Hi all back in the good ol USA!!! Sorry we haven’t written recently we are trying to help the children here at the orphanage have a safe and loving environment. We have our hands full recently. Please read the letter below written to the Palampur Rotary which sponsors this orphanage.
Observations of Bal Ashram Orphanage/Special Kids School at Saliana, India
Thank you for this opportunity for Jodi and me to present our observations of the conditions at Bal Ashram in Saliana. There are many really good people working there that do a great job and care about the children. Our concern is for the children and we came here to help them as much as we can. We want them to be safe and learn to become functioning adults and good citizens. Discipline is a must however it must be given by someone who loves the children. The Caretaker/Warden, husband and wife team, do not appear to love the children and the children are at times quite afraid of them. There is a good reason they put the word ‘care’ in caretaker. Care is the main responsibility of a caretaker. The children should know these people love them and care for them. We have already spoken with the Vice Chairman about this issue and he suggested we submit our observations. My father was a teacher for 43 years and told me when he retired that discipline is a necessity but MUST BE administered by someone who loves the children. The children he said will know if you love them and will accept the discipline positively if you love them. On one occasion Jodi and I witnessed one of the older boys who is now in College hitting twice the smallest boy in the dining hall for apparently not eating all his food. Mrs. Rukmani (the caretaker) clearly saw the two strikes to the child’s head and I rose to my feet and said,”What is going on? He just hit that child!” Denying that it happened she said,”No hit”, while having a very large smile. I asked again and she repeated,”No hit”, still with a huge smile.
Jodi and I have told the children that if any adult from here hits them to notify us. We try to walk the kids to school and back every day. Usually we both have kids holding our hands as we walk. So walking to school one day one of the older boys looked depressed and I asked him why? He said to me that the female caretaker, Mrs Rukmani, does hit the little boys and he wanted me to know. He said he is afraid of what the warden and caretaker would do to him if they knew he told us this. And as we tried to talk alone the other boys came in our area and our conversation. I assume since I don’t speak Hindi that the boys asked the older boy what we were talking about. They kept saying “brother” which is how they refer to me in their conversation. Then in broken English the boys started to say paraphrased “little boys hit by Mrs. Rukmani.” I asked why and they said for not eating fast enough or for eating too slow. What is the science behind hitting children for eating too fast or too slow? What if she hits a child and they choke on their food? Who then is responsible for the child’s death? What are the credentials of the Warden and Caretaker? Do they have degrees in this line of work? Do they have training in paramedics or child psychology? The children’s grades here are not where they should be. The pressure of the warden/caretaker in our humble estimation is heavily effecting the children’s low grade performance.They run this place more like a prison and not an orphanage. (Problematic school performance (e.g., low grades, poor standardized test scores, and frequent retention in grade) is a fairly consistent finding in studies of physically abused and neglected children (Eckenrode et al., 1991; Salzinger et al., 1984; Wolfe and Mosk, 1983), with neglected children appearing the most adversely affected.)
Jodi and I bought 26,000 Rs of safety fence for a steep bank at the edge of the playground. We provided a map of where we would put the fence several weeks ago. After we special ordered the fence mesh the Warden came out and said you can’t put up the fence. So we lost 26,000 Rs of money we could have used for the kids. So under the current situation we do NOT feel safe buying three new desk top computers along with have our freind Sachin’s computer fixed as the fourth one. Recently a gentleman started to teach the kids here computers. On the third day he showed up to teach the Warden refused to give him the new password. So that ended the free lessons. We don’t want the warden and his wife to take our computers and close them down with new passwords. We wanted to be able to skype and email the children to know they are safe and always loved by us.
The warden and his wife have made us feel extremely unwelcome here. We have never felt any time in our lives so unwelcomed. Everything we do, every where we go they have us followed by their sons or themselves. The caretaker often puts her hands on her hips and glares at us. We tried to get some firewood for the special kids on Monday. They are burning lots of cardboard for a fire since their firewood is extremely meager. We were pulling little dried branches which had long since been discarded down the steep slope. The Warden sent Rishi out to tell us that we couldn’t get any firewood from there. I asked where can we get firewood and he said on the premises there is no spot for getting firewood for the special kids. People have been donating firewood and the warden has a large pile for his own use, however he won’t let them have any.
We have made friends with the really wonderful folks in this neighborhood. When they discuss giving to Bal Ashram all said they would never trust giving money to Bal Ashram. They said it is common knowledge here to only donate stuff like food, clothing. firewood, etc… The warden has a very nice classic Royal Enfield motorcycle which he frequently cleans and polishes during work hours while windows have remained broken over a child’s bed for 6 months (including the cold winter months) and where they study in the library two whole windows were missing and in the dining room which had many broken windows and a whole window missing. Children are being neglected and priorities are NOT in taking care of the children. If I was a donor to this facility I would want to know when was the last time an outside audit was done on Bal Ashram’s books and the new construction going on here?
We have already painted 4 rooms and would have liked to paint 5 more rooms. We bought primer, paint, and sandpaper to paint the 5 children’s bedrooms. We have been informed by the VIce Chairman that due to peeling in one of the corners of our painted rooms that the work was sub par. We have never been thanked for anything we have done here by the Vice Chairman. The Vice Chairman said to not paint the 5 rooms unless all the ceilings are sanded of all paint on them first, then leveled with concrete and then painted. He said that eventually the ceilings will be painted and that at that point drips could drop on the already painted walls. So we were not allowed to paint the walls first. The ceilings look fine like they are. We have photos if anyone would like to see them. The library we painted that has a little amount of peeling is the mainly the result of moisture coming down from the ceiling. We are donating all the supplies and labor when we work and have 30 years experience as contractors in the USA. . It’s disheartening to come here wanting desperately to help the kids only to be stopped over and over again on our attempts to improve things here. And the walls could be painted first and any drips cleaned up with a wet rag.
We are going to try to replace 3 more exhaust fans here. Three in the children’s bathrooms where huge amounts of mold is growing as a result of excess moisture. Priorities by the Warden and Caretaker are not for the benifit of the kids but apparently for their own personal gains.
We don’t have the permission to build the wood fired pizza oven in the location that we requested. It is an ideal location for the oven because it has a roof which would protect the oven. We’re very sorry that the pizza oven won’t be built and that there will not be a song and dance celebration held. We wish we could have treated the Rotary and their families to wood fired pizza and entertainment as a way of showing our gratitude for how welcome you all have made us feel. We will really miss you guys when we return home. I hope we can meet again however I know that John Dutch Summers, our philanthropist friend will not let us put his money into a place where the Warden and Caretaker are not there for the children and are abusive.
All we came here to do is to just help the kids and we didn’t want to create any trouble for any of the staff. We really love the children. They are all wonderful children and already are suffering from not living at home with one let alone two parents. Their emotional life is already so hard and they don’t need to be abused by staff who should be loving. And no rule or law can make the Warden/Caretaker’s cold hearts warm and loving.
We are heading home on March 7th. What are your next steps in regards to the Warden/Caretaker?
Kathy Burns the President-elect of the Hammondsport Rotary (our hometown’s Rotary) has contacted the wonderful Palampur Rotary by Facebook and wants to offer assistance from her USA Rotary to Bal Ashram. However this hinges on the removal of the two abusive staff members and the Vice Chairman.