Monthly Archives: March 2009
Last week I spent three days in Cuttack, at Papa’s orphanage in Choudwar with “my” kids – the original bunch that I worked with first four years ago. We had a blast! We spent most of the day Wed, Thurs and Fri with them. Most of the girls are still there – it was such a treat seeing them all! Sumi and Mami, Pinky, Binita, Santa….and of course my Daina! They were not expecting us and were eating lunch when we arrived on Wednesday. They spotted us and we spotted them, as we sat in the courtyard with Mama, as they wandered back and forth washing their plates and hands. They were very shy, though, as a volunteer group hasn’t been there in a while and not many volunteers at all. I saw Pinky and called her over to say hello and for a hug. Finally, a few minutes later I spotted Daina. I ran up to her and hugged her and picked her up. Even though she was a little shy, when I picked her up she whispered “I love you!” in my ear. It was so sweet and of course, just melted my heart. I was so happy to see her! And everyone.
On Friday morning when we got there, 18 new kids were just arriving. 18 new kids!! Where will they put them? How will they pay for them or care for them? It sometimes seems that the flow of children is never ending. These 18 were all younger kids, I’d say between 5-8 years old. They were scared and unsure, huddled together and looking around warily. Bubu was great, she greeted each one individually and chatted with them. Soon they were on the playground, and shortly after that, all asleep. A very big day for them. I’m not sure how they will manage as more kids keep coming in…..
Some of you know of these kids more than others, and for those that do, you know that Santosh is gone (I had sponsored him for years, since 2005). He was taken out of the home about a year ago by his father. At that time, I worried about the reasons why – his father had placed him there when he was not even two years old, because his new wife didn’t want Santosh (his mother had died). Now, suddenly, when Santosh is 13 years old – old enough to work – his father comes and takes him away. I have been determined that when I came back to India, I would try and find him to check up on him.
Sure enough, upon talking to Bubu (a house mother and head teacher who has been there for years), she confirmed my worst fears. Santosh’s father did come and take him away, initially to their village not far from the Choudwar home. However, soon Santosh had been sent off to Konark to work. Konark is about 2-3 hours away from Choudwar, home of the famous Sun Temple. Santosh had been sent there by his father to work in the Sun Temple market, selling little souvenirs to the visitors. I asked Bubu where Santosh was living, and she didn’t know for sure but assumed what I assumed – that he is probably living in a boys hostel or boarding house. He is only 13 years old!!!! I hate to think of him working and out of school. It’s not a judgment call on his father – who has lived in the village all his life, is poor and illiterate and probably had the same life and knows nothing else. What good is an education? But still I can’t help but be angry with him.
As it turns out, MANY of the boys are no longer in the home, particularly the older boys. Rashikanta is about the only older boy that I know, who is still there. I would say that about 30% of the boys I last saw two years ago are gone, and most of them are older boys. Probably sent to work just like Santosh. It kills me.
My flight left Saturday morning, as I went onward to South India; however Craig’s flight did not leave until that evening, and so he spent Saturday going to the Sun Temple to try and find Santosh. And he did find him! Here is his report:
Santosh is living with a family that he really likes and they treat him very well. I met the guardian and he’s a very sweet guy. The stand is a family shop and Santosh only works when they need the help. Not at all like we thought. I had to use Santosh’s photo to track him down. He wasn’t in the shop – and there were dozens of the – so it’s a good t hing I had it. He’s not skinny little kid anymore – he’s really filled out. Not sure I would have recognized him without help.Santosh was really stand offish at first but by the time the day was over we were holding hands like Indian buddies. When I first told him I was “Shelley’s friend”, he kept asking me to take him to see you. We visited the Sun Temple, visited his home and watched Cricket together – Santosh, his guardian and the driver, and we had lunch together. Santosh spent at least an hour looking at the photos on my camera with a big smile on his face. You can tell he really misses Choudwar. Wish you could have been there. Your letter meant a lot to him. The driver was invaluable – a really good guy that hit it off with Santosh. He takes people to the Sun Temple 10 to 15 times a month so he’s going to look in on him a lot. I have the driver’s number so we can call him and get updates on Santosh – in English, sort of.
So at least, even though Santosh is not at the home and not going to school, he is in a good place and being taken care of. That’s something to be thankful for, at least. And also, now he knows that there are people who still care about him, who will still keep up with him and check on his welfare and whereabouts – people who will be there if he needs them. I feel very relieved just to have found out about how he is doing.
