News from orphanage
Birthday party !!
We were finally able to hold our traditional birthday party on Friday 25th August. We had initially planned it for Saturday 19th August, but had to postpone it until the following day due to the rain. However, the ‘little’ monsoon (the ‘big’ monsoon takes place between the end of October and the beginning of December) had the last word and the children were happy to simply eat some cake whilst sheltering from the downpour, and wait until another time when we would be able to celebrate the birthdays that month properly.
Birthday celebrations in India are quite an affair! The person celebrating their birthday is dressed in new clothes and given a packet of sweets, not for themselves, but to offer to their friends, family, neighbours, and classmates. Now if you are ever in India and a child approaches you with a broad grin on their face and offers you a sweet from a box full of caramels, you know all you have to do is wish them a happy birthday!
The increasing numbers at Shanthi Bhavan Children’s Home over the last 4 years has meant we have had to group the celebrations together: once a month the children who have become a year older become heros for the evening! On the 25th August 2017, all the children at the orphanage came together in honour of Small Mani who turned 11 on the 11th July, Thangadurai 12 on the 3rd July, Jayasree 12 on the 22th June, Chinna Sudha 14 on the 29th July, Vanesh 15 on the 15th August, Big Mani 16 on the 7th July, and Vimal and Vijay 18 on the 10th July (which is to be expected, given that they are twins!).
The birthday parties follow a well established ritual: the red benches from the dining room are taken out into the courtyard of the orphanage on the sand. The children are divided into 6 teams and then the music starts. One by one, the teams take the lead in a fantastic improvised show. Each team attempts to create the best choreography to Tamilies music or English songs, under the watchful eye of a ruthless jury, tucked away in the corner of the courtyard. Small Raj takes on the duties of DJ – “Small” Raj, who over time has become rather tall: he is now 21 years old and is using the extra time he is with us whilst he retakes a few modules in his Chemistry licentiate to help out with the house for teenagers. His duties include organizing the monthly birthday celebrations and taking on the role of official DJ. On this particular occasion he was flanked by two other orphanage alumni: Ajith and Appu. Appu has lost nothing of his sense of humour and can’t pass up the opportunity to take the mic and make everybody laugh through his gentle teasing! He might act the fool, but he is in no way foolish when it comes to work – after having completed his apprenticeship in electricity and working as an employee air-conditioning repairman, Appu has started his own business and is doing rather well!
But let us return to the birthday party: memory games and mime games allow the children to put their talents to use in order to win the competition. The things they have to mime are varied – “motorbike”, “Harry Potter”, “thief”, “crab”, “sad”, “the actor Danush”, “angry”, “yoga”, “raven”, or even “Ghandi”! A child from each team has to act out the mime for their team to guess as quickly as possible. When they guess it correctly, the baton passes onto the next child in the team to have a go at acting out a mime. Rosy, the nurse at the orphanage, adopts the role of master of ceremonies and shows herself to be equally at ease with a microphone as she is with a thermometer: her encouragement, congratulations, jokes and entertainment of every sort are never in short supply!
After the teams have had a dance, the children gather around to sing along to the latest ‘tamil tube’ videos. Following this comes the most highly awaited moment: the giving of presents and handing out of prizes. The children who are celebrating a birthday are invited to come forward and the whole orphanage sings them ‘Happy Birthday’. Then, each child is given a small present, which can sometimes be quite a surprising choice! We were slightly taken aback when Big Mani (16 years old) was given a small book of multiplication tables! As it turns out, it was in fact Mani himself who had asked for it, so that he could learn his timetables, which he still doesn’t know. All we can say is … excellent choice Mani! The only one not to receive a gift was Vasanth, but he didn’t seem too worried. He told me he had asked for a football and that everything was under control! I hope he has since received it. Even if he hasn’t, he will have been consoled by the fact that he was the one to win the cooking competition that morning and the dance competition that evening! The winning team was made up of Barathi, Anish, Vigneh, Vinitha, Vasanth, Vel Murugan and Kanyan.
There was no prize offered but that did not stifle the children‘s joy. One of them explained down the microphone that instead of a prize, a dance from Rosy would be enough! A good attempt, but it did not work – maybe next month!
Xavier Aubry – October 17th, 2017
On our way to…Vagamon! A camp held from the 3rd to the 22nd May 2017
Our destination was Vagamon, in the region of Kerala. As we waited on the platform of the bus station for a bus to Vagamon via Kumily, the only thing to pass by was the time. Ahead of us lay a 10 hour journey, but after an hour waiting we discovered that the bus we booked a month in advance had been cancelled. Anger quickly turned to dismay. We had booked a house to stay in the following day and our breakfast would be there waiting! To postpone the journey until the next day was out of the question, and so we bucked up our spirits and decided to split our journey into sections. In total we rode 7 buses over a route that would take us 12 hours. Thankfully we divided the group in two and only the older children were with us in our team. The youngest children travelled in our own bus, although we still arrived before they did!
