The Children — Their Origins

This post is yet another part of the website content.  I seem to do better when I’m writing for immediate release.  If I just put it in a folder I am forever going back to it.  My website developer won’t take things in parts.  They are waiting for the full package from me.  So bit by bit I do it, in my spare time.   The website will be connected to the blog, or rather the reverse.  This process also puts everything into html and labels the photos — all in all, a process that seems to work. 
Soon I will also get back to reporting on day-to-day life here, which goes on with its highs and lows of any household of 12 children.   From time to time the girls will be writing and reporting.  They have each chosen “pen names.”

Sukanya Government Home for Lost and Abandoned Children

 All twelve orphan girls arrived at Shishur Sevay in February 2007. All came from Sukanya Home, the Government of West Bengal institution for abandoned and lost children.  All came by Order of the Child Welfare Committee as established by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (Act No. 56 of 2000).  This is significant as the Government of West Bengal has a more rigorous screening and inspection system of approval for homes that will care for children who are in government custody as true orphans. 

Within the first month, the following became clear:

  • The children were in need of immediate medical and dental care as well as immunizations. One child arrived with malaria; another had open sores all over her body. Several required immediate tooth extractions.
  • The children had all seen a lot of violence, murder, suicide, and had experienced all forms of abuse. They were at times tearful and fearful. They had no reason to believe that Shishur Sevay would be any different from places they had been before.
  • Education, in basic skills of language and math, was an emergency if they were to eventually move into formal schooling.  The girls arrived with NO previous schooling and did not know numbers or alphabets in Bengali; they did not know colors or shapes in Bengali, and did not recognize the map of India. Their Bengali was the vernacular of the illiterate.
  • The children did not understand HOW to study and learn, so these skills and disciplines had to be taught alongside the basic skills. Sitting still was a challenge for them.  The children were energetic and enthusiastic about learning. This was also clear from the beginning. They actually knew what they had missed and threw themselves into the work.
  • The children with disabilities were listless and non-communicative when they arrived. They had little control of their heads and limbs. One would just spin in circles; another would bite anyone or anything within range of her mouth. It was unclear as to what they might eventually be able to do.  Our initial focus was on feeding and holding. Their diets had been primarily gruel of some sort; all were small and thin.
  • A strong and caring relationship between the older girls and the children with disabilities became evident very soon. The older children began tending to the disabled children, holding them, and talking about their own lost families and siblings. Those relationships have become even stronger and more important over time.


The Children With Disabilities — Their Stories

 A society’s treatment of its most vulnerable population, children, people with mental disabilities, people with physical disabilities …. these are all an expression of a society’s view of human life and its worth.   What makes a life worth saving? 

February 2007: The Four Little Ones We Couldn't Leave Behind

Shishur Sevay’s position is that all children deserve an education, whether or not she will ever achieve independence.  The decision is to feed their brains as we feed their bodies.  The education is designed to impart knowledge and skills.  Equally important is developing ways the children can communicate their feelings and needs to us. We want to know what THEY want to tell US as much as what we think they should know.
They can tell us when they are happy.
Pure Joy
Sonali — Pure Joy
When they are sad…
She tells us she is sad

Bornali Tells Us She is Sad


Ganga is Jealous; Bornali is wearing the SAME dress!

But they cannot tell us what they are thinking… what worries them of makes them smile.  They cannot tell us what they dreamed the night before.
What is she thinking?

What is she thinking? What does she need?

The older girl had encouraged and encouraged Rani to stand and then one day she could stant!

I'm Standing!

This is Rani standing on her own for the first time, thanks to being urged on..   The older girl said to us later, “I had a little sister and I taught her to stand like that..”  They have a special bond. 




When Rani came she didn’t make eye contact.  She mostly wanted to spin in circles, bang her head, hit, bite, scream, and indulge in very bad social habits.  Keeping her safe and clean required a full time childcare worker.

