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Mrs. Tamima

Mrs. Tamima’s business is called “101 Strawberries”

She makes a great many different varieties of jam: strawberry, kiwi, fig, plum, apple – 22 varieties in all. Also, some chutneys, south Indian pickles, and brownies. Her customers call her and place their orders on the phone.

Around twenty years ago, she went to a class to learn to make jam. Then she gave some jam to her friends to taste. “They liked it a lot!” she says. That’s how her business got its start.

In one day, she can make five to ten jars.

She has to wash the fruit, then chop, cook, and boil them all. It’s a lot of work, but she explains “It’s very satisfying to get to the end of the day and see that it is done.”

She calls her business “101 Strawberries” because when she asked her niece to suggest a name, her niece replied that she had just been watching 101 Dalmatians, so why not call it, “101 Strawberries?” – which she did.

For the past fifteen years, she’s been coming to the C.P. Art Centre to take part in the Women’s Bazaar when it is held once a year. The C.P. Art. Centre is run by the CPRA Foundation in Chennai, in south India.

Mrs. Tamima’s lovely smile indicates clearly how much she enjoys what she does!

It would be hard to underestimate the transformative power that running their own business has meant for these women. On a practical level, it’s a huge help to the family income and on an emotional level, it’s a great blessing!

Mrs. Rukmani Jayaraman

Mrs. Rukmani Jayaraman sells Tanjore paintings and temple jewelry.

Tanjore paintings are a classical art form, which began centuries ago during the time of the Chola Empire. Its popularity continues today. Mrs. Rukmani Jayaraman sells these paintings which are done by artists in Tanjore, a city known for its artistic expression, around 200 miles (340 kilometers) to the south of Chennai, in south India.

Income means a lot

Running their own business helps the women, whatever their circumstances may be. For some, their income has been really essential, and it has enabled them to feed their families and send their children to school (which is not free in India). For others, it has simply made the family’s life easier, and enabled them to have some extra money to spend.

Their prosperity brings happiness. The sense of community, of getting together with the other women, is a joyful occasion. They take breaks together and catch up with each other’s news. They feel a sense of gratitude to the CPRA Foundation for making all this possible, and especially to Mrs. Shantha, Manager of the C. P. Art Centre, who organizes the entire bazaar and encourages each of them.

Mrs. Sajida

Mrs. Sajida has been selling textiles for sarees for more than twenty-five years.

The Women’s Bazaar has helped these women to get a start and has taught them how to run their own businesses.

These are all traditional Indian enterprises. With their businesses these women are also doing their part to preserve the art and culture of India, including folk art, which always has a meaning and a cultural value.

The women do not pay any of the overhead expenses of running the Women’s Bazaar so that they can keep all of the income they make, so if you’d like to help with a donation, that will go toward the costs of running the Women’s Bazaar and benefitting the women.

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Update – Covid precautions. These photos were taken during a previous visit to India before the pandemic. Since then, during the pandemic, all covid precautions have been taken, with mask being worn, social distancing, and limits to the number of visitors.
The exhibition held from March 4-9, 2020, was inaugurated by Mrs. Suhassini Maniratnam, film actor and director.
The exhibition held from March 9-14, 2021, was inaugurated by Mrs. Akhila Shrinivasan, woman entrepreneur.

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As the breadwinner for her family, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi makes pickles and Indian tortillas called papads.

Sunlight streams across the entranceway as the women set up their products on tables.

Nearby is a busy street, not too wide, but busy enough. Trees grow in the outside area, casting friendly shadows over the tables. There is an outside area and then several inside shops, all buzzing with activity at the Women’s Bazaar which is about to begin.

Many of these women have been participating in the Women’s Bazaar at the C. P. Art Centre every year for 25 years since it first began, and others have been there fifteen or twenty years.

These determined women have overcome hurdles and obstacles to create successful sources of income for their families and themselves. Earlier in their lives, few of them had envisioned a career as entrepreneurs.

They have been mothers and housewives who rose to the occasion when their circumstances required it.

