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Giving a Job & Hope to People with Special Needs

This story comes from Caroline Boudreaux of The Miracle Foundation. Caroline just returned from India, where she was visiting numerous orphanages and other NGOs to potentially partner with her foundation. This inspirational account of a great organization and idea makes total sense – and makes you wonder why more people aren’t doing this kind of work. From Caroline:

In Bangalore now. Was picked up by the driver of Ashok Giri who is a fellow YGL that I met at Harvard. The driver handed me a McDonald’s bag with a fish sandwich, french fries and a diet coke. It was awesome.He wanted to give me an Indian welcome western style. SO SWEET.

We drove an hour to his office where Subhash Dhar was also waiting for me. Ashok and his wife run a for profit data entry company and employ only people with special needs. He is so on to something here. Deaf people use sign language to communicate and sign language is in English (who knew). So all his deaf employees come to him already reading and writing English. Most call centers/ companies that do this kind of wok in India promise their customers that all their staff will have a college degree. He won’t make that promise and doesn’t have to. There simply aren’t enough college seats to accept this group of people and there are no concessions for them in college. If you’re special needs and want to work, it is very difficult to find a job unless, you call Ashok. If you’re special needs with a 10th standard education and want to work, he’ll find a job for you.

Photo by Caroline Boudreaux

To that end, they print and mail out over three million letters of correspondence a month for companies throughout India so there is a whole section of people just stuffing envelopes and putting on labels. It is unbelievable how much more they are able to produce than their competitors. First, special needs people who are educated are so frustrated by not being able to work and find a job that their motivation is HUGE.

Second, after a year, he gives them a share of the company (a relatively new thing in India only made legal in 2008). Third, with the exception of the click of computer keys, they’re entering thousands of pieces of data in total silence. This amount of concentration makes his employees 800% (a real number) more efficient than his nearest competitor. Since his employees come from all over the country to find good work, he also has a hostel next door where they can live. He told story after story of people who would do anything to prove they could work just as well and hard as someone without challenges.

One man with polio asked him to race up the stairs. Ashok, who has a really fun sense of humor agreed. The man with polio won. That man was his second employee, married a deaf girl he met here three years ago and both were out on maternity leave welcoming their first baby, a boy. He knows sign language (which he learned and says he can teach me) in ten days. It is amazing. Now he’s considering offering a medical transcriptions to doctors and hospitals and will hire blind people to do the work. He asked a blind woman who was looking for a job if she could type. She said she could and asked her to come in for a test. He asked her to type as he read the newspaper to her and after the third line, she told him to please read faster. He and his wife (who is the visionary behind this whole concept) have only been in business five years and have over 200 employees. It is awesome.

Medical Volunteering in India

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

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Honor Mothers Day by Reaching out to Children without a Mother

Ten years ago, a young American woman was in the midst of an around-the-world adventure with a friend. Taking a sabbatical from careers in television advertising that had become stressful and unrewarding, the two corporate refugees found themselves in India a few months into their trip. One of the women, Chris, had been sponsoring a child there through Christian Children’s Fund, and had added India to their itinerary during the planning stages because she wanted to meet the boy.

The second woman, Caroline, wasn’t so sure about either India or the sponsored child. Quite frankly, she was unconvinced that the child even existed. But if he did, according to the literature Chris had on the boy, he was to be found in an extremely small, rural village in the northeastern state of Orissa. It was not easy to get there, and the May heat was almost unbearable. But when Chris and Caroline arrived, they were greeted with pomp and ceremony by a hundred villagers as the first Westerners to ever come and visit their remote little community. And there, in fact, was Manus, the boy Chris had been sponsoring. He had every single letter and small present that Chris had ever sent him, saved in the tiny 6-by-6 foot hut he shared with his parents and siblings.

The local director of Christian Children’s Fund, who had assisted the American’s journey to Manus, invited the visitors to his home for dinner. On that night, Mother’s Day 2000, Chris and Caroline had no idea what was lying in wait for them. As it turned out, the overwhelming rush of emotions from that evening, including sadness, horror, grief and above all, an unbearable sense of wrongness, would end up changing forever the course of not only Caroline’s life, but the life of hundreds of children who lived across the world from her. That Mother’s Day, this single woman who had no children of her own – and admittedly knew nothing about children, much less orphans – went to bed an entirely different person than she had been when she woke up that morning.

When Caroline and Chris arrived at the CCF director’s home that night, they were shocked when over a hundred children rushed out to the car to greet their “Papa” and the two visitors. Barefoot, filthy, painfully thin and mostly bald children. Children who surrounded the women, pulling at their hands and arms from all directions, creating a sea of little bodies that the women didn’t know what to do with. Stunned, they spent the next several hours playing with the kids, holding them, eating with them and singing them lullabies – all the while a heartbreak was growing inside them.

