WHERE LOVE IS WELCOMED, BUT COMMISERATION IS NOT...

Vineet Sodhani recounts his beautiful experience of going to the Good Shepherd Orphanage where he became a part of the life of abandoned children with heartbreaking stories

25 Jun, 2018 by VINEET SODHANI

It takes me two trains and a bus ride to reach the Good Shepherd Orphanage, where I am received by Clifton and his father Rick; Australians by birth, but Indians at heart, who run the orphanage along with a friend, Eugene. Why did I take the train and the bus? Let’s just say that there are some trips you take to restore your balance and internal reconciliation.

Tired from the journey, I fall asleep, to be woken the next morning by the institution’s morning bells. As I come out of my room, I see children leaving for school. Clifton hugs every child, including his own. Towards my third day, many children come and hug me as well. One of them, a boy called Raymond, holds my hand and makes me walk him right up to the school. On the way, we exchange notes and concur that school is boring. As an indulgence, I offer to play soccer with him in the evening. When he asks me if I know how to play, I tell him that I even coached Messi! An older girl walking alongside, gives me a ‘stop kidding’ smile. When I press further, I realise that I am not taken seriously by anyone, including the eight-year-old who holds on to my hand. At the school gate, Raymond hugs me again.

EVERY CHILD HAS A STORY
“How long have you been married?” asks this teenager one day. “Fifteen years,” I reply. After a pause, he responds, “Congratulations!” I don’t know if that is sarcastic. But the timing makes me laugh out loud. He asks if I know any movie stars since I hail from Mumbai. My answer disappoints him.

The teenager in question was left outside the orphanage gate when he was just three days old. Through some efforts last year, Good Shepherd was able to finally trace his mother; but unfortunately, she refused to accept or even see him. She had a new life. The boy was shattered. For being abandoned twice!

Then there is this girl who was sexually abused by her stepfather. In her initial weeks at the orphanage, she did not allow anyone to touch her. Yet another nine-year-old boy stole to keep himself alive, before coming to Good Shepherd. In his first few days, he was surprised to receive three meals a day and amazed at the fact that he could eat as much as he wanted. Each child here has a story; often heart-breaking. But everyone recovers. The care-takers, peers and the nearby forests bring about a balmy effect, I guess. Is this an ideal institution? I don’t know, but this is what I learn here.

I learn that though the canteen turns into a church every Sunday, the objective is to impart values, and not to impose religion. That though most children are skinny and diffident, they are healthy, and most importantly happy. That love is welcomed, but commiseration is not. That though the mission has little trouble getting funds, its office-bearers have practically nothing in their bank accounts. That though the mission was started by an American and run by Australians, it is Indian in all respects. That though it may not be perfect, how many of our homes actually are?

As part of my volunteering activities, I work at the workshop, paint school desks, move bricks and tin sheets. I also play with children and help them with their homework and career planning. Fatigued with the manual labour, I barely sleep during the initial days at the orphanage, and sometimes even catch a fever in between. But I recover quickly enough.

I may be back again soon. For the warm hugs.

Feedback: vineet@spatialaccess.com Category: Backbeat Volume No: 15 Issue No: 3

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