And so we arrived in Vagamon, a small village in Kerala. Our lodgings were pleasant: 3 floors, with 2 bedrooms on each floor. The house had a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and overlooked a small lake, which became a source of daily joy for the children. We totaled 39 and our schedule was simple. We would rise between 6:30 and 7am, have breakfast and then leave for a walk each day. We often walked to a small lake or river so we could take a swim. Despite having already gone for a swim, once back at the house most of the children found the energy after a long, difficult, and tiring walk to make their way to the small neighbouring lake, equipped with inflatable tyres to play with in the water. Around 5pm everyone would return to the house for a shower and at 6pm all the children gathered on the third floor. 6pm was a time for silent reading, when each child was given a book and practiced their reading. For some of the children reading is difficult, and so an older child would be sat next to them to read them the story. After a good hour of reading, the children would come downstairs for a meal. Following this we either watched a film in the evening or organized a campfire. At 10pm everyone went to their bedroom. After a long day, the children quickly fell asleep!
Story of an adventure
We asked Jayakumar, our driver, if he could drop us off a good hour away from where we were staying. We had no idea of the route we needed to take to get back on our own, but Pierre seemed inspired to lead the group back via a route unknown. And so it was that we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain that required climbing from the outset. No sooner had we set off, a small group broke away whose interest lay more with the fruit trees lining the path than the demanding and constant effort of the mountain walk. After a while we stopped to let them catch up, but some of the group were becoming impatient. The walk was proving long and hard, and if we delayed much longer it would be difficult to get to Vagamon before nightfall. We decided that two of us would retrace our steps and find the group lagging behind. They would then phone Jayakumar, who could come and pick them up in the bus. The others continued the climbs and descents of the route. On the way we stopped off at a few houses to fill up our empty water bottles. At one point we found ourselves blocked by an incredibly steep slope. We had two options: either we go around it by returning to the road, which was the easiest and least tiring solution, but also the longest and least exhilarating; or we face it head on as a team. Despite the odd grumble, we opted for the second option. It was a challenging ascent that frequently required we use our hands to keep balance and move ahead. We could really start to feel our legs tiring, but the joy of such a rapid increase in height outweighed any physical discomfort. More than once we had to climb over barbed wire on our way. The ascent took just under an hour, but what joy to see the children’s faces after they had conquered not just the mountain but themselves as well!
One of the striking aspects of the camp was the generosity of people from local villages toward the children. Often during our walks we came across houses isolated in the middle of the mountains. Each time we were welcomed with warmth and generosity. Some would offer us water, others mangos from their trees, guavas or other fruit they had available. Occasionally after a long walk we would stop to buy a snack to reward the children for their effort. It was not unusual for the shopkeeper to offer us some small cakes as well free of charge, or sometimes people touched by the group of young children exhausted after their activities would buy us some biscuits. During the final week of the camp we became rather popular in the village. The people from the village noticed our comings and goings and every day came to offer us all a meal.
Some of us love adventures, and one of our adventures is particularly memorable. We decided it would be good to swim down the river, with inflatable tyres for safety. A small group of us – those who knew how to swim – prepared to descend the river and head into the unknown: Akash, Aswini, Karina, Sudha, Tamil Selvi, Santhosh, Kaniyan, Tangadurai, Indhira and Pierre. There was a strong current, which was awesome. The water was not deep, however, although we did have to try to avoid the rocks. There were a few brief moments of panic when one of us would be swept along by the current and we would momentarily lose control. Santosh, for example, suddenly became fearful and decided to get out of the river and follow us along the bank. A few moments later he regained his confidence and joined us back in the water. Overall, however, it all went smoothly. After more than an hour and a half we arrived at the home stretch of our river swim. The water became deeper and we could swim more freely. This last effort was heroic for Aswini, who had no more energy to swim and simply let herself flow with the current. With Pierre’s help, though, she was able to catch up with the group on the bank of the river. The rest of the children had come to meet us and were impatiently waiting for our arrival. Some biriyani rice for lunch was on the horizon!
Merci ! நன்றி !
Pierre Dubreil – September 27th, 2017
Results of the school year 2016-2017
Sudha has passed her diploma in hotel management with flying colours (top of her class out of 70 students). She is currently working in a hotel in Pondicherry so that she can earn a little money to continue her studies in a years time. She hopes to study nutrition when she returns.
Suresh, one of our older children, who gained his diploma three years ago, has, as a result of his perseverance and hard work, been accepted into a highly rated business school in Bangalore to study for an MBA. This year he was in charge of the older boys in Nava Jeevan (the house in the orphanage for teenage boys). Now it is Small Raj’s turn, who unfortunately did not pass every component of his diploma in biochemistry and so is going to retake them. Alongside this work he will also help out taking care of the boys in the orphanage, which he takes very seriously. We can always count on him.
Ajith Kumar is continuing his studies in sociology and is going into his fourth year. So far he has sailed through. Yogaraj is finding his studies more difficult. He is starting his third year of mathematics.
