Anbagam – ‘Home of Love’

Many of you know that I first came to India to visit the boy I sponsor through the Joe Homan Charity. It is a charity that I have been involved with for many years. We often get guests who stay with us at Lakeside when they visit the local projects. Earlier this year I went with some of the guests to the local DACS project in Dindigul. This an independent charity which the Joe Homan Charity makes contributions to on a regular basis. The project cares for children with HIV and AIDS.

I have been asked to write the annual report for the Joe Homan Charity regarding this project. You can find the text below. It is quite a humbling, yet uplifting, story.

DSCN0362

I recently visited the new home of the DACS project in Dindigul. It is a
lovely two storey building which contrasts greatly with the home I saw just
3 years ago. That itself was a huge step forward from the small house used
by Mr Thankachan in 2003 to set up his home for children with HIV and AIDS.
Back then there were 17 children, now there are almost 50. In the early
days Thankachan called it an ‘orphanage’ as fear and prejudice of HIV is
rife in India. Of course, he could not keep the purpose of his project a
complete secret, and when the local community found out about the HIV
children they were discouraged from attending the local schools, being
taught instead at the project. Over the years the Government has, to
differing degrees, supported the home and education of these children who are
once again integrated into the local schools. I’m pleased to say that the
children are doing well educationally.

JHC has been involved with this project since 2008. It is sobering to read
the report from that year which said that the children ‘cannot look forward
to more than half a dozen years of life at best’, and the number of deaths
in the early years was evidence of that. The Government provides the drugs
to treat these children, but Thankachan realised that the key to a longer
life was nutrition. His approach of ensuring that the children have a good
healthy diet has shown remarkable results, with only one or two deaths since
2010, and none since early 2013. This has, paradoxically, put more pressure
on Thankachan who wants to be able to provide a home and support for these
children for life.

The atmosphere at this project is uplifting. You receive a true welcome
from the children who are smiling and wanting to hold your hand, just like
any other child in Dindigul. But these children are different. Most have
been abandoned by their parents because of their infection, dumped on the
streets, or left beside an ATM machine. Abandoned children are taken to a
Government Hospital for assessment. The majority of children are then placed
in an orphanage with hopes for adoption, but those who are HIV positive are
sent to DACS, here they are cared for and can be assured of a loving home
for life.

DACS has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and the contributions
by JHC have played an important role in this development. This has included
supporting the daily lives of the children and much needed improvements to
their home. The latest support has been towards a new building which was
officially opened in December 2013. This has cost over £52,000 to complete,
with Thankachan raising much from local donors and family. The improvement
in living conditions here cannot be over-emphasised.

The children now have a clean, well supplied and safe environment in which
to live; they are more accepted by the local population; they can mix more
with children of their own age at the local school. Above all, their life
expectancy has improved immeasurably, as has their quality of life.
Yet we must not be complacent. In the short term DACS is still in need of
funds to improve their home and develop a small area of land into a
playground for the children. And the future? For Thankachan to continue
this excellent work he will need continued support he can rely on, and that
means an on-going commitment from JHC. For me, to see the improvements in
the health and living conditions of these children over the last three years
has been both heart-warming and humbling. As I watch children playing,
children who I had thought would not be alive today, I cannot help but
wonder about their future in a society where people with HIV and AIDS are
still feared and avoided. More and more local people are helping to support
the project in a small way, through donations or volunteering, but the
long-term future is more than they can handle. Thankachan had a dream in
2003 to provide a place where children with HIV and AIDS could live their
short lives in a home full of love. With the life-expectancy of these
children now immeasurably improved his new dream is to provide them with
higher education, work and a home through their adult years. The commitment
to funding which JHC has made just might make this possible.

DSCN0614

Advertisements

A light by any other name…

Deepawali light

Sorry I’ve been away for so long but I have been experiencing issues with internet connection – one of the joys of living in rural southern India!

Last week saw the whole of India caught up in the four day celebration of Deepawali (shortened to Diwali), the biggest Hindu festival. It is the festival of lights (deep meaning light and avail meaning a row i.e., a row of lights).

The origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival although there are many different legends about how it began. Some believe it is the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Vishnu. In Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali. Most people worship Ganesh at home during Diwali as he is a symbol of wisdom and good fortune. Diwali also commemorates the return of Rama with his wife Sita after Rama had been in exile for 14 years. It also remembers how Rama killed the demon-king Ravana, so is a celebration of good overcoming evil. It is said that, to celebrate the safe return of their king, the people of Ayodhya lit the whole kingdom with little clay lamps and set of fireworks.

The first day of the festival, Naraka Chaturdasi, celebrates how Krishna killed the demon king Naraka.

