Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"My Name is Chetan"

We're going home!!

On February 27th evening, I will be catching a plane in Calgary that will get me to Bangalore in the early watches of March 1. On March 1 evening, Dad, BA and Deb will be boarding their own plane which will land them in the predawn of March 3.

The countdown is on.


When we were in Bangalore last March our brother Ed's wife, Sarah, told us of a Children's Home for which she has responsibility. Deb and I had the chance to go out with her on her weekly visit.

Bagalur is about 40 - 45 kms away from Bangalore, depending on your route. On a whim, I did a Map Quest search: it charmingly and naively states that the time it will take is either 37 or 41 minutes, depending on the route.

It didn't factor in traffic; a permanently collapsed bridge necessitating an extensive detour; narrow, winding, bumpy streets; livestock ambling along on the road like tourists; and a festival procession. It didn't factor in that this is not North American driving. Our trip took almost two hours going there and almost three hours coming home.
The road to Bagalur

Finally we pulled into an open space and drove into the compound.

There was a group of girls under a little gazebo who waved a greeting.

Dorm rooms in the background

Four of the boys called out from the verandah.

Well, three of the boys did. One - the tiniest of all - wouldn't look at us or really respond.

Kitchen cupboard

Sarah gave us a quick tour of the place and then got down to the duties and tasks she had to attend to that week. I - of course - headed back into the kitchen.

Gas stove. Sometimes they have to line up
for hours for the cylinders.

Degunta and wife

This is not a luxury establishment by any means: there are "house parents" - Degunta, who is also a teacher at the College, and his wife - and they have been joined by Sushila, a young lady who had just graduated from the College with her Masters in Religious Education and had felt the call to work with these children. They care for the kids and do the heavy lifting; but each child has responsibilities and chores that he or she must accomplish.


Deb went outside to visit with the children, only to discover that after their initial clamorous greeting, they had headed off to enjoy their precious moments of playtime in the sun.

All except for one. 

She glimpsed him sitting with Sushila under the gazebo, so she walked over to the two of them and asked if she could join them. The child said nothing, but Sushila welcomed her warmly.

Deb chatted with Sushila and found out that while she had been at the College she had come out to work with the kids, and had taught them in Vacation Bible School when they were all bussed in to Bangalore for what would be their equivalent of camp the previous summer. 

Slowly as the two women talked Deb started to catch the tiny boy's eye. Slowly she started to weave him into the conversation. Slowly he began to respond.

Finally she asked him his name, and she gave him my notebook in which to write it:

"My name is Chetan," he said shyly.

He had to go do something and then we heard his sad story. His father was no longer in the picture and his mother could not support three children. Chetan is the youngest of the three. With no doubt desperation, in January she had brought him to the children's home to be taken in and cared for.

He was five years old.  

He was still in shock three months later. We asked Sushila and Degunta's wife how long it would take before he was okay, and the bleak answer was, "Three years. After three years he'll be adjusted."

Three. Years.

Three years of questioning why your mama kept your siblings and gave you away. How he must wonder what he had done that was so awful that she left him with strangers! Did he cry himself to sleep each night longing for the comfort of her voice, the softness of her sari as her arms wrapped around him?

And then it emerged that most of these children had one parent living still. These parents, most of them loving their children and simply unable in their abject poverty to so much as even feed them, did the only thing they knew to do to keep them off the streets where the only thing they would be qualified for was to beg - or, in a land weighted down with human trafficking, subjected to a worse fate. They chose to give them away rather than that.

A few children had been rescued from abusive situations; most were there as a testament to their parent's great love for them.

But how does one explain that to a girl who, at 13 and just entering puberty, is sobbing for the mother who sent her away before she was 10?

How do you explain it to Chetan?

I realized that day that even in a safe, secure atmosphere where one's needs are provided for, there are worse things from the point of view of a child than being orphaned. The perceived abandonment of a parent - how do you recover from that?

My heart lashed out at the parents who could send their kids away.