Stepping up to help women become creative

The CPRA Foundation stepped up to fill a need and to empower these women who had never been involved in the world of business, showing them how to make use of their own gifts and talents.

Most of the products they sell are handmade. They may be food made from recipes passed down from generation to generation or may be textiles either bought or created by hand. All the products are environmentally and animal-friendly – for example the beautiful jute handbags that otherwise might have been made of leather. Mrs. Niraimathi runs a very successful business now and also provides all the jute bags that the C.P. Art Centre uses for conferences and other events.

Mrs. Niraimathi

Having learned how to market their wares at the CPRA Foundation, these entrepreneurs are now able to expand their reach by selling products at other venues too, creating a steady income.

The income from their enterprise may cover food and the family’s basic needs, as well as their children’s education from elementary school on through high school and university. In some cases, they are the sole breadwinner. In other cases, their income supplements that of their husband.

Mrs. Shanthi with her pickles, powders, sweets, and savories

Self-reliance brings freedom

As well as providing for the needs of the family, having their own income brings a whole new sense of freedom and well-being into their lives.

With their children provided for, they may be able to expand their businesses to open their own boutiques or shops. No longer feeling trapped inside the house, they are out and about, leading active lives.

The entire day at the Women’s Bazaar is not all spent working – there is time for taking a break together, renewing friendships, and catching up with each other’s news.

Mrs. Shakila displays her cloth garlands for pooja (devotional services) and door decorations.


A community of friends

They value the time spent with each other highly, and they form a community of those who have – over the course of 15-25 years — returned again and again to take part in the Women’s Bazaar – which is always there for them as a steady presence in their lives. They appreciate the warmth and friendship of other women in the community as well as the guidance provided by the C.P. Art Centre – and the ever-present encouragement extended by Mrs. K. Shantha, the Manager of the Centre – who is always a dynamic, lively, and inspiring presence.

Mrs. K. Shantha, Manager of the C.P. Art Centre

The value of economic freedom is hard to overstate. Some among us may take it for granted – but it is a lifeline that makes a big difference towards peace and well-being in the lives of all of us.

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Update – Covid precautions. These photos were also taken during a previous visit to India before the pandemic. Since then, all covid precautions have been taken, with mask being worn, social distancing, and limits to the number of visitors.
The exhibition held from March 4-9, 2020, was inaugurated by Mrs. Suhassini Maniratnam, film actor and director.
The exhibition held from March 9-14, 2021, was inaugurated by Mrs. Akhila Shrinivasan, woman entrepreneur.

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Kangaroo wouldn’t pose for a photo, so this is another bonnet macaque.
Shantanu Kuveskar, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

First, Kangaroo isn’t really a kangaroo (because this is India, not Australia). Actually, he is a bonnet macaque, a monkey, who weighs seven and a half pounds (3.39 kilos). On November 3 of last year, he had an accident. Some very kind people rescued him and he was transported from a southern suburb of Bangalore to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. Monkeys, of course, climb to get from place to place, and he had been swinging along on the electric wires over the main road in order to get across it when he was electrocuted.

For any birds or animals, electrocutions tend to be really serious, and his prognosis for survival was indeed grave. For three months, he received lots of treatments and then had to have three of his limbs amputated. (The photo is of a different bonnet macaque, not Kangaroo.)

Amazingly, he was a cheerful monkey through everything. He recovered and nothing seemed to dampen his spirits.

When he was moved into the large monkey enclosure which had special platforms for easy movement, he was with other young, orphaned monkeys. Dr. Roopa writes that “Kangaroo immediately took charge of them all, in spite of his handicaps, and he could be seen, grooming them, playing, and enjoying their company.”

With just one leg, he used his tail to help him balance, and he hopped with great ease just like a kangaroo, hence his name. With his handicaps, he wouldn’t be able to be released and the plan was for him to live permanently at the center. Being a clever monkey, Kangaroo made his own plans. He watched and observed the routine at the center, and one day, while the keeper was in the enclosure doing cleaning, he managed to slip right past him and out the door.

