Mother Miracle: Why One Woman Sold Everything She Had And Moved To India
A very special woman is coming to San Francisco's Grace Cathedral to tell her story next Tuesday night on August 16 at 7:45 p.m, following Yoga on the Labyrinth, the Tuesday night yoga class at the cathedral.
Shahla Ettefagh, born in Iran and a Marin County resident since the 1980s, took a trip to India in 1995 that changed her life. During the trip on a cold December day, Shahla stopped to get a cup of chai tea when a 2 ½ year old little girl with no shoes and a freezing cold body approached her and pointed to the chai. “I gave it to her and she held the chai against her body then laid on my feet to keep warm,” Shahla said. “I then held her in my arms to warm her up.”
Shahla said in that moment her life flashed in front of her eyes through a tunnel with a white light. “I cried the whole rest of the trip,” Shahla said. “My heart was broken.” It was then she vowed to come back to India and serve these children.
A few years later, after Shahla’s son graduated high school, she sold everything she had and moved to Rishikesh, India with one suitcase not knowing a single soul in the country and began Mother Miracle, a school that offers underprivileged children free education. The school, which started in 2002 with nine students and Shahla’s personal money, has grown to now serve 300 students, aged from 3 ½ through high school. Today, Mother Miracle, housed in a four-story building, is equipped with 36 staff members and a lab with 48 computers.
According to the Mother Miracle mission statement: “By educating very poor but extremely smart children from a young age, we give them a chance to excel and to fully reach their individual potential. By offering them the resources and opportunities to succeed in society along with skills to develop their community, we are moving towards creating a better future not only for each child, but for entire families and for generations to come. Our students will use these skills and continue to be involved with programs at Mother Miracle School. Our strategy gives an essential task to all individuals at Mother Miracle School. We hope our students will return in the future to become teachers and role models, passing on their knowledge to the community.”
Students are taught in English, and also practice meditation and yoga and learn how to write code starting in 5th grade. “My goal by 12th grade is for every student to know the ins and outs of computer programming,” Shahla said. “My kids are blooming in front of me and I am so happy.”
The school is a registered nonprofit in both India and the United States and also recently received an Award of Achievement for being one of the best schools in India.
How to Help Create Miracles
Darren Main, who teaches Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral said, “A friend told me about the Mother Miracle school on one of my early trips to India. I was so deeply impressed when I met the children and saw the work they were doing,” Darren said. “I knew it was something I wanted to support and something in which I would like to become deeply involved.”
Darren told Malcolm Clemens Young, dean of the cathedral, and Jude Harmon, the priest working on the yoga ministry, about Shahla, and they enthusiastically supported inviting her to speak at the cathedral. Jude, the Director of Innovative Ministries at Grace, explained, “Grace Cathedral has a longstanding commitment to justice for children, naming it recently as one of four pillars in its social justice platform. Our yoga community has played a vital role in raising the profile of our Community Preschool, which has a specific mission to serve underprivileged children and their families in San Francisco. For example, November 17 will mark our fourth annual yoga fundraiser for the Preschool, Yoga for Change, with contributions going directly to scholarship support for children and their families who live in the Tenderloin and other at-risk neighborhoods in the city.”
Darren has now been a sponsor for a boy in the school, Shivam, for five years. “It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Darren said. Shivam is now in college. “There are so many things that are rewarding about sponsoring another miracle child. Perhaps the most rewarding, however, is seeing Shivam develop a friendship with my son. Although my son is only six years old, he's already been to visit Mother Miracle school four times. Shivam is like a brother to him now,” Darren said.
I have learned that there are two ways we can approach suffering in this world, Darren said. “We can get depressed about the fact that we will never end suffering in this world. Or we can take small steps that have big results.” Darren said that this program has shown him that even the smallest effort can go a long way to easing suffering in this world—that a tiny amount of money to him can make the world of difference to a child.
“The fact that I have been there to meet the children, to see the light in their eyes, and to see how much they grow and develop and blossom, has shown me just what a powerful opportunity to school presents for children and for those of us that choose to support them,” Darren said. “It truly is a miracle.”
Each year, Shahla returns to the United States to look for sponsors for her students. Currently she is looking for 100 new sponsors. It costs $40 a month to sponsor a child in the Mother Miracle school, which covers the cost for their education, books, breakfast, milk and an all you can eat lunch each day. All contributions are tax deductible in the U.S. For more information on sponsoring a child, visit www.mothermiracle.com/sponsorship.
Learn more about Shahla and the Mother Miracle program next Tuesday at the Grace Cathedral following Darren’s yoga class, which starts at 6:15 p.m. For more information on the Tuesday night yoga class and the Mother Miracle event at the cathedral, visit www.gracecathedral.org/yoga or labyrinthyoga.com. For more information about Mother Miracle, visit www.mothermiracle.com.