Yuvasree finished her second semester exams in design multimedia on the 22nd June. She is now on vacation (which is out of sync with the others, who have already started their classes again). She is making the most of the time to get her driving licence and take French classes.
Kaviya and Jayaprakash passed their 2+ (which is equivalent to GCSEs in the UK or 10th Grade in the US). Jayaprakash is the first of our children to have achieved a total score of above 60%. Kaviya has started the first year of a diploma in psychology at Anugraha College, which is run by the Capuchin Fathers at Dindigul. It is not very close to Pondicherry but the quality of their formation is very high, the environment is safe, and admission is not too expensive.
Santhiya, one of our older children, who completed her diploma a year ago, will be studying in the same institution (Kaviya and Santhiya also share a room!) and hopes to gain a Masters in Social Work. This year, following in the footsteps of Suresh, she returned to the orphanage in order to help take care of the youngest children, strengthening the spirit of family in the orphanage!
Vimal, Vijay, Jerry, Ashwini and Shankar have all been awarded their SSLC (which is equivalent to GCSEs or the end of Junior High and is very important in India). Shankar failed to pass some of his tests last year and so is preparing to retake them alongside his professional formation.
Jerry and Ashwini continue on the normal route of study to obtain their High School Diploma (GCSEs and A-Levels). Jerry’s results were nothing to shout about: he only just passed his exams and so must really get his head down if he wants to pass his Diploma in two years time. His ambition is to go on to study for a Bachelors in Physical Education, so that he can qualify as a Physical Education teacher. Ashiwini has progressed well and received good results, which bodes well for the future.
Vimal, Vijay and Jayaprakash start at Manajula College of Enginerring in a weeks time. They will be studying for a three year diploma (Jayaprakash will enter directly into the second year because he has already received his High School Diploma). Vimal is going to study Electrical Engineering, Vijay is going to study Motor Vehicle Engineering, and Jayaprakash is going to study Information Technology. For Vijay and Vimal this dimploma will give them the equivalent of a High School Diploma as well as vocational training, which should lead to employment in a company or further formation as an engineer. It is a course that is well suited to the boys interests and abilities. Their grades were not good enough to enter into a good school of engineering, and so a more practical formation is undoubtedly better suited to them than a more classical scholarly route. This is the first time we have chosen this path and we hope it will bear much fruit.
The school year for Leo Raj, Muthuazhagan and Shankar at the Vivekananda Institute of Technology has drawn to an end. They complete their vocational training at the beginning of August: Leo Raj as an electrician, Muthu and Shankar as motor vehicle engineers. Shankar will therefore have a Diploma in Motor Vehicle Engineering as well as his High School Diploma. He is going to start work as he is 20 years old, and has the possibility of continuing his formation in mechanics at a higher level in a years time.
Surya and Ajith were unsuccessful in passing their Secondary School Leaving Certificate, which is unsurprising given the extent to which they lacked early schooling (Ajith only started school two years ago due to reasons of health). Both Surya and Ajith, as well as Jacob, want to study at the Vivekananda Institute of Technology: Ajith for an electrician’s diploma, Surya as a motor vehicle engineer and Jacob for a diploma in cell phone repair. Jacob, who was sent home from school a few months before his school diploma for reasons of poor discipline seems to be starting to grasp the gravity of his actions. He asked his supervisor whether he can retake the classes he missed alongside his other classes so that he can take the exam he missed last year. To do so means he will have to temporarily stop going to his dance classes, which he loves.
Tamil Selvi, Indhira and Priyanka are repeating their school year upon our request. Tamil Selvi will retake 8th Grade (Year 9 in the UK), Indhira 7th Grade (Year 8), and Priyanka 6th Grade (Year 7). It is quite difficult to obtain the permission for a child to repeat a school year due to government regulations, but we insisted in view of the needs of these three girls. They form part of the group we selected for special courses given in the orphanage with the aim of helping them strenghten their basic language and mathematics skills. As well as these three, the group consists of Arun, Naveena, Gowri, Barathi, Buvana, Banumathi, and Sreedar. They take special classes in two groups, one of which is carried out with the aid of DVDs.
Halfway through the year Manikandan (the eldest), Akkash and Santhosh’s results left much to be desired. A time came when we asked ourselves whether we should in fact suggest they too retake the year. However, during the second semester they were able to receive closer attention from their teachers and assistants and made all the necessary efforts on their part. By the end of the year their results were on the rise!
We have three boys (Mugesh, Vignesh and Manikandan Barathi) who go to a school for special needs (as a result of their mental special needs) called Sathia Special School. Manikandan Barathi is the youngest and only started this year. The school gives them the opportunity to be accompanied according to their needs and abilities.
