Editor's note: Tamara Kaftalovich is volunteering with Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) - a 100% charity that provides bedkits to children in underdeveloped and developing countries around the world. This is part four in a blog series detailing her trip to India.
Our second day with our tour guide Amin was even more special than the first. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, before I left Toronto I sent an email to friends, family and co-workers asking them for donations to an orphanage in Mumbai. As a result I received an entire hockey equipment bag filled with stuff. The response was just overwhelming. Not only that, my team member Sue collected $500 from her church and the rest of the Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) team brought in a suitcase filled with items to bring to the orphanage as well.
The orphanage we visited was called Snehasadan and it was the same one Amin grew up in and is still close to this very day. There are 300-400 kids living in approximately 25 orphanage houses throughout Mumbai with a designated house mom for each. Representatives would visit the local train tracks in search of troubled and abandoned kids. If any are identified, the kids are taken to the orphanage and evaluated by social worker — whether or not they have families, if they want to be to be reunited with their family or stay at the orphanage. If all goes well, they are brought into the home for care.
Kids ranging from four years old and up live there, go to school and /or worked, depending on their age. Rather than having to leave the orphanage at a certain age, kids only leave when they were ready, physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially to support themselves. There was this one boy, he was 21 years old and working as a waiter at a hotel. He’s smart, mature, well spoken and able to communicate in English. He was telling me every day he picks up the newspaper and heads straight to the want ads, searching for overseas jobs on cruise ships, in Canada or the US, hoping to leave India in search of a better life.
Unfortunately, the orphanage houses we visited were, for the most part, empty because all the kids were at school. But we did meet some of the social workers and a few of the kids, and hear more about the history of the orphanage from the headmaster himself, Fr.Placido Fronseca. He is in the process of publishing a book called Tracks, focused on why he stared the orphanage 49 years ago and how it has evolved into the place it is today. He is quite an incredible man — well respected, a little sarcastic, witty, assured in himself – almost comes across as a bit arrogant (but in a good way). When I asked him why he started the orphanage he looked at me and said, you need to hire a criminal to catch a criminal.
I haven’t read his book yet but it seems to me, he was once a child living on the street and somehow was able to turn his life around, so he strives to do the same for others just like him. And it paid off, look at Amin! He’s devoting his entire life to helping underprivileged kids. He was telling us, one of his biggest dreams is to raise enough money (350,000 Euros to be exact) to open up a coffee shop filled with books for patrons to come in and enjoy. His waiters would be the kids from the orphanage, as a first step to getting them on their own two feet and making a better. This is quite a big dream for a man that lives day to day, spending what little money he makes (as a sporadic yet well known tour guide in Mumbai) on the women in his life — mother, sister and niece. With big dreams come passion, determination and a big heart, qualities Amin certainly has.
Speaking of hearts, it was Valentines Day that day. So after visiting the orphanage, Amin took us to the only place in Mumbai where it is acceptable to show affection (kiss, hold hands, cuddle) in public, Bandra Bandstand, Mumbai’s official lovers point. It reminded me of “lover’s lane” in the movie Pleasantville (the 1950’s Leave it to Beaver fantasy meets modern day reality), when everyone was experiencing what it was like to show emotion/affection in public. It was a little strange, surreal even, like I was invading all these people’s privacy. Literally, you’d see couples making out, cuddling, sharing an intimate moment four feet away from the next couple, but as soon as you left the park, you wouldn’t even know those same two people were a couple.
Talk about one extreme to another. Later that day, we were sitting outside a coffee shop, having a snack and these six kids ranging in age from one to six years old came up to the window of the shop and started playing with us — making lots of funny noises, laughing, singing. We were playing along with them and then one of my team members, Tom, bought a few samosas to give to the kids. As soon as he brought them out, the kids grabbed the bag and it was every kid for themselves, snatching up whatever they could because they were just given a special treat. Something they haven’t eaten in probably ever. They lingered around the shop hoping for more, but finally they left.
For me, it was one of those moments where I had to take a deep breath and remember how lucky I have it, how we have it growing up in North America. We take so much of what we have for granted sometimes, while these people – these young children on the streets – have nothing. I mean, how often do you see young children homeless, on the streets of the city where you live, begging for food. Sure, you see teenagers, adults, but never children.
This was the first of many of those kinds of “moments” I was to have on this trip. Next stop? Athani and Napani, just North of Belgaum, for our first distribution.
(BTW, if you are interested in learning more about Amin, please visit his website at www.snehatravels.in)