Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

Last night after a long day at the orphanage we went to bed very washed out and a little disappointed. Today we awake with a real sense of purpose and focus for what it is we have to do. Visiting the kids always involves a deep mix of emotions and yesterday was no different, in fact it was even harder than usual but more of that later. Firstly our kids were incredible. Indy wanted to get involved in the negotiations with Premela the orphanage director on what was needed at the orphanage and was basically Indy in charge of proceedings with the kids. Beautiful little Maggie was her usual slightly more reserved self but found her niche in the kitchen as the meal was being prepared for the kids. We paid for the staff to go out and purchase ingredients for a special dish for the kids, chicken byriani. Maggie quietly made her way to the kitchen and sat on the floor with the ladies as they prepared the meal for the kids. This involved a kilo of garlic, several kilos of onions and tomatoes and a massive mound of coriander. Maggie was on coriander duty and plucked coriander until her fingers could take no more. She also helped with the onions until the little tears were running down her face and she could no longer cope with onion duty. As for the little master; you have to picture this. All of the kids were sitting on the floor in rows, about 30 of them. We were sitting up in front of them. Gus thought this wasn't quite right so he went down and sat with the boys. This created great interest. Then Gus found a way to interact, he clapped. This was immediately followed by 30 sets of hands clapping, you could almost see the light go on in his head. Next he stood up, so all the boys followed. Then he sat down, all the boys sat down. This went on for some time before he moved on to his next trick, the dinosaur roar, followed by 30 dinosaur roars. Gus was in his element and he found his way to connect with his Indian counterparts. It was one of the most beautiful, funny yet inspiring moments I think I have encountered. Later in the day we also had the opportunity to provide a gift to the kids. My little sister Kate through her wonderful suppliers was able to provide over 50 of the most beautiful 'surface art' t-shirts to supply to the kids. It is very grounding to sit back and watch your kids distributing kids to the Indian kids. They are always so grateful and our kids just love giving, it is quite a sight and there is always a great deal of energy created in the room. Thankyou Kate!

We spent some time during the day talking with Premela about what we need to do to support her and the kids and whilst doing this resulted in some very exciting and also some very devastating news. Firstly because of some previous action we were able to generate we identified that the school roof project that we had initially thought was going to cost $22k would now only cost $8k. It took a project that was almost out of reach and instantly made it very attainable. It was so exciting. If we can raise the $8k needed to repair the roof school can open in June for next year. School in India runs from July – June so we can start the school back up almost immediately. This will mean that potentially 150 – 180 children will get to go to the school and Premela will increased her intake of young kids (aged under 6) by 15 more kids. The 150 kids who attend the school will come from the local area and because of the way Premela runs the school about 50 kids who could not afford to go to school currently will get the opportunity to attend at this school. Can you imagine that, 50 kids currently not attending school will get an opportunity to attend school, and for what $8,000. We know that school is a critical rung on the ladder of opportunity for kids to remove themselves from poverty. The school will be an English medium school which will provide even greater opportunities for the kids. When the school is running Premela said that it brings in families and creates a number of spin off opportunities. One important opportunity is that in the evenings the school can be used by the local women as a base to learn new skills and start to manufacture their own products for sale. This in turn creates an income generating opportunity for these families who currently have very little opportunity. In hearing this news we felt a great sense of opportunity.