Of course, he wasn’t going far. Now he still lives at the center, but he’s free to move anywhere and can be found hopping from tree to tree, having the time of his life, just as if he had all four limbs.

He gets a delicious dinner – a plate of his favorite food like shelled ground nuts, banana, cucumber, corn, sweet potato, pomegranate, carrots, and beans is placed up on the roof for him, which he polishes off. He has a good friend and companion now – another resident monkey, Taatha, which means grandfather, who is there for lifetime care and is also free to move about the center.

Thanks to Dr. Roopa’s expertise and the good efforts of his caregivers, Kangaroo is strong and feels well.

Despite all he has gone through, he is an amazing monkey, with an indomitable spirit. He’s made new friends and has done very well for himself – now living out his life in a great place – with no electric wires, no cars, or pollution – just an idyllic, beautiful green forest, with people to feed him.

Under the leadership of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, the CPREEC (C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Environmental Education Centre) in Chennai, India, has restored 53 sacred groves, over the past thirty years – bringing back the original flora and fauna and restoring these small forests with the same species of plants and animals which always lived there in the past, providing once again beautiful tranquil lands which the people living nearby had treasured in the past. Each village in India once had a sacred grove. Now, the village people themselves maintain and care for these restored sacred forests and the abundant wildlife that live there.

These ancient sacred groves represent one of the amazing traditions of India, which has traditionally valued and preserved the life and the beauty of the natural world.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna is an environmentalist, art historian and well-known author of over twenty-five books about the art, culture, and the natural world of India. Among these are Hinduism and Nature, Sacred Animals of India, and Sacred Plants of India.

Listening to this short video, you will be transported to the city of Chennai where you will be among the tall, peaceful trees of the CPREEC and CPRA Foundation centers, yet not far from the busy city life of nearby streets.

Just as they did during the lockdown a year ago, Blue Cross has been giving thousands of meals every day to the street dogs in Chennai, in the south of India.

During normal times, many street dogs hang out around tea shops and restaurants where customers give them handouts. During the lockdown these businesses have all been closed, and the dogs have been left with no source of food, so the feeding by the Blue Cross volunteers has saved their lives.

Chefs to the rescue

This has been a huge undertaking. Blue Cross has coordinated cooking the food – dog food in India is cooked and is a healthy mixture of rice and other nutritional ingredients and supplements. They have worked with chefs in restaurants and hotels who have volunteered to cook the food. When the restaurants were closed, the chefs came in every day especially to do this, while Blue Cross provided the ingredients. This has been a very large expense for them – around $600 every day, and this is in addition to feeding the one thousand or so animals who they care for, at any given time, at their main shelter.

Blue Cross has organized many dozens of volunteers to distribute the food to the dogs; some of these kind people also feed the dogs during normal times, but now it’s risen to a whole new level. They also bring along food for cows and other animals out on the street. Last year Blue Cross was able to arrange an understanding with the police for the dog feeders to be out on the street during the lockdown, and this has continued this year. In some cases the police themselves have helped with the feeding.

A native breed

Most of the street dogs in India are a native breed of “All-India” dogs that arose naturally and was not “bred.” They are of medium height, with short fur and ears pointing up. For thousands of years they have existed in Indian cities. They tend to be shy, quiet, and very adept at crossing the street while avoiding traffic. They are quite used to being out on the street. The five thousand or so humane shelters in India do not and have never rounded up the street dogs to kill them in shelters. It would not have occurred to them to do so. They simply help those animals who are injured or in distress.

In 1964, Blue Cross of India began the first, continuously running, spay/neuter program in the entire world. This program has been going ever since and has never stopped; it paused only briefly during the two lockdowns for the pandemic. It is efficient and effective and is known as the ABC program because, as Blue Cross’s co-founder and chairman emeritus, Dr Chinny Krishna, says, “It is as simple as ABC.”

A long history of helping street dogs

The ABC program has always included rabies vaccinations, which have brought rabies under control throughout the city of Chennai (and eliminated it entirely during several years), saving the lives of both animals and people.

