Orphanages no longer exist in the US today. They have been replaced by a foster care system. Studies show that no orphanage, not even the best, can replace a family.
That is why the services that MASARD (Mass-based Association for Social Service & Rural Development) provides for children in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, states in south India, are so special and so unique. Dr. Fernandes, founder of MASARD, and his wife, Bella, “strongly believe that for a child’s well being, there is no better environment than its own family and its own community. For this reason, MASARD recruits benefactors to sponsor children in disadvantaged families, so they can live at home, where they belong.
But what happens to babies and little ones who are tossed away? Asha was sold as a baby by her destitute mother to a poor childless elderly couple. When the elderly couple died shortly thereafter, neighbors living in the slum cared for her until they could not. Like millions of ill-fated children in India, Asha became a faceless, invisible street child literally overnight. Fortunately for Asha, she was found by MASARD’s social workers who took her to their home, and took turns caring for her. Before a more permanent solution could be found for Asha, two more children became homeless. It was then, in 2001, that the idea of an immediate safe shelter for abandoned children sprung from the sheer necessity of it. This was the humble beginning of the Ashagram.
For children who are not technically orphans, like the young brother and sister that I met, Ashagram provides them a permanent home and security. Some families are so marginalized, children would have had to start working at age six rather than go to school, or become beggars, or worse yet, take to the streets where child trafficking remains a vast social problem. By providing such a unique family service to the community, Ashagram solves many problems at one time. Parents can come and visit their children at Ashanilaya on the weekends, and the children can go home on holidays. In this way, the child has two safe communities and two safe homes because Ashagram is staffed with three exceptionally loving house mothers (I have met them) and five pro-bono caregivers with knowledge and skills in child care. Besides, any number of volunteers come to Ashagram to help out especially from nearby Bangalore colleges and universities — they are social workers, counselors and teachers who bring their own expertise in their field.
Ashagram is essentially a large, long term residential foster home. The children are loved, and they are happy. They are fed nourishing meals daily, and are also the benefactors of endless donations of cooked meals by the community who come there to celebrated their own children’s birthdays. They bring party favors and always, delicious birthday cakes. One time, a woman trained to be a classical singer, who had come with her grandson and family, to celebrate his birthday at Ashagram, sang us the Gayatri Mantra, one of India’s most beautiful and holiest incantations. How often, does any child get to listen to that kind of classically trained voice, upfront and personal. And how often, does any child get to celebrate so many birthdays in one year? Ejipura, a suburb of Bangalore has a good and altruistic community which is very sympathetic towards all the children who live at Ashagram.
Every child at Ashagram is assured a full education, including university, if they so desire — and a home until joining the work force, or getting married. Unlike foster homes in the US, they don’t have to leave Ashanilaya when they turn 18. Until they themselves are firmly settled in a home of their own, Ashagram is and always will be their “safe place” and their forever family. For many, Ashagram has been the only real home they ever knew for all the opportunities and securities it provided, including personalized care and individual attention.
Facilities and services provided include quality education in reputed English medium schools, health care, a study hall with proper desks to do homework, play materials, clean well-maintained bathrooms, separate dorms for girls and boys, cupboards for personal items safe keeping, plentiful clothing mostly donated by the community, and a washing machine for larger items.
The children also have access to computers, TV, a library, music and singing classes, and various life-coping skills workshops. All of this comes with a price tag. Salaries of the three house mothers, food and utilities, and building maintenance and improvements are regular costs that must be met.
Therefore, if you would like to make a one-time donation, or regular donations, or even sponsor a child at Ashagram, you will be making a most valuable contribution, and you will also become a part of these children’s forever family
Dr. and Mrs. Fernandes are disciplinarians but extremely loving ones. They have created a strong family environment in which each child can thrive and grow. They know that children must be guided in developing qualities of character that will hold them in good stead for the future. Through their own modeling and guidance, Ashanilaya children are taught values and skills for productive and fulfilling futures.
It is quite a remarkable coincidence that the US No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 occurred the same year that Ashagram was founded, with the same theme of stronger education accountability for children — with the same compassion and empathy that no child be left behind. At Ashagram, no child left behind is taken quite literally as well!
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul
than the way in which it treats its children.