by Delta Donohue / Aug 05, 2009 / 1 comments


I spent three months staying at Udayan. The name means rising and moving ahead. Udayan was formed to provide a safe, loving and enriching environment for orphaned and abandoned children in India. This children’s “village” is one of the many projects of Vatsalya, an NGO run with extraordinary vision and leadership by Jaimala and Hitesh Gupta.

I lived in the older girls’ residence. There were 8 girls ranging in age from around 12 – 16. Most of the children, who came to Udayan, didn’t have documents or birth certificates, so ages often were estimated. I loved living with the girls. It took me back to the time of slumber parties. During free time, we would sit around playing games and practicing new hair styles. They would try and teach me the latest Bollywood dance moves and desperately try not to laugh at my inability to mimic these moves.

I felt deeply connected with each of the girls except one. I’ll call her Raveena. For whatever reason, we never connected or warmed up to each other. I knew she had a good relationship with the staff and with some of the other volunteers and so I just let it be, realizing that not all personalities mesh.

I was at Udayan during Diwali, the Festival of Lights. This is a significant holiday in the Hindu calendar. There are some children at Udayan who have living parents. Often this is a single mother, unable to care for her children so she has requested they live at Udayan. During festivals, when it is appropriate and safe, children are encouraged to go home and enjoy the holiday with their natural family.

Jaimala asked me if I wanted to travel with Raveena and her little sister as they went back to their mother in the slums in Jaipur. This would be my first time experiencing what the slums were like from the inside. We left the next day. They were both so excited to be going home.

We got to the slums. It matched every picture I had seen. There were trash heaps bordering the slum dwellings with pigs and dogs rooting through the trash. The smell was indescribable. We started following a narrow, winding path. OmKar, from Vatsalya, led the way. Raveena and her sister were next and then me. We had only gone a few steps when Raveena stopped everyone and came back to me. She took off my backpack and checked to make sure that all of the snaps and buckles were securely fastened. Then she told OmKar to continue. She stayed behind me and walked almost right up against me. I realized that she was both guiding me and protecting me. I’m still not sure what she was protecting me from but I know I felt safe in her presence. This was her neighborhood and she was taking care of me.

We got to her dwelling: a one room shack. It had a corrugated metal roof, mud plaster walls and a dirt floor. We were invited inside and Raveena’s mother eagerly offered chai. Raveena’s brother joined us as well. He showed us how he had managed to bring electricity into the room. Even with OmKar and Raveena serving as translators, I couldn’t follow all of it but it was easy to understand that the local electric company had not been involved. I kept thinking how this one room, this one all-purpose room would house 4 people that evening.

Soon it was time to get back to Udayan. Everyone walked us out. Again, Raveena walked right behind me, never talking, just keeping me on the path and safe. We waved our goodbyes and drove back to Udayan. Raveena and her sister would return in three or four days.

I was doing band-aid brigade. I was sitting outside the girls’ residence. There was a small line of the younger children waiting to get stickers removed. This was much more about getting a band-aid than about finding a sticker. Mickey Mouse band-aids remained a huge favorite during my stay.

Suddenly I heard the children begin to yell and I heard Raveena’s name amidst the Hindi chatter. I looked up and saw Raveena and her sister walking down the pathway. Raveena saw me and ran toward me. She gave me a huge hug. This child I had never really connected with gave me a huge hug. She looked at me and said, “Did you like my home?”

Did you like my home…… I learned something in that instant…deep knowledge, knowledge that went beyond book learning and became soul knowledge. I learned that home has nothing to do with a physical address, or the number of rooms you have. It has nothing to do with brick and mortar. Home is about a place where you feel safe and loved. Home is a place where you are treasured.

“Did you like my home?” I looked at Raveena, wiped the tears out of my eyes, gave her a big hug of my own and said, “I loved your home.”


Vatsalya - Udayan - Delta Donohue - India




Our Voices from India Editors have written about Vatsalya here on Wandering Educators.


Delta Donohue is the co-Editor of Voices from India.


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