This is Clare Rutz reporting from Chennai, India.
After about forty-five minutes in a tuk-tuk, the crowds of people slowly begin to diminish outside of Chennai. Turning into a small road off the highway (after passing it three times unintentionally), I see Iyyappan waving to show us that we’ve finally made it. Iyyappan is the founder of the Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust, a home for the abandoned mentally challenged children of Chennai. After six years of work, and starting with only one child in 2003 he still has that burning passion in him that gives him reason to keep going. Today there are ninety children that are cared for at Sri Arunodayam. They have found the children by working with hospitals, the police force, and the Child Health Department and slowly they have become a trusted and respected organization in the community that the city turns to when a mentally challenged child is found, which happens all too often here.
When a child is brought to them they go through a medical and psychological check-up to understand what the child’s specific needs are. There is also an effort to find the parents, which is a distinguishing characteristic of this non-profit. If they do find the parents they work with them to provide an understanding of what their child needs and what can be done. With continuous support the parents are encouraged to raise their child in a traditional household. So far, twenty-seven children have gone back to their families while the non-profit overlooks the parenting.
This past year Sri Arunodayam has begun working in the prevention of abandoning children and also handicapped children. It has become a goal of the center to increase the public awareness of the benefits the government provides that is meant to help parents raise their mentally challenged child. There are also efforts to provide counseling for pregnant women to teach them how to take care of their unborn child and to give them an understanding of what causes mental retardation.
After going through all the details of what exactly Sri Arunodayam does we cross the street to the orphanage, adjacent to the office building, which is merely a couple of rooms and Iyyappan’s home. Throughout this cramped building there are thirty staff members taking care of the children in many ways including supervision, teaching, and physical therapy. Fortunately, in the near future Sri Arunodayam is moving down the street into a bigger building to comply with the amount of new children that keep coming through the doors.
The first floor of the building is for the newborns all the way up to six year olds. A few are in physical therapy as three staff members teach the children how to use their legs and arms. The main room has about fifteen children seated with a few playing in the corners hiding from something and giggling at not being found just yet. Up the stairs we visit the seven to twenty year olds who are all taking part in classroom activities. The older and more capable students are writing in the notebooks in front of them. They are mostly boys who all look up at me and greet me with ‘hellos’ and the little bit of English they’ve picked up. Although a tiny space is shared and things aren’t easy for these kids (some who are not much younger than me) they all wear a smile that’s true that proves their appreciation for such a place. I couldn’t imagine where they would be without this place.
The funding of Sri Arunodayam comes from individual sponsors, the majority of them being local residents of Chennai and the rest are GlobalGivers. The needs are becoming greater as more children are requiring their services, and there isn’t a regular flow of funds. Iyyappan does not take an annual salary and it looks to me as if he has devoted his entire life to the home of these precious children. The support is incredibly needed and in many ways. Volunteers are always welcome and called for so if you have three months or more and want to explore Chennai in India off you should go! This is a good place.
To learn more about the Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust go to www.globalgiving.com/2756. Your concern is appreciated.
When asked what Clare would tell her friends about this project, she said, "Incredible, you need to see this!"