The ongoing, dedicated work of Blue Cross caring for the street dogs of Chennai has had a powerful influence on the care of dogs and other animals in cities all over India – although India has traditionally, true to their culture and philosophy – been a land which values kindness towards all animals. The ABC program maintains a steady, stable population of the dogs, who are calm and well habituated to their neighborhoods, where they can live peacefully for many years.

In addition, Blue Cross runs a very active ambulance rescue service for animals in distress, helping many thousands of dogs and other animals each year. Dogs found on the street who have formerly been pets are taken to the Blue Cross shelter and placed in the adoption program to find loving homes.

Please help Blue Cross, if you can. They have undertaken the monumental task of feeding the street dogs during this time when they have had no regular source of food. A little goes a long way. Bless you and thank you.

Photos: Velu, Blue Cross of India

Vaccination site in Bangalore, India
Photo 215572010 / Covid In © Jaidev Narayan | Dreamstime.com

Locating oxygen canisters and hospital beds

During the pandemic, many of the people at the CPRA Foundation, in Chennai, India, instead of doing their usual office work, have been spending long hours on the phone helping those who are ill – by locating oxygen canisters for those having trouble breathing who are staying at home and by locating available hospital beds for those who need to be hospitalized. This hasn’t been easy to do since oxygen canisters have been very hard to find anywhere due to the huge demand – and the hospitals are full to capacity. With a lot of perseverance, however, they have been able to help and have saved lives in this way.


A migrant worker with his daughter walking along a highway.
Photo 188572407 / Covid © Manoej Paateel | Dreamstime.com

Helping migrant workers

The CPRA Foundation has helped wherever they can in other ways too. When migrant workers from Bihar in the north of India who had been doing construction work were stranded during the lockdown, they were allowed to stay on the property. The Swanag Constructions Private Limited Company continues to pay them a part of their salary although they are no longer working. Every day the CPRA Foundation gives them free meals of rice and lentils, which is the staple diet in Tamil Nadu. Being able to stay in Chennai in a safe place has been an enormous help to them since Bihar is hundreds of miles away, and they really have had no way to get home while the lockdown lasts. Last year, in many Indian cities, migrant workers, like the man in the image above with his daughter, had a lot of difficulty during the lockdown. The CPRA Foundation wanted to make sure that this did not happen to any of these workers. They are all young men who will either continue working in Chennai or will go back to their villages in Bihar after the lockdown ends.

Mrs. Niraja, school psychologist
Photo: Sharon St Joan

Saraswathi Kendra students

The Saraswathi Kendra Learning Center, the school for children with learning disabilities run by the CPRA Foundation, has set up special programs to help the children and their parents during the pandemic. Learning remotely and the stress of having to stay at home all day has brought unique challenges for these children.

The school psychologist, Mrs. Niraja, has stayed In touch with both the parents and the children throughout the lockdown and has put into effect home interventions to help in each specific situation.

One child learned to garden and found that relating to plants gave her a great sense of calm and a feeling of security.

A nine year old girl, following her conversations with Niraja, was able to develop a pattern of having set times for play and times for study. She grew to love reading and spends some time every day reading a book. She’s also begun to ask her parents to tell her stories. Her temper tantrums, which had been a problem, have vanished, and her mother wrote that she now asks for whatever she needs clearly and politely.

Positive transformations have taken place in the lives of dozens of these children, helping both them and their parents – thanks to the efforts and ingenuity of Niraja, who, instead of lowering her expectations for the children during the difficult days of covid, has only redoubled her efforts to help each child. Amazing changes have been the result.

The Saraswathi Kendra Learning Center has always had a policy of relating to each child as an individual, with his or her own unique talents and abilities. In this way, the children are able to pursue whatever they are good at and to find a path in life that will bring them success.
Many of the students go on to university, and many have highly successful careers, especially in classical dance or as sports stars. Above all, they can find happiness, knowing that they are cared for and appreciated for exactly who they are.

