‘Unprecedented’ – my dictionary tells me that this word means “never done or known before”. What an apt word this is. Everything about this week has been unprecedented. My decision making, problems I have had to solve, the anxiety I see around me (including my own), the thought of closing the school for an indefinite period of time, children using technology to talk to their teacher and classmates, hand-washing lessons, cancelling events and gatherings, Chapel on-line, parents working from home, a footy game without a crowd in the stadium, 0.25% interest rates, panic buying in the supermarkets… and so much more. No doubt, you too are feeling the pressure of these unprecedented times.
What I do know for sure.
As we head into the weekend, and face another uncertain week, there are many things that I am feeling very positive about and which give me great confidence. To start with, the sun will come up each day and with it, I hold on to the knowledge that God’s love is with us and His blessings are new every morning.
To close or not to close our campus
The commentary on whether schools should be closed has been intense. Opinions are divided, health officials are divided, world leaders are divided, Principals I know are divided. Facebook posts present opposing and often extreme views. This all adds to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. As parents, you worry if you are making the right decision about sending your child to school. This is why we are working doubly hard to have systems and structures (at present) to support and empower you in making the decision to do what you believe is best for your family and personal circumstances.
So, if we commence school next week ‘open’ – we are ready for teaching and learning, 'business as usual'.
Or, if we commence school next week ‘campus closed’ – we are confident we are ready for Off Campus Learning and it's 'business as usual'.
For as long as the campus remains open please support my teachers and staff. Please be patient with us, be supportive, express your appreciation and gratitude. Do not send your child to school if they have cold or flu symptoms. Do not argue with us, if we call you to collect your child please answer your phone. These are scary days for us all, and my staff are making many sacrifices, putting your child’s needs ahead of their own needs and often before the needs of their family.
Thank you to the wonderful mother who offered to buy some groceries for our staff. You have no idea how encouraging your kind gesture was.
There’s Strength and Safety in our Community
I am strengthened by the thought that the Claremont College school community has lived through many times of significant crisis in the past. Our school song begins with the line … “Since 1882 we’ve stood”. This school has lived through the fears associated with the ANZAC years, the Great Depression, WW2, 9/11 and other crises that have threatened the heart of our community. Through these times, strength, faith and hope have prevailed. There is safety in this place.
In all of the uncertainty that we are facing, I believe that one of the greatest threats we are facing is a lack of connectedness. Phrases such as ‘social distancing’, ‘quarantining’ and ‘isolation’ all tear at the heart of what it means to be human. People need people. Our kids need each other, which is one of the benefits of keeping schools open. I see them play, laugh, learn and interact together each day, and in this I’m reminded why I love my job. We must understand that reaching out to each other, staying in touch, checking in and asking “are you okay?” is more than ever a shared responsibility. And do please reach out to us if you need help.
As we head into next week and beyond, I am confident that we have systems ready to provide connection, safety, support, and interaction. We will be focusing on ways to allow us to thrive in a new normal. Please follow this link to access the document ‘Communication Guide for Parents’ which will assist you in the event of a campus closure.
Conversations and Empathy
As we stay connected, we must prioritise healthy, positive and respectful conversations. Please be mindful on your parent What’s App chats, that you are speaking to a wide audience. It is disappointing to hear that some people have been upset by unhelpful, incorrect facts, and anxiety inducing comments.
Over the past few weeks I have prioritised the need to be at the gate, welcoming children and chatting with parents. It’s been great to talk with many mums and dads. For as long as school remains open, I shall endeavour to be at the gate every morning and afternoon, so please drop by if you’d like to chat.
In our conversations with others, let’s seek to listen, understand, hold no judgement, empathise, and be a source of strength, comfort and reassurance to each other.
God does not change
With things changing by the day, the hour, the minute, I am strengthened and comforted in the knowledge that God does not change. He is our ever-present help in times of trouble and nothing can separate us from His love.
So I am ready! I’m ready for another ‘unprecedented’ week and season ahead.
I am ready for the unprecedented new ways for children to learn and engage with the world and each other. I am ready for unprecedented opportunities for connecting and engaging in helpful and constructive conversations across our school community. I am ready for opportunities to demonstrate unprecedented love, and unprecedented opportunities to creatively devise for good works, acts of compassion and helping each other. I am ready for experiencing God’s love (that casts out fear), and knowing His peace (that passes all understanding), in new and unprecedented ways.
We are in this together.
My prayers and love are with you all.
