Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Ashray Bhavan

To Ranjit home was a mud-walled hut in Delhi. His whole family lived in one room, the air thick with the fumes from the kerosene stove his mother used for cooking. There was no toilet – the family used open fields near their home.

Ranjit’s father, a rickshaw puller, could not earn enough to keep his family. He certainly could not earn enough to buy expensive medicines for the tuberculosis that left his son weak and listless and unable to play with other boys. The future looked grim.

Sadly, Ranjit’s story is not unique. There are 3.4 million tuberculosis patients in India, about one fifth of the total number of cases in the world. In 2005, more than 300,000 people in the country died from the disease.

However, Ranjit was lucky. He came to Ashray Bhavan, a home for boys run by World In Need in Faridabad, a small city about thirty kilometres from Delhi in Haryana Province. There his illness was treated, and cured. He was fed and his strength built up, and he became more active. Now twelve years old, he has almost become a different child.

Ashray Bhavan is Hindi for “house of hope and shelter”. This home and the nearby girl's hostel, were built to provide needy and underprivileged children with a healthy, secure environment with good, nutritious food, medical and health care and a satisfactory level of skills training and education. A Vocational Training College is being built so that, after graduating High School, the children can train and learn skills that will help them in the world of work.

The homes were the brain child of Sheeba, a teacher who began holding classes in the slums of Delhi. She grew distressed and frustrated at the living conditions her students were forced to endure and so, with the help of her father, Chandi, set up Ashray Bhavan in the small city of Faridabad, about thirty kilometres from the capital, Delhi.

Most of the children are between five and ten years old when they arrived. All of them are children who have either been abandoned, or who come from single parent or disadvantaged parents, or who are orphans. The homes were built on the solid foundation of love and care. The children are sent to local schools, and they have gained a reputation for being hard working and willing students.

Chandi is a respected pharmacist and has established Ashray Bhavan as a base from which he conducts free eye care camps for the poor villagers in the surrounding area. This is a much needed service: 3.8 million people in India become blind through cataracts every year. Over 600 people have now been treated by Chandi's eye camps and more than 120 successful cataract operations have been conducted free of charge. Because of this, the Haryana State Government has recognised Ashray Bhavan under its Department of Social Welfare Programme.

By the time they come to the homes, the children have often experienced dreadful things. Some have seen their mothers beaten and abused by alcoholic fathers, and some children have even been abused themselves. They may have seen their mothers harassed by other men in their families, or they may have been put to work, helping relatives gather rags or pieces of metal from garbage dumps, which are then sold on for scrap value. Most are malnourished and weak and have stunted growth. Some are suffering from diseases which would have been curable if treated early but which have been left until it is too late because parents cannot afford medical fees.

They come to the home and receive a new lease of life. They are valued. The ethos of the home is built firmly upon Matthew 25:40: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Fed well, they grow strong, healthy and happy, towards a future that is brighter, both for themselves and India.

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