In the days and weeks to come, however, another mother came to my mind. A woman named Jochebed had given birth to a son but due to the political situation in the land, his was an "illegal birth." She kept him hidden for as long as she could, loving him like only a mother can love. But finally she knew she would have to give him up to spare the rest of her family. So she placed him in a waterproofed basket and left him on the banks of the river, hoping for the best. 

We know the rest of the story: that baby's name was Moses - the prophet-and-leader-of-Israel Moses.

And I thought of two other parents who wept every single time they had to leave any of their children in boarding school. Mum and Dad were the most devoted parents any boarding school kids could ask for. One or other of them came to see us almost every month; and they wrote to each of us every week at least once. We had birthday outings and care packages and weekends out of the dorm. We were home for every vacation. Despite all of this, we cried and they cried when we had to be parted. Every time.

How much worse it is for these children in Bagalur! I mourned deep in my soul.

As we drove back home to the College that evening, I was of two minds about the Children's Home. But really, in a country of 1.2 billion people where vast communities of people still look up to the poverty line, what choice did some of those parents have? And how their hearts must have broken as they surrendered their most precious treasures to be raised by someone else.

One of the first places I am going to visit when I get back to Bangalore is the Children's Home in Bagalur. A number of you have asked if there is anything you can do to help support children's work in India. You had made the bunk beds possible for the Tsunami orphanage in South India. And now you want to do more.

I wrote Sarah asking if there was any pressing need for these kids.

Sarah wrote me back:

Thank you for wanting to visit the children in Bagalur.  We can go out there on Saturday afternoon as they will have school in the morning.  There are 7 boys and 7 girls that we take care of now. Three of the boys are older 14-16 years old, three boys are 8-10 years old and the littlest one is 6.  The girls are all 12-15 years old.  They do not need anything specifically.  You may bring what ever is possible to bring, or we can purchase clothes, toys or other things for them when you come.  They need new bed rolls, but that is a bigger expense ...

When I looked into the bed roll need I was also told the children need a sheet, a pillow cover and a mosquito net.

So here is the list and cost for each item:

Bed Rolls Rs 500 each - 10 needed - [ = $10 per bed roll, i.e., mattress]*
Small sheet/pillow cover Rs 200 each - 14 needed - [ = $4 per sheet set]
Mosquito net - 200 each - 12 needed [ = $4 per mosquito net]

Any way you can help will be greatly appreciated, please do not feel obligated to help with it all.  Pray the Lord will provide.

*The information in red was added by me.

In addition, both children's homes pray at this time of year for the money required to enrol the kids in school - the new school year starts in July, and it costs about $20 per kid to get them into school for the year. There are about 65 kids in all between the homes. These are village schools they attend, but at least the kids are learning to read and write.

This list is not intended to put pressure on my RtLers in any way. It's just that some of you have been asking ... and some of you have already been giving, so you'll know what your generosity is going toward.

I would love to take a little stuffed animal for each of the children in Bagalur, like we did for the Tsunami kids last year - and this year, I would love to be able to equip each of those kids with a back pack - in which case, we would need 50 back packs in all! If anyone wants to drop off stuffed toys or back packs, keep in mind that they need to be either new or very gently used.

Just before we left I sought out Sushila. "Please look after him in a special way," I besought her. "He's so little and alone."

"I will love him," she assured me.

I believe her. You see, Sushila herself has suffered from birth, supported every step of her life by a twisted club foot. She is full of compassion and tenderness in return for those who suffer. 

As we drove away that evening the sun splashed its last hurrah for the day across the canvas of the sky.

And I whispered a prayer for Chetan, the little boy who had snuck into my heart much like Alex did in South Africa in 2007:

"Oh God, let him know that he is beautiful. Let him know that he is loved. Let him know that he is Yours."


  1. So beautiful. You girls love on them for me too!!

  2. Touching story...and I am sure each story is as special as this one Karyn...these are the ones who appreciate every small thing you do for them and they make your day when they return your generosity by the most beautiful smiley faces ever!!...May God give them strength to survive and give all of us a caring heart to help them in as many ways as possible...

  3. You are on the way now close to touching these beautiful children. May God's peace and joy flood your heart, and theirs! Love you!


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