This Sunday we celebrate 'International Women's Day' - a global day where we get to honour and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s a timely opportunity because here at ‘Project Help India’, we are right in the thick of our preparations for SHINE 2020 – a conference in April which will empower and equip women to understand their value, worth and purpose. Words really cannot express the impact that this conference has on the 500 or so women delegates, who live in the Kotdwara and Bijnor slums and surrounding Himalayan jungle villages in India.
I am delighted to introduce you to three remarkable women, Aasma, Najmeen and Asha. Behind their beautiful smiles, each woman has a powerful, heartbreaking, yet inspiring story. You will cry as you read about what each has suffered, what they have to endure on a daily basis and what each has overcome and achieved. The hardships faced by these women show why I love to help and why my life is so much the richer and better from knowing them.
Aasma – disabled, a fighter, determined for her daughters to be educated. After having three daughters, Aasma was thrown out of the house by her in-laws for only having girls. Despite her disability, she has fought to earn a small wage, ironing clothes, which is enough to rent a single room in the slums. Aasma’s husband
gambles and does not give her any income and does not contribute to the rent, or pay for family necessities. Now with four children, sadly one of her daughters has a significant intellectual disability. But Aasma has managed to get all of her daughters to school. They are learning thanks to their remarkable mother.
For SHINE Conference Aasma says last year she joined in with the dancing. It was the first time that she had ever been on a stage. She says SHINE is like a festival for her. Because of the conference she was able to make her daughters understand about their personal hygiene and health. Follow this link to read more about Aasma’s story.
Najmeen – Beautiful Spirit, Strength and Dignity
Najmeen is 40 years old. She is a single mother with 5 children. After her husband died of heart disease 12 years ago, Najmeen had to sell her home, her jewellery and possessions to pay off the many medical bills. Her 5 young children were hungry and homeless. Her seven year old son (12 years old at the time) had to become a vegetable seller. Najmeen worked hard as a house maid. She also suffers from epilepsy which is now so bad, she cannot work. Her sons work and look after their mother. All six family members live in a small rented room. Najmeen loved attending SHINE last year and she cannot wait for this year’s conference. She loved the sense of equality with no discrimination.
“At SHINE she loved the freedom and joy of dancing where she forgot about all of her sorrows and troubles.”
Follow this link to read more about Najmeen’s story.
Asha - A Warrior Mother and Community Leader
Despite recently having a major heart attack, Asha works hard and fights for her five children, one who has had significant health issues all his life. She is determined, kind, generous and has the heart of a saint. Asha loves to attend SHINE every year. She says that the conference gives her value and an understanding of the purpose in her life. At SHINE she has learnt a great deal about women’s health and hygiene. She was given a sanitary pad for the first time ever at SHINE. She shares her knowledge with the many women and girls who live in her slum community of Kotdwara. Asha is a woman who simply by her character and example, has become a leader and an influencer in the slums. SHINE has given her the strength that she needs to endure the many hardships that she faces every day.
Follow this link to read more about Asha’s story.
PLEASE HELP US TO HELP THESE AND MANY OTHER WOMEN
In April the Thomas Family and a team of other Aussies will be heading to Kotdwara in North India for Project Help India’s third Women's SHINE Conference. This conference is an important aspect of the 'Project Help India' vision, and we are asking for your help to make this possible. Most of the Conference delegates are women who live in slums or jungle villages, in terrible poverty. These women can't afford to pay, so we are not charging them. We want to bless them and give them an experience they will never forget. Teenage girls, mothers, grandmothers, our teachers and community leaders will be attending. Our aim is to empower women in all spheres of life. Might you be able to sponsor one woman for $10, five women for $50 or ten women for $100, for them to be able to attend SHINE Conference. You will be changing their lives in a significant way.
Donate - Your tax deductible donation can be made Here
As you click this link ensure that you are donating to (WYG-IND-PHI-2019) and please let us know (by replying to this email) if you make a donation because we would love to thank you. Privacy legislation does not permit us to know that you've donated unless you tell us.
OR if tax deductibility is not required, your EFT donation can be made at
BSB: 062 230 (Commonwealth Bank Randwick)
Account: 1134 1909
Account Name: Project Help India
Please write your name in the reference section so we can thank you.
Thanks so much love Doug
SHINE 2020 - Stronger Women for a Stronger India
and a stronger India
In February I attended a seminar hosted by the Australian Council of Educational Leadership where we had the privilege to learn from one of the great masters in education. Professor Michael Fullan is a prolific Canadian researcher and writer. His work has informed and influenced so much of all that we have achieved here at Claremont over the past ten years. I have been reading his most recent book ‘Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail’ and I can not recommend it enough! Professor Fullan has also developed ‘The Deep Learning Framework’ which comes from his book ‘Dive into Deep Learning: Tools for Engagement’. I love that his work is evidence based, and his philosophy of learning and vision for where education should be heading into the future are both compelling.
