Dear friends, we've just returned from India. The purpose of the visit was to check up on the progress of the Angels of Hope orphanage. After landing in Coimbatore we were met by our driver, Anand, who drove us the two-hour drive down to the orphanage in Pollachi.
Tired from the journey, we arrived to find the children had the day off school and were eager to say hello. I was so pleased to see them all again and especially pleased to meet our latest member, a little girl called Priya. She was abandoned in hospital at birth because her parents wanted a boy. A nurse has looked after her for two-and-a-half years but she became ill with cancer and had to give her up. I was proud that
Angels of Hope, with our help, were in a position to take her in. She is so sweet and very loving but also quite mischievous! Nandini and Priya are very much alike and I think they'll be a handful in the years to come. Nobody knows Priya's date of birth but we think she is about two years, eight months.
The orphanage we're renting is great, there's a big yard at the front where the children can play out and the building is much bigger that what we had in Chennai. The difference we've made in 14 months is massive and within a few hours all I could think about was sleep, but Philip and Gladis were eager to show us the building plot we'd bought in December. Driving up to the land we passed by the small homes of the local Tamil people, these weren't buildings but shacks made from coconut leaves and mud. I wondered why a country with so much poverty and lack of basic infrastructure were busy spending billions on space exploration. It makes no sense to me at all.
The Indian government have nothing in place to take care of its people, there is no help for the elderly and there is no social care for its orphaned children. Schooling and medical treatment is something that has to be paid for. Even the water isn't drinkable and in most cases women have to walk to the nearest standpipe and carry it home. I still can't imagine the government's thinking…sending a probe to the moon when your people lack just about everything is to me an insult.
As the road winded through the small shacks and past the local dump where pigs eat from the rubbish, we came out into the open space. Hills, mountains and coconut trees surround this area and at the far side we got our first look at the land. A wall has been built around it and two big gates have been fitted in an archway that will, in time, be the entrance to our new orphanage. It really was a little piece of paradise. The air was clean and there were no cars around. At last we have somewhere that's ideal for the children.
The following day I was eager to get started on our work. I wanted to visit the school the children attend. I needed to meet the engineer who'd be building our orphanage and I wanted to see how sponsorship for the home had worked out. I was pleased to see that our sponsorship and efforts have been worth every penny. In just over 12 months we've taken these kids from a small building in Chennai, where they had nowhere to play, constant traffic, pollution and a lack of resources, to this: an orphanage that at last feels like a home and not a prison.
The children are eating well and sleeping on mattresses rather than a hard floor. Everything about them looks better, they all have smiles on their faces and look so healthy. On a sad note Lokesh is no longer at the home, his grandparents came to collect him for a two-week visit. Unfortunately they decided not to bring him back. They can't afford schooling for him and barely have the means to support themselves. Gladis has spoken with Lokesh and although he wants to come home his grandparents won't allow it. In time I hope they'll see he was better off at the orphanage and will allow him to return.
The school they attend is costing us £900 per year. I wanted to go and speak with the director about these fees and I wanted to know why the school was not doing more to help us educate the kids. These are, after all, Indian children who will grow up to be assets to the country. I feel the school should at least give us a discount. Philip agreed with me but warned that if I were to go to the school the cost would go up, not down. As soon as the director found out they had help from England he'd find a way of exploiting us. Sadly I had to agree. From experience I know how these places work, but it's still so frustrating that our limited funds are being taken up in school fees.
After deciding to leave the school problem alone we met up with the engineer who'll be building the new orphanage. We'd sent plans for a building to him a few months ago and these plans included a second-floor home for Philip's family, but Philip and Gladis pointed out that they'd not be able to live at the orphanage due to rules in India. This changed everything, so our engineer drew up new plans that we were all happy with. The building will be built in eight stages and as each stage is complete the cost of that stage will be paid. Before any building work could begin we had to obtain the relevant paperwork from the local office and we also had to get water and electric on the site.
The total cost of this building will be £16,500 so we started doing some calculations: we still owed money for the gates and the watchman's room and we still needed water and electric. After some time on the calculator we found we'd enough money to complete the work up to stage three. This would leave us with £1,500 in the pot and a shortfall of £8,750. We expect just under £2,500 from the Gift Aid claim we made the week before I left so the shortfall will be £6,250. This is a lot but when you think about it, 14 months ago this £26,000 project was just a dream.
Weekend came and arrangements were made to bore a hole for water. At 4 p.m. we arrived at the land and opened the gates for the drilling machine. This old truck had all the equipment onboard to deal with anything. Drilling began at 5 p.m. and within minutes we hit rock and clouds of dust drifted across the whole area. By now we were swamped with local children, people walking into the compound, grazing cows and goats on the fresh grass.
As I stood watching the machine drill into bedrock I noticed an old woman picking grass to take home for her animals. Then it struck me: in India, no opportunity is missed and nothing is wasted. To the surprise of most I decided to help her picking grass and within a few minutes all the local kids had joined me. The woman packed her haul into a bundle and, placing it on her head, she smiled and took it home. Drilling continued into the night at a rate of 60 feet per hour. At 1:30 a.m., and to our relief, we struck water at around 500 feet down.
On the following Tuesday we expected to have permission to start building. We rang the office every couple of hours but each time we were disappointed to hear the papers were not ready. This trend continued all week and the frustration we all felt mounted with each passing day. By Friday I'd resigned myself to the fact that I'd not be here for the building work, but I did want the paperwork before we left for England. Eventually the paperwork came two hours before we left for the airport. I was glad, but at the same time disappointed with the slow progress. As long as funds continue to come in the orphanage will be complete in March, 2009. We need your help raising the £6,250 shortfall. At the moment we're sponsoring the home £350 per month and we've got standing order sponsorship from the public in the amount of £207 per month. Please consider a monthly contribution or a one-off donation to EETEP. Thank you.
This visit has proved we can make a big difference if we all work together. Simple things like playing cricket with the kids couldn't have been done without our intervention. We are getting so close to giving these kids the life they deserve. Please help us finish this worthy project, they are depending on us and in turn we're depending on the kindness of the great British public. To everyone that has donated to us and made this progress possible we'd like to say a big thank you. As the charity grows it's more difficult to keep in touch with our supporters, but your continued support doesn't go unnoticed.
I personally feel honoured you have placed your trust in our organisation. We're always very careful how we use your money and we hope you approve of the decisions EETEP have made. You have my word we'll continue to work hard to ensure these kids get the best possible start in life.