K’s Progress

K is a serious learner

The big girls started K’s lessons on 26th December. Apparently they were willing to give her the day off for Christmas.  It is really funny to see these girls who fought education, now working so earnestly with K. ;Some are still not sure they deserve anything good in life, but they see only potential in her. 


Lunchtime at Shishur Sevay.  Ganga now joins the older girls for lunch.  Her new chair allows her to be at the table, where she is socially part of the group.  Now K is there too.  K is very quiet, probably afraid to say much. 

Lunch time at Shishur Sevay



K with Ganga on Computer.

But in lessons, especially with Ganga, she carries on conversations with the teacher, and tells Ganga what to do if she is being naughty.  But here K is distracted because someone just gave her a potato chip.  Ganga moves the pointer with her trackball, and then either she clicks her switch or K clicks mouse.  They like working together.
Meanwhile back at Aunty’s another child has been hospitalized.  Two more will go tomorrow.  But here is the problem.  The children are going into the government hospital.  The bed and saline injections, and meals are free.  Lab tests are Rs. 10 each for simple tests but other tests have to be done by an outside lab, so patients have to pay.  All medicines must be paid for in advance, or more usually the family runs out to a pharmacy and buys the medicine and brings it back to the hospital.  Children will only be admitted if there is someone to care for them.  Usually a relative stays.  As these are orphan children, Aunty doesn’t have people to stay, so she has engaged hospital attendants.  Their cost is Rs. 260 a day to care for two children (max allowed).    That’s about Rs. 4000 per month just for an attendant.  Theoretically the government gives her Rs. 2000 a month.  This is part of why children are abandoned in hospitals.  Hopefully the two who are scheduled for admission tomorrow will go to a hospital close to Shishur Sevay so I can follow them.  It’s still all  up in the air.
I have a particular interest in the costs for these particular children at Aunty’s Home.  Several of the most impaired are children from adoption orphanages.  The healthy infants and children bring a lot of funds to the organizations.  They claim to use those funds for the children who cannot be adopted, but they don’t.  So some of these are children kept around for a few years by the adoption orphanages and then “relinquished” to the government really too late for meaningful rehabilitation.  These are NOT cases of poverty.  Three of Aunty’s children, ones I scrubbed and shaved and de-loused last week were from agencies I know.  These are children maybe 4-7 years old who look like toddlers, who weigh around 10kg, who have contractures…..
When International Mission of Hope closed around 2003, the orphanage my daughter came from in 1984, the children with disabilities, those who could not be easily adopted, were sent to a newly established Charity, with promises that they would be supported by IMH.  Money was even raised from donations abroad, but the money did not reach the foundation in Kolkata.  I was in the middle of those battles over money.  None of what I say is second hand.  In January 2004 I visited an orphanage where two of Aunty’s children were.  That’s eight years ago, in January in the midst of a cold spell.  The director talked “economics” of adoption with me.  I most remember that the nursery was cold, that the babies were on bare plastic sheets, and that the “blankets” were too small to cover the babies.
Why is Aunty taking care of them?  Where did the money go?  At this end, no one cares.  I had a visit from a social worker with another agency.  She wanted to place their unadoptable children with me.  They were always looking for places.  They “sponsored” the children for about what the government paid.  The social worker was impressed with our facilities, especially what we do for our children with disabilities.  She said wistfully, “I wish we could have something like this!”  I asked why not, and she said they had no money.  Anyone knowing anything about international adoption knows that tens of thousands of dollars are involved, surely enough to take care of these children.  But it’s not about the money.  That would be easy to fix.  It’s about the lack of will.    

The Little Girl I Didn’t Bring Home


The little girl I didn’t bring home

My goal is to help Aunty’s Home to be a better place, where Aunty can take care of the children who look to her for love, comfort, and food.   I sat there, holding this child a long time, talking to her (she doesn’t speak) and trying to define better my personal mission here as well as Shishur Sevay’s.