Two stand-out quotes which really resonated with me are as follows.
About the role of the future school leader…
The ‘nuanced’ leader will be curious, open, loyal, see below the surface, change people’s emotions not minds, foster ‘sinews’ of success, be humble, be determined for all to succeed, is proud of the successes of others."
He or she will “courageously and relentlessly be committed to changing the system for the betterment of humanity”
For students and learners, one of the competencies for deep learning will be “a commitment to human equity and wellbeing through empathy and compassion for diverse values and world views.” This empathy and compassion will be demonstrated alongside “integrity in action”.
So here’s the challenge for you, for me, for us all. Are we striving to create school communities where these values are at the heart of our schools, our organisations, and all we say and do? Do we demonstrate and model these things for our students, staff and wider community? Do I really value these things, or do I pay lip service, giving eloquent speeches yet echoing empty words and platitudes? What fruit is really displayed in the example of my leadership?
Our school communities are certainly complex places with such a myriad of perspectives and relationships. Am I willing to learn from those whose opinions, beliefs and values are different to mine? Or am I fearful, intolerant, closed and defensive? Do I take the time to really listen to the story of others in my community, those who I walk alongside and do this life journey with? Am I willing to embrace them and be open to connecting with all that we share and find common ground with? What if they are right and I am wrong? Am I building bridges or walls?
If I really am driven with the purpose to prepare my students with the skills, mindsets and dispositions that will be necessary for them to have, to be successful in the world they are growing up into, a lot must change. Change is happening way too quickly, so let’s make sure that the right things change.
Our children are growing up into a very uncertain world which most would agree is incredibly scary. This is their planet. Am I giving them the skills and constructs necessary to solve the problems that they must solve in the years to come? Will they have the ability to collaborate and work respectfully alongside others? Will they be kind, helpful, compassionate, forgiving, generous human beings?
This is learning for us all. I often wonder… when I am in a nursing home, will our students of today want to look after me? As a parent, teacher, educator and leader I must leave this legacy for them, or surely I have failed.
Thanks Professor Fullan, you have really stirred my soul!
“People are known in this same way. Out of the virtue stored in their hearts, good and upright people will produce good fruit.” Luke 6:45
As we head into this new year, I am delighted to share with you some of the things the 'Project Help India' team has been doing in Kotdwara over these first few weeks in January. Our mission is to help the poor, and I write today to encourage our supporters in knowing that your donation is directly helping the poorest of the poor.
Aavej is twelve years old. He lives in a slum area in the middle of Kotdwara. He belongs to a muslim family. His father Mr. Abdul Gaffar is a tailor and he earns about 1500 to 2000 rupees per month, which is just $30-40 Australian dollars, and way below what’s needed for him to being provide for his family's basic needs. Aavej’s mother Mrs Ruksana, is a house wife. Aavej goes to a government school which provides less than a satisfactory education.
Aavej takes his study seriously which is why he also attends our City Slum Centre every afternoon. He also enjoys the healthy meal he receives every day at our centre, which gives him far more than he would ever eat at home.
Aavej has high ambitions for his life and we have been delighted to support him in achieving his goals. His life last year however, was completely turned upside when his elder sister committed suicide. Aavej was very close to her and he was grief stricken and in a state of depression for many months. He withdrew from his friends and lost his appetite. Thankfully through our City Centre, Aavej received some counselling. As well as being kept busy with his learning he has also had the opportunity to participate in different activities and sports. He danced at our functions, and importantly he socialised and played with his friends and classmates. Through all of this he is now well and is overcoming his depression. Aavej is now a happy kid again. He is studying and eating well. He also once again started talking to others and he is now preparing for his annual exams with renewed determination and positivity.
Aavej’s mother is also getting help from our Project Help Team. She is now more open to talk about the challenges she is facing. She is getting some parenting help for supporting Aavej, and she is becoming more confident to leave the house (in her community, Muslim women are not encouraged to leave the house), and to talk with other women.
Kindness, compassion, hope and love are at the heart of this Aavej’s story which is just one of so many wonderful things that are happening at ‘Project Help’ with 270 children attending our 7 centres each week.
The weather is also going crazy in India!
Our work over the past few weeks as also extended into the local community reaching out to many impacted by some crazy winter weather. It has been freezing in Kotdwara and huge unseasonal rainstorms have also hit the area. ‘Project Help’ has been delivering blankets to street people and the kids in our centres have also been seeking up small chai tables, giving out hot tea to those who need who be warmed up. We are thankful for our Directors and staff team who have responded to the needs that they see around them. Our actions are both challenging and changing the way people in the community respond to the needs of others, by providing a model of compassion, care and kindness. It’s incredibly powerful when we see people who have nothing, give and make sacrifices to help others who are in desperate need.
