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.
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.
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.
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.
You 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.
You might think that going to India time and again, immersing myself in this orphanage and the plight of these children who have no one else, over years and years — the poverty and never, never ending need — would be an exercise in sadness. Depressing. Demoralizing, traumatic even.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. What has been the most surprising thing, and meant the most to me, kept me coming back all these years, is how readily this family accepted me into their home. This family of 120-plus children, all taken in by one man and his kin, a hodgepodge of castaways who came together to create a home — they, who had so little, welcomed me. Joyously. And they never once have asked for anything from, other than simply my self. My being. My presence.
My Papa has never once asked me for money. The children never care what I bring them, and when I do produce stickers or toys or coloring books they are, of course, happy and enthralled as children would be anywhere. But they are, by far, mostly interested in ME. In the fact that I am there, with them. That this is where and how I choose to spend my time, who I have chosen as my family, halfway across the world.
Believe me, this means more than you can know to me, as well. Their acceptance, their unconditional love and joy with me.
They have let me into a world that is a hidden world — not because it is secret, but simply because very few people really choose to look. But once there, if you had that sort of curiosity, if you opened yourself to the experience and the love, if you decided to have an involved interest in the welfare of children for whom childhood has been discarded — well then, you are in a new world. One in which your own petty troubles are so easily checked at the door. One in which you quickly come to realize how little, how pitifully, inconsequentially little, it takes to turn the world around for one child here.
$20 a month is all it takes to send one of these kids at the Servants of India Society orphanage in Choudwar, India to a good English school. Education is the key. They have already come a long way with having the basics of food, shelter and basic medical care provided. What they need now is education — which equals future hope and opportunities.
My very first night ever with these children, back in 2005, I wrote the following:
There seemed no other world outside this place. Papa spoke as my eyes traveled over the faces all around me. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go home, or if they ever had. As much of a loving community as the ashram seemed, it was not the family that most of the children had once known, now distant and ghostly memories for the most part.
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.
Will you help me in giving these children, so brave to find a way in their new home, the possibility of a bright future through education? I am asking people to pledge $20.13 per month in a recurring donation beginning this year, 2013. Think about it — for less than the price of two movie tickets, or about five lattes at Starbucks, you can create a bright and hopeful future in one of these children’s lives.
At my home, in fact right above my head as I write this, hangs a beautiful woven tapestry that I bought in India some years ago, made up of scraps of dozens of sarees. Each small individual piece of material, before it was sewn into the final product, is fragile and insignificant. It is not anything except a torn scrap of cloth, beautiful but delicate, easily ripped or lost.
Yet, when it is stitched together strongly to the next tiny piece, and then the next, suddenly the pattern of the whole begins to take form. The finished patchwork, all these scraps of what was once discarded, together are strong. Together they make something. They have a purpose — to cover a bed, to keep a child warm or, as in my house, to simply be beautiful.
And so it is with these children of India — the orphans, the street kids, the world’s forgotten throwaways. They may be fragile and easily lost on their own, but held together with the thread of those of us who care, they can be whole again — strong and vibrant, and above all, simply beautiful.
Help me create a strong tapestry to hold these children together. Have you ever despaired at the state of the world and thought it was impossible to do a little bit, that would really make a difference? Now is your chance. You’ll be amazed at what a difference your $20.13 per month can make.
Can’t commit monthly? Make a one-time donation here.
I thank you. I will keep you updated on their progress. And more importantly, these kids and their future families thank you. Now is the time to stop the cycle of poverty.
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