They love with their entire beings. They have so little, yet give everything they have. They ask nothing else from us other than to be there. I cannot say that for very many people in this world.
Here at the holidays, miracles are often spoken of. With all the suffering and pain and hate in the world today, it’s even more important to find the miracles, and to share them. I have witnessed many miracles first-hand in India: Children who were once lost, found. Lives that could have been shattered, blooming new hope and meaning. In places where there might be grief and sorrow, finding smiles and joy and generosity.
One such miracle can be found in a small girl named Aiswarya. I first met Aiswarya in 2010, on one of my visits to my “other home” in Choudwar, India. After a day or two of seeing all the kids I love so much, exclaiming over how they had grown in the past year I’d been away, playing and laughing and being together — Jody and I went into the baby room.
There are usually several babies here, two or three or four, ranging in age from a few months to a year or so. Most of the time they are adopted, so we rarely see them again on the next visit. After the housemother showed me and Jody the infants who were currently in their care, we noticed a larger girl huddled on a bed in the corner.
She was Aiswarya; Jody had met her on a previous trip. “Aiswarya was absolutely terrified of us and couldn’t even crawl at that time,” Jody says. Now, in 2010, she was nearly 5 years old, which stunned me. I could tell she was much older than the babies around her, but I would have guessed she was maybe two. Jody reached out a finger and touched Aiswarya’s shoulder. The tiny girl turned her head and looked up at us with the hugest, deepest, bottomless eyes I’ve ever seen. They were at once young and old, innocent and wise, tired and hopeful. I have never seen such eyes.
It was clear that the girl rarely left this room, or in fact this bed. We talked to Papa more about Aiswarya and her condition; we were told she had something wrong with her — which was obvious. She could not walk, therefore she laid there in that bed more than 20 hours a day. Papa brought out her medical records.
There had been a developmental delay at her birth; the chart said “asphyxia.” There were doctor’s notes and printouts of brain scans. Other notations from the hospital visits he had taken her on, in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar and Bangalore, said “Unable to walk without support.” “Seizure disorder.” “Dull, poor standing balance.” And most heartbreaking: “Early details not available.”
It was hard to bear the thought of this precious girl, with that strong gleam of life in her eyes, wasting away in that bed, in that dark room. Papa had done what he could, but there were limited resources; very little help.
We took her records with us to the Miracle Foundation orphanage we were visiting next, where — as fate would have it — the volunteer trip there was a medical trip. We had the doctors there look at Aiswarya’s records and give their recommendations for treatment, which we sent back to Papa along with donations and pledges of support for Aiswarya’s medical care.
In 2012, we returned to the Choudwar home with our new group of volunteers. As we walked into the courtyard, greeting and kissing and hugging the children again, we noticed a girl making her way from the sidewalk, walking behind a handmade wooden walker.
It was Aiswarya.
The largest grin imaginable split her face in two. A light that cut right into your heart emanated from those eyes, in joy and delight. She was walking! Assisted, and with a little pieced-together walker, but she was on her own two feet, out in the sunlight with the other children. We were speechless.
On this last trip, two years later, Aiswarya’s miracle continued. This time, she came walking out to greet us on her own two legs. Unassisted. She walks on the sides of her feet and has a distinct limp, and occasionally she falls down. But the other kids help her up, and she runs and plays just like any of them.
Aiswarya truly is a miracle. It is these moments, these astounding strides (literally and figuratively) that keep us going back. That keep us connected, with a thread far stronger than blood, to this family across the world.
And Aiswarya’s eyes are still the most intense things. She will hold your gaze, stare straight into your soul until it feels you can see all of infinity. Those dark, shining pools of brown that you feel you can get lost in. And, just when you are about to drown, her grin takes over and she lets out a laugh of pure joy.
All you can do is laugh with her.
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.
The 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.
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.
In 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!
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!
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,