Be part of our story in 2020
Join me in making kindness, compassion, hope and love our key drivers for all we do in 2020. It’s all about being part of a community that authentically cares for one another. We are seeing this in Australia at the moment, as we rally around the many people who have been devastated by the fires.
So if you’re still reflecting on how you would like 2020 to look for you, can I ask you to consider joining the ‘Project Help India’ story. Your regular donation will be used by us to help the poor and, as I hope you have seen, we are making a difference in such a powerful way.
'Project Help India' is hoping that 10 people who read this blog will commit to making a $40 a month (= $10 a week) donation across 2020. The combined donations of 10 people will pay approximately the annual salary of Aavej’s teacher, the cook and meals for all 40 kids at our City Slum Centre. This small amount makes big things possible. Please let me know of you would be able to do this, so that we can set up regular payments.
With love and thanks.
Lead alongside people
Lead from the middle within your school and sphere of control
Lead outwards across other schools, and into your community
Lead upwards by influencing policy and strategy at a national and/or global level.
The ethical leader will stand out in the crowd for all the right reasons
What are some of the dispositions of ethical leadership?
Alongside this, the ethical leader will hold onto these seven virtues
Don’t underestimate how much your leadership is modelled to others. All of us, have people who are watching what we do, and are making judgements and measuring us on how our words and actions align.
Flex your ethical muscle. What is the right thing to do?
You don’t have to be a saint to be a hero. Just chose to do the right thing.
As a leader we should also be prioritising the development of self-awareness. It’s good to check in with yourself when you are tired and stressed, how do I behave?
4 ethical behaviour tests
1. The Sleeping Test – if I do this, can I sleep at night?
2. The Newspaper Test – if I do this, would it be published in the paper?
3. The Mirror Test – if I do this, would I feel comfortable looking at myself in the mirror?
4. The Teenager Test – if I do this, would I mind my children knowing?
(credit to Marc Le Menestral)
Many thanks to Peter Kent for his inspiring words and thoughts on this topic
(Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education, UK)
In 2019, I spent some time raising money for The Prince of Wales Hospital Foundation (POWHF). Actually, the true inspiration came from my incredible school community who were so generous in their support, encouragement and donations for our local hospital. The students at my school were so enthusiastic as they worked towards achieving their personal health and wellbeing goals. I'm so proud of them! Claremont College, all up raised over $28000 for the POWHF. Amazing hey! Together, all of my teammates on this TV show, raised $150 000 ... it's amazing what we can achieve together when we set about helping others.
Here's the episode that I was in ...it was an incredible adventure and an experience of a lifetime. Not sure about the "all-stars" bit though!
Happy New Year from the team at ‘Project Help India’. I'm incredibly excited about 2020 and thankful for your interest, help and support. My prayers are with you for all that you hope to do and achieve this year. 2020 is shaping up to be an incredible year in the life of 'Project Help India'. We have many goals and we are ambitious and intentional about all we are seeking to achieve. We will be guided by our vision and mission and have a clear sense of purpose and strategy.
A reminder of what is our big picture
The mission of ‘Project Help India’ is to bring love, hope, dignity and purpose to the poor. Our vision is to focus on education, nutrition, health and ultimately human rights, so that individual lives are impacted, empowered and restored. ‘Project Help India’ seeks to bring about community change and generational transformation. ‘Project Help India’ seeks to grow in its impact and influence in the lives of people and communities, with a goal to ultimately expand into other towns and places of need.
This article was published last week in one of the local newspapers here in Kotdwara which outlines eight of our priorities for the coming year. Some of these priorities will focus on ongoing long-term projects and some are completely new that have organically evolved as we work closely with the police and other community leaders. Something that is very exciting about 2020, is that our goal to expand into other cities is becoming a reality.
1. Helping poor children through education and medical care, especially those involved in begging, labour, and children with disabilities,
2. Women’s empowerment. We will be holding our third ‘SHINE’ Women’s Empowerment Conference in April.
3. Working with the police to get teenagers involved in a ‘Junior Traffic Force’
4. Working with the police in anti-human trafficking programs
5. Working with the police in other cities in the state of Uttarakhand, as part of ‘Operation Freedom’ – getting kids out of begging and into schools,
6. Anti-drug programs
7. Developing a community anti-crime program
8. Initiatives to promote environmental awareness and solutions
This year we will also be developing strategy to be prepared for extreme weather events, such as heat waves, monsoon storms and flooding, which sadly are inevitable.
