||TAMARA KAFTALOVICH, Guest Blogger
Before I left Toronto I sent an email to friends, family and co-workers asking them for donations to an orphanage in Mumbai. 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 a suitcase filled with items to bring to the orphanage as well.
Kids at the Snehasadan orphanage in Mumbai. Photo by Tamara Kaftalovich
The orphanage we visited was called Snehasadan and it was the same one Amin, our tour guide, grew up in. There are 300 to 400 kids living in approximately 25 orphanage houses throughout Mumbai, with a designated house mom for each. Representatives 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 a family, and if they want to be reunited with their family or stay at the orphanage.
If all goes well, they’re taken into one of the homes for care. Kids ranging from four years old and up live there, go to school and/or work, depending on their age. Rather than having to leave the orphanage at a certain age, kids only leave when they’re ready — physically, emotionally, mentally and financially — to support themselves.
One boy I met is 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 U.S., hoping to leave India in search of a better life.
Amin, with Tamara's hockey bag of supplies for the orphanage. Photo by Tamara Kaftalovich
Unfortunately, the orphanage houses we visited were for the most part empty because all the kids were at school, but we did get to 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’s in the process of publishing a book, called Tracks, about why he stared the orphanage 49 years ago and how it has evolved into the place it is today.
He’s quite an incredible man — well respected, witty, sure of himself, a little sarcastic. When I asked him why he started the orphanage, he said: “You need to hire a criminal to catch a criminal.” He was once a child living on the streets and somehow was able to turn his life around, so he strives to do the same for others like him.
And it’s paid off — look at Amin! He’s devoting his entire life to helping underprivileged kids. His dream is to raise enough money to open a coffee shop filled with books; he would hire kids from the orphanage as waiters to help them get on their feet.
This is a big dream for a man who 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 comes passion, determination and a big heart, qualities Amin certainly has.
Speaking of hearts, it was Valentine’s 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 or cuddle) in public: Bandra Bandstand, Mumbai’s official lover’s lane. 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 affection in public.
Speeding rickshaws in Mumbai. Photo Credit: iStock
It was a little strange, almost surreal, like I was invading these people’s privacy. You’d literally see couples making out or sharing an intimate moment about 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 six kids came up to the window and started playing with us — laughing and singing. One of my team members, Tom, bought a few samosas to give to the kids. As soon as he brought them out, they grabbed the bag and snatched at whatever they could — it was every kid for himself.
I had to take a deep breath and remember just how lucky I have it. We take so much of what we have for granted sometimes. How often do you see young children on the streets of the city where you live, begging for food? Sure, you see teenagers and adults, but never children. This was the first of many of those kinds of “moments” I was about to have on this trip.
Next stop? Athani and Napani, just north of Belgaum, for our first bed-kit distribution.
If you’re interested in learning more about Amin, please visit his website at snehatravels.in
Date Added: February 15, 2011 | Comments (0)
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