Vanamali Asram


Over 150 children enjoy spiritual nurturance at Vanamali Ashram

(Compassionate Service)

Vanamali Ashram is a small ashram situated in Rishikesh (North India).
 We have been
helping the poor children of our locality for more than twenty years. 

Vanamali Ashram has taken this scriptural injunction as their
motto for their work with the poor.

"Manava Seva - Madhava Seva".
"Service to humanity is equivalent to service to God".

Hence we never miss an opportunity to do what we can for the less fortunate
in our society both in Rishikesh and in a little village called Gajja in the
Garwal Himalayas. we consider ourselves most fortunate in being in a place
where such service is urgently needed.

We are able to do this only through
the generosity of our friends, relatives and
Vanamali devotees all over the

 Hari Aum
Paramhansa Yogananda Trust

Report on Assessment Trip to Mataji Devi Vanamaliís Giridhari Ashram in Gaja
 23-27 May 2015

Mr Mohanji of Vanamali Ashram accompanied Manjunath to Rishikesh and later to Gaja (in Tehri district) to share the details of the community service programs the Ashram is involved in since the year 1985. The community outreach program grew organically which started Mata Devi Vanamaliís (lovingly and respectfully called Mataji) love for children and various group activities organized for them. 

Manjunath of Paramhansa Yogananda Trust, facilitated this joint assessment in consultation with Mataji and Mohanji (Matajiís brother). The methods of assessment included: interview with founding school teachers, interaction with widowed Women, community visits and interactions, interaction with an NGO representative and community volunteer.

Over years Mataji felt that Rishikesh is getting crowded and becoming too hot during summer. Hence, she decided to move to Gaja, a hill town north of Rishikesh at a distance of 65 km. Matajiís son helped them to buy a property and construct a house and develop a farm that is named as Giridhari Ashram.  Mataji spends close of six months of the year from April-October in Gaja performing her sadhana, writing, preparing for discourses and lectures.
Ever since Mataji has moved to Gaja, she has always reached out to the needy through social service and spiritual counseling to help them with material and spiritual development. The current community service program in Gaja has grown from Matajiís natural response to the needs of local community. Mr Mohanji (Matajiís brother) has been directly overseeing these service programs and takes care of executing the work and overseeing the finances.
Brief detail on the programs carried out Giridhari Ashram in Gaja:

School support program: A total of 23 schools (22 are government) in and around Gaja received class room furniture, annual supply of note books, and uniform to students (that was stopped two years back as government started providing school uniforms. In addition schools are provided with computer, playground and sports equipments.  

Support to Shikhar Scholars Academy: Ashram supports Shikhar Scholars Academy, a private school in Gaja with volunteers, conducting special classes on Gita, moral values and other life skills. Recently, Mataji has mobilized Rs.20 lacs to construct a new building for senior wing along with necessary infrastructure such as lab, play ground and class rooms. This school is doing extremely well with close to 375 children (average no. of children in other schools is 25). With the additional infrastructure in place, the school will seek CBSE affiliation to add IX and X grade. The school is run by three qualified, committed, enthusiastic and bright youth from the nearby villages. Though, school collects fee of Rs.300/month, they are unable to pay a salary that is attractive enough for the teachers. Most of the teachers employed get far less than what they can get in a government school.
Ration and Pension support to widows: Currently, 42 widowed women are getting monthly ration supply of which 17 women are also getting monthly pension of Rs.1000/- The monthly ration supply provided includes: Rice-5kg, Sugar-1kg, Dal-500gms, Tea powder Ė 150gms costing an average of Rs.220/person/month. This program is currently supported by Matajiís sister (many other programs too). In the last two weeks, following telephone conversation with Cecilia of Paramhansa Yogananda Trust, Mataji and Mohan have spread the word around asking more needy widows to register for the monthly ration. As a result, another 51 widowed women have enrolled. This number is expected to increase through word of mouth. Mohanji checks the credentials of the women seeking support through their bank statement (it should reflect that they are getting widow pension of Rs.800/month from government), and reference check through village heads, school teachers and other leaders.       

Provision of Tin Sheets for roofing: Tin sheet are provided to replace and improve the houses with collapsed roots with Patali (slate stone slabs). This is provided to about 20 households. This is done with physical verification of the houses and after assessing the economic condition of the householder. Each house gets to improve only one room.

Income generation program for Women: A program was started to involve women in greeting cards making using dry flowers and leaves and jute products. About 25 women came forward to participate and this was successfully run for about 3 years. Later, this couldnít be sustained due to lack of market and inadequate returns. Women too slowly lost interest as they were asked to work on peace rate basis instead of daily wages. Two local women received training and were coordinating this program and lacked motivation to sustain the work.

Distribution of clothes: Several of Matajiís relatives and friends collect used clothes and send them for distribution. Most of the clothes distributed include ones for the women and children.

Organization arrangements: All the work is managed by Mohanji with Matajiís support. Funding for these activities is mainly from Matajiís sister, son, daughter and other few close friends and devotees. The accounting is kept to basic without any requirements for audits and returns. Few community members help in identification of the needy and reference check. Mataji and Mohanji have build trust and rapport amongst several such community members who could be considered for increased responsibilities with some honorarium.
It was heartening to note the respect and gratitude the villagers express towards Mataji and Mohan. They have built a very strong and trusting relationship with villagers in Gaja and several other villages around Gaja. 

