I talked in a previous posting a little bit about the plight of the children we are dealing with and the charity that was set up to help them. I don’t want to elaborate any further on the stories we have been told, partly because these are real people who don’t need to have their life stories exposed to the world no matter how innocent or well intentioned the reason but partly because I want to paint a more positive picture of life moving forward. Lets just make it a given that life here can be infinitely more fragile and fleeting without the safety nets, however imperfect, that we take for granted in the western world.
The Joe Homan Charity which is celebrating its 50th Jubilee this August, is set up as a series of boys and girls towns. Each “campus” is designed to support anywhere from 50 to 100 children. They are deliberately beautiful places, with an emphasis on trees, gardens, playgrounds and order. Each bungalow houses 8 to 10 children in conditions we would consider spartan but are immaculately clean, neat and in most cases a far cry from the conditions they would have come from. Each child has a trunk for personal belongings and a sleeping mat which is rolled out at night. There are showers, laundry areas, libraries and computer rooms, again quite basic and very much in need of refreshing and refurbishing but still a vast improvement. There are foster mothers for the younger ones, frequently women whose children are also residents which helps everyone out and amazing “wardens” who act as the heads of each town. For many of the children simply being in an environment where they have good clean food and water, a structured schedule and a focus on helping them in their schooling is all the encouragement they need and they blossom. To see the difference in the confidence and self esteem of the children who have been at one of the residences for some time and those who have just arrived is truly astonishing.
Some of the children are in need of more personal and focused counselling and that is where Siva and Gopi step in. There is such an air of calm concern and compassion about them and they seems to have all the patience in the world. Indeed those attributes seem to be highly evolved in all the senior staff we have met. This work seems to be a true vocation for most of the people we have met. I am in such awe of their focus, dedication and compassion – I know myself well enough to know that while I can do this; I can only do it for relatively brief periods of time – I just don’t have that patience or even compassion I suppose. It is very, very humbling. It is also painful to realize that I will probably never be that evolved a human being. But like all beings who strive towards self awareness I am still growing so perhaps……
Once the immediate needs of the children are taken care of, they are encouraged and tutored in their schoolwork. Most of them show a vast improvement in their marks at school from their entry testing. Then as they approach 10th standard their academic or vocational talents are assessed and they are encouraged and assisted into their further studies. Less academically inclined students are given the opportunity to apprentice into programs like A/C maintenance (in a country like India, there will NEVER be enough A/C repairmen!) or tailors (ditto). Stronger students can become nurses, teachers and various kinds of engineers; the academically gifted students can go onto university for degree programs – all supported by the Charity!
I met with and video taped an interview with one of Joe’s first five boys he rescued from the railway station in Madurai. He had wonderful stories about their years building the first residence, the different projects they took on to become self-supporting – chicken farming being one with hilarious results; the backbreaking work to dig wells and the incredibly primitive conditions which gradually evolved into what is now a thriving community. I asked him what he thought his life would have been like if Joe hadn’t “collected” him; his answer was simple and matter of fact, “Oh, I’d be long dead by now”. He went on to elaborate on just how good his world is, “I have a lovely wife, two perfect children who have both graduated from university, grandchildren to look forward to and a job that has allowed me to take very good care of my family. How could I not be grateful? I am also still great friends with Joe and we get together whenever we can.”
Many of the former residents have come back, to give back, to support and in many cases to work with the charity which to my mind is the highest endorsement such an “institution” could have.
The need of course is always for financial support and the very best way to do that is to sponsor one of the children. So here is my gentle nudge; if you have to means and if my little stories have at all touched you even a bit, please consider going to the site and making a pledge or finding a child to help through their formative years. An entire year of support; room and board, clothing, schooling and medical care amount to about $500 CAD. Think about it……