From gratitude to gratitude:
“I feel such an intense gratitude and warmth; I don’t know how to explain it. I feel so much gratitude when I’m there.”
That’s Deborah Hartt speaking about her volunteer experience in India. She said she was “completely overwhelmed” when she first stepped foot in the Child Haven home in Kaliyampoondi. She will be in North Hatley and Lennoxville next week to tell about her experiences.
Her first day there was a Saturday. Some 270 children were home from school. It was very busy. “My body was confused. I don’t speak Tamil, so everybody was speaking Tamil around me. The food was completely different. We were bathing out of buckets with freezing cold water. Everything was completely different, except the smiles on people’s faces. That was something I understood!”
That was four years ago, when she spent three months at the Kaliyampoondi home. She began mending the children’s clothes, and soon she had a mountain of work. She and her daughter Walker helped chop vegetables in the kitchen. And they played with the children – jump rope, Carrom – a game similar to crokinole, hopscotch, tag, handclapping, making chalk drawings, volley ball, and more.
She’s gone back four years in a row. “Now I know the children. I listen to their stories. When I arrive there I just feel this incredible thank you. I’m happy. The children come running to meet me, with big smiles. I feel like I’m where I belong. It’s just such an incredibly remarkable beau- tiful space.”
The home in Kaliyampoondi covers four acres. Her work, and that of other volunteer interns, supplements that of some 50 staff persons. The home is only one of 10 Child Haven projects, mostly in India. They take in destitute children, some 1,300 of them, and give them food, education, healthcare, shelter, clothing and loving care. They also help destitute women find a means of earning their livelihood. By extension, that helps their children, too.
Child Haven’s homes and their entrepreneurial projects model Gandhi’s philosophy. “Girls and boys are treated equally, and without regard to race, caste, colour, religion or culture. Living is simple and meals are vegetarian. We try not to Westernize the children, but rather attempt to raise them according to the highest ideals of their own cultures. We respect the heritage of each child, whether Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, secular or other,” says the Child Haven website.
Fred and Bonnie Cappuccino started Child Haven in 1985 after they’d adopted 19 children from around the world, and could take in no more. They are both extremely active at the helm of Child Haven, along with their son Robin and others. Now Fred has just reached 90, and has written a book called Bonnie and Her 21 Children. Bonnie
and her teenaged daughter at a Child Haven home in South India, where Deborah has spent volunteer stints over the past four years. She will talk about her experiences in North Hatley and at a Child Haven benefit dinner at Shalimar Restaurant next week. still spends about six months of the year visiting the Child Haven homes, supporting and guiding them. The Cappuccino couple have received the Order of Canada and the United Nations Humanitarian Service Award for their lifetime of work.
Child Haven is a registered charity that relies on donations through a series of benefit dinners across Canada, including Lennoxville. UUEstrie is co-sponsoring the third annual benefit dinner at the Shalimar Restaurant on Tuesday, April 12, at 6 p.m. Along with the dinner is a slide-show about Child Haven and a silent auction of items from South Asia.
Space is limited, but tickets are still available at Shalimar or from Phyllis Baxter at 819-346-8273.
Both Hartt and Robin Cappuccino will be at the Shalimar supper. Hartt will also talk about her Child Haven experiences on Sunday, April 12, at 10:30 a.m. at UUEstrie, 201 Main St., North Hatley. All are welcome. For information, visit www.uuestrie.ca, Facebook UU Estrie, or call 819-842-4146.