The beds that Caroline found in 2000

These were all children that Papa had taken in over the years – children who had nowhere else to go, who had been orphaned or abandoned, dropped off there by parents who couldn’t afford to feed them, or simply found wandering the streets. Damodar Sahoo, who became their Papa by default, took them into his own pitifully inadequate home and family, and tried to take care of them the best he could, on painfully little. A little girl named Sibani, who had been found abandoned in the bushes when she was only five days old, pressed herself into Caroline’s lap, burrowing into her as if she was starved for attention, for mothering. Sibani fell asleep there, and when Caroline went to put the toddler to bed, she found the room for dozens of children no bigger than a closet, with no ventilation and no pillows or blankets. Sibani’s bed was nothing more than a wooden slat; the room looked like images Caroline had seen from concentration camps in the Holocaust.

Caroline left India with Sibani and the other children haunting her. It was so unjust, that they had to live like that, deprived of not only the basic necessities, but even of a childhood. It was unjust that anyone should have to live that way. Caroline simply could not go on with her life as if they did not exist, and from the moment that Sibani crawled on her lap, the Miracle Foundation was born – that Mother’s Day, ten years ago.

Sibani the night Caroline met her in 2000 (inset), and today

Caroline and the organization she has poured so much of herself, her life and her passion, into have come a long way since then. It now has a full cadre of sponsors, volunteers, donors and “Ambassadors” – those, like myself, who have traveled to India in volunteer groups to work, play and live with the children for a period of time. The Miracle Foundation has an effective and energetic COO, Elizabeth Davis, a dedicated Board of Directors, and an incredible staff of housemothers and Dr. Manjeet Pardesi in India. The organization now cares for more than 500 children, who live in good homes with caring surrogate mothers, and receive nutritious food, medical care and an excellent education.

But there are so many more. Currently, about 25 million children live in orphanages or some type of institutional home in India – many of them unspeakable, where they are vulnerable to abuse, child labor or trafficking. The more support that Caroline and The Miracle Foundation receive, it means that another child can be given a home, and a childhood.

There is no better way to honor Mothers Day than to help support these children, who have no mother of their own – and might not ever have had a chance, if it weren’t for Caroline Boudreaux, a childless woman who decided to become a sort of mother to hundreds. And it seems clear to me that she won’t rest until she’s done everything she can to make sure that every child has such a home and chance for the future.

Caroline Boudreaux at the TMF 10th Anniversary Party - May 1, 2010

Whether you want to honor your own mother, or an incredible mother you know – perhaps a grandmother or your wife – or, you are a mother yourself who wants to celebrate Mothers Day by giving to a child who doesn’t have a mother – please know that there are many things you can do that will make a huge difference. I can personally attest that the seemingly smallest contribution is enormous. I have been to India with Caroline numerous times, and I have seen how far this help goes. I’ve purchased underwear for 120 kids, for about $40. I’ve thrown them an ice cream party, such a treat as they rarely get, for about $10. Every single dollar is enormous.

So, for this Mothers Day and in honor of The Miracle Foundation’s 10th anniversary, I challenge and encourage you to make a difference, a HUGE difference, in the life of a child. Sponsor a child, or volunteer a couple of hours. Check out taking a volunteer trip to India with the organization. Purchase school books, a bicycle or mosquito netting for a child. Buy my book through The Miracle Foundation, where all proceeds are donated back to the nonprofit.

And a very happy Mothers Day, to each and every one of you.

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Miracle Under the Stars

Caroline Boudreaux outlines her 3-year plan to guests at the party

For today’s Good News Wednesday, I wanted to report on the beautiful “Miracle Under the Stars” party last night, for the Miracle Foundation. Held at the incredible home of Steve Hicks and Donna Stockton-Hicks, the party enjoyed a huge turn-out and was a celebration of the organization’s accomplishments, as well as an unveiling of a 3-year plan and fundraising to make that happen.

Since I became involved with the Miracle Foundation five years ago, I have watched it grow from a struggling little one-woman enterprise, with no staff and just a handful of dedicated volunteers, to an organization that is still small, yet has staff, an incredible Board of Directors, and enough backing to be supporting 500 children in four homes in Northeast India.

Last night at the party, I looked around at some of the high-profile guests in attendance, and the sheer number of people in attendance, and marveled at how far Caroline Boudreaux’s passion and dedication has brought her for these kids.

Sibani the night Caroline met her in 2000 (inset), and today

Since the night she accidentally stumbled upon her first orphanage in Orissa, India, and filthy toddler Sibani fell asleep in her lap, Caroline has gone from a woman who turned her successful corporate life upside down to single-handedly try to affect change for these kids; to the woman who spoke last night to a group of dedicated and influential supporters with the utmost conviction that another miracle will happen - that she will raise 5.6 million dollars for the “1000 Day” plan that involves building more children’s villages so that more children live in a good home, receive medical care and nutritious meals, and be fully educated.

As Caroline pointed out last night, no gift is too big or too small to make an enormous difference. From $25 so a child can have books for school, to $10,000 to sponsor an entire cottage to be built that will house 10 children and their housemother – Caroline’s drive and dedication to devoting her entire life to a better future for these children are undeniable.

I’m proud to support such a woman and such an organization – I have seen the work first-hand myself, many times. It was what inspired me to write the book, The Weight of Silence. I applaud how far the Miracle Foundation has come, and I look forward to seeing these new homes built and hundreds more children receive the family and support system that they currently lack.

Namaste,
Shelley

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