We arrived at our first placement on Saturday, June 19th. Families for Children is an orphanage located in Podanur in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, India. The more we explore it, the more we fall in love with this incredible facility and all of the projects underway here. Our guest house is right across from the small and middle boys section – a building called Harry’s House. Every morning we wake up to the sound of sweeping as the little ones get up and help clean the grounds before they sit in rows for breakfast. In our mission to befriend our adorable neighbours, we mixed some dish soap and water, curled some of the pipe cleaners we brought as part of our school supply donation into circular wands and blew bubbles! Of course, it was a hit. Soon we had dozens of kids chasing them, blowing their own, and calling all of us Auntie or Sister (Jeremy included).
Close by are the Special and Extra-Special Care buildings. Here, children with cognitive disabilities are cared for. Anyone who walks by is greeted with many smiles and waves from the girls out in front. Upstairs are the “Extra-Special Care” rooms, home to children who require increased attention and help with mobility and personal care. We will be spending quite a bit of time there helping the friendly staff care for the 28 children that stay there. The Special Care Boys section is located in a separate building and is home to 45 people ranging in age from 3 to 35 – each with their own unique talents, needs, and personalities. There are always a handful of friendly students sitting on the stoop ready to strike up a conversation with us when we come visit. Their teacher, Chandraleela, helped them prepare a yoga and dance demonstration for us where the students showed off their skills and cheered each other on. Their classroom was filled with the crafts the students created, the toys that help with their manual dexterity and coordination, and the hand-made soap bars and greeting cards from their vocational training workshops. We hope to spend more time with their class next week and potentially go on a field trip off the grounds.
As a joke, the staff often says that they can always track down their FFC children because they smell like goats. We didn’t understand what this meant until we were shown the FFC goat farm. The facility provides all of the milk for the children on the site, as well as the soap everyone uses here. Jeremy and Pranavi are determined to each milk a goat while we’re here, and Kayla and Marissa have agreed to watch from a safe distance. We’ll keep you posted about how this goes.
Last year’s IHI team often mentioned their “favourite ladies in the co-op across the street.” We were introduced a couple days back to these ladies and the amazing handmade purses and handbags they make and sell in the market. This co-op is a place for some of the women of all abilities who grow up at FFC to work and have an income when they are no longer in school. We’re all super excited to purchase some purses to bring home with us! The ladies have recently begun a new project – dyeing fabrics in intricate batik patterns using all-natural dyes.
Close to this co-op is the home for the older boys, who can stay on the compound until the age of 21 when they find jobs and move off site. A group of boys can always be found in the front yard reading or playing. The facility is also home to vocational projects for the boys, including a paper-making project and greeting card station. We were amazed to see a bunch of the guys hand-embroidering and hand-painting designs onto these greeting cards. They were a very talented group, with one gentleman sewing wonderful flower designs even without any vision!
A short walk away and across a busy street are more FFC buildings (FFC is basically a little village of buildings within a village). Each day we walk over to this section to visit the canteen for our meals – the ladies here are so very friendly and even accommodate Marissa’s sensitivity to wheat products. Each morning we have our dosas/chapattis/pooris and sweet tea before heading off for the day’s adventures. We recently also met Thangaraj, the man who runs the FFC lending library that is open to everyone in the town. We hope to spend some of our down-time there helping him catalogue the growing number of books in his library.
This section is also home to the FFC school (pre-kindergarten to grade 3), the baby rooms, toddler area, and the middle/older girls building. Many of the girls here are eager to show off their English – something we have yet to reciprocate well in Tamil (beyond “unga par anah?” – what is your name?). Pranavi has been doing a great job of translating the Tamil she knows, and the rest of us just smile, bob our heads, and manage to use “vanakum” (hello) and “nandri” (thank you) as much as we can!
We spent Monday visiting with the babies and toddlers, as well as some of the classrooms. The babies are so cute – if we could, we would seriously sneak some home with us! The staff at FFC do wonders with these babies – many of them come here with various medical and physical challenges, and many are malnourished when they arrive at FFC. The little guys we have met are so bright-eyed, interactive, and playful (although there are definitely a couple little babies who are terrified of us crazy strangers). We dared to venture into the pre-school and came out exhausted! The kids are so much fun and are eager to play with us. In the grade one class, we were pulled into a round of “Are You Sleeping?” and “Wheels on the Bus.” The kids also showed us how well they know their English numbers!
This week we will continue to learn more about this amazing project here and try to find our place in it all. We have a few planned appointments (helping PT in the extra special care section, going for walks with some of the kids here, visiting a government and a private hospital in Coimbature, planning a field trip) throughout the week but much of what we will be doing here is finding out where an extra pair of hands are needed and situating ourselves there. We have had a lot of discussion this week amongst ourselves about what our role is going to be here and often find ourselves caught up with the need to be ‘doing’ something to help out. We forget that by being here, being with the children, socializing and playing games and by assisting with even the smallest things, we are being helpful. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we do not have all of the answers and a big part of our mission here is to learn from these amazing people about their culture and the way they do things here. There are so many amazing staff members here (we have already met a number who have been here since it all started over 30 years ago) that all have some valuable knowledge to share with us.
I think it is safe to say we are all very excited about the opportunities that FFC holds for us and we can’t wait to find out what some of those opportunities are.