Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Love and Grace Mission
There is not a lot in Coimbatore to attract tourists. It's an industrial city in the state of Tamil Nadu, 250 km southwest of Bangalore. (That's as the crow flies; it's twice that as the train rolls.) Shanti and Esther are the daughters of our driver and we had met them in Bangalore. So the trip to Coimbatore was a chance to visit them in their home and to see Love and Grace Mission, which Esther directs. This shot shows Shanti, Donna and Esther (left to right) waiting for our train back to Bangalore.
Of course they do not need to wait with us, having gotten us to the proper platform they could have left us with very little risk of our boarding the wrong train or missing the train altogether. They were probably under strict instructions from their father, Joseph, not to leave until the train actually pulled out of the station with us on board.
Joseph did the same thing at the start of our journey; drove us to the train station, parked the car and got a ticket to go on the platform with us. (Apparently that is required although no-one ever asked to see it.) While we where waiting for Joseph to get his platform ticket, a boy of no more than 14 came by and offered to carry our luggage out to the train. We told him we had a driver who would do that, but gave him some money anyway. He came back a minute later to show us that he had actually bought food with the money. Joseph got us and our luggage out to the correct platform and waited with us. We tried to tell him we would be fine and he could leave, but he wouldn't hear of it. Not only did he see us safely onto the train and to our assigned seats, he waited outside our window for the entire 30 minute stop just to be sure. (Who knows--those crazy Americans might have gotten off the train, wandered away and gotten lost.)
Esther and Shanti are each divorced and share a house. Here are Sharon (Shanti's daughter) and David (Esther's son) playing a clapping game, which included a song which I cannot remember. We brought them some Barbie(TM) doll furniture and a set of Lego(TM) knockoff building blocks. Barbie is alive and you can get her in various Indian outfits. David had one of those propellers on a stick which you can spin with your hands and it will fly off in the general direction in which you point it. We played catch with that until we finally broke it. I worked up a sweat just sitting in a chair and catching (well attempting to catch) the toy anytime it came within arm's length. And we haven't really gotten into summer yet.
We received a very warm welcome from the children at Love and Grace Children Home. Here we are standing among the children. Notice the huge garlands of flowers. They gave those to us as part of greeting us. Anything worth celebrating in India seems to involve flowers.
As we walked up the road to the front door, boys were all lined up on one side, and girls on the other. Each child said some appropriate English language greeting as they tossed flower petals at us, and then they shook our hand.Notice that the boys and all the girls are dressed alike. These outfits were their Christmas gifts, that they wear for special events.
The children danced their Christmas program for us. They had recorded music which took a while to get working but the children waited patiently and they performed very nicely. Even the littlest had choreographed dances that they were taught in the week before the Christmas program. One tiny boy very seriously took his starting position, crouched with one hand on the side of his head, and the other on the opposite hip. Periodically he would look over at the people working on starting the music. Eventually he gave up on holding his position, and just waited patiently in place until they decided that another group would perform first. He won this theatre-supporter's heart.
The first dance was by the older girls who were more polished. Then our little guy and the other younger girls and boys, got to "strut their stuff".
They had two chairs off the the side for us to sit and watch the show, but we choose to sit on the floor with the kids. This was a lot more fun, but didn't do much for their proper decorum. They were delighted to be close to us and we enjoyed being with them even though we spoke no Tamil and the youngest we were sitting with spoke almost no English.
We toured the whole facility and were very impressed with how nice the place looked, how clean and well maintained every thing seemed. The kitchen pantry was well stocked, not only with rice and dried foods , also with fresh produce. It is a continual process for Esther to raise funds and find other support to enable this wonderful ministry to continue. She has put her whole heart and soul and life into it. Often it requires pure acts of faith and trust in God when it seems they can't possibly afford what she feels God is leading her to do. But He always comes through.
Here is Esther in a dormitory room, a far cry from the rows of palm mats on the floors of some orphanages. Esther says many are not more than a roof over kid's heads, with only the same gruel every day. Esther likes to tell the children what they have is given by God, and when God gives, He gives the best. She is working hard to enable them to become whole, happy, productive members of society.