Sreedar came to us three months ago. He is nine years old and is Jayasree’s younger brother. He is visibly malnourished and has not grown as would normally be expected, but he is very happy to be with us, very sociable, and has quickly been adopted into the group by the others. Both he and Banumathi will start Upper Kinder Garden (Year 1 in the UK) with the hope that they will be able to progress at some point during the year into 1st Grade (Year 2).
Many of the children have started to learn French as a second language this year: Chinna, Sudha, Sachin, Santosh, Akash, Ragi, and Ashwini. So far their results have been amazing. It has to be said that their ears are somewhat familiar with the sounds of the language of Molière around the orphanage!
Refresher classes in Tamil are also given to some of the older boys in Nava Jaavan who need it.
On the whole, the start of the school year – which took place at the beginning of June – has been very studious. One gets the feeling that both the children and their teachers are stepping up to the task with great determination. Everyone was greatly affected by the death of little Sonia on the 11th June (who was 13 years old) as a result of generalized tuberculosis. She was looking forward to starting school the very next day… but life goes on!
The little Manoj, who joined us in March at just 40 days old and in a dreadful state is now in a nursery in Pondicherry and is doing very well. We will shortly receive the results of his blood tests, which will inform us as to whether or not he has HIV. He also has a problem with his eyes, which we are hoping will heal with time.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your most precious and valuable help, without which none of this would be possible.
Clément Hars – June 30th, 2017
It is with great sorrow that we announce the sudden and unexpected death last Sunday of little Sonia, who was only 13 years old. She was helping out at the free health care clinic for adults next door to the orphanage, handing out meals, she suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage. Everything happened so quickly. Her health had been fairing well over the past few months and she had even joyfully prepared to return to school the next day.
Sonia came to the orphanage Santhi Bhavan Children’s Home in June 2015, along with her younger brother Venkadesh. They had both come from another orphanage in Nellitope (an area in Pondicherry) where their two older sisters, both of whom are not HIV positive, still live. When she came to us her health was very poor and as early as July she was diagnosed with abdominal tuberculosis.
In November 2015 she had to be hospitalized for 8 months after tuberculosis was once again detected, this time in her spine. In May 2016, on the eve of her 12th birthday, Sonia had to undergo major chest surgery and was unable to return to the orphanage until 23rd August 2016. The first thing she wanted to do on her return was visit the beach, just 500 meters away.
Since then, the state of her health has slowly progressed, with her tri-therapy and anti tuberculosis treatments gradually taking effect. Sonia struggled to gain weight but her spine was visibly improving and she was once again able to walk.
Through all the trials and tribulations of her illness, Sonia was a witness to unfailing courage, patience, and an amazing ability to care for others and seek out their good, even though she was herself burdened with hardships. Her smile, her attentive presence and her joy, despite the suffering, will remain etched in the hearts of all the children at the orphanage.
June 14th, 2017
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The Salangai Puja
Friday 24th Febuary 2017. Normally this would be a day like any other, when the children go to school and return home tired out from the day’s work. But today is a special day, a day of great festivities. First of all, it was Sports Day at the Immaculate School, where four of our girls study, two of which – Karina and Rajee – have been working hard at putting together a dance recital at Pondicherry’s main stadium.
At almost the same time, six other girls – Ezhi, Sudha, Tamil Selvi, Vinitha, Indira and Jayasri – will be performing a recital of classical Indian dance called Barathanatyam in a temple. They are all very excited by the idea of being able to dance in public. They have been training twice a week for three years now. We have intensified their practice schedule this month so that they might be able to reach the next level by performing their first official public performance, the Salangai Puja.
In Tamil, ‘Salangai’ are ankle-bracelets worn by Barathanatyam dancers and ‘Puja’ is a ritual prayer. The Salangai are authentic musical instruments and resonate to the rhythm of the dance steps. They both enable the audience to better follow the movement of the feet by highlighting their movements, and create a sort of rhythmic “jousting” between the dancers and the percussionists.
According to tradition, a young girl who starts to learn the Barathanatyan refrains from wearing the Salangai until the ceremony has taken place. Nowadays, the Salangai Puja is often performed many years after the young girl has started to learn.
With the ceremony in their sights, our dance apprentices have been attending dance classes every day after school and do not arrive back home until 8pm. Their training is tough and leaves their legs feeling heavy and their bodies tired. But a very happy tired! Besides, after a month of intensive rehearsal they seem to be becoming accustomed and have developed a greater interest in the dance.
It is clear for all to see – as the two performances that took place this evening testify – that they have made incredible progress over the last few weeks.
For us, the satisfaction is twofold: first in the pride we feel in seeing them dance on stage, and second in the joy we feel in seeing them proud of themselves, aware that they are harvesting the fruits of their many hours of labour practicing and continuous lyre eating their moves.
These are the demands of an apprentice hip into an art, which canon occasion come into conflict with the unrelenting demands of school!
Pierre Dubreil – March 16th, 2017
3 new children at the orphanage!
This year saw the arrival of three new girls at the orphanage: Jayasri (12 years old), Banumathi and Barathi (two sisters, who are 8 and 5 years old respectively).
