Mother Miracle School In Rishikesh
Cover Photo by Deidre Norman
By Autumn Feldmeier
My first trip to India was in 2011 and I was deeply moved by the raw beauty everywhere. I was also deeply moved by the poverty and this is what inspired me to attend a workshop in San Francisco with Shahla Ettefagh, the founder of Mother Miracle School in Rishikesh, India.
Shahla's first trip to India was in 1995. She was so moved by the state of the children there, that she vowed to come back to India to dedicate her life to helping poor children and families, especially women. In 2002, she sold her house, her personal belongings, her business, left the love of her life and moved to India. She even ripped up her photo albums to avoid the temptation of returning. Soon afterwards she began the Mother Miracle School. A school dedicated to empowering intelligent children from the slums of Rishikesh, India to be the best!
Mother Miracle provides the highest quality education, as well as nutrition and healthcare. There is also a scholarship program that enables the students to attend private universities in India and the United States. They also serve the community by offering free vocational training for women and computer literacy courses for adults.
Inspired by my trip in 2011, I began to sponsor two girls at Mother Miracle. What they are doing at Mother Miracle is very unique, in that you are connected directly with the child(ren) you are sponsoring. And, the best part is that you get to stay connected with them! Almost immediately after signing up as a sponsor, I received correspondence from my girls. Photos, report cards and letters. You are involved the whole way and sponsors can even give gifts and birthday cakes. Soon, they are going to enable FaceTime so you can interact live with the children.
Shahla mentioned that the students benefit tremendously from the sponsorships because, "The children understand that there is someone on the other side of the world who also cares for them."
In the community of Rishikesh, India where most of the students are from, parents make on average $8,000 rupees per month (about $124 USD). Shahla mentioned that this just makes "our kids try harder." In fact, Shahla said, "The kids at Mother Miracle have won 249 awards in competitions with private schools in India. These kids from the slums of Rishikesh have outperformed kids in chess, math, dance, yoga and sports."
Shahla explained that, "Integrating the families into the students education is important at Mother Miracle. We have monthly meetings with parents to help everyone understand that we are all investing in children. And, as part of that investment, these children need time away from chores to complete their homework. This is especially important for girls who typically have more household chores and are married around the age of 13."
One of my favorite things I learned from Shahla was that the students at Mother Miracle are given milk at 7am everyday. The students do not want to miss out on the milk, so they make sure that they arrive on time and are ready with their milk cups. My other favorite thing is that yoga and meditation are part of the curriculum, which is very different from the US.
When I asked Shahla how she stays positive she said, "When I see 400 kids eating lunch and I see their excitement, it is the best part of my life! These kids can have as many helpings of lunch as they want. This is sometimes the only meal they get in a day, and the fact that Mother Miracle is providing this along with an incredible education makes me very happy."
Another wonderful thing about the Mother Miracle students, is that they often teach their siblings, so the entire community benefits.
- Mother Miracle has 12 students in University, one graduate from a top nursing school and one student enrolled at Drake University studying to become a neurosurgeon.
- Mother Miracle's goal is to have 700 students enrolled by 2021.
- Mother Miracle takes about 100 new students every year.
- Mother Miracle currently has 48 computers. Their first computers were in 2009, when Preity Zinta donated twelve.
- Mother Miracle has recently built a bakery. There is a little coffee shop and bakery where locals and tourists walking by can come in and support the school by eating at the bakery.
Photographs by Robert Sturman