This summer vacation, I decided to help children who never knew their parents, or those who, by a one day freak accident, have lost them. These youngsters, being no different from me, are pushed to the helpless-sounding status of an orphan. In an amazingly unmatchable experience, I served at an orphanage, which was just a simple large hall, with all kitchen materials, including a stove and vessels one side, a medium sized TV on top, and the daily Tamil newspapers (which I later found, the kids read) stacked outside, where there was a pet-dog, and a washroom. That was all- the home to forty kids, two helping ‘mothers’ and a founder.
You wouldn’t even imagine that such simplicity can produce such happy kids- I didn’t. When I entered the room, to start my program, however, I was overwhelmed by the overflowing fun and life, loud laughter and games of a motley bunch of kids, from three to fourteen, girls and boys, of different looks and origins, all welded into one family by mutual love.
As they saw me, by what told me was instilled discipline, they ordered themselves into neat rows, the little ones and the teens, and all of them wished dad and me as we entered, with a loud, “Vanakkam ayya, Vanakkam amma” (Welcome Sir, Welcome Madam) I was humbled and wonderstruck: I was hardly a year older to some of them, and yet all of them had such respect I was yet to learn from.
When I launched into my talk, they surprised me as very attentive, responsive, agreeable listeners. I could see fire in them; great determination and even greater capacity. I could almost see many as the future leaders they would become. Not one mocked at another for a bad answer to a question I’d ask; they helped and empowered each other, and many of the older ones listened as if they really were impacted. In the course of my volunteering there, I helped them learn Basic English, and update their general knowledge, apart from giving an SS talk and in the end left them with two dictionaries. They didn’t regret their having no parents, in fact I noticed they had everything, and love, so their condition was not shameful.
My other endeavor this year was spreading awareness on environmental issues to at a small school, to gaping kids knowing for the first time the problems facing our planet, but who soon converted wonder to understanding and innovation, coming up with creative solutions in a ‘save environment’ writing contest held following the session.
Every one of these experiences, and every other bit of volunteering I do, makes me feel blessed about what I have. Social service is thrilling. Drawing smiles is a beautiful art that we all ought to try, artists or not. For me, my family has been the greatest support. I have learnt that middle class students like me are in the best position to uplift others.
When I told kids “You’ve got it already- food, clothing, love and education. If you make the best use of these precious resources, you can climb to any height. Achieve anything. You are not alone, never. You’ve got each other, a loving family, and the whole world willing to help. You are the great leaders of tomorrow. Believe in yourself.” It made me believe, too. Change is at the tip of our fingers. It is our responsibility to bring it on for the better.