Monthly Archives: June 2010
I often write about volunteering while traveling – often known as “voluntourism.” I am a huge volunteer and advocate of such trips myself, having made many of them and finding that the way it enriches the travel experience, as you become really immersed in the culture and everyday lives of real people there, allows you to bring back home with you much more than you gave.
I have traveled and volunteered in India numerous times with The Miracle Foundation, out of Austin. My book was inspired by my experiences with the children in the orphanages where I volunteer.
This October, I will be returning to India – including, of course, a week-long stint to volunteer with The Miracle Foundation. This trip is a Medical Volunteer trip; while I am not any sort of medical professional, The Miracle Foundation has put out a call for family practitioners, pediatricians, dentists and dental hygeniests to come on this trip. They really have a great need for medical professionals on this trip, so if you are one – this could be an experience that could truly change your life, like it did mine.
And if you really want to know what volunteering with the Miracle Foundation is like, listen to this podcast done by my publisher, Nola Lee Kelsey, for her Volunteer Before You Die network.
Here are all the details:
The Miracle Foundation invites you to experience India in a whole new way! Join us for The Miracle Foundation’s annual medical trip. You’ll have the opportunity to give back by sharing your expertise and talents, while also experiencing India in a whole new way.
Who: Pediatricians, Family Practitioners, Dentists, and Dental Hygienists
What: Medical exams (general check-ups) and dental exams (including tooth extractions, cleanings, and sealings as required) for each of the 500+ children in our care, as well as any of the 100+ staff members who may want to participate.
When: October 23–November 1, 2010
Where: Three orphanages located in the eastern states of Jharkhand and Orissa. Because this is one of the most impoverished regions of India, the medical and technological progress seen in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore is not apparent in this area, and high-quality medical attention is desperately needed. However, lodging accommodations are comfortable.
How: Fly into Delhi, where you will be met by our travel coordinator Barbara Joubert. She will then take care of all travel details. The group will then fly to Ranchi and travel by car and/or train to each of our three locations. Very comfortable and clean accommodations are provided with delicious, home-cooked vegetarian Indian cuisine. If it would be more convenient for you to travel via Mumbai, you have the option of making your way to Ranchi, where you will also be met at the airport by our travel coordinator.
Info: For further information, contact our Travel? Coordinator, Barbara Joubert, via phone at 512.329.8625 or email at Barbara@MiracleFoundation.org. Additionally, if you are interested in getting insights from a doctor and/or dentist who has already been on one of our medical trips, Barbara Joubert can provide you with their direct contact information.
The Miracle Foundation — founded in 2000 — is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on empowering orphans, one child at a time. Based in Austin, Texas, this secular organization currently cares for 500+ children in four homes located in eastern India, offering them a depth of care that is unprecedented in most children’s homes. In addition to providing their children with nutritious food, high-quality healthcare, and a college-prep education (including English proficiency and computer literacy), The Miracle Foundation has also established a family-style living model in each of their homes. With a ratio of one Housemother to every ten children, this model allows for a long-term relationship with a trained and loving Housemother, thereby providing each child with the foundation for attachment, an essential requirement for healthy human development and something most orphans are denied. By going beyond simply providing the basic rights, The Miracle Foundation is giving their children the tools they will need to break the cycle of poverty, while also fundamentally changing the standard of care for orphanages everywhere. The funding for this work is primarily achieved through sponsorships and individual donations.
For more information about The Miracle Foundation: www.miraclefoundation.org
I have had a relatively long familiarity with adoption; my youngest sister was adopted as a baby when I was a teenager. For years before that, my mother was a foster parent for children who were on their way to adoptive families. And as an adult, I have volunteered extensively for foster, adoptive and children’s advocacy organizations. So, basically it has always been something that is sort of “no big deal” to me – some children are born biologically to the parents, some children are adopted. Whichever they are, it really doesn’t matter, it’s just the way they arrived. Like being born C-section or regular birth, with blue eyes or brown eyes. No big deal.
However, I sometimes realize that this familiarity and acceptance of the various ways that families become families is somewhat unusual – in other words, a lot of people actually still seem to feel that an adoptive family isn’t perhaps a “real” family. That adopted kids aren’t really “your” kids. Although most of the people who feel this way, I believe, are just clueless and maybe think that because they have no real experience of it, at the same time it’s a troubling train of thought.
This is on my mind after being brought home to me again, by a woman who has adopted two children from India. She wrote to me after reading my book, to tell me how the book resonated with her and to tell me the story of her family. I wrote about it on this Weight of Silence blog; you can read her story here.
One day she posted about a disturbing encounter she had:
Talking to a very nice lady who was oohing and aahing over our littlest two and how they are so amazing and asking all sorts of questions about their adoption. I asked her if she was thinking of adopting and she exclaimed (in front of Bubbly and Sara), ‘Oh no! I want to have my OWN children.’”
I realize that the woman in question meant no harm, but was rather ignorant and extremely insensitive. However, this type of belief and attitude is very disturbing. Especially when there are “real” parents all over the world, by the millions, who aren’t any kind of parents at all. Who abuse their kids, neglect them, abandon them…and then there are the parents and children who were meant to be families from the start, and who find each other because they are parents and children of the heart, which is just as strong as blood.
It is one of the strongest, most important lessons I have learned all through my life: Genetics have NOTHING to do with what makes a family. Family is all about love.
Pass it on.
Memorial Day weekend saw the 35th Annual Convention of the Tamil Nadu Foundation, held in Valley Forge, PA outside Philadelphia. I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this extraordinary event attended by about 1,500 people. I took my mother along with me, and we had a fantastic time with a great group of people who are absolutely passionate about, and dedicated to, supporting causes for children in India.
The Tamil Nadu Foundation is comprised of thousands of Indian-Americans living in the U.S., who promote educational, social and other charitable projects in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, as a way to share their good fortune with those less fortunate.
Convention Chairman Som Somasundaram invited me some months ago to speak during the main assembly of the convention, which I did late Saturday afternoon, May 29. I spoke about the children’s suffering that I had witnessed while researching and writing my book – children who have been impacted by such things as orphaning, abandonment, abuse, street life, child labor, AIDS and other issues. I also spoke about the success stories and changes I’ve seen happen, in kids who were lucky enough to have a caring adult or two take an interest in their lives. I spoke about my own personal heroes, such as Dr. Manorama of the CHES Home in Chennai, who left behind a successful medical practice to dedicate herself to housing, and treating, HIV-positive children whom no one else would take in.
Som’s beautiful daughter, Lakshmi, introduced me beautifully, before I spoke. She also invited me to join the youth group, comprised of high school and college age students, in an informal session discussing volunteer work in India and some of my experiences. All in all, it was a great day spent with a large group of people who are just as committed as I am to being the change they want to see in the world, to quote Mahatma Gandhi.