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Return to India

It was planned all year, and now I can’t believe it’s over.

I just returned from my 8th trip to visit my family in India. I have been planning this trip since January of this year. Now that I’m back home, it’s hard to believe the time — so long anticipated — has come and gone. That it’s over.

Already I miss the kids so much, all those whom I love and who have made their home my home, their family my family, over the past 10 years.

10477113_10152785424353654_3490020836624865823_oThe first night I was ever in India, nearly 10 years ago, was spent in this room. The prayer room in the ashram in Choudwar, Odisha, moments after arriving. It turned my world, my idea of existence and who I am in this life, upside down. This is what I wrote in my book about my first night in prayer time with the kids:

 “It was a simple prayer, reminding me that life need not be complicated unless we made it so. A soothing peace palpable in the air filled me. I breathed out deeply. There seemed no other world outside this place.

I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go home, or if they ever had. Home is a fragile concept — far more delicate than those of us who have always had one can imagine. When a person no longer has a home, when his family is taken from him and he is deprived of everything that was familiar, then after a while wherever he is becomes home.

Slowly, the pieces of memory fade, until this strange new place is not strange anymore; it becomes harder to recall the past life, a long ago family, until one day he realizes he is home.”

Sitting with my eyes closed, chanting, “Ohm, ohm…shanti, shanti, shanti” and listening to a hundred sweet voices sing around me — I feel my true self the most. There is nothing better on earth for setting the soul right. Even after all the many nights I’ve spent here over the years since, this is my all-time happy place. I know that I am home, too.

Below is a video of prayer on our very last night. Bittersweet…leaving is always so hard.

Even though I’m sad the trip is over and I’m having my typical India withdrawal, the visit was amazing. As always, being home and being with the children (as well as my Papa and Mama!) is such a homecoming, such a treat that seems to make everything right with the world. It was also an incredible visit because of the group we had. Joining me as she has on nearly every trip was my dear friend Jody, also a long-time supporter of the orphanage over the years. I was honored to be able to take both my mother and my daughter back for their second trips — my mom Sandy went last time, in 2012; and my daughter Chandler returned for the first time since 2006, when she was only 15 years old!

Also returning with us were my boyfriend, Keith; Kathleen, who was with me on that very first trip and was making her first visit back to this ashram; Nancy, who also was on the 2012 journey; and her daughter Lindsay, on her first trip to India. And we were joined by a new friend and volunteer, Sumeet, who lives nearby in Bhubaneswar and was a wonderful addition. This group of people truly made the trip magical, for all of us and for the kids.

One of the best things about this trip, as well, was the incredible support we had from friends. Caroline Boudreaux, founder of The Miracle Foundation and the person who first introduced me to India and these children, led the charge with a generous personal donation and challenging others to do the same. We had 35 donors all told, including ourselves, and raised right at $6,000 to donate to buy much-needed supplies for the home! We were able to do some electrical upgrading, purchase school supplies and bedding, give some additional cash for items needed for the children, and put half of the money into a fund for education and future needs. THANK YOU to everyone who donated and supported this cause — you awe me, every one of you.

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Bringing in the new school supplies!

The days were filled with laughter and love: dancing, singing, ice cream parties, games, beautification in the girls’ dorm rooms, drawing competitions, eating, and lots and lots of hugs.

I will post some more blog updates about specific things in the coming weeks. Until then, thank you all again for sharing our love for these kids, and making their lives so much better. You don’t even know what it means for them to feel special, loved and never forgotten. I will close with a short video of their welcome song. Namaste.

You can be part of changing a child’s future!

Make a donation to the kids!

148894_10150297589925720_7556716_nIn one week, I am leaving for my 8th trip to the Servants of India Society Orphanage in Odisha, India, where I’ve been going and helping to support with a small group of volunteers for 10 years now. Right now we are just shy of $5,000 in donation to take to help out this home. Can you help us reach that goal? EVERY DOLLAR HELPS. And EVERY SINGLE CENT goes straight to the orphanage: for education, clothes, food, supplies, books, equipment, and whatever else is needed. Every single cent we take straight to India and spend on the orphanage and the kids, and it goes a long way there!

This is where “my kids” reside, with my Indian Papa and Mama. The very first place I ever went in India, home of Santosh and Daina, where I was first inspired to write this book and tell the story of these children – their struggles, their joys, their problems and their hopes.

Every dollar in donations that I raise, I take with me to India and spend on things that the orphanage needs. Last trip, in November 2012, I raised just around $2,000 and spent the money on bedding, mosquito nets, lanterns, and many other necessary items that the orphanage needed. We also had an ice cream party complete with a magician show for the children! It was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had with my kids.

Watch a photo slideshow of our volunteer trips with the kids!

