Back Home in India
After traveling for a month in Southeast Asia, I finally made it back to my kids in India in October 2010. It feels like coming home, both to be in India as well as seeing these beautiful, beloved faces again.
First stop was Choudwar, the first place I ever came in India and where all the “original” children of my heart are – Salu, Pinky, Meena, Santa, Mami, Sumi, Rashikanta…and of course my Daina. I arrived last Sunday night with Keith and Jody, and two days later Caroline and Susan met us. Papa is the same as ever, and was thrilled to have us there. He was also very proud of my book that was “about him,” and happy that I had told the world the stories of these precious kids. We spent three days playing with the kids, dancing, and attending the big Lakshmi puja festival that was going on. That was a blast! Head housemother Bubu and some of the older girls, including Santa, Pinky, Meena and Babina, took us to the festival for the afternoon. We ate snacks, rode rides, got henna hands, shopped at the market, and were generally the celebrity attractions at the festival. Choudwar is a small village, and they virtually never see Western visitors. On our last night, the kids put on a special dance performance for us.
One of the best things about the trip was that Papa arranged for Santosh to ride the bus up from Konark, where he is now living and working (he is 18 years old now!). Santosh was able to spend two days in Choudwar and I was so thrilled to see him. On the last night he rode into Cuttack with us and we set him up in a hotel before catching the bus back the next morning. He also got his certificate from school which will allow him to re-enroll and complete his education, which has lapsed since he left the orphanage. He is a man now, and I was so happy to see him and let him know that just because he left the ashram, he is never forgotten. He was what brought me to India in the first place, and I will always be his Didi and friend.
Wednesday night late, we took the overnight train to Ranchi, to visit Sooch Village. This is the model children’s home for The Miracle Foundation, built with a large donation from the Sooch Foundation. This children’s village is family style, with 19 cottages which each house 10 children and a house mother. Most all the house mothers have been here from the beginning and a good many of them will make their lives here. Susan, Sushma and Joyti are wonderful women who have dedicated their lives 24/7 to these children, as have Manjeet, Caroline, Mr. Kaul and the rest of the staff. Sooch Village is on 7 acres, with a prayer hall, play fields, a main house where the volunteers stay and the offices are located, a medical clinic/infirmary and a dining hall. Instead of a large institution or dormitory set-up like most orphanages, Sooch is more like individual homes and families who all live on one big estate. They all go to English school and are having many opportunities in life that they never would have had otherwise.
This volunteer trip was a Medical Trip, and the volunteer group was awesome. The children from Rourkela were brought here for the visit, and it was a great vacation for them as well. Many wonderful things were accomplished; here is a mere highlight of the top achievements:
- 270 Physical Examinations were done on the children who live here, plus 35 more on lunch-and-learn students who come in from the surrounding village for a meal and schooling.
- 170 Dental Exams were performed on children, plus 15 house mothers. These included teeth cleaning, fluoride treatment, and many tooth extractions.
- 200 Eye Exams were completed.
The children were amazingly stoic. In the face of drawing blood and pulling teeth, there were only a few tears. The most incredible thing about all this is that medical records were being built, we were able to see where the children are physically and what needs to be done next for their health, and many of the kids were receiving medical or dental treatments for the first time in their lives.
Our amazing volunteer staff performed the following functions, and a big thanks goes out to each and every one of them:
- Doctors Lily Sood and Sangeeta Shah ran the medical clinic and performed all the physical exams and created medical records. Dr. Tracey Haas arrived early to set up the medical clinic and entire team.
- Amy Miller and Lori Hodge did the intake and took blood pressure at the medical clinic, among many other jobs to assist.
- Dentists Meera Chandy from Austin, and Indian dentists Preet Jain, Dev Kumar Garg, Amit Porwal, Abhinav Agarual, and Tara Chand. These amazing dentists tirelessly did dozens of teeth cleaning and treatments every hour, assisted by Joanne Connerty and myself, Shelley Seale.
- Lisa Knaffla and Adrienne Cunningham converted all the medical records to electronic format, thanks to hours upon hours of data entry.
- Melina Lowden, Kathleen Evans and Dean Read performed all the eye exams.
- Lal Sood and Nick Oza were invaluable as translators. Nick also served as our professional photojournalist, along with Susan Reue who also took thousands of amazing photographs.
- Keith Hajovsky and Jody Castano shot the videos of children for their sponsors, a task that is somewhat akin to wrangling rattlesnakes.
- Tyla Tingle and Susan Barry were on hand to evaluate the need and possibilities for an ESL program, and where the kids are in terms of learning English.
- MaryEllen Pietruszynski, Executive Director of the Sooch Foundation, came in to see the occupied and full-fledged village for the first time since its grand opening.
And enough thanks cannot be given to Jasdeep Sandhu, who pretty much coordinated and ran the entire medical clinic and acted as the liaison between the doctors and operations staff to disseminate information; and Barbara Joubert, the Miracle Foundation’s indefatigable travel coordinator who somehow manages the thousands of arrangements that go into getting everyone here and making it all happen. A big thanks as well to the staff on the ground in India, including all the house mothers and Sooch staff, and Dr. Manjeet Pardesi (Director of Operations in India and one of my personal heroes) and Mr. Kaul, the head staff member at Sooch Village.
Our last night all together was celebrated with an early Diwala lighting of the cottages, prayers and a special dance performance by the children. I know that we will all go onward with the kids and the experience in our hearts, and most will be back again. I know I will! It’s amazing to see what all has happened, how things have changed for hundreds of children, due to one woman – Caroline Boudreaux, who landed here 10 years ago and has done nothing since that time except work to uphold the rights and improve the lives of these young people. I am proud to have been a part of that.