Tag Archives: India

Our Founder’s Father, Honored in India

After spending a long day visiting two projects outside of Hyderabad, Luis Bourdet, our Director of International Programs, and I prepared to travel even further into India’s rural landscape to a small town called Dornakal, in the state of Telangana, where we would be visiting six more homes. Before we left, Luis had explained to me that our projects in Dornakal are nestled in a cathedral compound run by the Diocese of Dornakal, which is a sector of the Church of South India, the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

We were picked up early in the morning by a young priest, Reverend Pratap, with whom Luis had worked on his last trip to India three years prior. A few hours later, when we arrived at the Dornakal Diocese Compound, we were greeted at the bishop’s home by the bishop himself, Reverend Doctor Prasada Rao, and our volunteer coordinators, as well as many of our sponsored children.

The boys enjoy three nutritious meals a day together at the home.

Three of our affiliated projects, established more than thirty years ago by our founder, Mrs. Jeanne Clarke Wood, are in walking distance to one another, within the walls of the compound. As Luis and I met with the bishop and our coordinators, we were looking very forward to visiting each project over the course of the next three days.

In remembrance of J. Calvitt Clarke

After the coordinators left, we sat down to lunch with the bishop. Reverend Doctor Prasada Rao has been affiliated with the Diocese of Dornakal for three years, and he explained to us that in that time, he has seen the cost of food and boarding for the children rise; but unfortunately, the Church has not received any additional funding from outside sources. For now, he relies on donations from the congregation and support from Children Incorporated sponsors and donors to ensure that the children have a safe place to live, food to eat, and that they are able to attend school. As I have seen so many times before with our work around the world, without sponsorship, these children would not have the opportunity to go to school.

After eating, Luis and I, along with Reverend Pratap, took a short walk across a large, empty field to the J. Calvitt Clarke Home — named after Mrs. Wood’s father, a Presbyterian Minister who started working with impoverished children in 1938, when he founded China’s Children Fund to aid Chinese children displaced by the Second Sino-Japanese War. Because the mission had expanded to other countries, the name of the organization was changed on February 6, 1951 to Christian Children’s Fund, and then later to ChildFund International, a name which the organization still uses today.

As we approached the home, I thought about how amazing it is that Mrs. Wood had so long ago taken such a great interest in her father’s humanitarian work that she started her own organization. It was special to see Children Incorporated’s history honored in such a way in India. It was in 1964 that Mrs. Wood visited Guatemala for the first time, and witnessed the deprivation of children there. When she returned home, she wanted to do something to help.

Mr. Samuels said that he wishes there were funding to enroll more children in the home, too, because the needs of children in and around Dornakal are so great.

Out of her home in Richmond, Virginia, she established Children Incorporated and wrote letters to friends, family, and acquaintances asking for support for the 95 children she had met during her travels. Those children comprised our first affiliated project; and today, Children Incorporated supports over 300 projects in 23 countries. I can’t help but think that Mrs. Wood, who had great admiration for her father, named this project after him as a thank-you for having lead a life of example, so that she herself could go on to do her own work to help hundreds of thousands of children all over the world.

Monkey trouble

When we arrived at the home, Mr. Samuels, our Volunteer Coordinator, was waiting for us. A tall, thin Indian man with a full gray mustache and glasses, Mr. Samuels has been at the J. Calvitt Clarke Home since the 1970s. Today, 34 boys who come from incredibly poor families that cannot afford to take care of them, let alone send them to school, live at the home. Fortunately, all of them are currently enrolled in our program; they attend local schools where they study math, science, social studies, and their regional language, Telugu.

Luis Bourdet and Reverend Pratap greeting boys outside the J. Calvitt Clarke Home

As we toured the home, Luis told me that in the last ten years, Children Incorporated has built a dorm for the boys, as well as purchased cots and mattresses for them to sleep on. The home has a dining hall and study room, and there is a lot of land for the boys to play on in the afternoons. Mr. Samuels told us that there is a small clinic nearby where a nurse treats the children when they fall ill, mostly of illnesses like typhoid, due to a lack of clean drinking water or because of contaminated food.

As we continued talking with Mr. Samuels, we discussed the obstacles he faces as an administrator. He indicated that he is mostly concerned about a lack of funding for improvements to buildings on the compound. Other than the recently-constructed dorm, an undertaking that was facilitated by Children Incorporated supporters, there are cracks in the walls and ceilings of the other buildings on the property, which were built as many as forty years ago.

Mr. Samuels said that he wishes there were funding to enroll more children in the home, too, because the needs of children in and around Dornakal are so great. There are many poor families who make very little money farming, and that cannot afford to feed their children or send them to school. The home has empty beds, but Mr. Samuels doesn’t have the additional money required to fill them.