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If you would like to make a direct impact on the life of a child, this is the way to do it. Money goes a LONG way in India, so whether you can donate $5 or $1,000, every single dollar helps. Please donate today!

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For Mother’s Day, Give to Children who Don’t Have One

The day that we honor mothers is coming up this weekend. But what about the millions of children who don’t have a mother? Who maybe never had one?

Shelley author photo1I have spent much of the past decade of my life traveling back and forth to India (as well as a few other places) to visit and volunteer in orphanages. Caroline Boudreaux of The Miracle Foundation first invited me to visit India in 2004, where she supported several orphanages with her nonprofit foundation. Since then, the second family I have formed there is what inspired me to write my book, The Weight of Silence, and work/advocate/write on behalf of the rights of these children. Rights to a home, education, clean water and food, love. Most of all, the right to a childhood.

In 2006, I took my own daughter – then 15 years old – back to India with me. In 2012, I was able to take my mother with me. This November, the three of us will travel to visit the home and kids in India together for the first time, along with several other dear friends.

For Mother’s Day, The Miracle Foundation has a simple goal: to raise enough money to fund its 10th orphanage, enabling the team to give a home and bright future to even more children.

Instead of flowers or candy or a brunch out, why not consider celebrating Mother’s Day by gifting your mother with something that is truly meaningful. Something that will keep on giving for years to come, and really honor her role as a mother in your life.

If you would like to contribute to The Miracle Foundation Mother’s Day campaign, click here to learn more about it. Because changing one life is the only way to change the world.

Making the Holidays Happy for Children

Papa with his children

Papa with his children

As we become immersed in the winter holiday season, my thoughts always jump across the ocean to my kids in India. It was just a year ago, November 2012, when I was there with them. It seems a lifetime ago, and so far away. I wish I could visit them many times a year; I miss them so much, and think of them constantly. It was these children who inspired me to write this book about them – their plight and their lives and their promise.

These kids first came into my life in 2005. From that first night I was there, they stole my heart with their laughter, their joy, their mischief, their love – they asked nothing from me, except to be there with them. The Sahoos, who run the orphanage and have dedicated their entire lives to these children, have become my Indian Papa and Mama. They are simply amazing. And in all these years, all my visits, they have never once asked for money from me. Not a dime. I have raised money and donated and bought things of course, but they have never asked anything of me except my love. Not once.

Arriving in India for the first time, March 2005. Pinky and Meena greeted us.

Arriving in India for the first time, March 2005. Pinky and Meena greeted us.

Over the past nearly nine years I have watched these kids grow, from toddlers into adolescents; from adolescents into young men and women. Some, like Santa and Rashikanta, have left the orphanage and gone on to college and work. My Santosh, who was taken out of the orphanage several years ago by his father, lives two hours away in Konark where he has a good life with a wonderful guardian, Pravat, and works in the market at the Sun Temple. He’s a young man now, and we keep up constantly on the internet and via skype calls. He is my son – only one who is too far away.

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With my mother and Santosh at the Konark Sun Temple, November 2012

I will never turn my back on any of them. Too many people have already.

First, for many of them, were their own parents. Although there are true orphans here, whose parents have died – far too many of them are orphaned by poverty, given up by their parents, runaways, taken from abusive homes or even worse. Some were simply abandoned at birth, or victims of child labor.

They have also been abandoned by others who have come through and helped for a while, or promised help, only to leave along the way for various reasons. A lack of agreement over where the money is to be spent, a lack of understanding between American board members and Indian orphanage directors. Some people simply fade away and lose interest, or give up because everything doesn’t go exactly how and when they want it to. These kids get abandoned over and over, in different ways.

As long as I am alive, I will never be one of them.

Me, Mama, Papa and my Mother, November 2012

Me, Mama, Papa and my Mother, November 2012

Papa Sahoo takes nothing. You should see where he lives – at the orphanage with the children, in two simple rooms. He has very little. He wants and needs very little. Everything is for the kids; they are healthy, well fed, well dressed, and happy as one big family. Papa is someone I admire. He’s not perfect – I wish the kids could go to a better school, could learn English better. But they do what they can with what they have. And I will do everything in my power to add to that, to make their lives better and increase the possibility of a good future for these kids.

I love them all from the bottom of my heart. I won’t be one of those who abandon them yet again.

btn_donateCC_LGYou can help – I’m raising money for my next visit, in 2014, to collect and take to spend on needed items such as books, clothing, school tuition, etc. We are also trying to start a longterm foundation fund that will provide a resource to help pay for better schools and college for the kids who are good students and pursue their education. Your donation will be taken and applied 100% to the Servants of India Society home where these children live, in Choudwar Odisha.

A little bit goes a long way in India. These kids deserve a future. Thank you, and happy holidays.

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