Before I came to Nepal I got advice to visit a very sussesful child home called Ashram – Sri Aurobindo Yoga Mandir. Viktor and Martin, the two volunteers from Alten working at CWCN two years ago, got in contact with this organisation through a Swedish friend of theirs who stayed there. They told me that I could get a lot of inspiration from this place because it is totally self sustainable.
Immediately when I reached Kathmandu in late October last year I contacted Ganesh in order to ask him to take me and Erik to Ashram. Ganesh himself is raised in Ashram and has been working for this organisation as a volunteers until some years ago when he started his own business. It came very soon into my understanding that he is a very busy man, starting up his new trekking company and at the moment in the middle of a market research by travelling to foreign destinations. When he finally came back to Nepal again after travelling through Mongolian deserts and untouched villages he contacted me and told me that he had time to take me for a visit to Ashram.
Said and done. Saturday morning, jumped out of bed and took my bicycle to his mansion outside Thamel. From there he took me on his motor bike in eastern direction. When we reached the hills where the Kathmandu valley ends we turned from the “high way” onto a road which went straight up the hills. Some hundred meters higher we reached Ashram, located in front of the adorable view over the white Himalayan peaks.
Ashram has been running it’s child home, school, guest house and production for 25 years. A large area of land belongs to the organisation where fields surrounding the buildings are used for growing various corps and rearing cows. I get a tour led by one of the volunteers called Laxmi, who is also a very talented dancer. Carrying around a young boy on her back, she shows me around and tells me everything about the place. There are more than 100 children staying in Ashram, all from various backgrounds except the streets. Children are rescued at a very young age from poor families, rural areas or homelessness. The children get education up to grade eight and the subjects are chosen depending on their interest. Those who are more interested in art, dance, handy crafts, sports etc. get the chance to learn more in those areas. They also get introduced to yoga and meditation. Most of the children who leave Ashram have grown up to be successful persons because they concentrate on their interests.
In order to sustain, Ashram grow almost all corps and vegetables which they need. Milk from the 60 cows are used for various dairy products. There is a mill where grains are grounded to flour. Everyone in the area are welcome to use Ashram’s mill, as a compensation the organisation does not have to pay for any electricity. They produce pashmina shawls, towels and handy crafts as thanka paintings, scents,bags and jewellery. All their products can be bought by visitors and Laxmi takes me to their show room where I have a look at their quality products. Additionally, their products and vegetables are sold every Saturday at the Organic market in Thamel. They are also running a guest house. Guests staying there are coming for practise yoga, meditation or work as volunteers. In the end of the tour I get shown to the kitchen where they are cooking a delicious lunch for me. Rice, salad, vegetable curry, lentil soup and chapati bread. Everything organic and fresh from the fields at Ashram.
After the tour I understand why Ashram is self sustainable. All activities going on have the purpose to learn the children how to take care of them selves and others and at the same time contribute to the organisation. However, I am still curious and want to find out more in detail how this organisation really works. Ganesh takes me to the man whom has the answers to all my questions. We walk up the stairs to one of the buildings and at the balcony an old man is sitting in lotus position with closed eyes, enjoying the sun. He has long white beard and hair, dark skin and is dressed in white loose cloths. This is Ram Chandra, the founder of Ashram. – Please sit down, he says to me. I sit down next to him, introduce myself and ask him to tell me all about how this organisation can be self sustainable.
Ram Chandra ran away from home with a friend to India when he was 12 years old to live in the streets. Later he got inspired by a book about yoga found his way to the community Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. After 20 years he returned to Nepal. He was deeply moved by seeing lots of children suffer in villages and the streets. He felt that he had to do something about it. He bought a little piece of land and a house without a toilet where he gave shelter to rescued children. In 25 years Ashram has developed into what it is today. Everything financed by the organisation itself. By selling milk and dairy products they get their largest income. They also get a big amount by running the guest house. To keep their expenses low they have no payed employees. All staff are working as volunteers and get payed in food and accommodation. Most of the volunteers are former children raised in Ashram. Sometimes they get donations from visitors but it is only occasionally. Ram Chandra says that Ashram never search for donations, they are able to sustain and develop by themselves. When I have got answers to all my questions I return back to Kathmandu with a lot of new ideas which can be implemented at CWCN.
A week later I take Ganesh to CWCN to have a look at the child home in Nayapati and the office, clinic and youth home in Sinamangal. He wants to invest his own time to give guidance to CWCN of how to sustain. Since CWCN are taking care if street children it works in a different way than Ashram does. However, some ideas can be implemented as having more volunteers working and less payed staff. The next step is to take Sunil, Tirupati, board members and the new Business Development Manager on a visit to Ashram in order to get inspired!
If you want to read more about Ashram, visit their website – www.auronepal.net