As I have seen so many times before with our work around the world, without sponsorship, these children would not have the opportunity to go to school.

In an effort to offer a solution to the problem, Luis asked Mr. Samuels why he doesn’t grow food for the children. It was obvious to Luis and I both that there is ample land on the compound property that isn’t being utilized. Mr. Samuels answered with one word: monkeys. Although seemingly harmless to some foreigners, for the locals, monkeys are pests. They roam the compound freely, in large packs, eating everything they find, making it impossible to grow crops or even have fruit trees from which to gather food. Mr. Samuels said that they are only able to grow tea plants, but not enough to sell to generate income.

As we left the project and walked back to the bishop’s home, I watched the mischievous monkeys climb around in the trees, and I thought about how even with the challenges that this project faces today, Mr. Clarke would be so proud of his daughter. I don’t know if he ever visited the J. Calvitt Clarke Home in India, but from what I saw, thanks to the support of our sponsors, donors, and Mr. Samuels, the home is doing amazing work to help poor children in India — children who, without the vision of people like Mr. Clarke and Mrs. Wood, would not otherwise have the opportunity to receive an education.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA?

You can sponsor a child in India in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in India that is available for sponsorship.

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In Rural India, Children Face Extreme Poverty

When Luis Bourdet, Children Incorporated Director of International Programs, and I left the Chandrakal Methodist Boarding Home to visit the Lou Ann Long Girls’ Hostel on our second day in India, I was just starting to get an understanding of what poverty looks like for children in the country. The Chandrakal Methodist Boarding Home, although older and lacking in funds, is providing for hundreds of students coming from poor farming communities – kids who otherwise would not go to school. The children face a lot of barriers when it comes to getting an education; but thankfully, many of them are being supported by sponsors who can help them overcome adversity.

Without help from their sponsors, girls in rural India would not get an education.

But what we had seen during our first project visit would be very different from what we would see during our second, a couple of hours away from Hyderabad, the capital city of Telangana, in a smaller town called Yadgir, situated in an even more rural part of India. Lining the roads we traveled, among tiny, one-room brick shacks, were tent communities of tribes of Indians who are not provided with government housing, and who have no choice but to squat on land as they look for seasonal farm work.

These laborers are the poorest of the poor, making only about forty cents a day; and because of their dire economic situation, many of their children are malnourished. Not only can they not afford to send their children to school, but they also can’t afford to feed them.

Older buildings aren’t safe for kids

Children Incorporated has been affiliated with the Lou Ann Long Girls’ Hostel for a long time, although our Volunteer Coordinator, Premalatha, a deaconess with the Methodist Church, is new to the project. Like the Chandrakal Methodist Boarding Home, the hostel is also supported by the Methodist Church.

When we arrived an hour and a half after leaving Chandrakal, we pulled into a dirt driveway lined with tall trees that cast shadows across the property. Overgrown plants and brush covered the grounds. The compound wasn’t large, but it had enough room for the children to spread out in grassy areas among the buildings and trees.

These laborers are the poorest of the poor, making only about forty cents a day; and because of their dire economic situation, many of their children are malnourished.

We parked outside the main building, the house occupied by Premalatha and her family. Adjacent to their dwelling was the girls’ dorm, which was built about seven years ago, thanks to funding from Children Incorporated supporters. I was already starting to see a pattern in India within our projects – of the two projects we had visited so far, both had benefited immensely from funds from our donors for the construction of new structures.

Another less fortunate similarity to the Chandrakal Methodist Boarding Home was that the other buildings on the property were very run down but still being used, if for nothing more than storage. Some of the buildings were so dilapidated that they didn’t look safe to enter; and again, I thought it seemed as though they should be demolished.

We met with the 35 girls who live in the home, all of whom are enrolled in our program, outside their dorm. Ranging in age from five to nineteen years, the girls attend local schools located only a short walk from the hostel. Premalatha explained that the parents don’t pay anything for the girls to stay at the hostel, because they are so poor and have no money to contribute. She said that it’s tough for her to make ends meet at the hostel because outside of support from the Church and Children Incorporated, they don’t receive any government funding or help from other non-governmental organizations.

Excelling despite difficulties

Luis Bourdet poses with Sita, who is working towards a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

After we met the children, we toured a large building behind Premalatha’s home, where the girls study and pray in the mornings and afternoons. As we were walking to the large main room, I was overwhelmed by such an intense smell of smoke that I had to turn around and go back outside. Come to find out, the kitchen is right next to the study area, and smoke from burning wood had filled the room, making it hard to breathe. Premalatha said she wants to update the kitchen with gas stoves to cut down on the smoke and the need to store wood, but she has no funding for the upgrade.