All three are frail and in poor health. Two of them suffer from tuberculosis and so must be kept separate from the other children during the two first months of their treatment so as to avoid contamination. All three have a strong and jovial character, despite their dramatic history. Despite being enrolled in school, they cannot always attend all of their classes because of their health. This is a common situation to be in when new children join us. Their health is often times extremely fragile (for various reasons: malnutrition, a poor family, a lack of medical care, and the mistreatment of their health, etc.) and their first year with us is especially given over to strengthening their health.
There were many changes to our staff over the last year: we have a new nurse, a new education consultant and a new accountant.
We also welcomed back two former residents of the orphanage, Suresh and Santhiya, who have returned to help out after graduating from High School (the equivalent to obtaining their A-Levels in the UK). Both want to continue studying, one in Business Management and the other in Social Work.
We are now equipped with a comprehensive and well-furnished education team, which provides a stable environment for the children.
One of our current projects we are excited about is the development of an organic garden and small farmyard, which we hope will progress into a smallholding. This project will allow the children to stay in contact with nature whilst also providing for their every day needs: eating vegetables and eggs from our own small holding – what a joy!
Pierre Dubreuil – January 10th, 2017
New-found freedom in Mathur!
On the 17th July just past, “Big Raj” (although by now “small” Raj is just as tall as “Big” Raj!), Shankar and Muthu all moved to Mathur. While Chinna Kalapet, the village where the orphanage is situated, is not exactly an epicentre of political importance or tourism, Mathur by comparison really feels “out in the sticks”. So what are these past members of the orphanage doing there?
Well… they are all studying at the SwamiVivekananda Rural Community College, which was inaugurated at the beginning of June and is just 2km from Mathur. Mathur! I hear you say… Yes, Mathur! We purchased some land in Mathur a few years ago with the idea of providing the children at the orphanage with somewhere to go once they became adults. In July our idea was not only realized, but now our designated place of transition has become a place of new beginnings, where the children turned young-adults can spread their wings.
The rural community college they attend provides youngsters in difficulty with a great opportunity. A long side one year vocational training, which is punctuated by practical placements –both Muthu and Shankar have already spent a number of weeks working in a garage that specializes in “four wheel drive” vehicles for an Indian car company called Mahindra (not bad at all!) – the school helps them prepare for their “10th exam” (the equivalent of a secondary school or 10th Grade certificate), which is a sine qua non condition in India for entering working life, no matter what that might be. And so in order to get back up to speed with the subjects they need to re-take, Shankar is working hard at his English and Muthu is delving deep into Tamil, science and history. We’re all behind you guys! Keep on giving it your best – we know you can do it and will go from success to success!
Giving the best of themselves is precisely what their new accommodation enables them to do, through the autonomy it gives them and the responsibility it requires of them. Rajkumar – who goes by the nickname “Big Raj”– is the self-appointed leader, which is a far cry from the days when he was content to underachieve (which we feared might become a more permanent feature). Rajkumar used to want to live like his favorite characters from the films he liked to watch, especially Dhanush, who always plays a “dropout” turned success after some highly improbable stroke of luck. Today, however, Rajkumar can’t stop talking about his school, what he has learnt in his classes in electricity, how Muthu has created a vegetable patch to save money, how they keep account of their finances, how he has been appointed College delegate, how he is convinced he will find work once the year is over, how they have planted sorakkai and pagarkkai (untranslatable vegetables!) in the garden, how they have organized a rota for their house duties (cooking, shopping, cleaning), and soon and on and on! He even forgets to speak about Dhanush! Amazing!
One August evening the teenagers from Nava Jeevan were invited to a house-warming party or sorts. Rajkumar had a million things he wanted to tell them, and all the younger boys listened to him dumb founded and full of admiration, eager for their turn to move on and take the next step toward success. This highly important example for the younger ones is something Shankar shares with the orphanage when he visits on weekends to help us out with jobs, such as picking the children up from school who have classes on a Saturday.
Since 2006 the children have all grown up so much and many are already in higher education or have entered the world of work. It is a great source of hope to see these young HIV-positive orphans blossom and find their way in life, no matter what obstacles they have had to face. It was such an amazing experience to be welcomed as a guest in their small residence in Mathur, to be offered a cup of tea by Muthu, to be given a guided tour of the vegetable garden by Shankar and to listen to “Big Raj” talk non-stop about his new studies, of which he is so proud.
Xavier Aubry – December 4th, 2016
Sonia arrived in June 2015, with her little brother Venkadesh. They both came from the orphanange in Nellitope (an area of Pondicherry) where their two older sisters (who are not HIV positive) are still living. Sonia arrived in very bad health. After many tests and a period in hospital, abdominal tuberculosis was diagnosed in July. Treatment was quickly put in place and proved effective, so we therefore put her into education. But despite her courage and perseverance, her education became impossible, the treatment not having full effect.