On the second day of the festival, Amavasya, people worship Lakshmi the goddess of wealth. Amavasya also tells the story of Vishnu who defeated the tyrant Bali and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel ignorance and darkness and to spread love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami – that Bali steps out of hell and lights the lamps to signify good defeating evil.

The fourth day, Yama Dvitiya, is a family day where sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

So, for four days, all of India (including Athoor village!) celebrated Diwali with lamps and fireworks which are said to be an expression of thanks to the gods for health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity; some say that the sound of the fireworks lets the gods know how thankful people are for the goodness they have received.

So, in all of the stories connected with Diwali, we see good overcoming evil, and there is the hope that this will continue through the next year. There is an expectation that humans have a part to play in this, committing ourselves to doing good deeds to bring us closer to divinity.

During the celebration of Diwali there are lights everywhere, the scent of incense and candles, a feeling of togetherness, hope and joy. And at this time, all around the world there are other people getting ready to celebrate their ‘festival of lights’. The Jews are looking forward to Channukha whilst Advent and Christmas will soon been here for Christians.

All over the world people of different faiths are celebrating together the triumph of good over evil; light dispelling ignorance and darkness; the coming of joy and hope. As a turbulent 2012 draws to a close perhaps we should take time to reflect on all the things which we share in common rather than all the things which divide us.

Diwali lights

Landing on your feet – The Indian blacksmith

I remember, as a child, cycling from my home in Kettering to the village of Weekly during the summer holidays.  I never told my Mum that was where I was going because she would have forbidden it, but I wanted to go and see the blacksmith at work.  I had always wanted a horse of my own but knew it was impossible so it was my best opportunity to get close to a horse and see how to care for it.

Now I am the proud owner of Raja.  Twice in the first few months since he came to us we had the local smith out to fit shoes.  I wasn’t happy with what I saw being done and so bought a rasp to try to care for his feet myself.  As a first time owner  I had no experience but felt that what I was doing was better for Rajas feet and have been riding him ‘barefoot’ for seven month now.  As I am on a visit to the UK, my friend Lorna has shown me how to keep a horses feet in good condition without shoes, and I’m happy to know that we have been doing things just about right -certainly better than the local smith.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a cruel man but his skills are traditional and basic, a far cry from what we find in the western world.

Here in rural India horses are cold shod and the first job is to prepare the nails to be used.

The part of the shoeing which has concerned me most is trimming the hoof.  No hoof knife here, the smith simply uses a chisel to cut off excess hoof.  This can obviously cause pain and bruising to the foot and also damage if not done correctly.

The hoof is finally filed to get the correct shape before the shoe is fitted.

As there is no forge the shoe if roughly shaped by hand and is not a perfect fit.

After my visit with Lorna I now know what I need to do to care for Rajas feet and have the confidence to continue caring for him myself, leaving the smith to continue his usual work with the local ponies.

I suppose you could say that Raja has landed on his feet in finding a home at Lakeside!

A brighter future for the children of India – The Joe Homan Charity

I’m currently back in the UK to visit family and friends – just a short visit for three weeks.  I love the changing colours of the leaves and the fresh green all around – but I do miss the sun and warmth of India!  There have been many changes in the UK since I moved to Tamil Nadu four years ago in regards to the economy, but other than that the country remains the same and it is great to be able to catch up with friends and family.  The highlight?  Meeting my 14 week old grandson for the first time!

Boys supported by the Joe Homan Charity

Last weekend I attended the AGM of the Joe Homan Charity, the first time I have been in the country for this event since 2007.   This charity is close to my heart as I have been sponsoring children through its projects for many years now.  It was also because of my links with the charity that I first visited Lakeside and subsequently bought the property from Joe.   Many of our guests are people who sponsor children through the charity, and many others take the opportunity to visit one of the projects whilst with us.

At one of the projects for girls

Joe first started helping the destitute children of India in 1965 when he took in four small boys, gave them a home and means of support and enabled them to get an education.  Since those early days thousands of children, both boys and girls, have been helped by the Joe Homan Charity and its Indian partner, Boys Town Society.

At one of the Boys Towns

The Boys Towns provide a home for the boys during term time when they attend the local school, they then go home to their families for the holidays.  There are also residential projects for girls and for younger children (under the age of 11).  The charity is also involved in many other projects aimed at improving the lives of the poorest of the poor in southern India.

Accommodation for the children – they sleep on mats on the floor

As with many charities, the last few years have not been easy.  With an economic crisis in the western world many people have been unable to continue their support.  There are also those  who criticise the charity saying that India is now a wealthy country which should be supporting its own while the western countries should be providing help for their own people who have fallen on hard times.