In December 2020, the police rescued two Eurasian collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) from illegal pet traders and brought them to the WRRC (Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre) in Bangalore, India.

First they were temporarily put into a cage, then moved to an aviary.

Fortunately, their feathers had not been clipped by the pet traders. If their feathers had been clipped, the recovery time would have taken much longer and been more difficult since the birds would have had to molt and then regrow their feathers.

In this case, since the feathers were intact, both had good flight, were active, and flew about with ease in the large aviary in which they were housed.

This lovely pair of doves had narrowly escaped having to spend their whole lives in captivity. Thanks to quick action by the police and the excellent care they received at the WRRC, their lives will be happy ones, spent in freedom in the wild.

After two months both were released together at the center since their species can be found in the forests nearby. They can still be heard, not far away, with their distinct vocalizations.

Photo credit: WRRC

© Forest Voices of India, 2021

An adult Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) was rescued and brought from the village adjoining the forest, close to the WRRC center.

Somehow his leg had been broken. Some of the villagers tried their best for quite some time to catch him, but he always managed to slip away from them. Unfortunately, by the time they were able to catch him and bring him in for treatment, the leg had deteriorated so much that it had to be amputated, which was done by Dr. Roopa Satish and her team. He soon recovered and was able to get around well with just one leg.

His flying ability was good, and he was doing really well. However, he was still a handicapped bird, and it wouldn’t be safe for him to be released deep in the forest. So, he was released at the WRRC center itself where he can choose to make little forays into the nearby forest or spend his days in the area of the center itself. This is a much safer life for him. He is very comfortable there, sleeping in any one of the treetops, or watching the activities of the center from a front row perch on a roof – or, as Dr. Roopa writes, “occasionally coming down to earth to grace us with his beautiful plumage.”

Photo credit: WRRC

In September of 2020, a juvenile spot-billed pelican (Pelicanus phillipensis) was rescued from a home in the city of Bangalore and brought to the WRRC (the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, in Bangalore, India).

When she arrived, she was shy around people and also aggressive, as a wild bird would normally be. She wasn’t yet able to fly. She wasn’t feeling well, was not eating, and seemed to have an infection, so she was treated for this and was handfed.

Dr. Roopa Satish and the caregivers realized that, probably, the pelican was from one of the city lakes and had been kidnapped, possibly to be used for meat. Fortunately, she had been rescued by a good Samaritan, who understood just where to take her and brought her to the WRRC so she could receive expert care.

Learning to fly

Before long, she was able to eat on her own and was beginning to flap her wings, lift herself into the air, and exercise her flight muscles. Soon, she was put into a larger aviary where she had a wonderful time learning to fly. After a few months though, she could fly so well that the aviary became too small for her. She was brushing her wings against the sides in flight and risking hurting herself, so she really needed to be released right away.

This was a dilemma though because there were no pelicans flying in the immediate vicinity in the Bannerghatta Forest and the city lakes were not pleasant or safe release sites due to the high volume of human activity – fishing, boating, strolling, and bird watching. They weren’t a good place for a wild bird to be.

A place of refuge

In February, 2021, the pelican was driven 180 kilometers (50 miles) to a very special village, Kokkrebelluru, which is filled with birds. The people there love the birds and even sing songs to welcome them back after their migration. Nearby there are large, clean, beautiful lakes – good places for pelicans to catch fish. There are many other species of birds, such as painted storks, ibis, and Brahminy kites. The local villagers protect the birds, so they feel at home there, and they build hundreds of nests in the surrounding trees.

This was the perfect place for the pelican. She was released there at a research center for pelicans set up by the Forest Department and overseen by a pelican researcher.

They will keep an eye on her as she learns to fish for herself and will give some supplemental feeding if it is needed. When she’s fully ready, she’ll be able to live her life free in the wild, in a beautiful, safe, protected spot of great beauty. She’ll make new friends and will be able to migrate and return again to this idyllic place, living her life in freedom as nature intended.

Thanks to thoughtful person who rescued her, the expert care given by the WRRC team, and the help of the research center and the kind villagers of Kokkrebelluru, the pelican who very nearly became dinner is now all set to have a bright and happy future.