Our other big goal is to continue to investigate and develop a strategy how we can purchase a property in the heart of Kotdwara (for our HQ).
What is your New Year Resolution?
For me as I head into 2020, helping the poor will be one of my resolutions. Whether you agree with the concept of new year’s resolutions or not, might you resolve to be committed to supporting ‘Project Help India’ in 2020? We are an organisation that really is committed to making a difference in the lives of people, and I hope to can see that we operate with great intentionality and integrity. Your donation goes directly to our projects with minimal admin fees. It is important to us that you feel connected to our story, so that the stories of lives of people impacted by poverty in India, intersect with your story too.
Relationships are our ultimate priority
'Project Help India’ is all about friendship, learning and growing from each other. As we bring love, hope, dignity and purpose to these beautiful people, your life will be changed too. We are very mindful that the people we work alongside are the marginalised and vulnerable – this is our way of helping the poorest of the poor, this being exactly what ‘Project Help’ represents and stands for.
During this countdown to Christmas, can you help me to help others?
‘Project Help India’ is passionately working hard to reach out to this local slum community this Christmas time. We have the privileged opportunity to help a group of people who live in poverty. Their faces in this photo tell a powerful story of relentless hardship, determination, and courage despite some terrible circumstances. When I visited them recently in October, I was welcomed with smiles, warmth and hospitality. I was embraced as a trusted friend, a friendship that extends to our many ‘Project Help India’ supporters. These people are beyond grateful to you for the help you bring through our education and community development programs. Through these programs we communicate and demonstrate love in action.
These people are known as ‘Dalits’ and they live on the banks for the Khoh River in the city of Kotdwara in the State of Uttrakhand in Northern India. Their houses are unsafe and unhealthy. Most are made of plastic, old pieces of sheet metal and cardboard. They don’t have windows, and have dirt floors, leaky walls and roofs. The homes are overcrowded, and the weak structures are often blown away or destroyed during storms and the heavy monsoon rains and floods. Here there is limited or no access to basic services like water, toilets and electricity.
The Dalits are considered as the lowest caste people in India. They are the “untouchables” and considered the most oppressed class in India. They face discrimination, particularly in access to employment, education and marriage partners. They perform the work that nobody else wants to do, such as preparing bodies for funerals, tanning hides, collecting rubbish, recycling plastic and killing rats, vermin and other pests. Doing anything with dead cattle or cow hides is regarded particularly unclean in Hinduism. Under both the local Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, a job that involves death corrupts the worker’s souls, making them unfit to mingle with other people in the community. To compound this, this group of people face exclusion and oppression in society. They are frequently affected by anti-dalit violence and repression by others.
These beautiful people are certainly not untouchable. Nothing could be further from the truth!
We extend our love and hand of friendship to these people this Christmas. We embrace them with a message of hope, value and purpose. We will be bringing the joy of Christmas to this slum. The children who attend our school will each receive a gift and needy families will participate in a special Christmas party. Our help will extend into 2020 through our education and women’s empowerment programs, medical help, supporting families with leprosy, emergency assistance and much more.
We need your help to do this
At a time of the year, when we are filling our shopping trolleys with more than we need, please consider how you can be a blessing to these people. Your donation will go towards bringing Christmas to this community and also to the five other communities (each with a very similar story) where ‘Project Help India’ is working. Your tax-deductible donation will be one of the most meaningful gifts you could possibly give this Christmas. Please let us know (by replying to this email) if you make a donation because we would love to thank you.
Thank you for bringing some happiness and Christmas cheer to some people who really need it.
Your donation will make a difference and no doubt reinforce that notion that it is always better to give than to receive at Christmas. Thank you for being part of our story.
YOU CAN JOIN OUR STORY
1. Donate - Your tax deductible Christmas donation can be made HereEnsure that you are donating to (WYG-IND-PHI-2019)
OR if tax deductibility is not required, your EFT donation can be made at
BSB: 062 230 (Commonwealth Bank Randwick)
Account: 1134 1909
Account Name: Project Help India
Please write your name in the reference section so we can thank you.
2. Please like and share this blog on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Thanks so much and Merry Christmas
Leaders will always be
Your role as a leader is to bring about the best in those who work with you, to help them to shine and be successful, do not manage people.
Let people understand you
Show that they know they matter and are valued
Respect is more important for employees than anything else
What shadow do you cast?
Making a difference is also about the small things, connection and knowing they matter to you.
Help the people around you get to places that they could not get to without you.
Leave people in a better place because they’ve been led by you.
Notes, thoughts and reflections from Shanghai Conference (October 2019) - thanks to all the inspiring speakers.