In November 2015, she was hospitalised again after a new tuberculosis was discovered in her spinal cord. On 27th December, she was admitted to intensive care with breathing difficulties caused by a lung infection, with multiple pus sores in the chest and abdomen. Since then she has remained in hospital, partly so that the pus could be drained from her body, and partly for an adjustment of her tuberculosis treatment. During this long period in hospital ( 8 months ), the children came to see her regularly and compete with the mischief caused by the little monkey who comes and tears up the garbage outside her door, making Sonia laugh and giving her some happy moments.
In May, the night before her 12th Birthday, she underwent a big surgical operation on her chest, followed by some drainage procedures. In June, the blood tests revealed that her triple therapy treatments are no longer working. With much difficulty, we then had to try to get the hospital to give her a second course of triple therapy treatment. At the beginning of August, the last draining tube was removed, and Sonia was able to return to the orphanage on August 23rd. What a joy! The children welcomed her with elation and Sonia’s first wish was to go down to the beach, 500 metres from the orphanage.
Since then, Sonia has remained in the infirmary just next door to the orphanage. The children come to see her in turns and Sonia almost always has company. In the evening, we set her up with a mat and a pillow on the verandah overlooking the children’s playground so that she can join in their games, in her own way. At study time (personal help with homework), Corinne brings Sonia to say good night to everyone, and as soon as Sonia sees a child joking around she tells them to work, and reminds them how important their studies are!
Today, Sonia needs almost no help breathing. We now just need to see what treatment is needed for her deformed spinal cord, which is very pronounced. Sonia already wear a back brace, but the doctors talk about another operation – serious and risky. Before considering such a serious operation, we hope that the new triple therapy will take effect and that the tuberculosis will then reduce further.
Sonia also needs to gain weight so that she can eat normally from now on. She has hardly any appetite…except for the toast and eggs which she asks for sometimes!
Throughout all these difficulties Sonia shows great courage, great patience, an impressive ability to think of others and their wellbeing, all the while going through her own trials. We have hope that her condition will improve and that she will finally be healed.
Clément Hars – October 2nd, 2016
Participating in the Marathon
When I arrive in the orphanage at 3.45am the children are all ready. We’re due to leave at 3.45. I’ve brought some home comforts with me: bananas, fruit juice, chocolate bars, milky drinks. A light breakfast but full of energy to give them all a bit of strength. Soon the older boys from Nava Jeevan (the teenagers’ house) join us and we are finally ready to go, joined by three volunteers and two drivers! We’ve also got a motorbike for Dovile, our photographer and Lithuanian volunteer. She’s going to have fun snapping the runners in full stride!
4.15am: We’re already here! We have to get off the bus and walk a few hundred metres to the stadium where the starting point will be. When we get there it’s already packed out. What a crowd! It’s the big event of the day. It has to be said there were some very interesting prizes on offer for the winners.
Now we need a bit of patience. After waiting an hour and a half we finally get given the various T-Shirts for the run: Yellow for group A (over 35s) white for group B (17 -25 year olds), grey for group C (13 – 16 year olds) and blue for group D (10 – 12 year olds). Finally, we can leave. Those in group A – my group! – set off and begin a tour of the stadium before heading off into the town for an 8km circuit. Then each group heads off one after the other. Unfortunately, the race is over all too soon for Akash. Before even leaving the stadium he runs headlong into a metal bar. He breaks a tooth amid a stream of blood and his run is over before it has begun! Akash is in tears not only from the pain but also embarrassment and frustration! We had trained so hard in the previous weeks! Happily, the stadium is inside a large hospital complex. Akash is taken straight to Emergencies and will be able to re-join us at the end, near the beach.
For the others the race has begun. Rajee and Indira are brilliant for the girls’ team and finish among the first 10 places. Among the boys, Velmurugan and Jerry are our two best chances. Unfortunately, they were not speedy enough and missed the starting point reserved for their category when they set off. By the end they have run the full 8km, instead of the 4.5km agreed at the start. Kaniyan and Vijay pass with flying colours, having managed to run the full 8km without a break. Vasanth also has a good race. For Karina it’s been difficult. Hampered by a hamstring injury, she can’t run for long. We wait half an hour before seeing her finally cross the finish line, along with a friend she met at the start of the race!
Everything is a bit chaotic after the race. We await the arrival of Kiran Bedi, the new governor, an iconic woman in India. She gives a strong speech, highlighting pollution in Pondicherry and the dirtiness of the town. She urges the Pondicherry people to take the town in hand and clean it up, or else she will pack her things and leave…
Her speech over, she leaves. Time for the prize giving, which is no less chaotic. Some categories are deliberately forgotten as the organisers cannot find their list of participants!
Not to worry! The children return tired but happy. They’ve done it! They’ve experienced training, improvement and they have tasted the fruit of their efforts, competing against other children of their age. What could give them greater self-confidence … even with a few broken teeth!