Rani had two serious hospitalizations in 2008 and 2009 for seizures.  Her encephalopathy, has improved over time, evidenced in her behavior and confirmed by her EEG.


Rani in PICU

 Rani is affectionate.

Rani and Bornali when Rani came home from the hospital.









Rani goes out to the bus stop each morning with the school girls.    The other children and their mothers love seeing her.  They talk to her, take her hands, and all the children wave to her as they get on the bus.  Rani is part of our lives, part of the life of our community, and Rani has a life.   Rani is “differently abled” but then everyone is really a bit differently abled.

Diamonds have sparkles –
Imperfections that name them,
One diamond, one soul.
                                                                             michelle harrison



The Children: 2007


(More for the website — work in progress)

The Children


Twelve orphan girls

The Night We Brought Them Home
The Night We Brought Them Home

Four of the twelve with profound disabilities 

All with social and emotional deprivation

All from a government institution for orphans and abandoned children

The original plan did not include children with disabilities, a true oversight.  But when we went to pick up the others, the government asked us to consider these additional four.  We said yes immediately!

 This decision to also accept these four changed the nature of the home in a very exciting way. The two groups needed each other.  They needed to love and be loved, to accept and be accepted unconditionally, in a way children are more able to give than adults.   

They Needed Each Other

Serendipity created a template for emotional stability, a home of mixed abilities that mirrors our Vision of a society accepting of mixed abilities. 

They Are Sisters

The Children — Their Futures

(Preface: The symbols used in this post are from Widgit, a symbolic language for people who have difficulty with reading.  At Shishur Sevay we use it to communicate with our children who are language impaired.  As one types a word, the symbol appears, as well as a voice of the letters and the word, or a sentence is that is what has been written.  Our website,, still under construction, will be accessible for hearing impaired, visually impaired, and the addition of Widgit for language impairment.  We have obtained all the necessary licenses, and as usual, I am the hold up in getting content to the web people.  My hats runneth over.  One day I will be able to blog that in Widgit. This post will be a page in the website.)

 Shishur Sevay is envisioned as the “Mother House” of the girls. Consistent with Indian tradition, we will give them in marriage if they wish, and we will celebrate their husbands on Jamai Shasthi. Shishur Sevay is the home in which they grew up.  Some may leave to get married; some may leave to work and have independent lives; some may work and come home to mother house; some may stay and take care of children at Shishur Sevay.  Our goal is for them to be employable, marriageable, and able to achieve success, independence, security, and happiness.  From our mission statement: Competence, Confidence, and Independence.

Competnece, Confidence, and Independence

 Among the girls, the futures they want include teaching, dancing, becoming a doctor, a scientist, a mathematician, orphanage director, childcare worker, wife, mother —

 Some of the girls have already expressed a commitment to their younger sisters with disabilities.  One girl was asked what she wanted to do in the future.  She responded, “Well, I have four sisters to take care of, so I want to have a good job.”

 The goal of Shishur Sevay is to stretch the boundaries of expectations for orphans, particularly girl orphans who started their education late, i.e. Late Learners.  Therefore their futures will be shaped by what we and they are able to accomplish.

 Our girls who have not been able to move forward in school are being given vocational training in care of children with disabilities so they can become assistants to special educators, and/or skilled caretakers of children with disabilities.  That is the focus on capabilities, finding what they can do.

Their hopes for their futures 


The children with disabilities, the four youngest, will never live independently.  They will most likely remain at Shishur Sevay, even as Shishur Sevay evolves and re-defines itself over time, a natural process.  We have promised we will never separate the big girls from their younger sisters, and they have pledged their commitment to their younger sisters.  These discussions came up in the context of adoption.  We are not an adoption home, but at times people have asked about adoption.  We will not break up this family.  This is our promise to our children.

Our Promise to Our Children


Widgit Symbols (c) copyright Widgit Software 2011


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August 2011
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