Tag: child health

A Story from Calcutta

I recently received this email which sadly, yet exquisitely illustrates why HHI’s education is in such dire need.

Dear Hands to Hearts,

I am so impressed with your work. HOW important and wonderfully successful! Whoever thought this up is a genius and a saint. Several years ago, I visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Calcutta. (She had passed away before I was there.) I was astonished at the total lack of eye contact, nurturing, and almost deliberate focus to avoid touch or interaction of any kind. I was in the toddler room and it was here
that I observed this. The toddlers were either craving attention as if their life depended on it or they would have nothing to do with us. Turned their faces away with total indifference. I was so shocked but now am starting to understand that the “natural” nurturing of infants is either not always natural and/or is impaired by no nurturing of the mother by her parents, tremendous fatigue from far too much work and malnutrition, as well, and who knows what other factors.

Unfortunately this story does not come as a great surprise to me. I have heard the same story from orphanages around the world. Working as an orphanage caregiver is very challenging, exhausting and under-valued job. It is emotionally overwhelming, and when caregivers do form bonds to the children in their care, it is heartbreaking for them when a child dies or is adopted and leaves. Often, caregivers are told to not form emotional attachments with the children and the consequences are tragic for the caregivers, and even more so for the children clinging to life and desperate to be loved.

I do not choose to believe that these caregivers are heartless, but rather that they shut-down a part of their own humanity to be able to function in a orphanage situation. They work in institutions where they are bombarded with dozens or even hundreds of babies/children who are thrown away, who are often ill or dying, and whose needs they feel incompetent to meet. They have mouths to feed and diapers to clean; water to carry and food to prepare (often after they go to market to buy it); hospital visits to make and medicines to give; noses to wipe, baths to give; toileting to teach and floors to mop; laundry to wash and bugs to shoe away… and the list goes on and on. Over and over and over again!

HHI has a piece of the solution. By empowering women with knowledge, acknowledging the value of their caregiving, teaching how their everyday actions build brain development for a lifetime… these women can and do rise to their best, and the children rise with them.

I look forward to the day when we reach Calcutta, and more to the day when we are not needed at all.

Tribal Village ~ Time Travel

I have spent the last week visiting HHI training sites in the state of Tamil Nadu. It has been an almost indescribable experience, India at times gives you the feeling of traveling through time. The first site I visited here with Sujatha, HHI’s local trainer, was a tribal village of 20 families. This group was living in a cave on the side of the mountain until about 3 years ago, when the government built them a modest, and semi-modern village at the base of the mountain. The motivation from the government was that at the top of this mountain is a sacred temple and is therefore a significant and increasingly trafficked pilgrimage site. They now have cement homes, a nearby school (which some of their youngest are now attending as the first generation to receive a formal education), they also have running water, and satellite dishes for TV.

So, 20 families lived in here… likely hundreds of years.The space is as small as it appears, though there was a small upper chamber that I didn’t wish to venture into barefoot (my shoes were held at the bottom of the mountain, as I was considered to be on sacred ground).

The mommies here are as young as 13-years-old and they are married most often to much older men and polygamy is the norm, with each man having 3-4 wives. They are very eager to grow their tribe and each woman has 2-5 children. This group was a fascinating glimpse into a completely unknown world to me. I was very curious about what they learned from HHI’s training and what of that did they choose to apply. With the help of Sujatha translating, I was able to learn that they had understood some of HHI’s core lessons, mostly in regards to hygiene. Previously the babies were not so much toilet trained, as left alone to soil the floors of the cave and now more recently the houses. The mommies reported that they now understood the health and sanitation issues that this caused and they were more attentive, taking the young ones outside and encouraging toileting there, as well as cleaning them after.

Other answers were about the women keeping themselves and their children cleaner, particularly for the hygiene of breastfeeding, but again ensuring improved hygiene for all the children with more regular bathing, which was demonstrated behind me by an older brother while I was speaking with the mothers.

The whole concept of attending a training was a very new idea to this group, as none had even attended any formal schooling, nor any type of training before. They were a lively group, preferring movement to sitting and activities to lecture – luckily HHI is designed with these ideals firming in place and they had a very positive first experience.

My compliments to Sujatha for her work with these mommies and also, my compliments to these mommies for being willing to learn and try new things in effort to provide their children with better health.

