Last week I spent three days in Cuttack, at Papa’s orphanage in Choudwar with “my” kids – the original bunch that I worked with first four years ago. We had a blast! We spent most of the day Wed, Thurs and Fri with them. Most of the girls are still there – it was such a treat seeing them all! Sumi and Mami, Pinky, Binita, Santa….and of course my Daina! They were not expecting us and were eating lunch when we arrived on Wednesday. They spotted us and we spotted them, as we sat in the courtyard with Mama, as they wandered back and forth washing their plates and hands. They were very shy, though, as a volunteer group hasn’t been there in a while and not many volunteers at all. I saw Pinky and called her over to say hello and for a hug. Finally, a few minutes later I spotted Daina. I ran up to her and hugged her and picked her up. Even though she was a little shy, when I picked her up she whispered “I love you!” in my ear. It was so sweet and of course, just melted my heart. I was so happy to see her! And everyone.
On Friday morning when we got there, 18 new kids were just arriving. 18 new kids!! Where will they put them? How will they pay for them or care for them? It sometimes seems that the flow of children is never ending. These 18 were all younger kids, I’d say between 5-8 years old. They were scared and unsure, huddled together and looking around warily. Bubu was great, she greeted each one individually and chatted with them. Soon they were on the playground, and shortly after that, all asleep. A very big day for them. I’m not sure how they will manage as more kids keep coming in…..
Some of you know of these kids more than others, and for those that do, you know that Santosh is gone (I had sponsored him for years, since 2005). He was taken out of the home about a year ago by his father. At that time, I worried about the reasons why – his father had placed him there when he was not even two years old, because his new wife didn’t want Santosh (his mother had died). Now, suddenly, when Santosh is 13 years old – old enough to work – his father comes and takes him away. I have been determined that when I came back to India, I would try and find him to check up on him.
Sure enough, upon talking to Bubu (a house mother and head teacher who has been there for years), she confirmed my worst fears. Santosh’s father did come and take him away, initially to their village not far from the Choudwar home. However, soon Santosh had been sent off to Konark to work. Konark is about 2-3 hours away from Choudwar, home of the famous Sun Temple. Santosh had been sent there by his father to work in the Sun Temple market, selling little souvenirs to the visitors. I asked Bubu where Santosh was living, and she didn’t know for sure but assumed what I assumed – that he is probably living in a boys hostel or boarding house. He is only 13 years old!!!! I hate to think of him working and out of school. It’s not a judgment call on his father – who has lived in the village all his life, is poor and illiterate and probably had the same life and knows nothing else. What good is an education? But still I can’t help but be angry with him.
As it turns out, MANY of the boys are no longer in the home, particularly the older boys. Rashikanta is about the only older boy that I know, who is still there. I would say that about 30% of the boys I last saw two years ago are gone, and most of them are older boys. Probably sent to work just like Santosh. It kills me.
My flight left Saturday morning, as I went onward to South India; however Craig’s flight did not leave until that evening, and so he spent Saturday going to the Sun Temple to try and find Santosh. And he did find him! Here is his report:
Santosh is living with a family that he really likes and they treat him very well. I met the guardian and he’s a very sweet guy. The stand is a family shop and Santosh only works when they need the help. Not at all like we thought. I had to use Santosh’s photo to track him down. He wasn’t in the shop – and there were dozens of them – so it’s a good thing I had it. He’s not skinny little kid anymore – he’s really filled out. Not sure I would have recognized him without help. Santosh was really stand offish at first but by the time the day was over we were holding hands like Indian buddies. When I first told him I was “Shelley’s friend”, he kept asking me to take him to see you. We visited the Sun Temple, visited his home and watched Cricket together – Santosh, his guardian and the driver, and we had lunch together. Santosh spent at least an hour looking at the photos on my camera with a big smile on his face. You can tell he really misses Choudwar. Wish you could have been there. Your letter meant a lot to him.
So at least, even though Santosh is not at the home and not going to school, he is in a good place and being taken care of. That’s something to be thankful for, at least. And also, now he knows that there are people who still care about him, who will still keep up with him and check on his welfare and whereabouts – people who will be there if he needs them. I feel very relieved just to have found out about how he is doing.