The Miracle is Us

Saturday I am the guest on a Voluntary Traveler Q&A Discussion, about my book and volunteer travel experiences to India with The Miracle Foundation, which recruits sponsors for children without parental care who live in their homes.

Tonight I went to a sponsorship party for The Miracle Foundation – a party at which I imagined I would see a few of my India volunteer travel buddies and catch up with Caroline Boudreaux, founder of the organization. Have a nice evening, listen to some music, eat some great Indian food.

I did all of this. And then, perhaps an hour or so after the party started, Caroline took the microphone to thank us for coming and tell the guests her story – why we were all there in the first place. A story I have heard many times before, have written about numerous times – a story I thought I knew well. Perhaps was even a little immune to.

But something happened. Caroline took the microphone and said, “Nine years ago tonight was the worst night of my entire life.

Sheebani Das the night Caroline met her, Mothers Day 2000

Sheebani Das the night Caroline met her, Mother's Day 2000

Nine years ago was the birth of The Miracle Foundation – although she didn’t fully realize it at the time. Nine years ago tonight, May 14, 2000, was Mother’s Day in the United States. And on that day Caroline was in India, invited to dinner at the home of Damador Sahoo, whom she had just met. She had no idea what awaited her.

“I arrived at his house,” Caroline recounted tonight with her voice cracking, “and was surrounded by dozens of bald, filthy, starving children.They were so starved for affection they literally pushed themselves into my body. At one point I had about fourteen children all over me, just trying to touch me. And then Sheebani Das came and laid her head on my knee.

I sang her a lullaby, and at that minute I knew that no one else had ever done this for her before. Ever. I picked that baby up and wanted to go put her down in her crib to sleep. When I walked into the room where she lived with the other girls, it was like walking into an oven. The stench was unbearable.”

The room where Sheebani lived, 2000

The room where Sheebani lived, 2000

Caroline has described this scene to me as looking like the barracks of a concentration camp – and I’ve seen the pictures that look so. The room was filled with wooden slats for beds – no mattresses, pillows or sheets. Putting that baby down on a hard wood plank, hearing her bones clatter against the “bed,” broke Caroline and changed the course of her future – and the lives of those children.

“When I said it was the worst night of my life,” she told the group tonight, “I wasn’t exaggerating. I went back to my hotel room and told the friend I was traveling with that I was never going back to that place again. I wasn’t ever going to face that again, couldn’t face it. It was just too heart-breaking. But she looked at me and said, you can and you will.”

Like I said, I have heard this story before. But never in the same way twice, it seems. And here it was, nine years later, and Caroline’s eyes still filled with tears and her voice still shook when she recalled that night, and Sheebani Das. She often had to pause to collect herself before continuing.

“Up until then, I had never donated to anything,” she told us. “I wasn’t philanthropic at all. Just the month before, I had spent $5,000 on a diamond tennis bracelet for myself.” Here she had to stop again, fighting back tears as if coming face to face with a previous self that she no longer even recognized. “I had everything money could buy – but I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach, a hole in my heart. I knew that if I didn’t help Sheebani, no one else was going to.

That is the truth, but here’s another truth: Caroline didn’t save these children – they saved her. From an outwardly successful, but utterly meaningless interior life that she readily admits she had been so busy setting herself up for.

The rest is history, and one I have written an entire book about. Caroline came back to the U.S. and began the long and brutal process of setting up the nonprofit organization that, today, supports over 500 children in several orphanages throughout India – and even tonight, is recruiting more sponsors so that more children can be taken in. For every child that is sponsored, another can be helped.

And the flow of those children seems never-ending. India is home to 25 million children living without parents or homes – on the streets, begging, or trafficked into child labor or the sex trade.

Sheebani Das in March 2009 - I took this picture on my last visit

Sheebani Das today - I took this picture in March 2009

But slowly, Caroline and her sponsors and volunteers are changing the lives and futures of many of these children – although it’s never enough. She always wants to do more. I think, listening to her tonight, that Sheebani whispers to her nightly, never letting her forget why she started this in the first place – reminding her that there are thousands more Sheebanis, out there waiting for someone, somewhere, to care.

“Give, and get rich,” Caroline said tonight. “You can get the things that money can’t buy – peace, fulfillment. The definition of responsibility is the ability to respond – and we have that ability. We are the lucky ones, because we get to be the givers. You can change the future of someone like Sheebani, too. And I promise, you will get more out of it than you ever thought was possible.”

All it takes is a miracle. But the good news is, that miracle is us.

Find out how you can make a difference in the life and future of a child, too!
Give the gift of that most basic of children’s rights – the right to have a childhood.

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About Shelley Seale

I'm Shelley, a journeyer and learner of the world, freelance journalist and author, yoga chick and dog lover. I pound the keyboard from home barefoot every day, and while my boss is demanding she also occasionally lets me have the early afternoon cocktail. I think not going into an office or collecting corporate paychecks are very good ideas, though not always profitable. I have written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, Texas Monthly and CNN, among others. Neither the New York Times nor Johnny Depp have answered my letters yet. I love yoga, indie movies, wine, and books, though not necessarily in that order. I believe in karma. Mean people suck. If I could have any dream job I would like to be a superhero. I have performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano and was once robbed by a monkey in Nepal. But, I don't know how to whistle. My mantra is "travel with a purpose."

Posted on May 15, 2009, in asia, children, India, nonfiction, nonprofit, orphans, poverty, shelley seale, volunteer and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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