Gypsy Mommies Love Their Babies & HHI

Over the last several months Sujatha, HHI’s Master Trainer in India, has been working with a local non-profit whose mission it is to prevent female infanticide. Female infanticide is an unfortunate reality in India, particularly in rural and deeply impoverished areas, it is the intentional killing of baby girls due to a variety of reasons, but it mostly boils down to girls are still often seen as a financial burden and of little value to their families. Sujatha has joined forces with the female infanticide prevention program by invitation, with everyone recognizing the power of educating mothers and building the bonds of love between mother and child, knowing that the benefits will ripple far beyond that woman and baby.

Last week Sujatha conducted trainings in the remote tribal areas of Kathirvelpuram and Periyakulam. Here she led two trainings with mothers and grandmothers from the gypsy community. And, it was interesting and heartening that the fathers and grandfathers also attended, but they sat outside of the women’s group and did not wish to have their pictures taken – a beautiful first step! In this community of 150 gypsys, the mothers are all very young, few have had any access to formal education, but they obviously love their children. To attend an HHI training, they are all willing to fore go two days of wages they earn in the fields, instead they choose to learn. HHI’s training teaches them how important the earliest years are for child development and how they can improve their own baby’s brain development – this is how happy they to participate!

I am particularly humbled to see these mothers and grandmothers. It is clear that their training site may only a dirt patch, they do not have any fancy toys, books or almost any other resource but their own intelligence, thirst for new knowledge and their love! (And the beauty of HHI is that this is all that is required.) They are eager learners and they are proud to be given a training that is just for them, this is something they consider a huge privilege, regardless of the training facilities, and it causes tremendous pride.

Sujatha (wearing the blue top in this picture) is now known throughout this entire region. She travels on the local buses throughout the area to give these trainings and she has now trained 100′s of village mommies in the importance of early childhood development via HHI. It seems that she has become something of a local celebrity, all the pregnant women and the young mothers, and even the grandmothers find her on the buses and want to sit with her, talk with her, tell her their stories of how they are using their knowledge and how their babies are learning so quickly. The women are so proud and they are eager to share and to learn more. The power of education at its finest!

I just traveled to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and for me that was something to be thankful for. But, when I see the beauty of what Sujatha, HHI and these women are creating in the most remote and deprived areas of India, I somehow feel that I move beyond thankful, I have the experience of being deeply, profoundly humbled.

See all the pictures – click here.

Also, this training for the gypsy community was so significant, as it is so unusual for such a resource to be available to this community, that the local Tamil Newspaper came to cover the story.

More than 10,000 Children!

Last month HHI crossed an amazing threshold, that is that we have now served over 10,000 children. To be exact, HHI has trained 1,222 women – orphanage caregivers, pre-school teachers, creche center workers, village mothers and grandmothers – who are now providing more nurturing and attentive care to 10,258 babies and children!!! Considering that in the most challenging of environments of orphanages, that Hands to Hearts’ support has literally meant the difference of life and death, this is an astounding impact!

HHI has only been operating on the ground in India since February of 2006, and during the first year and half, there were numerous months of frustration and no trainings occurred. I said early on that I believed “that the difference we could make was immeasurable”. We track many measures, but I stand by my early statement in that the numbers only tell a fraction of what we have all joined together to create. 

A new mother and her baby in an HHI Training

Soroptimist International – Making a Difference for Women Award 07-08

On Friday Soroptimist International of the NW Americas honored me at their annual conference with their “Making a Difference for Women Award”. Soroptimist is an international organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. Almost 95,000 Soroptimists in about 120 countries and territories contribute time and financial support to community–based and international projects that benefit women and girls.

It was an absolute honor to be given this level of recognition from SI, they are a massive group of powerful women who are up to creating a better world for women and girls. Much of my time is spent in my small office, hunched over a laptop planning, designing and making good things happen in the world. I can sometimes lose sight of how amazing my life has become – what I have begun and what HHI has accomplished in only the last few years for thousands of children and women!

I spoke to the 400+ Soroptimist women and shared my story, which is now interwoven with Hands to Hearts’ story. I was given an award, a generous contribution to support HHI and I was showered in appreciation with a 3 minute standing ovation that left me teary eyed and humbled to the core. I really hit my stride talking and the women enjoyed it so much that when there was some free time at the end of the lunch, I was asked to speak again. I told them to be careful what they asked for, but I did speak again, sharing a more personal side of my journey and HHI’s fragile times. They had time to ask questions, offer ideas and again they overwhelmed me with cheers and applause. I had such fun! I feel like a little kid when I say – “I wanna to do it again!”