Archive for November, 2020

By Tyag Krishnamurthy
Honorary Joint Secretary – Blue Cross of India
Board member – Forest Voices of India

Hunger has no pause button. Blue Cross of India perhaps had its busiest two months ever, starting at the end of March 2020 when the first of several lockdowns started. The entire ecosystem that street animals in India depend on for survival was upended by the lockdown. Their primary source of food – streetside eateries, restaurant discards and the largesse of passers-by disappeared overnight. To avert starvation on the streets, Blue Cross started a street animal feeding program the very next day of the lockdown announcement. The feeding program was internally code named ‘Karuna’ and the name struck a chord. ‘Karuna’ means ‘compassion’ in Sanskrit. The program was very critical, and so it was started despite a severe staff and funding shortage (as Blue Cross ran the rescue team, shelter, and hospital with less than 40% staff – all camped inside Blue Cross, while continuing to pay all the staff who were non-residents and unable to come in everyday).

At the end of the Karuna program (June 1, 2020), Blue Cross of India had cooked and helped serve over 100,000 meals to street animals (primarily dogs but many cats, cows and horses too), potentially averting mass starvation. Our feeding program started the second day of the lockdown and has covered many areas in the city. Till May 17th, the peak of the program, four batches of food were cooked every day. In total about 3,000 meals were cooked fresh every day while following strict hygiene and health safety protocols. We created overnight what we call the most critical ‘last mile’ – a network of citizen feeders, who became the backbone of this program in what has emerged as one of the best examples of deep community participation to care for animals in a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. At peak we had 150 citizen feeders.

The Karuna program also galvanized many new citizens to think about the starving animals, and many such pitched in with food cooked in their own homes, on days when Blue Cross was unable to provide meals. With the easing up of lockdown since May 17th and opening of most areas, we have now ramped down, but continue to feed in those non-residential areas which are still not open.

Volunteers step up

Vignesh, an animal lover from Tiruverkadu ranks at the top of the Blue Cross list of citizen community feeders. He has fed over 8,300 animals from the food donated by the Blue Cross since the initiative began the day after the lockdown. Kind-hearted people like Vignesh, Devi (in Ambattur, feeding over 5,800 animals) and Sowmya (in Puzhudivakkam, feeding 5,300 animals) have been the backbone of a long list of 150 citizen community feeders.

Aaditya, a resident of Tambaram who was home-cooking and feeding street animals in his neighborhood, started as a community feeder. After just a few days he signed up as a full-time volunteer for the Blue Cross and has spent entire days distributing food on one of the four routes operated. He says, “I thought to myself – if it was so tough for me to cook and feed 50 animals, how complex it would be for the Blue Cross to do this for thousands! So, I decided to help.” Many new volunteers like Shrey and Bhargav signed up during the peak time of the program to help, while other long-time volunteers like Neelakantan and Vaijayanthi have been regularly helping with food distribution.

150 citizen feeders

Vinod Kumar, General Manager – Admin, Blue Cross of India, says, “On the day of the lockdown, the first thing we did was to change our helpdesk announcement, urging callers to feed the strays on their streets. Our feeding program started the second day of the lockdown and has now covered many areas in the city.” At the peak of the program that lasted till May 17th, four batches of food were cooked every day – Hotel Green Park helped with one batch, while the in-house team at Blue Cross’s Guindy campus cooked the other three batches including one for the 1,800 odd shelter animals. In total about 3,000 meals were cooked fresh every day while following strict hygiene and health safety protocols. “Much of this is made possible with the support of our donors and patrons like Help Animals India based in Seattle USA, Four Paws International, HCL Foundation and local support from Aavin, Jain International Trade Organization, Aranya Foundation and Tamil Nadu Animal Welfare Board, who have donated in kind,” adds Vinod.

Velu TM, Manager – Special Operations and one of the key people in the field says, “We initially began feeding animals ourselves, in non-residential localities, but realized it will not be feasible to cover more areas with our limited personnel. We created a network to help, with over 150 citizen feeders, who we supply the food to every day on four different routes that cover many localities of Chennai. At its peak the reach of the feeding program spread as far as Puzhal Lake area in the north, Tiruverkadu in the west, Sholinganallur along Old Mahabalipuram Road and Selayiur/Tambaram in the south. Some community feeders also pitched in with food cooked in their home, on days when we’re unable to provide meals.”