The past few days I have spent in Rourkela, in Orissa in northeastern India. I’ve been with the Miracle Foundation volunteer group working in the orphanage that Dr. Manjeet Pardesi opened a few years ago. The 100-plus children who live there are doing well – healthy, happy, beautiful, doing mostly good in school – we had a blast with them!
The Rourkela home is mostly younger children – here the program for unwed mothers was started, and so there are a lot of babies and toddlers. The rest of the children are pretty much between 4 and 10 years old, with only a couple of older children like Kalpana. The house mothers are great – well trained, and the children absolutely adore them. These women have one of the toughest jobs – they are on 24/7. They live, eat, sleep and breathe with these children with virtually no off time. They are absolutely amazing.
Most of the children here at Rourkela are sponsored, but there are a few who need sponsors. This is important, because Caroline and Manjeet cannot take more children in until all the current children are sponsored, with their needs being met and the financial ability to care for their needs. This was demonstrated to me vividly on Monday afternoon. I saw Manjeet sitting by the front gate of the compound with a woman holding a baby, and several men. Later, at lunch, we asked Manjeet who it was.
He told us it was a woman who had heard of the home and traveled a very long way, from neighboring Jakharnd state. Her baby was three months old, and she was dying. She felt she had only months to live, and she wanted to bring her baby to the home and give it to Manjeet. However, Manjeet had no ability to take the baby in – again, until they can care and provide for the children already living there, they cannot take more in. So, the best Manjeet could do was give her a hundred rupees to get something to eat and travel back from where she’d come – a day’s journey.
I had a lot of great moments with these beautiful children, but one of the best might have been with a four year old girl named Mary. She was very quiet, but attached herself to me and was all over me Monday, in my lap each time I sat down and raising her arms to be picked up every time I walked near her. I only found out later, from Manjeet, that Mary had once been blind. Danny Connor, a volunteer along with me on this trip, has a sister named Leslie who had also been with the two of us on a previous visit two years ago. Leslie told her circle of friends about Mary, and one of them paid for her and a caretaker to travel to Delhi and for her to have an operation that fixed her problem and allowed her to see. She now has 20/20 vision!
And the most beautiful eyes. Late in the afternoon, in a rare quiet moment, I was sitting on a mat in the toddler room and Mary crawled into my lap. For a few moments, she just stared up into my eyes while I looked back into hers. She reached up and silently stroked my hair, pushing my bangs back out of my eyes and then tapping my cheek gently, all the while just gazing at me with her huge brown eyes. It seems simple, but it was a magical moment – and I only knew how much so the next day, when Manjeet told me the story about how, not so long ago, those eyes wouldn’t have even seen me.
Amazing. Time and again, I am humbled by the things people have done, and the changes wrought in the lives of both these children and the people who are involved with them.
Visit the Miracle Foundation website and learn how you can sponsor a child today!
I received a comment on this blog about my book and its subject from Professor Nirmal Gupta. Prof. Gupta is a heart surgeon who lived and worked in the U.K. for over a decade, before returning to India to work with children with heart defects in one of the poorest regions of the country, Uttar Pradesh. Dr. Gupta is the Head of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences.
Dr. Gupta’s work with the poor is called the Bless a Heart Mission, which states:
This Mission has been established to provide help to those unfortunate children who are caught in the miserable web of poverty and ignorance. We can not even begin to imagine a life with a heart illness unless we ourselves suffer such conditions. These children endure that and suffer silently as there is no hope for them and wait for their death! Every single child saved from such misery counts.
The Bless A Heart Mission blog recently had a story at the occasion of Slumdog Millionaire’s big win at the Oscars. This story was about Born Into Brothels, which won Academy Awards four years ago, and what has become of some of the children featured in that. Please read it here – it is quite a moving post.
Dr. Gupta also made a post on his Bless A Heart Mission blog with the following parable, which I love:
” One evening an old grandfather told his grandson about the battles that go on inside people. He said, ‘My son the battle is between two wolves inside us.
One is evil. It is anger, envy, regret, greed, arrogance, resentment, false pride and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace , love, compassion, truth, humility, generosity and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grand father -
‘Which wolf wins ?’
Grandfather simply replied -
‘The one you feed !’