Pierre Dubreil – August 28th, 2016
An incredibly busy school year
We decided to favour private schools who closely accompany the children and regularly engage with us so that we might improve the ways in which we monitor their studies at the orphanage. Each month, our education team is therefore invited to a parents meeting at the eight schools the children attend. We have also employed an education specialist to ensure good links between the orphanage and the teachers. Their role is to supervise the whole education project, from homework to uniform, as well as discipline, cleanliness and lunch-boxes (the schools send us a text message if a child does not eat their dinner!).
We are delighted with the progress made by many of the children. An example would be the twins Vijay and Vimal, both 15 years old, who were clearly struggling with their studies and wanted to stop altogether. When they arrived at Bright School, their average grades were between 10 and 20%. The minimum needed to pass is 35%. After two years of intense work they both now achieve over 50%! Unfortunately, not all the children have had the same success. Manikandan, Jacob and Indira, who are all new to Bright School, have not yet passed the minimum requirement of 35%, and so have to retake their exams in June.
Five of our youngsters have passed their “tenth” or “twelth” exams (which is the equivalent to GCSEs and A-Levels in the UK, a High School Diploma in the US, and NCEA levels 1 and 3 in New Zealand). In India, the “tenth” exam is perhaps more decisive for the future than the “twelth exam”. Nevertheless, the journey Yuvasree took to take this exam was one of great combat and courage. Only three months before she was due to take her “twelth” exam we discovered she was suffering from pulminary tuberculosis, which made her lose more than ten kilos in bodyweight. She was unable to attend school for a whole month, but with the support of the team at the orphanage she was able to continue to study at her own rhythm, following the lighter schedule that was recommended her.
As for Shankar, having failed his English and Tamil “tenth” exams last year, he was able to retake both in July 2015, this time passing Tamil but unfortunately not English. We are therefore waiting for the results of his latest retake in March. This year, as well as working on his English, he has taken upon himself many small jobs at the orphanage, such as the upkeep of the garden and preparing the special diets for the children who are ill.
Pierre Dubreil – May 1st, 2016
Four years later!
The eldest, Moorty, who worked so hard – he was always the first to leave and the last to return – is now married. What a revolution! He married the sister of another of the children here. He still works just as hard, in a factory in which he alternates day and night shifts. He invited me to dinner one evening where I got to see his new home and meet his new wife: there was a great storm that night, something synonymous with candelit dinners! Moorty never spoke that much English, but having spent an entire year together we know how to understand each other. He was delighted to be able to introduce me to his wife and show me photos from our time together, now some years in the past.
I was accompanied to his home by his younger brother, ‘’small’’ Rajkumar, who continues to shine in his studies. He goes to school not far from here, and so has stayed within the familiar surroundings of Shanthi Bhavan. He has his own room but never hesitates to come out and help his friends during their study hour.
Shankar, their brother-in-law, is taking a course in IT. Shankar was the youngest of the group, the one whom the older children lovingly teased. Since I left he has found his feet and seems much more open. He continues to help William the gardener. He fully grasps the role he needs to play among the younger children, and devotes a lot of time and effort to sharing what he has learnt with them.
I chanced upon Suresh at Shanthi Bhavan and was able to share a journey on his motobike to Pondicherry. There wasn’t much time to talk, but I gather he is still following a very promising career. He was the elder brother of the group, always full of goodwill towards us all, and an example both in his behaviour and his school results. He was able to get into a great school in Chennai, but still tries to return whenever possible to see his ‘’younger brothers’’.
In the same town I found Ajeeth, who was at the Shanthi Bhavan most of the time I was there. He has continued his studies and is a great help to the Indian workers and the volunteers whenever he stops by. Many of the children, like Ajeeth, quickly come to understand that their return to Indian life as well as their happiness amongst fellow Indians will be made possible mainly by succeeding in their studies.
Like Suresh and Adjith, Yogaraj, who arrived just two months before my mission ended in 2011, also studies at Chennai. The atmosphere of his current residence at school have made things a little more difficult for him. His fellow students don’t seem to be as friendly as those at Shanthi Bhavan, the food is frankly aweful, and the bedrooms are unclean. When I previously knew him he was very studious, but I think this change in environment has unsettled him somewhat.
From a distance I recognised ‘’Big Raj’’, who has finally managed to grow a goatee that actually looks real! His serious demeaner quickly gave way to a fantastic smile. When I left, he was working in a wood workshop at Pondichery. I was able to speak with him for a while: he now has his own room at Shanthi Bhavan, his own schedule, and a salary. He told me about his many projects, like how he wants to save up his money so that he can pass his driving test and buy his own car, in order to start his own business. He is slowly learning to put some money aside and build up his bank account, something he finds very difficult. He has so much goodwill that he struggles to say no, and as he is one of the only ones to have any money at the Home, he finds he has many, many friends!
I was not, however, able to meet up with Appu, one the more fragile adolescents, whose health doesn’t seem to have got any better. He continues his many stays at the Shanthi Bhavan hospital. Thankfully, he hasn’t abandonned his carrier as an electrician; I remember how he used to spend all his time fixing the speakers, lamps, fans… the list goes on and on!
