Friends of Pravaham

By Christie Van Vugt

Late last summer I had a random thought to bring some basic art supplies & projects to Pravaham on my 2010 trip to use as a communication aid for working with the new batch of students. This idea was born in part because I have no formal training as a teacher, and on our 2009 trip I found it difficult to teach English using the traditional materials we had available. It occurred to me that working through art could help bridge the language barrier because I like to think that art is a universal language in its own right. This was a spontaneous idea that I hadn’t prepared for, but once I found out that a third piece of luggage could be checked for the bargain price of $48 it was easy to make the decision so I set out to procure light-weight and easy to pack supplies.

The maiden attempt at transporting art materials involved many packages of 5×7 canvas boards, bottles of acrylic paint, brushes, glue, glitter, gel pens and ready-to-paint wood crosses. It turns out that wooden crosses do not travel well, as many were broken in transit. For that reason the finished crosses ended up staying with the students & staff. I did bring home numerous pieces of canvas artworks created by students and staff. After scanning the artwork to make cards and prints, some of the original pieces were then given out to sponsors.

Most of the students were tentative at first and probably had little or no previous experience using art supplies that we find readily available in America. Once they got the hang of it though there was no stopping them! It was really exciting coming to the classroom/“art studio” in the late afternoon during free time and finding staff and students busily painting and chatting. This was when we had the most productive practice of English language. In this casual, calm setting it was easier for everyone to relax and as a result I believe we made much more progress learning conversational English, and I even learned a few words and phrases in Tamil!

My first foray into teaching with art at Pravaham was such a success that we ran out of supplies rather quickly and had to get creative with what could be found on campus. A ready supply of large dried leaves and a handful of clay potshards turned out to be great alternative materials for painting. One afternoon a family touring the property stopped to observe us painting leaves. The father spoke excellent English so we conversed a bit, but I did not understand what he meant when he said “you are of heart-mind.” I’m paraphrasing here, but he defined that concept as the ability to see beauty in everyday objects. What a touching moment to share with strangers in a foreign land! Before they left he asked to take a photo of me with his three young daughters, each girl holding a freshly painted & glittered leaf.

In case you are wondering, art therapy is generally defined as using a creative process to help people of all ages improve their emotional well-being, but here are a couple more definitions that make it even more relevant for use at Pravaham. From Art Therapy Sourcebook: “… a belief in the inherent healing power of the creative process of art making. This view embraces the idea that the process of making art is therapeutic; this process is sometimes referred to as art as therapy. Art making is seen as an opportunity to express oneself imaginatively, authentically, and spontaneously, an experience that, over time, can lead to personal fulfillment, emotional reparation, and transformation.” From the International Art Therapy Organization [IATO]: “Art has the potential to change lives and in profound ways. When words are not enough, we turn to images and symbols to tell our stories. And in telling our stories through art, we can find a path to health and wellness, emotional reparation, recovery, and ultimately, transformation.”

This year if all goes well I hope to return to India again in the fall to meet & work with the incoming students, and if the timing is right, to reunite with the graduating class of girls that I met last year. I’ve already started purchasing some of the materials to bring along, with the thought of supplementing the American art supplies with materials that can be purchased locally in the city of Chennai.

If you are interested in donating to purchase art supplies for Pravaham, or if you are interested in sponsoring a mission trip, please feel contact me!

All of the students’ artwork and photos taken by Christie may be viewed on Pravaham’s Picasaweb site.

Email Christie at cvanvugt at cox dot net.


2010 was a rather busy year for Friends of PravahamUSA! So much so that we had no time to update our blog in a timely manner and must now suffice with this brief entry :(.  Three events occupied us in the last quarter of this year. We had a good old fashioned Pravaham get-together with Indian food in Sept.  to preview the 2009 Graduation & Inauguration ceremonies video edited by Nancy Chong and also welcome old friend Angie d’Aleo along with her new friend Sue Headley.  In October, thanks to Sue Headley we were  invited to host a Pravaham table on World Communion Sunday, at First Presbyterian Church, San Pedro! Which we did!! In November, for the third year in a row, we were at the Alternative Christmas Bazaar at Irvine Pres. Church.  Thanks to all our good friends and the Missions team at IPC! In December, thanks to Shanti Ernest, Pravaham was invited to participate at Cornelia Connelly High School’s first celebration of Human Rights Day. YAY! God is so good! All of these invitations are great, good affirmations and blessings of our call to serve the people at Pravaham and God’s steadfast love and provision for them.

You can watch the YouTube video here: 

Christie made three such cute Wheelbarrow miniature dish gardens

Donations of succulent dish gardens, eco-friendly jute bags, and Indian handicrafts helped us to raise funds for Pravaham at the Irvine Pres. Church’s Ladies Spring Cafe on April 17.  We had a cool speaker (Angie Horn-Andreu), inspiring music (Chris Kernutt), wonderful food (Heidi, Linda & Julia), and restful fellowship. Our speaker’s challenge for us: change from “collectors” of information, knowledge, wounds, and things and become “serial repenters.” Folks who are continuously turning to Christ and are changing, becoming more like him, making a difference in our world and always using the abundant gifts we’re given (not just collecting and storing them away like the man in Jesus’ parable of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew). Thanks, everybody, for your heart for the ministries at Pravaham. As the letters from the girls and Lucy constantly remind us, we are helping to change many lives, and make a difference.

Fellowship Hall, Women's Ministry team chair & Ladies Spring Cafe co-chairs on the stage

Some Team Pravaham members who helped today

Happy supporting Pravaham!

Breast Cancer RibbonRead about the activities of Angie D’Aleo, a San Pedro, CA member of Team Pravaham USA, in the form of a letter she wrote to the Editor of her local newspaper. Naturally, Pravaham is featured in it – you figure out how and you’ll get the BIG picture :).

Dear Editor,

I had an experience with the local SP Girl Scouts which warmed my heart, as well as made me proud to have been a former Scout. But, this is only PART of an amazing story!

This last month and a half I’ve been seeking out sponsors for my own submission in the ‘decorated bra’ project that the SP Soroptomist group is hostessing as a fundraiser for low-income/not-insured women’s breast health and women’s health issues. OVER $10,000.00 have been raised and donated by them, with their yearly gala, “What a Pair,” as the main venue. Monies go to the hospital’s imaging center [for low/no cost mammograms & screening], as well as to a tuition-free, lowest-caste girls’ school for nursing assistants in Vellore, India. My own ‘arty’ bra is honoring numerous women, all battlers of breast cancer–both survivors and those passed on– and many are my sponsors.

While at the LCMSP hospital for breakfast with my husband Pete last Friday, I saw a powder-pink hoodie on display along with the flyers for “What a Pair” in a glass case. I asked in the gift shop if they had them for sale. A “sorry, no” answer sent me to the administrative office of Anne, yet another breast cancer survivor AND WAP entrant. She shared so very much information about their program for women’s breast health, as well as showing me the Comfort Bags another local ‘sorority’ of concerned women sew and assemble for those undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatment. Included in the bag is a pink crystal bracelet with a “Love” heart charm. NONE of this–including the hoodies–was for sale. ALL are gifted to the women undergoing treatment. Their pink jackets ‘red flag’ them for TLC/VIP treatment, and the bags’ contents ease them physically: Baby powder, lotion, and gentle soap, as dictated by their doctors.

I left the hospital without a hoody, but very revved up for HOPE!

Back to the Girl Scouts: While grocery shopping Saturday at Vons on Gaffey, I found Girl Scouts had set up tables at both doors–no escaping them! I explained that I, thankfully, had been a Scout, had ALREADY purchased cookies from a little girl at my church, and wished them luck. While shopping, I decided to ‘loosen up’ and buy a box…and at the table I made small talk with the troop leader. She shared, ultimately, that it was HER troop of girls who’d made the bracelets–what’re the chances?–and that they are super-supportive of the LCMSP program and health for all women.

So, I emailed Soroptomist President Marta Valladolid [of Bringelson’s Jewelers] and told her this serendipitious vignette. She seemed really pleased in her response, with, “I’ve always said we are greater in numbers.” As if Providence put all these puzzle pieces together for me to become ‘enlightened’ by seeing ‘the big picture,’ or something.

It feels really right, the creative work so many are doing to combat the scourge of breast cancer. I applaud Vons for allowing the Girl Scouts to do their fundraising on their property; the personalized care and concern of hospital employees and concerned groups [such as the Scouts] amaze me; and the kind-hearted philanthropy of the Soroptomists inspires ME to be more and do more.

I will be at the Croation Cultural Center [7th & Pacific] Friday night to share MY bra, “I, Deux,” as well as see other artists–mostly women–proudly share THEIR bras and art pieces at this gala fundraising and pro-life happening. Out of the ashes of despair rises the phoenix of hope and wellness.

We ARE greater in numbers. This synergy WILL bring about comfort , hope, and a cure, if we join our efforts and our hearts together to finally conquer breast cancer once and for all. We stand by our stricken sisters and offer them our support and love. I am proud to be in their numbers.

