Some expat friends of mine here in Bangalore volunteer their time at a local orphanage and this weekend I joined them for the first time.
As we drove out to their property on the outskirts of Bangalore, it was interesting to see how much development is happening. Where there once would have been small villages, they are now merged together and line a road that has gone from a single dirt track to a wide bitumen road in just a few short years. Buildings lie in crumbling heaps of concrete and people’s livelihoods have been moved on to provide the necessary space.
The orphanage was started more than 20 years ago by one man who had found a starving 2 year old thrown in a rubbish bin. From one man, one room and one boy, they have grown to 85 boys, 3 carers and a large complex.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the children (all boys except one girl, and ranging in ago from about 4 to 21), running up to us, eager to hold our hands and guide us inside. Some would give you a kiss on both cheeks and others would welcome you with a big hug. They were keen to know our names and asked us this in perfect English, before introducing themselves.
As a new vistor, I was given a tour around the property. I was shown the dormitory rooms where the children sleep; the courtyard where the disabled children sit in the shade during the day; the kitchen, where enormous pots sit filled to the brim with the day’s rice; the art room, and the chapel, where Christian, Hindu and Muslim children sit alongside one another.
A couple of supporters of the orphanage had travelled from Bangalore to cook the children a delicious meal of fish curry and vegetables served on banana leaves, which we shared with them in a large shady area, surrounded by trees. As we sat around discussing life in Bangalore and back in our home countries, we shared a refreshing drink of coconut water. It was the first time I had tried it and I have it say it was quite refreshing.
After lunch, the kids demonstrated a traditional game for us, where pebbles are kicked through a large square, broken up into quarters, and they have to jump and hop their way across, landing on the pebble with one foot…somewhat similar to hopscotch I guess…but we were struggling to understand the rules as they played!
Education is seen as critical for the kids to create a future for themselves, and all of the able bodied children attend a nearby school. One of the older children is studying pharmacy at university, and other kids that I spoke to have aspirations to be doctors, pilots and scientists. The disabled receive 24 hour care at the home, but I can only imagine the challenges of this when there are only 3 people to care for 35 disabled kids.
When we were being shown around the property, the founder remarked that,
“Everyone who visits us thinks that we are doing really well, because we have a nice, large complex. But, what they don’t realise, is how much is needed to run the home on a daily basis.”
He makes a telling point – all of the physical infrastructure and buildings in the world, be they schools, libraries, orphanages or other community centres, are only as good as the human capital, training and resources put into running them on a daily basis. Unable to pay salaries, the carers do everything themselves on a voluntary basis, from cooking and cleaning, to caring for the children.
Despite what we might see as overwhelming challenges, the children live happily and support one another. They are not constrained by their situation, but instead take every means available to them to improve their lives and that is certainly something that I will take away from my visit.
Note: Out of respect for the kids and their carers, and because it was my first visit, I didn’t take any photos during my time there.