The picture on the right is
a 3 bedroom building in progress. It will house the staff and their families in 2 rooms, with a small room for guests. They also urgently need to build a new dorm on a different site for the teenage boys, something the government could decide to insist on at any time. I think when that happens they will be able to use the old dorm for vocational training. A shipment of industrial-grade sewing machines was donated from a supporter in Sweden, as well as many new mattresses and tables and chairs for the cafeteria/study room. They were a godsend, but entailed a daily work in a 2 month ordeal to get them through a very uncooperative customs process.
The children in this home are mostly not orphaned in the sense that they have no adult family members--they just have no adult family who is able to take care of them. Some are children of people living in the leper colony. Some have no parents and their extended family brought them here because they were too poor to provide for them. One child's mother was a widow whose only skill was making flower garlands. She was struggling just to support herself and mother-in-law. Many of the children have endured horrible experiences in their young lives. One little girl was 2 when she saw her father murder her mother. You would never know it by looking at all the shining smiley faces. But India is full of the "walking wounded" whose lives were, or are now, unimaginable to most of us. Many children still wet the beds, and you wonder what nightmares they might be having.
While we were at the home we tried to teach the kids some American playground games, like Simon Says and Red light, Green light. The sheer number of children made this difficult. Even with breaking them down into 2 groups of 50, it was hard to tell which child was moving when they weren't supposed to, etc., but we had fun trying.
After playing games with the children, we went to visit the leper colony which is another part of the mission of Love and Grace. Here you see Esther talking with some of the residents about their concerns. These people are receiving some medical care, but many of them do not go to the government hospitals, because they say they are given the same 3 medicines for everything, and usually come home with several more illnesses than they had before they went. The government's program to treat leprosy doesn't actually reach the people in this area. Many people live with it until it progresses to the actual flesh consuming stage, and then they come to Love and Grace, or other sources, for money to go to the private leprosy hospital for treatment.
Love and Grace is working to build simple homes for them when theirs are beyond repair, and to provide other basic needs. We helped to distribute bed sheets from Love and Grace while we were there, and Donna had made adaptive spoon holders for those unable to hold a spoon because of damage to there hands from the disease. We hadn't realized that there would be so many who needed them. It's not just the loss of fingers that affects function. Most of them had hands that look intact, but the nerve damage leaves their hands frozen in one position, and unable to feel things. We had enough, about a dozen, for the ones in the cluster of homes that Esther works with. They decided that they could not share an extra with someone they knew in a nearby cluster, because they didn't have enough for everyone, and it would cause fighting. When I asked how many would be needed to give one to everyone in the valley that needed one, I was told they would need around 200! I want to refine the design and/or find a source for straight handled spoons to make them work better.
The huts were made of anything they could come up with, from woven palm walls to the cement block structures Love and Grace had built. (In the background of the picture above. One such home is for parents of some Love and Grace Mission children, whose home had basically fallen down. Most homes consist of one small room, and maybe a covered area outside. The insides are dark from the cooking fires, have dirt floors, and 1 doorway, and a tiny window opening with a cement grill design. In one home a small child was sleeping sideways in a hammock hanging from one point on the ceiling. Only her hair and feet stuck out the sides.
This is a group shot with Donna and I next to Esther in the back. The residents were all eager to be photographed, and loved seeing them immediately on the digital camera. We took lots of pictures of various groups and plan to print copies for everyone in the pictures to give to them when we go back. The people were all so cordial, but you could sense a feeling of desperation, because their needs were so great and options nearly non-existent. You have the overwhelming sense that they are just people like all of us, whose life's dreams were snuffed out through no fault of their own.
Esther dreams of a time when she can buy land and build a leper's home where they can have nice housing, and a common eating area where healthy food is prepared for them. Imagine trying to cook with non-functional hands that cannot feel heat or injury! Hopefully there could be leprosy treatment as well. The land for the Children's home was purchased by a supporter in Sweden, who has been running a resale shop to raise funds to support the home. His coming retirement leaves some question about the future of that means of support.
Esther also has to find ways to support her own family. One way she is able to do this is by selling very reasonably priced screen-printed t-shirts for customers in India and overseas. This is handled by computer and interactions over the internet. If you or anyone you know could use this service for your school, group, family reunion, etc, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. How she ever finds the time to do all this is beyond belief, but with God's help she does what she has to do.