Whilst walking around the school Premela dropped a bombshell on us. Premela informed us that she has had to move all of the girls from the orphanage to other homes and orphanages, she thought she had already told us this news but she hadn't and it made a tremendous impact. It felt like one of our family had moved their children away, we felt a great sense of loss. Apparently a local girl (not one of the orphans) had been raped and seriously injured by some local boys on her way to school and as a result the government was tightening up its controls on all of the local orphanages and their security and threatened to shut down any home that could not demonstrate that adequate level of controls were in place. The girls from the orphanage were forced due to a lack of transport to walk to school which put them at great risk. The fact also that they are orphan kids made them easy targets in the community. Premela also informed us that she had an issue recently with one of her staff mistreating one of the girls when Premela was away from the home. Premela's mother in law, who was one of the full time carers in the home had a heart attack recently and a bad fall and Premela's husband had recently been very unwell. I think all of this combined created the impetus for what was a heart wrenching decision for Premela and you could see the emotion on her face as she described to us what this meant to her. I can't quite describe what this meant to Bec and I other than to say it hurt, a lot. As I said it was like losing members of our family. We have sat there and looked into the eyes of these kids and fought to help them every step of the way and now this. One of the elements that drew us into the orphanage, this one in particular, was the fact that Premela ran the orphanage like it was her extended family and she had committed previously that none of the kids were adopted as that would be like giving away your own children. Here we were trying to process the news that not only had some of the kids been moved, but all of the girls. I was almost in a state of shock. How could this happen? How could Premela do this? How could I sit here in judgement of Premela, a woman who has dedicated her entire life to supporting children in need and continues to do so? For me I have always loved being a father with daughters, when I first came to the home I only had daughters and I took great pride in the fact that we were helping to support these girls. It was one of the most difficult moments, in the moment, I can remember. I didn't know how to react, or what to do. It was yet another reminder of the difficulties being faced by people trying to make a difference. Nothing is ever easy, nothing remains the same and as much as we are very happy with the way things were set up we are really all care and no responsibility. We don't need to worry each day about whether the kids are being fed, we don't need to hire staff with very low salaries available and hope they are the right people, we are not the ones with the responsibility for these kids, Premela is. It was at this time we went and spent some time with our kids with the boys and Gus did all of his antics. It was just what we needed to snap us back into reality and focus, so that's what we did.

The facts are these. For $8k we can replace the rooves in the school, repair the playground and reopen the school. The school would enable potentially 150-180 kids aged between 3 and 6 years of age to attend school (about 45 of these for free who currently are not able to attend school from the local area). For another $1500 we can put in a strong back fence on the school property which is required to keep snakes and flood waters out of the school. It costs $375 per child per year to keep them in the orphanage, potentially a monthly sponsorship of a little over $30 per month. So with a full complement of kids (50) it costs $18,750 to run the orphanage per year. My sister Kate and I have been working hard together to identify income streams that are sustainable and will create a source of funds for the kids well into the future. Kate has been very inspirational to me in showing me that we can do this and we will. For all of you accountants out there looking for a special project (I hope you are listening Grampsy) we cannot claim any of our deductions overseas as a tax deduction. This means that the $50,000 we have generated in the past 4 years for kids in India and Cambodia we have had to also pay tax to our wonderful Australian government for the privilege of donating to kids in need. This means that if you donate to world vision, you claim a deduction, you donate with us there is no deduction. To transfer funds to India through our bank it costs about $30 per transaction so the option of people sponsoring a child would mean your monthly donation of $30 per child also comes with potentially a $30 monthly transaction fee with your bank. These are the challenges we currently face in providing ongoing support.

To this day Bec and I have made sure that we never directly approach anyone for financial support of our causes. We believe people choose who and what they want to support and it is not our place to push forward our needs as any more important than the many others that people support. Today is no different, we will not break this commitment. If however you are sitting there wondering if we would appreciate your support, then ofcourse we would appreciate anything you would like to give to assist us to raise the funds required to reopen the school and get these kids learning. Whatever you can provide will be gratefully received and if you are unable to support us financially we certainly understand. Please know that asking for help does not come easily to us. $8000 is such an attainable goal and we will commit to Premela that we will find this money and find it fast from our own savings and through the donations of others. Thanks to the donation from Sharyn and Bruce we are off to a flying start.

As I sat in somewhat a state of remorse thinking about the girls last night, my beautiful wife Rebecca reminded me of what it is all about and what we are trying to do for these kids. She said you can't look into the beautiful eyes of these kids and not help, you just can't not help, so help we will. These kids have done so much for our family, for us personally, no amount of money will ever repay their generosity and their donations of love and spirit they have provided to us and our family. It is hard to describe in words but I always feel so alive when I am here and with these kids, it feels like it was meant to be, one of the reasons we are here. I think back to what course our lives may have taken if as I sat in that carpark not able to move what would have happened if I didn't make those three phone calls. Since that time our lives have become so much more meaningful, we have a renewed sense of purpose and spirit, our experiences have been so rich and powerful, our kids have been brought into another side of life that has opened their eyes and their hearts and we have ultimately found an authentic sense of purpose. Of all the things I do and have done nothing compares to what we do here. And with that we will sign out for today knowing that in India nothing is quite as you expect it to be………

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