Alma Angeline D’Aleo

Team Pravaham 2009

Team Pravaham 2009 (l-r: Jennifer, Joy, Anita, Suzanne, Cindy, Karyn; missing Shanti & Nancy)

Praise God! Last year was the first time Pravaham participated in our church’s Bazaar. We had 1 table and 2 volunteers. This year, we had 3 tables and 8 volunteers!  In addition to giving girls the gift of Christian freedom (Pravaham Nursing-Aide sponsorships), donating towards a much-needed kitchen building (the current kitchen is nothing but a mud hut), and chickens (for pest control as well as for food), there were a variety of products on sale. These included Christmas greeting cards by San Pedro artist Peter d’Aleo featuring the artwork of some of the Pravaham girls, calendars, thank you and blank note cards featuring photos by Christie Van Vugt taken during her August 2009 stay at Pravaham, natural jute bags made by the Hearing Impaired in India and which were a big hit last year, jewelry by Pravaham students and others in India & other handicrafts.  We also had plant gifts ready for gifting, donated by Garden Club members.

Members of Team Pravaham 2009, Shanti & Nancy

Team Pravaham 09 members, l-r: Shanti & Nancy

The whole Bazaar experience – from planning which started in August to execution on Sunday Nov. 22 – is an unforgettable and powerful reminder of God’s love and provision for all of us, here at IPC and far away at Pravaham, India. It is also about the power of prayer. So much was an answer to prayer, prayer by many faithful friends and prayer that was clearly Holy-Spirit led. God answered these prayers amazingly & powerfully. Friends Suzanne, Joy, Karyn, Shanti, Jennifer, Cindy and Nancy graciously offered to help with the Bazaar. It turned out every one of their presence was needed and most warmly felt. Christie who’d visited Pravaham summer 2009 gifted me the sponsorship biopics which made the girls come alive as the the stories are in the words used by the girls themselves – these were the sheets the sponsors took away with them. Angie & Pete designed cards, Aruna sent ‘natural products,’ Lucy, Annie & Paul sent exquisite Indian handicrafts, and Arlene & girls made jewelry! Suzanne packaged and price tagged everything! Cindy made beautiful table signs. Jennifer raffia’d the terracotta plant gift donations & I had fun helping some of my friends figure out which Indian dress they’d like to wear :).

Garden Club Donor Linda (pic is missing Dave)

Garden Club Donor Linda (pic is missing Dave)

Linda and her husband Dave’s unexpected donations of succulents brought God’s blessings most affirmatively to the Garden Club; before that we’d had only 8 baby barrel cacti, 8 aloes, 2 pizza dish gardens and a dozen each of tomatoes, and basil. Their gift – many, many dozens of succulents ready for gifting – boosted our Garden Club collection! Similarly, there were many more unexpected divine gifts. I was really sad that Kate Leavey’s family couldn’t be with us because of her recent tragic accident but here again, God is so marvelous! Sunday was Kate’s day of rest from daily, major surgery, her healing is proceeding miraculously, and God is being glorified. Our faith community and city is coming together in a way that is simply amazing. Many, many people signed the poster we made for Sean & Nora; we used the picture of Kate from last year’s Bazaar (she was at the same spot Pravaham was this year) and Jon enlarged & printed it so beautifully. I was blessed to be able to be with Tim & Nora too, briefly.

Poster of Kate Leavey + Garden Club plant gifts

Poster of Kate Leavey + Garden Club plant gifts

I could go on and on but pictures will share the story much better. I was touched by the generosity of Team Pravaham and also how many of our church folks came to the Bazaar and bought their Christmas gifts; that”s a lot of burning hearts for the unseen, under-privileged, and marginalized, hearts filled with love & desire to serve God and each other. I’ll be uploading ~130 pictures of the entire Bazaar shortly, pictures taken by Nancy & me. Jon also took pictures as did Rick, Joy and others too; send me yours if you’d like them added to the ACB Gallery & Archive. Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures from ACB 2008! 🙂 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3: 20-21.

DSCN5664Students in the Pravaham Nursing Aide Class of 2010 have sent IPC a lovely hand-made thank you card along with a letter from Sr. Selvi, their Instructor.IPCGifts

The thank you card is for the Hygiene Kits prepared by IPC’s Third Saturday Service project and for the Welcome to School kits prepared by IPC’s Jr. High VBS students. Thanks to Angie & Snobia for carrying these kits and gifting them – you can see Angie handing the gifts to the girls (Lucy who runs Pravaham is seated next to her). Thanks to Christie for capturing all these photos – you can view the entire gifting ceremony album online. The Graduation & Invocation pictures are online too! Thanks to IPC’s wholehearted support of Pravaham.