Kitchen for 80+ children

In many ways I would not disagree that help is needed in the west, but the Joe Homan Charity is aware of this, it has been and is still actively seeking help from wealthy Indians for the less fortunate in their community.  The progress in this area is slow but steady with increasing numbers of children being sponsored by locals in India.  But what many westerners fail to understand (through no fault of their own) is that whilst India is an emerging economy there are extreme divisions between the richest and the poorest and there is still extreme poverty.    It will be many years yet before we can withdraw our help from India and leave it to the Indians themselves to help these children.  Just two interesting facts from the AGM:

India is still home to one-third of the world’s population living on less than 80p ($1.29) per day.

There are still states in India the size of Britain where half of all children suffer from malnutrition.

The library

Whilst supporting ‘our own people’ in the west and at the same time raising awareness and funds in India we must try to keep the relative levels of poverty in proportion in our minds.  To sponsor a child in one of the projects, ensuring them and education, further education, and a future life free of poverty, costs just £215 per year.  In 2011 The Guardian newspaper reported that the average price of a pint of beer had reached £3.  So for less than 1.5 pints a week a person could sponsor a child thereby raising him, and his family, out of poverty.

That’s worth thinking about next time you’re out for a drink with friends!

Shower block

A little love goes a long way – Relief Projects India

We meet many people from all walks of life, and of all nationalities, who come to stay with us at Lakeside.  We recently had a couple come to stay with us just for one night who live and work locally (in Madurai) and needed to get away for a break. I’m pleased to say they left feeling refreshed and ready for work once more.

 

Jesse (from America) and Susanna (from England) first came to Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of the Tsunami to do whatever they could to help the injured and homeless. Then, in 2007, they set up their own charity – Relief Projects India.

Female infanticide is still a problem in many rural areas of India and the first project that Jesse and Susanna were involved with was rescuing baby girls. For westerners it is still hard to believe that families will kill perfectly healthy baby girls just because they are girls. On the positive side there are many childless Indian couples who want to adopt, and they are willing to take a girl as they just want a baby, any baby, of their own. Many children have been placed this way, but those who are physically or mentally challenged are not so lucky. Jesse and Susanna are now planning projects to help these children. They are also working to help educate women and teenage girls in the hope that they will then have a brighter future.

Please take a look at the wonderful work that these people are doing.  Jesse and Susanna do not take a salary from the charity, every penny raised goes to the children while they themselves live off their retirement benefits. A truly remarkable couple who show just what can be done with a little love, dedication and determination.

The photographs are taken for the Relief Projects India website.

South India Tour with a difference

Hi, I’m back!! It’s been a busy week which meant I couldn’t really find the time for a decent post.

Why so busy? Well, we own a company in the UK called South India Tours. We currently have a group of 10 travelling on a 21 day holiday with us, and they have just spent 6 nights at Lakeside. They are a great bunch of people who were combining a holiday in South India with a visit to some charity projects which they support.  The charity was started by the previous owner of Lakeside in the 1960’s and has educated thousand of children who would otherwise have had no hope of a decent future.

Our manager, Kennedy, has gone offf with them on the final leg of their holiday so now I only have a few guests and can find the time to get back online!  Took a lovely walk this morning to enjoy the warm spring weather – and the great views around here.

Kamarajar Dam

Aquinas – or Karma?

Just a little about myself –

Every day I look around me and see the beauty of nature. My home, Lakeside, nestles at the foot of the western ghats (a chain of mountains in southern India), overlooks a lake and is backed by Reserve Forest – it is also miles from the noisy traffic which is usually associated with India! So, how did I come to live in such a secluded paradise as Lakeside which is so off the beaten track?

Saint Thomas Aquinas would have said that everything is caused by something which preceded it. If that is the case then my being here is linked to an event back in 1974 (and, of course, the causes which led to that event can be traced even further back!)

I was still a teenager at school when a man called Joe Homan came to tell us about the ‘Boys Towns’ he had set up in India to help educate homeless children. So inspiring was he that I began to support the charity as soon as I could, and encouraged the school where I taught to sponsor boys too. Joe would come to the school every year to talk to our English students; on each visit he also invited me to visit him and the projects in India. So in 2007 Pete and I ventured to Tamil Nadu and stayed at the guesthouse which Joe had built. He is getting on in years now and said he wanted to sell. Pete and I are not the sort of people who make quick decisions so it was a surprise to us both that we had agreed by the end of that day to buy Lakeside if at all possible!

What followed that decision is a long story, and I’ll write more of that later, but suffice to say November 2008 saw us the proud owners of 7.5 acres of paradise in southern India. Aquinas’ theory that everything has a cause is correct – look where it brought me. Yet, now that I am in India, perhaps I should look at the philosophies here to try to understand how I have come to be so lucky. If so I must believe that I was a very good person in a former life to allow me to have the life I have now. Living at Lakeside – that’s my Karma!