By Grace Kelly, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and this certainly rang true throughout our visit to Surman Sansthan, an NGO in Jaipur, India. Founded on November 31st, 1998, with the mission “to bestow dreams in lonesome eyes and empower them to fulfill those dreams”, Surman currently serves as a home for 125 children ages 12 months to 18 years, providing shelter, meals, and schooling. Surman not only helps abandoned and orphaned children but also runaways. If the parents are able to reform themselves and prove to the government that they are capable parents, the children are allowed to return to their families if they want to. Over the past 19 years, Surman has helped “rehabilitate” or return 567 children to their original homes. 

The founder, Ms. Manan Chaturvedi, was previously a fashion designer in New Delhi but was inspired to start this organization when she found a child that had been left in a garbage can in the city. Manan is referred to as “Mom” by all of the children and workers at Surman and lives there with her own family. Apart from private donations, the fundingfor Surman comes entirely from the proceeds of Manan’s artistic work, most notably her paintings that are done with her fingers. Manan also produces theatrical shows, short films, and monthly magazines to help bring in money. 

Right now, the organization has 77 girls and 48 boys staying under its roof, the disproportionate number of girls a telling sign of one of India’s most pressing social problems: a clear preference for sons and gender inequality. Many parents abandon their daughters, unable to provide for them and afford the expensive dowries necessary to marry them off. Even worse, infanticide is common amongst soon-to-be mothers who discover they are having a girl. Ms. Chaturvedi hopes to change this, sending many of Surman’s young women off to universities, with some even going on to get an MBA or engineering degree. Surman’s current facilities can hold a maximum of 227 children, but they have plans to building a large development nearby that would expand their capacities to 2,500, making it the biggest in Rajasthan. 

We were lucky enough to spend a few hours at Surman playing with boys and girls of all ages. The one thing they all had in common? Their love of Snapchat! Together, we scrolled through the different filters on the app making funny faces and chatting about our favorite hobbies and music (the girls loved Justin Bieber and Hannah Montana). The boys got a real kick out of the dog filter and the girls were giggling endlessly over the flower crown one. At an organization funded by paintings, it seemed fitting that we bonded over photography and the arts. Have you found commonalities with foreigners when traveling? What were they?