Main Action Points:
Extend the ration distribution to as many widowed women as possible: It was realized that the food items provided through ration helps the women to cope with the basic nutrition needs of families. Several widowed women came to register for this service and many more are expected to come.  It was agreed that the ration distribution can be extended to more widowed women. At his point more than 51 additional women were registered and more are expected. All these women will receive ration from June onwards. Mohanji will verify and register women and also will make arrangement for ration distribution through a local shop. It was also agreed that, all women will get the revised package of Rs.360 from June.

Increase the items and quantity of food: It was found that the quantity of food provided lasts for about 10 days. Also, there are few other essential items that will help the women to have a more complete package. It was agreed that a small change will be made to the current quantities along with inclusion of three more items. This will be reviewed after 2-3 months for a more comprehensive list of items. However, a more efficient way of distribution and monitoring method needs to be developed to manage this increased number and quantity.

Appoint full-time staff to conduct field level assessment and evolve a need-based program: It was found that there is need and scope for conducting a detailed assessment before planning activities to address income generation, women empowerment, employment generation, and gender sensitization programs. There is heavy outward migration, domestic violence and exploitation of women, alcoholism amongst men, unemployment, unsustainable agricultural practices, etc..  Mohanji expressed that at this point it is not possible to expand the program, especially ones involving community visits, mobilization and ongoing monitoring. It was felt necessary to appoint two or to begin with even one full-time staff to manage and conduct this assessment. This can lead to more comprehensive community based program addressing the needs of widowed women and other issues around women empowerment in Gaja and surrounding villages. This team needs to be supported to conduct the assessment and evolve their own program. They can also consider net-working with other NGOs to augment their services. One such NGO with which the Ashram is already networking is Ekta Vikas Samiti, which has just started forming self-help groups (SHGs) of women and exploring few income generation activities. They are also thinking of appointing a community level staff to mobilize and support women SHGs.
Offer scholarship and mid-day meal to support enrollment and retention of girls and other poor students at Shikhar Scholars Academy:  The academy offers quality education as against poor and failing quality in government. Hence, it is necessary to support the poor girls and other students to be able to enroll and avail education in this school. Discussion with school team revealed that though they are struggling with financial viability, they are already offering 100% scholarship to 32 students. Many deserving students are not able to enroll as they canít pay monthly fees. Hence, it is suggested to support the school with funds to provide scholarship to needy that is based on Mataji and Mohanjiís recommendation. Preferably these students/children will be from families that they are working with. Also, consider providing mid-day meal to several students who walk long distances (up to 2hrs climbing hills). This can be started immediately in consultation with the school team.

Start an old age home in Rishikesh: As per Mataji and Mohanís assessment there is no such facility and very much needed in Rishikesh. One of Matajiís long cherished dream was to develop a residential facility to for old and destitute, especially widowed women, sick and dying. Some of Matajiís friends were willing to support but this project did not took off due to lack of dedicated team. While discussing, Mataji expressed that now that the Paramhansa Yogananda Trust has a clear focus on supporting the old and widowed women, she feels confident of setting up a home in Rishikesh. Mataji named few devotees (Susan, Anjali, Gita and Bhavesh) who have already expressed desire to come and live in Rishikesh. Also, resources and funds can be generated through existing network of devotees, friends and supporters. Setting up such facility for the old, will be at one end of the overall focus of the program on supporting the old and widowed women in Gaja and surrounding villages.  It is suggested to have more discussion on this as it involves setting up and running an institution with a long-term perspective along with a big capital cost. But, it was found quite necessary and feasible considering Matajiís conviction. Mataji and Mohanji could detail out some basic steps and costs to begin with and trust can provide appropriate support.

    Vanamali Ashram Seva Includes:

    - Providing monthly ration of rice, wheatflour, daal, sugar, tea etc
    to about 50 very poor families, mostly widows and disabled.
    - Providing roofing sheets and tarpaulins to about 50 Families.
    - Providing furniture to 4 village  schools.
    - Providing School uniforms for chilldren in 14 villlage schools. (This was indeed the most challenging job for me to get the right size and right  colour uniforms ordered and supplied!!)

     School Uniforms

    - Distributing notebooks, pencils, school bags etc to deserving school students.
    - Providing drinking water to Gaja and Jaikot villages through tankers
    during the acute water shortage period of summer.
    Apart from these help is extended to individuals
    on a need based basis with whatever resources we have.


On sundays children arrive at the ashram freshly washed

 to sing bhajans and enjoy milk & cookies.

Durga Puja

Nine little girls are clothed and treated like goddesses
during the Kannya  Puja of the
Navaratri festival
Vanamali Ashram.

Tapovan Leper Colony

Feeding the members of the Tapovan Leper Colony

Tapovan Leper Colony

Tapovan Leper Colony

Mataji distributing food and shawls to poor children of a school near Rishikesh

Mataji distributing food and shawls to poor children at a school near Rishikesh

Amar Jyoti School

Distributing Clothing

Children at school for handicapped doing Yoga.

Brahma Kapal

Mataji feeding the poor at Badrinath

Hospital Gajja

Vanamali Ashram donation of  bed, mattress and blankets to the local govt hospital (for women) Gajja, UR

Vanamali Gita Yogasram
Tapovan P.O.,Via Shivanand Nagar,
Rishikesh, Utteranchal State,   249192, INDIA

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