Photo credit: WRRC

The pandemic has hit India hard. But there are groups you can support who are making a big difference for families. For example, with schools shut down, many children are in danger of losing a lifetime chance at education – or of getting into trouble or marrying younger than they would like to. But the CPRA Foundation is focused on making sure that schooling and opportunities continue, even for some of the poorest children in their region.

Extending a lifeline

Throughout the pandemic, the CPRA Foundation (the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation) has redoubled their efforts and extended a lifeline to many in this difficult time.

Children with learning disabilities

In the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre, a school for children with learning disabilities, autism, or dyslexia, in south India, the CPRA Foundation has been providing the children with both online education and online counseling. The head psychologist, Mrs. Niraja, has organized parents’ counseling groups to guide the parents in how to relate to the children when they are at home and not in school. They have continued to make amazing transformations in the lives of the students. In normal times, some of these children pay fees for school. Others cannot afford to pay. No one knows which children are paying and which are not, and that’s how it should be. There is no charge for any of the special counseling.

Schools for low-income children

In the two elementary schools outside of Chennai that the CPRA Foundation runs for low-income children, finding ways to help the children learn remotely has been challenging.

The CPRA Foundation runs four schools. The school in Kumbakonam, to the south of Chennai, is a free elementary school for very low-income children whose parents cannot afford to pay anything at all for their children’s education – they may work as waiters or domestic help, or as laborers in brick factories. The CPRA Foundation bought and gave to the students, textbooks and notebooks for use during the school year when the students did not go to school because of the pandemic. However, since many of the parents cannot read or write, they weren’t able to help their children to read these books, so they were of only limited benefit.

In Kanchipuram, an hour to the west of Chennai, The CPRA Foundation runs an elementary school for girls. There the teachers produced a video of themselves going through each lesson. This was easy to watch and understand and was extremely helpful for the students, enabling them to keep up with their academic work.

The CPRA Foundation also runs a scholarship program, called Each One Teach One – sending children to several schools in Chennai and paying for their education. 600 children are part of this program, being paid for by the CPRA Foundation. However, in this lost school year, the children could not attend school. Since most of the families had lost their jobs, the Foundation took the money for the scholarships and distributed it to the families to help them through this year when they had no income.

Challenges for the children of India

One morning, a woman, as she was struggling to load trash onto the back of a garbage truck, was asked why she was allowing her son, who looked to be around ten, to work alongside her. She replied, “His school is closed, and if I leave him home alone, he will be running wild in the streets. It’s safer for him if he’s with me, so I bring him along.” She was doing everything she knew how to do to keep her son out of trouble.

With so many schools in India shut because of the pandemic, there are many young boys being left alone, without supervision. Their parents work, as do their grandparents sometimes. Other relatives may have their hands full caring for the sick. Young boys, who are normally kept busy with their schoolwork are instead left to their own devices. As might happen anywhere, many do run wild, and there is a widespread fear that many unattended children could get into trouble, or even form into gangs.

The situation is dire for the girls as well. One woman being interviewed for a job, when asked about her children, explained that she had just “married off” her teenaged daughter. She didn’t want to leave her alone in the house. There was no school open for her to go to. By having her married, her mother intended to give her daughter a permanent, secure place in another family.

To prevent these things from happening, the CPRA Foundation works ongoingly, counseling parents, to give children secure, happy lives and good opportunities for the future.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, President of the CPRA Foundation, writes, “The pandemic has caused great hardship for children in particular, as their best years are drifting past. Many young girls have been married off all over the country.”

When these teenaged girls cannot go to school and are too young to work, their families may seek to give them a secure and stable place with another family through marriage. Sadly, even when this arrangement does give some security, it will usually mean that the girl will have no further education and very few opportunities in life.

The CPRA Foundation is doing a tremendous amount of work through online learning and counseling, to help both girls and boys continue their education and prepare for the times ahead – to get through the hardships of COVID-19 and on to a brighter future.