January 10, 2013 | 2 Comments
Jennifer and I arrived very early Tuesday morning to Bangalore. After catching up on some sleep in our modest but charming hotel rooms, we started exploring the overcrowded streets looking for places to eat and shop. My first meal ever in India was DELICIOUS! Chicken tikka masala, a vegetable curry, butter naan and then some tea with milk. After some bargain shopping and brave street crossing, we headed back to the hotel looking forward to the next day at VCT.
VCT, or Vathsalya Charitable Trust, is a 22-year old organization that provides care for orphaned children, places them with foster families, and matches them with domestic and international adoptive families. Vathsalya means “mother’s love”; it’s not hard to see that love and passion for the children from VCT’s director, Mary Paul, and staff. After a warm welcome, an introduction from Jennifer, I gave a presentation to the staff about the Nutrition Screening System initiative that SPOON and Holt International have been collaborating on. I explained how the system would be designed to allow VCT and Holt to evaluate impact of their programs on the growth and nutrition status of children and facilitate identification of those who are at risk for malnutrition. I also talked about SPOON, something that I love to do! Everyone was impressed with the success we had in Kazakhstan and were looking forward to starting a new initiative at VCT. After sharing stories about the children at VCT, Mary Paul offered us some caffeine-loaded tea, with milk of course, and lots of sugar.
Most of the children at VCT, 32 out of 40, stay with foster families. Only 8 children live at the institution because of a medical condition that requires specialized care. Foster children often come to VCT for lunch (a quick after lunch nap), “informal” school and check-ups. VCT has 3 main floors, a basement and a roof terrace with wall murals kindly painted by volunteers. The kitchen, children and staff dining room, and a large bedroom for caregivers are located on the 1st floor. The 8 children stay in 3 different rooms on the 2nd floor, where a milk room and the nurse’s station are also located. The office is on the 3rd floor. Children play and go to informal school in the basement and terrace with supervision.
And now my favorite part of every trip, meeting the children! Big black eyes, bigger smiles. Very friendly and remarkably well behaved. I could tell that these kids receive a lot of love and attention. Children who have been matched with adoptive families have pictures, cards and letters from their future moms, dads, sisters and brothers. One hand-made card that I found so sweet was sent by a 5 or 6 year old boy to his future sister at VCT and it read: “Dear R, I love you very much. You are so special. You are so sweet. We are getting a room ready for you. The end. Love, C”, with a drawing of him and her holding hands. Awwww!!!
The youngest child at VCT is a 7 week-old baby. The mom is a single mom who is unable to take care of him. She had asked VCT to find a local family to adopt him. By law, she would have 60 days to change her mind before adoption papers are filed. Local adoption is, as expected, much quicker to process than inter-country adoption. Healthy children with no special needs can be easily matched with a domestic family in 3 to 4 months. But many of the children have special needs and so adoption numbers, domestic and international, have fallen.
After touring the facility, I had another great meal with the staff and the children (most of them in foster care). The staff and the children eat the same food, together, in the dining room. Each child (and us too) had some rice, a vegetable curry, boiled beetroot, dal, chapathi, and a boiled egg with masala “salsa”. Mary Paul explained that most of the food served is vegetarian because of budget limitations. But 3-5 times a month, individuals sponsor a lunch at VCT and only then, meat, chicken or fish is served. Children in foster care probably receive non-vegetarian meals at their foster homes. VCT just started serving a beef soup (mostly bones and not meat) to help children gain weight. Children also receive a seasonal fruit for snacks but of course they prefer chocolates that are often donated.
After lunch, I spent a good 2 hours interviewing Sylvia, a lovely social worker at VCT. She knows all the operational details of the institution and has generously offered to work closely with the clinical team and lead and manage the nutrition screening initiative. I was very pleased because I could tell how dedicated and caring she is. She’s also an independent, outspoken, non-traditional young woman, traits that I very much appreciate!
The day at VCT ended with a very lovely encounter with a local adoptive family who came to VCT with their daughter, Maya, to finalize some papers. They let me take a picture of their happy family.