Finally, John (the one and only!), always ready for a laugh and, despite his propensity toward ideleness, always very helpful! He is now working as a mechanic for one of the major motor groups in India. He lives and works in his home village around four hours from Shanthi Bhavan. He seems content with his new life, and returns to see the other children and bring them news whenever he can.
The Indian employees, the volunteers and donors from abroad, as well as the children, all seem to be making a success of things. By returning four years after I left I have had the joy of seeing how my time spent here, the investment made by all those who support the orphanage, as well as all the work undertaken by the centre, continues to bear much fruit.
François Mertine – March 6th, 2016
Sonia at the hospital
She was admitted in PIMS hospital already in July, and we found out that she was suffering from an abdominal TB. She started a medical treatment but in November the spinal cord was affected. On December 27 she was back at PIMS hospital, admitted in intensive care. Doctors drained one litter of pus out of her chest. Since then she changed for another hospital and her medical condition is slightly getting better. Her left lung has been very compressed by the accumulation of liquid but it’s now finding back its place and shape. Doctors had to to work with 3 pus drainage tubes, but they use only two now.
Clément Hars – February 10th, 2016
That afternoon, at 5:30pm when the children take their shower, I noticed her sitting in front of the office, shaking, burning up, drained and confused. I took Priyanka to her room, put the electric fans on and undressed her to bring down her fever. I stayed at her bedside and poured water over her body; it only took the wet towel a few seconds to warm up when in contact with her body. Olivier and Patricia, a couple who are staying with us for a few months, kept Priyanka company for a while.
We stayed with her for two hours, to calm her down in her confusion and attempt to bring down her temperature. Finally, we called Sathia back to the Home, who was out at the clinic. The decision was taken that Priyanka should go to the clinic to be closely monitored. The fever started to drop, but to see her leave with the nurse filled us with fear. She stayed at the clinic for ten days, and was then sent to the hospital to be treated for malnutrition. Her fever and illness wore her down so much she lost her appetite, and her morale remained low. Sonia accompanied her, and the two spent a little over a week there. When one of our children goes into hospital, an adult of the same sex must be with them at all times. Needless to say this becomes very complicated for the management of the orphanage.
Eventually Priyanka returned. She was a few kilos lighter but had a permanent smile and a larger appetite than normal. Her skin was damaged but she had lost her spots, and most importantly she has a new treatment.
Claire Mathieu – January 9th, 2016
"Christmas friends" !
Due to this overabundance of rain, streets that are normally crowded at this time of the year are deserted, and aware as we are of the difficulties people are going through just a three hour drive away, it is hard to get into the festive spirit.
Nevertheless, we launched the ‘Christmas friends’ scheme. The scheme is simple: each child picks out a name, and will then be responsible for buying that person a Christmas gift, using money earned for helping out and good behavior (they can also lose points for bad behavior!). The
total points they earn equates to an amount of money they can spend on their gift.
We occasionally face difficulties when one of the children wants to change the name of their Christmas friend, or makes no effort to earn points at the expense of the child for whom they are supposed to buy a gift. That said, we have to admit that over the last couple of weeks their efforts in doing the cleaning and other little jobs continually increases! Every day, children cling on to us to tell us they have washed the toilet (even with soap!!!), cleaned the classroom or dormitory, tidied the books, helped wash the floor, picked up the paper off the floor, etc. In short, everything we have tried to get them to do for years! They seem to be highly motivated to be able to give their friend a nice gift for Christmas, and the Home has never been so clean!
Claire Mathieu – December 11th, 2015
On 10th November, it was Diwali. Once again, we had a memorable time. The festival of light is always highly anticipated: for nearly a whole week all of India celebrates in a mass of sound and light (from the noise of the firecrackers and the light of the fireworks!). Glow sticks, squibbing, flamboyant fountains, warm greetings… children are full of joy and there is no let up to the explosion of firecrackers (never ending firecrackers!) to celebrate the victory of Krishna over the demon Narakasura.
Claire Mathieu – November 26th, 2015
A change of treatment at Chennai
Manikandan and Vimal therefore had to leave the Home for what we thought would be four days – the observation time required – during which they patiently waited in a hospital room in order to undergo daily examinations. Alex accompanied them, but was not allowed to sleep in the same area, and so was forced to find accommodation elsewhere, which ended up being the hospital bike shelter.
After arriving at the hospital, they only began treatment on day three, which meant a lengthened stay. Once treatment had started they informed us that Manikandan would have to stay on for ten further days of observation.
Vimal’s return was a moment of euphoria (he returned before Manikandan, who is still in hospital). He arrived during our Saturday night movie, which came to an abrupt halt upon his entrance. The children chased after him in fits of screams, and Vimal had to hide in the bathroom to escape all his fans!
Claire Mathieu – November 4th, 2015