide three meals a day, and most importantly, a loving, safe environment that will forever be there for them. Shuktara now provides two homes, one for 15 boys and another for 3 girls. Many of them go to school, and some even have jobs where they willingly share their earnings with other boys and girls at the home. In these two homes, there is no oppression based

Christy and Dave surrounded by the stars of Shuktara

on caste level, no inequality because of gender, and no discriminatory attitudes towards any disability. This is nearly unheard of in India, a culture where people from a higher caste/status do not tend to inter-marry or intervene, and rarely interact with those lower on the scale, where women are not easily given the opportunity to go to school or earn a job, and where poor and disabled people are often seen as ‘untouchables’ left to suffer the karma of their standings. Meet Pappu. Born into the Brahmin caste, the highest Hindu status (see page 6), Pappu was handed a life of opportunity, comfort, education and security. At 19, by circumstance, he lived near the recently established boys home of Shuktara. He began hanging out with the boys, learning sign language, and getting more involved with their lives, even though Pappu manages the his culture would forShuktara home. bid such behavior from a Brahmin. During this time, Pappu discovered a greater purpose for his life and despite his family’s strong disapproval, left home to live with the boys at Shuktara. Eight years later, Pappu now manages the home, is fluent in sign language (as well as Bengali, Hindi and English), and has become an instrumental role model to his community. Shuktara means “Star of Happiness” and the moment you step through the door, you understand why. There is so much love and appreciation from the eyes and hands greeting you, regardless of the unbelievable situations these boys and girls come from. By learning behaviors from humanitarians like David, Pappu, Alison and Bryan, these children now take care and support each other. They have created their own family. A place of belonging. A place where they feel safe. And a place they feel free from the limitations the outside world once laid on them. This is the immaculate beauty of Shuktara. For more information on the boys and girls of Shuktara or to make a donation, visit Shuktara’s website at

June 2008 5

Do You Know Your Next Door Neighbor? One of the most revered and known figures in Indian history is Mother Theresa. Mother Teresa (1910-1997) was an Albanian Roman Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India, in 1950. For over 40 years, she worked with the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying. She established hospices, homes for those with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counseling programs, orphanages and schools. In 1979, Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. At the time of her death, Missionaries of Charity was operating 610 missions in 123 countries. Following her death, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Many believe this is part of her journey to sainthood. Source:; photo courtesy of www.sachiniti.files.

Mother Teresa 1910-1997

Deaf in Delhi: A Memoir In 1952, 11-year-old Madan Vasishta awoke one night to discover that he could no longer hear. He was horrified because in India, the word for “deaf ” in all three main languages, Punjabi, Urdu, and Hindi, denoted someone who was not really human. Vasishta’s story reflects the India of his youth, an emerging nation where most people struggled with numbing poverty. After discovering the Delhi Deaf community, he went to America to earn a degree at Gallaudet College and became a school administrator. Readers will savor Vasishta’s good humor and honest observations and learn about the Delhi Deaf community. To order this book, visit DIDbookpage.html.


Did You Know...

Hindu Caste System

• Before you mail a package in India, you must wrap and stitch it with fabric. It’s the law. • “Love” marriages are a rarity. Pre-arranged marriages are the norm here. • 41% of families live in a one-room home. • India gained independence from the British on August 15, 1947 and divided into the two countries of India and Pakistan. • Technically there is no such thing as “Indian” curry. This phrase was coined by the British referring to any dish with spices. • In a country with 1.13 billion people, there are 85,000 millionaires, but one-third of the population still lives on less than $1 per day.

In Hindu, a person’s caste states their status which is often related to education, employment, and whom they can marry. Castes include:

Discovering Deaf Worlds

Brahmin: Priests and Teachers Kshatriya: Warriors and Governors Vaishya: Merchants and Farmers Shudra: Laborers and Craftspeople Dalits: “Untouchables”; Sweepers and Latrine Cleaners. A person is unable to move from one caste to another until the next life.

June 2008 Newsletter: vol.1, iss.11  

Shantara David Earp (center) discovered Rekha (left) and Bapi (right) at Howrah Station. SHUKTARA, continued on page 5 Discovering Deaf Worl...

June 2008 Newsletter: vol.1, iss.11  

Shantara David Earp (center) discovered Rekha (left) and Bapi (right) at Howrah Station. SHUKTARA, continued on page 5 Discovering Deaf Worl...