Fundraising Appeal 2014

Dear Friend of Vanavil,

T. S. Eliot said that “April is the cruelest month”. Perhaps that’s why it’s the start of the financial year in India. I volunteer with the Vanavil Trust, a small NGO set up in 2005 for street children overlooked (or ignored) by government and aid workers after a tsunami hit the coast of South India. Looking at the budget for the coming financial year, Vanavil needs your help.


Two years ago, Vanavil fed, housed, and educated 125 kids on US$45,000, or about $1 per kid per day. At that time, the state government provided $20,000 through a program to keep kids off streets and reintegrate into formal schooling. We raised $4,000 from foundations, $8,000 from the local community, and $13,000 from overseas donors like you.

Last year, Vanavil got even more kids out of begging and into school. Enrollment was 133 on a budget of US$49,000. Of course, with India’s 10% inflation, $49,000 was actually a net decrease, as we would have needed to raise $49,500 just to cover the cost of the price rise in food and other supplies. It’s amazing that we managed to raise $49,000 at all, in the face of a funding crisis: under pressure to show rosy statistics, the state government decided to fix the number of vulnerable children in the entire region at 150. Since funds were also being diverted to “schools” with no children by reporting made up numbers of kids enrolled, the state declared that Vanavil could only count as 49 of the 150, and halved their contribution to $10,000. We managed to increase funding from foundations and locally, but were truly bailed out by $22,000 from individuals overseas.


This year, government funding is likely to be even less, as the pressure to show reducing numbers of vulnerable kids, no matter how unreal, continues. We’ll continue to face 9-10% inflation and some bills that have been put off, like replacing the school van, are also coming due.

India is an expensive low-budget country. The only thing cheap is wages. The price of energy, manufactured goods, and even many food items are “world” prices. It costs me $42 to fill up the gas tank of my car. And since energy (via oil, coal, electricity) is a major input to things like cement, building materials and even plastic buckets are often the same price as in the US, or more.

Vanavil has managed to find enough money to make it through each year for 9 years in a row, but your help is critical. Many months we scramble to find cash to pay teachers and cover the food bills. We’re not going to “go out of business” anytime soon, because our network of supporters, including you, won’t let that happen. But anything you can afford to give will definitely be well spent. Our major costs are teacher salaries and food, so much so that “egg” is broken out as a separate monthly budget header to ensure kids get enough protein. We run a low cost operation, as you can see in the pictures. The kids take lessons and eat lunch on the floor, typically have only their school uniform and one change of clothes, and no shoes. Our teachers earn about $100 per month, which we desperately want to increase so as to hang on to the good ones for a bit longer.

This coming year is also a critical year in that, after 9 years of really hard work, we’re on the cusp of something unusual and special: a new and self-sustaining pattern of living, with a better chance of getting out of poverty, is emerging at Vanavil. Traditionally, the families of Vanavil lived outside of the government, ignoring school, marrying young, moving from place to place, and foraging off the land. The 2005 tsunami and relative economic development (or lack of it) changed all of that – it is no longer possible to be a nomadic hunter in modern India. With their traditional way of life effectively extinct, the families who survived the tsunami have settled in Nagapattinam. Many of them turn to alcohol as a way to get through a life of trash-picking or begging. Day-to-day life is pretty marginal; many kids at Vanavil have been abused, and are under constant pressure to conform to the traditional practices of the community, which is to say, drop out of school and get married in their early teens.


The current “upper classes” at Vanavil, i.e. the 6th graders and above, are the first kids who started from kindergarten at Vanavil; they are sticking at school with grit. Last year we had our first student go on to college, and more and more kids are passing the important gateway of the 10th grade examination, which is required for things like getting a driver’s license. But it’s a close run thing. Just recently, one of our 12th grade girls was forced to elope by her mother, who told her that she would kill herself unless the kid got married. That night, the school organized a police and social welfare intervention, the wedding was called off, and another girl child may just graduate.



For all that, the kids are happy. Their lives are really hard; they are joyous to get attention, and they really appreciate what it means to live at Vanavil. Last February Mala and I took some friends to the school, and Paul asked one of the girls “What would you be doing if you weren’t at Vanavil?” Sudha was very matter of fact, and said without hesitation: “We would be begging.”

Mala and I will be driving down to the school May 11th to run a two day teacher-training workshop with another volunteer (ex-colleague from EZ Vidya.) It would be great if we could bring some good news with us from a foreign donor.

To donate from overseas, you can make an electronic transfer directly to Vanavil’s account (details below), in US dollars or any other currency. A receipt will be emailed to you. If you have any difficulty, or are not sure how to do a wire transfer, just let me know and I can make the donation in your name here in India and then I’ll ask you to reimburse me with a US check later.

  • 1 month operating expenses is about $5,000, or just about the IRS 1040 standard deduction.
  • Supporting 1 child for 1 year is about $400, paying one teacher’s annual salary, $1,200.


To transfer funds from Indian Banks, use the following details:

Account Name: Vanavil Trust
Account Number: 954121293
Bank Name: Indian Bank
Branch: Nagapattinam
IFSC: IDIB000N004 (5th character is zero)

From foreign countries (FCRA),
Account Name: Vanavil Trust
Account Number: 510101006399272
Bank Name: Corporation Bank
Branch: Nagapattinam
Bank Address: 73, Neela South St, Nagapattinam, India – 611001

Please put YOUR NAME in the memo field when making a NEFT , RTGS, or SWIFT transfer as our bank does not always provide much information on each transaction


Vanavil is a registered and audited charity. If you have any questions or concerns, just drop me a line, and, thank you.

a crab in the rice fields

Matt Wennersten

Chennai, India

+91 95000 35312

cool guys

What We Do at Vanavil


We help kids from extremely marginalized and historically nomadic communities, who would otherwise be living on the streets and begging, fortune telling, selling plastic, or worse.


Vanavil was set up in 2005 for children from the Narikuravar and Boom Boom Mattukarar community devastated by the tsunami in Nagapattinam and who had slipped through the gaps of government and NGO aid. In recent times, kids from different communities across the state have spontaneously come to Vanavil to find a safe place.


We house homeless kids in a supervised hostel.


We provide three meals a day.


We get kids back into school. Most of the kids who come to us are underweight, abused, ill, or otherwise emotionally troubled. We run primary school classes on-site, and, after kids are healthy and accustomed to the school environment, we enroll them in local schools, monitor their progress, provide mentoring and support through the qualifying exams at 10th and 12th grade, and help place them in colleges.