“I can’t allow this to happen! What can I do?”
These were my first words and reaction when a close friend of mine in Paris, Elisabeth Ballard, a retired professor in English, from the department of Science and Education at the university of Paris, returned in march 2009, saddened and disillusioned from a five month volunteer teaching period at a privately run elementary school in Bodhgaya, in the state of Bihar, India. The school which provided free education to 135 children, was on the verge of being shut down because of lack of sponsor funds. The shutting down of the school would have resulted in the children returning to a life of manual field labor, destitution and hopelessness. I felt terrible at the thought of the fate of these children and their hopes for a better future cut short because of the lack of sponsor funds.
In April 2009 I subsequently contacted the principal of the school and pledged to donate monthly funds to allow them to continue their educational mission. To guarantee the continuation of this initiative I set up a foundation called “Marni Foundation” - the name of MARNI is made up by the abbreviated names / letters of my late wife Marion and my daughters Martijntje and Nike.
For someone like me who was walking the path towards Buddhism, this coming-together in the mecca of Buddhism, Bodhgaya, was an incredible coincidence. Bodhgaya is the sacred town, where about 2,500 years ago the Buddha found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, around which a beautiful temple is built. A daily stream of Buddhist visitors from all over the world, including his holiness the Dalai Lama, visit this holy city to meditate and find continued spiritual inspiration.
Marni Foundation was first established to provide education to the children in the village of Bhodhgaya, Bihar and since then, is slowly growing both in scope and geographical coverage to serve this mission across India.