As Luis and I continued to talk with Premalatha, I learned that the hostel needed more than just an updated kitchen – the girls sleep on the floor and are in need of beds, mattresses, cots, and linens. They also need mosquito nets to make them less susceptible to mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria. The roof was also leaking and in need of patching.

It was apparent that the girls at the Lou Ann Long Girls’ Hostel are really in need – even more so than I had seen of our sponsored children earlier in the day. The project had a desperate feeling to it, but I knew that Premalatha and the other administrators are working hard to try to improve the lives of these girls, who otherwise would not be getting an education, and maybe not even eating, if they were still living with their parents. And the administrators’ hard work was paying off: despite the difficulties they face, the girls are excelling academically.

Before we left, we met with a girl named Sita who has graduated from high school and finished her undergraduate studies, and is now studying to get her Master’s Degree in Social Work, thanks to the help she is receiving from her sponsor. It was great to meet her, and feel a glimmer of hope for these girls. She is a shining example of the power of sponsorship, and the ability for children to excel even when extreme poverty threatens to hold them back.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA?

 You can sponsor a child in India in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in India that is available for sponsorship.

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Stark Differences Between Neighboring Countries

I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving to India after having spent a week visiting our affiliated projects in Sri Lanka. India was a place of wonder to me. Most of what I knew about the country was statistical information about its enormous population and the extreme poverty Indians face; of the 1.2 billion people living in India, an estimated 23.6 percent of the population lives on the equivalent of $1.25 or less a day. I was curious to see what more I would come to understand about India on my first trip there, especially when it came to the differences between India and Sri Lanka in terms of educating children.

India’s literacy rate is only 63 percent, meaning many poor children are not being educated early in life, when it is crucial for them to be in school.

India was established in 1950 after gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947. A developing country, India has seen a lot of economic growth since the 1990s, and in more recent times, its unemployment rate has fallen, thanks to a focus on the retail industry, agriculture, mining, and information technology (IT). Despite the upward swing in the country’s economy, India is still considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world, according to the World Bank.

Children become good friends when they are living together at the Chandrakal Home.

Much of the poverty has to do with the inadequate education system in the country. Almost half of India’s population drops out of school by the age of thirteen, probably so that the adolescents can work to provide an additional income for their families. Unlike its neighboring country, Sri Lanka, where education is of the utmost importance, with a literacy rate of over ninety percent, India’s literacy rate is only 63 percent, meaning many poor children are not being educated early in life, when it is crucial for them to be in school.

Arriving in Hyderabad

When Luis Bourdet, our Director of International Programs, and I arrived in Hyderabad, the capital of the state of Telangana and the fourth most populous city in India, I expected the scene to be overwhelming. What I found instead was a modern airport, with an open design both inside and out. The highway leaving the airport felt just as airy – the traffic was light, and the road system was expansive and organized.

It didn’t feel much different from the experience I had when I arrived in Sri Lanka, except for one aspect – the amount of housing that we saw on either side of the highway was astounding. It was the first indication that we were in an incredibly populated part of the world, which was unlike Sri Lanka, whose population is only around 21 million people – or 5.7 percent of India’s population. The landscape was blanketed with concrete apartment buildings as far as I could see, many of them twenty stories high; and this scene went on for an hour, before we reached the city.

Once we arrived in Hyderabad, the differences between it and Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, were more obvious. Whereas we didn’t see beggars on the streets in Colombo, we saw multiple ones at each stoplight in Hyderabad. The traffic was dense and chaotic, and smog from the cars was thick in the air. It was more of what I had expected of India – busy and crowded, with signs of extreme poverty, which we didn’t see in Sri Lanka.

Doing more than sponsoring kids

Early the next morning, Luis and I left to travel the four hours it would take us to get to the Chandrakal Methodist Boarding Home, which is run by the Methodist Church of India. Located in the western region of the state in the small town of Chandrakal, the home was founded in 1950 by an American missionary named Lillian Woodbridge. With a mission to educate boys and girls from needy families, the home currently boards around 500 children, and is much larger than any of our projects in Sri Lanka.

As we left Hyderabad, the highways turned into narrow rural roads, where we saw livestock and large fields of rice and corn crops. Hindu temples lined the newly-paved road. Luis told me that the last time he was in India, the roads were not nearly as nice, and he was pleased to see the progress in the country – progress that we had also seen in the newly-built roads and highways in Sri Lanka.

When we arrived at the home, we were greeted by the children, as well as by our Volunteer Coordinator, Pearl. Pearl has served the church for fifteen years and has been at the home for three. As she showed us around the complex, she explained that there were a relatively even number of girls and boys living at the home who attend elementary, middle, and high school on the property.