Cooking and more cooking

Dawn William, General Manager – Disaster Management and Rescues who was managing the back-end cooking at Blue Cross says: “Our day started at 3 am as we had to cook many batches, load up, leave early and finish distribution/feeding before it gets too hot outside. Our kitchen ran without a break for nearly 50 days of peak demand as we need to care for and feed the hospital and shelter animals in Blue Cross too with very limited manpower. We never thought we could muster the manpower or the cooking capacity to pull off this operation, but every available employee and volunteer stepped up; every available resource went into dealing with this emergency.”


Editor’s Note: Dogs in India are generally not fed packaged food. Instead, food is cooked for them. As you will notice from the photos, it is made mainly from rice with other ingredients and supplements added; it is very healthy.

Blue Cross of India runs a very active spay/neuter/anti-rabies program (please see below). It has paused during the lockdown, but it will resume just as soon as it is possible to do so.


Photos: Velu TM

© Text and photos, Blue Cross of India, 2020 – published, with permission, by Forest Voices of India.


Forest Voices of India
– conducts charitable fundraising services for environmental charities, especially in India.

How you can help

Blue Cross of India

– Is the first, the largest, and the most widely known of India’s modern-day animal shelters
– Blue Cross’s ambulance service rescues thousands of animals every year: dogs, cats, cows, pigeons, and others.
– Blue Cross’s spay/neuter/anti-rabies program for community dogs is the longest, continually running such program in the world, beginning in 1964; it has lowered the numbers of dog bites in Chennai and has dramatically reduced incidents of rabies there – for some years down to zero.

To help, click on Donate, and choose Blue Cross of India.

Many thanks for your kindness!

Please send this to a friend as well.

Peace and blessings!

Telling right from left is not difficult, but then if you never quite got the idea to begin with, it certainly would make life a lot harder. There are a lot of concepts like this that we all take for granted, but for some children, a few extra hours of instruction can make all the difference for the rest of their lives.

In a large room, filled with brightly colored objects, the students who attend the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre are able to fill in these gaps in their understanding. Mrs. S. Niraja, the senior psychologist, makes learning fun. With a radiant smile, she leads students around the room as they do exercises that will help with some basic concepts – like telling left from right, or forwards from backwards.

Every student at Saraswathi Kendra is related to as an individual who has special talents and abilities. They learn to do, with pride, what they are good at. Those who can do standard subjects like mathematics, English, or history are taught those subjects. Those who have other talents are taught whatever they can do well. All the students study yoga, art, music and dance and some excel in one field of study or another.

Finding each student’s special talents

When they graduate, many go on to university. The confidence they have acquired at Saraswathi Kendra helps them on their way through life. The arts require talent, but not necessarily academic ability. Many Saraswathi Kendra students excel at sports and become soccer or cricket stars. Some pursue a career in classical dance or singing, or as a musician. They are able to contribute to society and lead meaningful lives when they are able to develop the God-given talents that are uniquely theirs. No longer frustrated or self-conscious, they spread their wings and soar.

Dr. Tulsi

Dr. Tulsi, a lovely little dog who has been trained as a therapist makes regular visits to the school. She puts the children at ease, and they are able to communicate with her in a way that they would not with most adults. Dr. Tulsi makes no demands and has no expectations. She is sweet, accepting, and friendly, which helps a lot to dispel any social difficulties.

From frustration to excellence

One boy that Mrs. S. Niraja tells me about, was having great difficulties before he came to Saraswathi Kendra. He was always angry and had no friends. Feeling frustrated, he found it hard to get along with others. After a short time at Saraswathi Kendra and much individual attention, his teachers discovered that he had an amazing ability to design robots. He could design robots and then build them. Tested for his aptitude in that field, he showed a high level of intelligence. After six years at Saraswathi Kendra, as a young man, he is now on track to have a successful career and a fulfilling life. He has many friends, and his smiles have replaced frowns.

In India, schools are not free and are not paid for by the government. In order to operate, the school must charge fees. At Saraswathi Kendra, many of the parents are able to pay for their children’s education, but some are not, and their children’s education is paid for by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, which runs the school. All the children – paying or non-paying – are treated exactly the same, and no one, except the administration, knows which child is paying and which is not.

Every student is given a bright chance in life and a way to excel – according to their own special gifts and abilities.

During the pandemic, a program of virtual instruction has been developed and is being used throughout the rest of this year and beyond if it is needed. There are some challenges, of course, but it is working well. The students are making progress and look forward to going back to their classes as soon as it is safe to do so.

By Sharon St Joan
Forest Voices of India

© Forest Voices of India, 2020

Forest Voices of India
– conducts charitable fundraising services for environmental charities, especially in India.

How you can help

The CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation operates several schools, including the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre for students with learning disabilities.

As well as running excellent schools, the CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation conducts a great many other programs. A few of these are
– nature outings and ecological studies for high school students,
– joint projects to restore small forests,
– bazaars and training sessions to empower women to start their own businesses,
– workshops that bring back to life the unique painting skills and other art traditions of tribal peoples.

You can help by clicking on the Donate button and choosing the CPR Foundation.

Passing this link on to a friend will be a great help too!

Many blessings and thank you so much!

Five miles south of the city Tiruvannamalai, which lies southwest of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, can be found the forest grove of Pavupattu. An oasis of peace and beautiful trees, it was the first of 53 sacred forest groves restored by CPREEC (CPR Environmental Education Centre).
Thirty years ago, the grove came to the attention of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director of CPREEC; she and one of CPREEC’S officers, Mr. Selvapandiyan, went to visit the grove and found it very rundown. Over the course of many months, Mr. Selvapandiyan, who was the manager of the restoration project, spent his time first interviewing local elders in the nearby village of Pavupattu, to determine which were the trees that had once grown naturally in the grove. Then he set about doing the work of restoration.

Mr. Selvapandiyan recalls that at the time, there was a severe drought in the area, which meant that there was no water available. They had to bring in water from outside in trucks, to use for planting all the trees and also as drinking water for the work crews. It was very hot work in the warm months of southern India.

All the trees that can be seen now planted on the acres of the grove, are green and wonderfully healthy. Just a few of the larger trees had existed earlier. In the thirty years since Pavupattu was restored, the people of the nearby village of the same name have faithfully taken care of the grove. It is clean and well-kept, with no trash or litter, a lovely, serene place, home to a few dozen resident monkeys – and to the huge votive statues that the people have had made to offer to the deities of the grove. There are small temple structures, and standing on platforms, or sometimes grinning from behind trees, are the remarkable folk statues, especially of huge white horses, and sometimes the figures of guardian spirits in human form – all constructed of painted terracotta, one of the unique folk arts of Tamil Nadu.

Throughout India, there are forest groves – in the hundreds of thousands, though sadly, the majority have fallen into disrepair over the centuries. Some have disappeared entirely, swallowed up into shopping malls or other developed land, or perhaps simply lying idle, as waste land, occasionally visited by a few devotees who worship the remnants of a sacred site. A few have been maintained over hundreds or thousands of years.

These are the original spiritual sites of the local people of India. They are groves of trees because the trees themselves are believed to be especially sacred, and the people see them as home to the guardian spirits and the deities who live on the sacred land among the trees. Wherever the groves have been preserved intact, it is entirely due to the devotion and tenacity of the local village people, who have protected their groves against all the onslaughts of modern development.

In the past, every Indian village had a forest grove, which was the heart of the spiritual life of the people. The trees could never be cut down, the animals and birds could not be disturbed. Sometimes it was even forbidden to gather dead fallen branches for firewood. The land was sacred and could not be used for mundane purposes. Where they still exist, the forest groves are wonderful repositories of the animals, birds, and plant life of the area. Some species can now only be found in the forest groves.

CPREEC, with each of the 53 groves they have restored, has taken great pains to study the area and to learn from the local people the exact species of trees that used to grow there so that they can be replanted, restoring the grove precisely to its original state. CPREEC provides the funding for the work and carries out the project, hiring local people to do the work. After three years of renovation and support by CPREEC, each grove is turned over to the village, and the local people undertake to preserve and maintain the forest grove which has traditionally always been theirs.

Preserving and restoring these beautiful and peaceful places of greenery and sacred trees, habitat for many kinds of birds and wildlife, is profoundly significant – first of all, for that grove and for the plants and animals who live within the grove and the people who live nearby. And, on another level, what could be more important than restoring and maintaining a small part of the planet earth? Each grove stands like a shining beacon, a reminder of the beauty, grace, and living nature of the earth and all her children.

© Forest Voices of India, 2020


Forest Voices of India
– conducts charitable fundraising services for environmental charities, especially in India.

How you can help

The CPR Environmental Education Centre
in Chennai, India

– Safeguards water

– Revives tribal arts

– Runs ecological study projects for students

– Restores forest groves – planting trees, improving water sources, and providing places of peace and joy for both wildlife and village people.

To help, click on Donate and choose CPR Environmental Education Centre.

Sending this link to a friend is another great way to help.

Bless you for caring!


Forest Voices of India conducts charitable fundraising services that relate to promoting awareness of tree and environmental conservation and promoting research, education and other activities relating to the environment.