You can view the complete thank you card, with notes inside from each of the students, as an adobe pdf file by clicking here.

AngieIndia09I’m just back from Irvine Presbyterian Church’s Third Saturday Service Project (click on the Saturday Service tab) led by Van and Mary Partible.  I arrived at 5: 30 pm with my donations for the hygiene kits and lasagna.  At 5:45 pm we began to enjoy the potluck dinner and at 6: 30 pm or so, Angie d’Aleo and Christine Von Vugt were introduced along with their husbands, Peter d’Aleo and John Stephenson. Angie shared copies of the stunning flier shown here and talked briefly. Created by her husband Pete, the flier front shown here, has a map of India and Indian flag, and the verso describes their upcoming Our India Adventure and what they will be doing in Pravaham.

Then, the kids started on the letters to Pravaham and El Nino students, drawing and putting stickers. At Van’s request I’d made Tamil (தமிழ்) stickers which said: Our Jesus is GoodNam Yesu nallavar –  நம் இயேசு நல்லவர். This is, apparently, the first line from a popular Christian Tamil song as well. I wonder if the Pravaham girls will learn it?  The stickers for the Mexico kits said God bless you in Spanish. The kids also started making the hygiene kits, containing 8 items in a ziploc bag: lotion, chapstick, a bar of soap, kleenex, comb, toothpaste, toothbrush, Johnson’s band aid kit and of course the card from the kids. In record time, less than an hour, 400 kits were assembled! Van gave 50 to Angie to take to Pravaham, India and 350 to Karen to take to El Nino, Mexico. We all laid hands on Angie and Christine and prayed for travel mercies and blessings for their loving and caring hearts for Pravaham, and for the girls at Pravaham to know the love of Jesus. Later, I collected and gave Angie the 30 Welcome to School kits from the VBS Jr. High kids.

The evening went by really fast and as my friend Nancy (remember Nancy, Arlene , and everybody, do check out her Incredible India website, a web journal of her own trip) put it: we did something that will help many! I was very glad Shanti (Lucy’s friend and now mine too) could be there.  Shanti brought two huge dishes of chicken wings and the 400 ziploc bags – thank you, Shanti! Another of my friends, Karyn came too and that was great; the bean salad she brought looked and tasted gorgeous and her donations were most appreciated too!  I do hope you guys will join us for other Third Saturday Service projects! I introduced Angie to Donna as also Jennifer and her fascinating houseguests: Ron, Erin, and Nikki (missionaries in Indonesia).

Back to Angie’s little talk: Angie did a wonderful job conveying the essence of Pravaham’s work in 2 minutes or less: how girls from the untouchable caste are touched by the love of Jesus and given freedom from the indignities of caste through their Nursing Aide student program.  Jennifer Dietz reminded me to arrange for Angie and her friends to share with us again after they return from India. I do hope Angie, Snobia (who could not attend today because of a conflict), and Christie will do so along with Pete and John !  Thanks Angie, Christi, Pete and John for braving the freeway and coming to Irvine. We all appreciate it very much.

When the kids were preparing the cards, I shared a teeny weeny bit of the history of Tamil with a few of the older girls: Tamil is a Dravidian language, distinct from the Indo-Aryan languages (e.g. hindi, urdu, sanskrit which are common in northern India). Indo-Aryan languages are a group of Indo-European languages. Tamil and other Dravidian languages are quite distinct from English, etc. In fact, Tamil is supposed to have some similarities to Finnish, Korean, Ainu, and indigenous Australian. I wish I knew more about Tamil language and literature!

Third Sat. Service project is an incredible undertaking – thanks to everybody who donated but especially the Partibles, Siakis, Culbertsons, Korneychuks and other families who are leading this with their kids ranging in ages from months old to the mid-teens. They have a nice little assembly line for putting the kits together and the kids just go down the line … with a few adults doing quality control at the end :). TSS is an innovative way to model the love of Christ and social justice in action for our kids. I’m glad I got to be a part of this – thank you, Van & Mary (and Pastor Tim too).  I am very grateful to Angie and her friends for taking IPC’s gifts of love to Pravaham.  God bless IPC, Pravaham, Angie, Christie, Snobia  and their church United Methodist, San Pedro, and all the people involved in Third Saturday Service, abundantly.

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