On a recent survey trip to Southern India with a fellow tour leader Niraj Shrestha, we came across the Emmanuel Orphanage on the outskirts of Thekkady. The small sign read "Emmanuel Orphanage. Help an orphan, hold a nation." We instantly had the feeling that we were meant to venture forth. What we saw inside was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Life is hard for the poor, especially in India. The orphanage was established in 1999, with just 3 children, by Mr. Saji Joseph and his wife with help from his brother. The orphanage cares for 20 - 30 children at a time. The building is small and cramped, with a small kitchen and basic facilities but they have done their best to make it feel welcoming. The children sleep on straw mats and Mr. Saji and his wife live in a small room at the back. Mr. Saji goes door to door asking for money and food from the neighbors, and occasional visitors to the orphanage also make donations.

It is a constant struggle to feed and clothe the children, and just to pay rent. Education is a priority at the orphanage to ensure that the children will be active participants of tomorrow's developing India. The children we met were quite shy, but very well groomed and polite. They ranged in age from toddlers to adolescents. Mr. Saji's dream is to own the orphanage's land and build a larger, more appropriate facility.

I returned after the survey trip with a friend and brought mattresses and pillows, and paid some of the debt on the local shops for food bills. On ElderTreks February Southern India trip, tour leader Niraj brought his group there and donated blankets as well as money from ElderTreks. For each group that visits the Emmanuel Orphanage in the future, ElderTreks has committed to making a generous donation. These words from two of the children tell it all:

"I am Tilu was born in broken family in a remote village. I was grown up in abandoned conditions. I did not feel happy and had no love in my life. Accidently I was brought to Emmanuel Orphanage by a neighbor. Now I am happy with my brothers and sisters here."

"My name is Mayavathi, born in a poor family. My mother left me in my childhood. My father could not take care of me. I was brought up by grandmother. I was brought to Emmanuel Orphanage by my grandmother. Now I am happy with other children here."

Story by Roger Burrows, ElderTreks Tour Leader

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