It came down to responsibilities, and cold decisions that are hard to openly admit.  Right now I do not have a second-in-command.  If I get sick, or die, Shishur Sevay will have to struggle through with some emergency plans we do have in place.  The place will continue, but the course may be rocky in terms of administration.  My goal for the last year was to identify who would do each of the things I do in the course of the day.  I’ve had two people I thought would last, potential administrators, but they did not work out.   So decisions I make today seriously affect the future of Shishur Sevay.  This child will never walk, talk, or be able to care for herself.  We have four children like that, truly our beloved choto bacchas (small children).  K, who I took on Christmas Eve, can walk, talk, feed herself, go to the toilet.  She will one day be independent. Second, Dr. Michelle Harrison, and Shishur Sevay cannot be an answer to the government’s refusal to take seriously the needs of orphans, especially those with multiple disabilities.  I am at Aunty’s orphanage helping because this IS my concern, the care of orphans.  What I can do is to give medical and health guidance to her home.  I’m not licensed in India so I walk a fine line.  (I do function as if someone is paying attention to such things, as I feel vulnerable).  Aunty has several children in the hospital, and this child as well as others will be going into the hospital for a period of evaluation.  As official medical advisor I will be following up with in-hospital visits, and discussions with doctors. Third, the girls at Shishur Sevay really do care about other orphans, about the poor, about those with disabilities.  I want them to learn how to care for these children.  It’s an opportunity for the girls who cannot, or will not study.  This work gives them meaning.  And, in my idealistic world of tomorrow, even my idealistic India, people will be needed who know the job, but even more, those who care.     The fundamental problem with Aunty’s home is that the government is almost one year in arrears.  Without pay, staff stops coming.  Without staff, the children with profound disabilities don’t eat.  Feeding them is very time-consuming.  At Shishur Sevay I have four people feeding four children.  Lunch is from 1-2:30 because it takes that long to feed them, put them on potty chairs, and bathe them.  Aunty has 1-2 people for seven children who cannot feed themselves.  Her older boys help out, but it takes training to feed these children so they don’t choke.  That’s what we have been doing the last three days, feeding and bathing.

Aunty loves these children.  Love is not enough, but neither is food enough.  The government has told her that money will be coming shortly.

All I Want For Christmas Is Another Little Girl

Christmas Eve 2011
 No, I was not really wishing for another child.  We were doing our community service today.  Two of the girls and a massi-childcare worker, and I went off to an orphanage run by a friend of mine, a woman who has become another Aunty to the girls.   Her dream is to be able to give her kids what we can give ours.  Her’s is a government sponsored home, which has resulted in her having more children than she can manage, while the government runs 10-11 months late in paying for the children.   What they do pay is not enough to maintain the children and she is expected to raise the remainder money.  Mine is the shoulder she leans on when it is very tough.  But right now, for the 30+ children in her care, she is the ONLY person in the world who cares. 
Kolkata is having a cold spell, one that is supposed to be the worst in 20 years.  I really should stop this babbling and defensive explanation.  The bottom line?  We brought home a little girl.  We were all taken by her, quiet, shy, and shivering.  She is with us for a visit until we can get the necessary approvals.  That’s really the only part that worries me, because I’ll have to deal with the government.  But, that’s my job. 
The two Shishur Sevay girls who went today will be going regularly.  The visit today really excited them in terms of their futures.  They want to go back.  They want to learn sign language to communicate with the children who do not hear.  They want to help Aunty take care of her children.  Over and over I see that the girls have so much to give, and that sometimes life is hard because you don’t feel like you are contributing.
We don’t yet know much about our new child.  She is about seven years old but looks more like 4.  She speaks in Bengali.  A plus is just that she speaks.  She has never been to school.  The girls asked, “Will you send her to Bengali medium or English?” I said, “English,” and they were thrilled.  We have come so far in this time.  It will be five years in February since they came.  I was sitting here writing, and looked out at all the girls, including our new one, and I thought to myself, “In five years you will be as difficult at they are!”  And then I smiled.  I’m feeling good.  We did the right thing.  I had a dream once, in the time I was thinking about forming Shishur Sevay.  In the dream I was sitting by a pond, thinking about Shishur Sevay and I wanted it to be “a place where a girl can bring her little sister.”  So here we are, a place of big sisters, little sisters, and some medium sisters too.  My life is really full of dreams come true.
Wishes of peace, happiness, and love to everyone in this celebratory spiritual, religious, secular, cosmic, and reflective time of year.

Fake Paint, Fake Numbers, Fake Laws, and Fake Families

I was working on this post in the days before I was knocked over in the stampede.   In the past I’ve been somewhat reluctant write openly about life here out of some sort of “politically correct” rules of what a white American woman should say, or is “entitled” to say about life in India.  But there’s just something about getting knocked down in a school yard stampede that leaves me feeling freer to write about life here.  Maybe it’s the absurdity of it all.  

The AMRI Hospital fire consumed my attention for days.  For anyone who doesn’t know, AMRI is a noted upscale private hospital where 90 patients died because every fire safety had been flouted, where flammable liquids were stored in the basement that was supposed to be for cars, where the administration didn’t notify the police and fire department for two hours, and where ALL permits were in place, of course.  The fire department had signed off in spite of clear warnings and violations.   The smoke and fire alarms as well as the sprinkler system had been deactivated.   None of this is about poverty, only about greed.  The owners of the hospital also own South City Mall, where I took the girls yesterday for ice cream.  In other cities there might have been calls to boycott the mall, but not here. 

This is Kolkata, where nothing has to be real and almost anything can be bought. 

