“I came to India in 2003 from USA to learn Yoga,” says Tracy, who is the founder of Operation Shanti. After earning degrees from both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and after a brief stint as a computer programmer, Tracy had spent eight years as an investment banker on Wall Street in New York and San Francisco.
Apart from her work, Tracy was practicing yoga and photography till the day her Asthanga yoga teacher suggested she visit India and learn from the main center. Tracy then flew to Mysore in the year 2003. Little did she realise then that this was going to be her house from then onwards. “I expected it to be full of stench and messy,” she laughs. Along the way, she met Swami Jamanagiri, who lived a life of selfless service at the Shiva temple cave. Inspired by his way of life and service, she chose him as her primary teacher. “After seeing how he lived with so little, I started questioning my possessions,” recounts Tracy. One day, I asked him, “Why are we here?” His answer was: “To do good things.”
Inspired by his words and to learn more about “true service”, she began reading Mother Theresa’s and other autobiographies. This was when she was still in Mysore. While practicing yoga in Mysore, during her morning strolls she often found kids vomiting, sleeping on footpaths, loitering around in a very unhygienic manner. She recalls a very disturbing event, “During my runs in the morning after yoga, I came across a girl vomiting continuously for three days. On the third day, I went to talk to her and found her absent from that place. I spoke to the kids there and found many more who lived on the streets, right there, some by themselves, others with their mothers.”
Since that day, Tracy along with other volunteers from the yoga center used to take nutritive food, medication and also teach them yoga and hygiene on Sundays.
“One day, a mother of one of these kids approached me and asked me to take all these kids and give them shelter and education. Having this thought already, I started Operation Shanti in the year 2005.” With a bunch of 10 kids from the street, she started Operation Shanti on the outskirts of Mysore.
Karunya Mane, which translates to the House of Compassion for the Poor, now hosts 44 street children. Few of these kids have a parent and others have no parents at all. “But Operation Shanti is about working at the grassroots level and tackling the problem one child at a time, that’s how you enact change and improvement in the lives of the poor,” says Tracy.
All the kids attend private school and receive an exposure to extracurricular activities like karate, yoga, art, dancing and singing. “When we place a destitute child into a residential school, as we have done for a couple of kids to date, it is more than about providing an education,” Tracy continues. “It’s about giving them status as human beings in a society where the poor have very little opportunity to improve their lives.”
Her organization also seeks out other NGO resources that could be beneficial to the poor. They have registered a number of former homeless women at the local HIV/AIDS clinic and have helped other women who do not want to bear any more children to receive tubectomies.
With a mission to provide the street population with a new way to tackle one of their largest obstacles, Tracy is ready to go to any extent and help however she can. “We’ll go anywhere there’s need. Mysore is just the beginning,” she says. Tracy writes in her spare time to support herself.