Young girls who live at the Chandrakal Home

She talked about how if it weren’t for Children Incorporated sponsors, many of these children would never get the chance to go to school, and would never receive an education. It is a great relief for parents, who are mostly low-paid farmers, and who are unable to pay the entire monthly fee for room and board and tuition, to receive help through sponsorship.

Sponsorship isn’t the only way Children Incorporated has helped the home over the years – the high school building was built about ten years ago, thanks to one of our special donors, as well as an addition to one of the girls’ dorms. Our donors also purchased the cots on which the girls sleep; and a few years ago, Children Incorporated funds were used to purchase a generator so that the children could have electricity at night to study after dark. Since then, the home has installed permanent electricity, though the generator still comes in handy.

An old home in need of repair

I was impressed with how large the compound was, and how many buildings it contained; but everything other than the newly-constructed additions was very old and in need of a lot of repairs. I remembered that some of our projects in Sri Lanka are also in older buildings, but they are still in good shape. Some of the buildings at the Chandrakal Methodist Boarding Home looked as though they should be torn down and rebuilt entirely.

A few even looked unsafe to enter. Many of the classrooms are in need of roof repairs, and some of the rooves leak badly enough that the rooms are unusable. When Pearl told me that some of the buildings are more than sixty years old, I understood why they were in such bad condition – they hadn’t been repaired since they were constructed, when the home was founded.

Before we left, I asked Pearl about the difficulties of educating children in India. She said that many families want to send their children to school, but there are few schools near rural areas like Chandrakal. Unlike Sri Lanka, where there are schools close by for children to attend during the day, and then return to their families each afternoon, in India, children have to go far away to a boarding school and stay full-time, which parents often cannot afford.

There are just not enough schools for the number of children in the country, which makes it that much more difficult for those living in extreme poverty to get an education. It occurred to me then that although I was trying to compare the two countries because they were close to one another, they were worlds apart when it came to educating children.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA?

 You can sponsor a child in India in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in India that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

A Drop in the Bucket: Our Partnership with Wine To Water

Earlier in the summer, as Luis Bourdet, Children Incorporated’s Director of International Programs, and I discussed our upcoming trip in August to India and Sri Lanka to visit twelve of our affiliated projects, I asked Luis what the children living in this particular region of the world could benefit from most outside of what sponsorship already provides for them. He said he would reach out to our volunteer coordinators to find out.

When a Sawyer water filter is properly maintained, it can last for ten years.

It didn’t take long for Luis to come back to me with a response: the biggest issue that our coordinators face — accessing clean water for children in our program.

The global water crisis

Nearly one billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water; and roughly 3.5 million people die each year because of water-borne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid, as well as severe diarrhea. According to Luis, providing clean water systems for our projects is something than can be done, but not quickly — and not inexpensively.

Through a process called reverse osmosis, bacteria and other types of microscopic species can be removed from water; but the cost for each system can be as high as $8,000, and would take time to install. In order to help our sponsored children sooner, I reached out to a nonprofit organization called Wine To Water to see if they could offer a solution.

It didn’t take long for Luis to come back to me with a response: the biggest issue that our coordinators face – accessing clean water for children in our program.

Wine To Water’s story

Wine To Water was founded by Doc Hendley in 2003. A former bartender from North Carolina, Doc began focusing on the global water crisis after working in Sudan with a nonprofit organization called Samaritan’s Purse, implementing clean water projects. After a year in the field, Doc returned home fully aware of the global water crisis, and decided to start his own organization to bring clean water to some of the most remote areas in the world. In 2012, Doc was selected as a top-ten finalist for the CNN Heroes Award for his work with Wine To Water; the organization has now provided clean water to over 300,000 people in eighteen countries.

A Sawyer water filtration system set up and ready to use.

When I reached out to Wine To Water and spoke with their International Operations Director, Josh Elliott, he explained that the organization’s goals are larger than just taking clean water to communities – Wine To Water also works to improve sanitation practices, teaches hygiene education, collaborates with local people in each country, repairs wells, and disperses water filters and rainwater harvest tanks all around the globe. Josh’s solution to taking clean water to Children Incorporated projects in India and Sri Lanka was to offer Luis and I Sawyer water filters to take with us. The filters are small, easy to transport, and last ten years if used properly, which is a big deal for families in need.

Keeping kids health

A few weeks after talking with Josh, I took a training class at the Wine To Water office in Boone, North Carolina to prepare myself for showing our coordinators how to properly use the water filters – filters that will keep our sponsored children healthy. Each project will receive two or three filters, which can be used in common areas, such as in the school office or cafeteria of the schools that the children attend, which they may access daily. Our hope is that with Wine To Water’s help, offering clean water will keep our sponsored children healthy so they can attend school each and every day.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA OR SRI LANKA?

You can sponsor a child in India or Sri Lanka in one of three ways – call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in India or Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD