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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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Return Trip to India Booked!

It’s been a thrilling week – I’ve finally booked my next trip to India! Tickets are confirmed for November – I will be arriving on November 1, and staying until December 6. And not only me, but the best of the group is reuniting. My mother, Sandy, and two of my best friends, Jody and Nancy, are joining me from our last trip in 2012. Also, my daughter is finally returning to India with me, after 8 long years!

My boyfriend Keith is going with me, Nancy is also taking her daughter, and one of my best friends – with whom I shared my first trip to India back in 2005 – Kathleen, is going!

With all these wonderful friends and family, who love these kids and India as I do and continue to support them, the trip can’t be anything but wonderful.

November still seems a long way off, and now that the tickets are booked I can hardly wait to get back to see Santosh (with whom I Skype regularly), Papa and Mama, Daina and all the children at Choudwar.

We will, as always, be collecting donations between now and then. I have set up an automatic monthly deposit into the donation fund, and several others are doing this as well. All donations, like the times before, will be used on the ground in India to buy needed supplies for the kids such as books, clothing, living supplies, mosquito netting, etc.

Every little bit helps! From $5 even, it’s amazing how it all adds up and what a long way it can go.

As always, I appreciate your support. Donate here if you feel so compelled!

Dreaming of India,

Shelley

My Heart’s Home

Last month, I returned from my 7th trip to India, visiting the awesome kids who stole my heart eight years ago. On this trip, I took my mother who has grown to know these children through me, and understand that this place is my heart’s home, my second family. It was an incredible experience having my American mother meet my Indian family for the first time, in person.

I would like to share a photo essay of this wonderful time together. Peace, love and namaste.

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