FAKE PAINT:  I decided to paint the office, which is also our reception area, meeting room, kids’ retreat room, a place to put things that no one wants to lose — clutter central.  The painter tried to use watered down primer for the ceiling and claimed it was paint; he also watered down the wall paint.  He’d tell me lies, which were overheard by others, and then deny what he had said.  He showed me a new can of paint but never put it on the wall.  So it was constant vigilance. I bought a quart of paint and painted a patch of wall to show him the difference.  The lies were what got to me, because he didn’t care when discovered. He wasn’t embarrassed.  He just said, “O.K.” and tried to fake it again.  I refused to pay him until it was done right.

FAKE NUMBERS:  The fake numbers, at the same time as the painting, gave me a two-day migraine, my weak point when stress gets really bad.  Our accountant filed a financial report online without showing it to me!  The report was full of serious errors.  It is a report I can’t sign, and one I now have to find a way to explain and replace in the government office where it was sent.  This has happened before, with other accountants.  Their attitude seems to be that no one ever looks at these documents so why do all the work?  When I was exploring how to start Shishur Sevay in 2006 I met with an accountant who told me to make a fake history of donations and expenditures for the past three years and he would do audits of the fake reports.  That would make it easier to get approvals.  (I didn’t do it.)  Then a government official told me to invent a foreign organization, and then write up minutes of a members’ meeting that never happened  of the organization that never existed, saying they would fund Shishur Sevay.  I refused.  So I guess I should be adding FAKE ORGANIZATIONS to my list, but everyone knows that already.  I said that the government was going to have to figure out how to give me a license without my making up stories.  I was gutsy, looking back.  But we got the license.

FAKE LAWS:  I’m writing about fake laws because of all the licenses that AMRI did have, while conditions allowed 90 people to die. mostly of smoke inhalation.  Shishur Sevay received a license to operate a home in January 2007 and then the girls came in February 2007.  In May 2007 the government tried to send more girls, non-orphans, and I refused.  So they added new rules and lied about a law that did not exist.  Shishur Sevay would have to own the house (no such law) and I would have to transfer ALL my personal funds to India, with some in a government controlled fund, in order to get renewal of the license.  If not they would close us down and take the girls.  They ignored Indian law that forbid me to transfer funds into Shishur Sevay.  When I tried to get to more influential people, I would be told by them, “nothing I can do.  It’s the law.”  They also threatened to investigate me for “discrimination against children with parents” because I would only take orphans.   I just kept refusing and eventually we got the renewal.    There were other ways we could have gotten our license.  I refused those ways, but I was happy to know it was possible.  The “law?”  Recently the government official confessed to me, “Well, I thought there was a law.”  This too was a lie.

FAKE FAMILIES:  This story is part of the backdrop of my being here in Kolkata. I have two daughters in the US.  The older one I gave birth to, the younger one I adopted as a two month old from Kolkata in 1984.  So, India is in my family blood.  This was the trail that brought me here to raise children rejected for adoption, to raise them in their own culture and heritage, to take their places in society here.  That was my idealism. 

Somewhere along the way when I brought my Indian born daughter to Kolkata to learn of her culture and heritage, we became victims of a terrible scam.  The orphanage of her infancy claimed that all her surrender records had been faked and that a woman connected with the orphanage was really her mother.  A reunion took place at the orphanage, with the American Director and the doctor orchestrating.  Pictures were taken to mark the event.  Suddenly my daughter had a first mother, a twin sister, two other siblings, a grandmother, and a great-aunt who sobbed and sobbed, “My baby came back!  My baby came back!” We bonded. We were vulnerable.  I was an idiot. 

It was all FAKE, a FAKE FAMILY that everyone else seemed to know about and had been forbidden to tell us.  They played us well, in a deception worthy of professional con artists.  As for her records, we will never know, because it is all fake, or maybe fake, or maybe the original records are correct and the lie is fake.  The purpose of the scam was to get me to take care of this family, which I did of course, and I even continued the medical care for the great-aunt until she died.   The orphanage lawyer explained it to me later, and said it was my fault for looking, which was another lie because we didn’t come looking for a first family.   He also told me that he could have told me the truth but I had never asked him when I left money for the family with him.  We came searching for homeland and culture.  This wasn’t the culture I wanted or expected. 

Many DNA tests later I began to think that I could not be the only one subject to such lies.  There had to be other parents as stupid, trusting, and vulnerable as I had been, and I started investigating adoption here in Kolkata.  Yes, there are lies upon lies upon lies.  No one in positions of power wanted to know.  I tried. 

But another question remained in my mind, the question I had since 1984, namely what happens to the children who are not adopted?   So I came and built Shishur Sevay.  I wanted a model of non-institutional care for orphans.  I also wanted a safe place where adoptees and their families could come and be comfortable.  I created the place I would have wished to visit with my daughter when she was 16 and we first came to Kolkata. This is also the place I would have wished for her had she not been adopted.

“Amader Barrie Shishur Sevay” means Our Home is Shishur Sevay”.  When the girls were little we would sometimes march to these words as we walked the road to their school.   This is the house that Mummy built for her many children.

Previous Older Entries

December 2011
%d bloggers like this: