The tuk-tuk pulled into the Dazzling Stone Home For Children, and without knowing if it was actually the place that was expecting me I climbed the stairs built on the side of the building. I made my way into the first room I see with a cloth hanging at the door frame that is not attempting to keep out the warm or cold. More than often a project is the director’s home and I quickly realize I am in both the office and a living room. My presence is detected and soon I am speaking very slowly and with easy English to a beaming older man happy to show me his accomplishment. We make our way through the language barriers using a bit of sign language and I learn that he and his wife started the Dazzling Stone Home in 1994 and it has grown to 120 children with a staff of 18. The children have come from pasts that include pick pocketing, stealing, and slum life that take them away from their education. Some children are abandoned while others have parents who are unable to suppo rt them. For these children they stay with the parents for one month out of the year, while the parents are allowed to visit the second Sunday of every month. As you can see, the definition of “orphan” is much different in India than it is in the United States.
Orphanages that feed and care for the children and encourage them to continue their education are in high demand (to say the least). It is never an issue to find the children to fill up these homes, but rather to keep the numbers down. The Dazzling Stone Home just opened their doors to twenty more children while trying to expand the orphanage. The infrastructure is there, but it remains to be a few cement buildings with limited lighting and not much comfort. They are hopeful about future plans to continue building, but they work as fast as the money comes. The first and most basic need is food, and I’m told the children can live off seventy cents a day. Clothes come next, and then the fancy stuff like a paint job and tiles for the floors. I ask, “What happens if the money doesn’t come? How are you going to care for the additional children?” The reply comes with a smile and assures me that, “God will provide.” The protocol is much different than any kind of children’s home you’d find in America with a trust in a higher power to keep the revenue flowing and to work from the bottom up with the children already there. However, I always have to keep reminding myself that in almost all cases this situation is better than the one they left.
I can scan the room and guess how long they’ve been at the orphanage. The twenty who arrived a couple of months ago are easy to spot. They aren’t completely present in the activities and their eyes glaze over just a bit. Their faces are hardened and it kills me to know that laughter would seem out of the ordinary for them. Those who know the space and are comfortable with the adults who line the room look as children should. There’s a lightness about their expression that indicates a happy innocence. I am encouraged to see the difference and know that these children who have only known what a hard life feels like are capable of finding that laughter again that should come so easily. Even without floor tiles or shelves for the food, this is a safe place, and safe places don’t need to be fancy. They just need to feel like home.
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