This time last year I did some voluntary work for El Shaddai children’s charity in India and I would like to give you an update to how my fundraising has progressed over the past year. El Shaddai provide orphans, street, slum, abused and sick children with the basic necessities of life. The care the children receive develops their personalities and helps them to have a brighter future. El Shaddai’s slogan is ‘Let there be no child on the streets without a proper childhood and they need help to fulfill their dream.'
I have received some very generous donations and I am just over half way to reaching my target of £2,000. After a conversation with one of our Members, I have been encouraged to write more about my experience. She said that she would like to read about it from a personal point of view. I hope that you can gain an understanding of how worthwhile this cause is and find a place in your heart to make a donation, however small, to help improve the lives of the beautiful children I had the pleasure of spending time with. It is the giving season, after all!
I have wanted to work with disadvantaged children since I was young, although my career took a very different path. My father was a Legal Executive and law lecturer and my mother was a Legal Secretary, so I naturally followed in their footsteps. I started working for the National Association of Licensed Paralegals in 1994 and I dedicated myself to my work as my position was challenging. I was given a lot of responsibility over the years and I felt very lucky to be working for an organisation where I could advance my knowledge and skills. Ten years later, my dedication paid off as I was given a fantastic opportunity to be a part of The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs, which was a similar company due to its professional membership and training. My first few years with ILSPA were extremely busy, but at the end of last year I finally got the chance to take a break from work thanks to our trustworthy staff, and I decided to go to India to help the children in need.
I discovered the children’s charity, El Shaddai, during a short trip to India in 2008. I felt so sad and helpless whenever I saw children wandering around the dusty roads. They were as young as five, dressed in rags and trying to beg off tourists. As you can imagine, these children are very vulnerable, so it was such a relief to come across a charity that helps them. I love India and have deep roots there, as my grandparents lived in Kolkata during the days of the British Raj. My father and aunts have shared wonderful memories and photos of the time with me over the years. My connection with India felt strong enough to finally make the decision to follow my dream, and I made an application to the children’s charity to do voluntary work after I returned from my trip. A few months later I received a response from El Shaddai saying that I had been accepted as a volunteer and I was over the moon.
In November 2009, I flew to Goa and started my work with El Shaddai. Their office is based in a beautiful little village called Assagao and on my first day I was taken on a tour of the children’s homes and the school. I met children of all ages together with the founders of the organisation – Anita and Matthew. After hearing Anita’s story of how she had started the charity, it was amazing to see what she had achieved over the 14 years it had been running. Anita started off looking after a small group of children in a basic house on her own and now the charity has grown to provide various different homes for all age groups of children, a school, a hospital, a library and cottages for the older children who have left school and need somewhere to live whilst they develop adult skills. There are around 3000 children in their care. They also work on projects across India to help families. Some of the original children helped with administration and fundraising, and it was very touching to see them confident and happy, helping other children to have better lives. I instantly connected with Anita, as she is a very warm person with an open heart. I felt honoured to be given the opportunity to help her.
During my first week with El Shaddai they celebrated Children’s Day with a show, music and food. It was a great introduction to the loving and caring atmosphere that they had created for the children and it felt like one big family. It was hard to imagine that any of these children had come from such terrible backgrounds.
The children’s homes had different names; I was based at the House of Kathleen, which is for the youngest children, aged two to seven. The home was donated to the charity by an English man, who named it after his wife Kathleen, who had died. They often visited India to help the children there, so it was a wonderful gift to the charity in memory of her. The house was very beautiful from the outside, with a nice garden, but as a Westerner I was quite shocked about the inside of the home as it was so basic. There was hardly any furniture and the children spent all of their time on the tiled floor – playing, eating and sleeping. There were three members of staff in the home, but they were so busy cooking, cleaning and washing clothes that the children were often left to their own devices. At meal times, they sat in a group and ate their food whilst sitting on the floor and at night they slept on straw mats which were rolled out on to the floor. They had a handful of toys between them and even though they did not have the things we expect our children to have as Westerners, it was amazing to see how well behaved they were and the lovely bonds they had created with each other.
It could be quite upsetting at times, but I began to understand that the most important thing was that the children were out of abusive and vulnerable situations. I was looking after a group of about 15 children on my own, who were at pre-school age or were ill, and we spent the days playing, reading and singing. I felt really good about being there for them, as they were very responsive and loved cuddles. It broke my heart to think that they didn’t have parents to love and care for them. One day I brought in some toys, colouring pencils and paper and they were overjoyed. The children were remarkable considering what they had been through, and we managed to communicate with each other well, even with the language barrier.
After some time with the children I voiced some of my concerns with Anita, the founder of the charity and she was very grateful for my feedback. Unfortunately they lacked funds to make improvements at the home and they depended on donations. They tirelessly fundraised, but the money that came in had to be divided between the homes, the school, the hospital and various other projects throughout India. I felt compelled to do something about it, so I started fundraising so that the children could have a better standard of living. I put up posters in the village where I was staying and talked to people I met about the charity, asking them to donate clothes or toys, or to pop in and visit them. The children loved visitors.
Eventually my time in India came to an end. I dearly missed the children but I continued to fundraise for the charity through my Just Giving page. I have managed to reach out to family, friends and colleagues, but I would also like to reach out to you, especially those who have got to know me through your studies or Membership. You could make a small donation and give the children the opportunity to have better lives. Two million children a year die in India from neglect, abuse and illness, and people like us can help to reduce that figure by being compassionate and actively doing something about it. Please make a donation to this wonderful children’s charity through my fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/Emma-Stacey.
I wanted to go back to India this year to see the children again, but I was given a gift of new life and became a mummy in August. Hopefully I can take my little boy there one day to meet the children and help him to understand how fortunate we are.
Many thanks and Happy Christmas!