Upma was born into a leper colony in South Asia and destined for a life of poverty. Her parents, in a desperate attempt to provide something more for their daughter, made a decision few parents can bear—they sent their child away. Upma was consigned to the The Children’s Home, a Mission to the World-supported ministry, where the trajectory of her life changed forever.
Today, because of that courageous decision, Upma is a nursing superintendent in a large hospital—a dream that would have been impossible to achieve without the Children’s Home. She believes her parents’ brave decision spared her from the drudgery of life in the leper colony. “Prejudice against people with leprosy is still very strong here,” Upma explains. “If I had not come to the Children’s Home, I would have had no chance for [an] education.”
A Refuge of Hope
The Children’s Home began in 1945 when medical missionaries Drs. John and Elizabeth (last names withheld for security reasons) took in children from a leper colony at the request of the children’s parents. Their grandson Calvin, an MTW missionary, now runs the home. He and fellow MTW missionary Eleanor serve on the home’s board. Since the inception of the Children’s Home, more than 1,000 children have graduated and become well-adjusted members of society.
Leprosy, largely eradicated throughout the developed world, remains persistent in poverty-ridden areas of South Asia and has disabled roughly 2 million people. Disfiguring sores and progressive nerve damage characterize the disease. Though it can be cured with medication, many do not seek treatment before the disease spreads and leaves its mark.
“Numerous children are in the situation I was in; they live in leper colonies and under bridges. It is impossible for them to get a good education.”
For children who do have a chance at an education, stereotypes and social challenges remain. “Children who attend government schools are teased,” explains Eleanor. “Recently, when parents from a leper colony went to enroll their children in one, the principal said, ‘Why do you send these children to school? They can’t learn anything.’”
The Children’s Home educates children without discriminating and holds each student to high academic standards. Most graduates enter professions such as teaching, accounting, and social work. Of those who do not, many return to the Children’s Home to serve. Like Upma, the majority of alumni choose careers in the medical field due to the amount of job openings and job security. “At almost every hospital, you’ll find Children’s Home graduates,” Eleanor says. “They stick together.”
Although the Children’s Home provides an education for students until age roughly age 18, they no longer provide alumni with university educations. For years scholarships were available, and many graduates attended universities. However, a policy change at a funding agency in 2006 resulted in a sudden drop in financial support, eliminating that form of assistance. The Children’s Home does seek additional funding to resume these scholarships.
The lack of adequate funding is a major concern. By 2006, the Children’s Home had expanded into four homes that housed more than 800 children. Since that time, two of the homes were closed due to insufficient financial support as residential homes lost favor among donor agencies. “Each year the home receives applications for more children than can be admitted,” Eleanor explains. “It is heartbreaking to turn children away knowing what a difference could be made in their lives.”
The transforming role the Children’s Home plays in the lives of children from leper colonies extends beyond social and the academic. The majority of children come to faith in Jesus Christ while living in the homes. A typical weekday for them begins with a 6 a.m. wake-up call and group devotions before breakfast and school. “We heard Bible stories at devotions, in Sunday school and church, and Vacation Bible School every summer, as well as in our Christian school,” explains Upma. “As a teenager I accepted the Lord. Today my husband and I are church members and regularly attend church with our children.”
After school includes time for study, rest, and play; it is followed by evening devotions, dinner, and additional study or playtime. Children also help with chores such as cooking, cleaning, and working in the garden, which teaches them responsibility.
Serving the Leper Community
The children carry that sense of responsibility over into adulthood, doing what they can to care for their parents and others within the leper community. Children’s Home alumni working in the medical field have a unique opportunity to serve. “In order to be seen in a hospital, you have to know somebody,” Eleanor says. “One alumna is the head of nursing at a hospital. She has helped people who might not otherwise have received care.”
Sharda, a health care worker and alumna of the Children’s Home often visits the leper colony where her mother lives. “As a staff nurse, I change dressings for my mom and give medicines and injections to whomever is sick in the leper colonies.” Many alumni are also eager to meet spiritual needs. “We visit our parents regularly and tell them about Christ,” says Geeta, also and alumna. “We help them in any way we can.”
The impact the Children’s Home has had on the community is far-reaching. The heartwrenching decision Upma’s parents made decades ago transformed not only Upma’s life, but also her family tree as well. Upma and her husband George, who also grew up in the Children’s Home, now have two boys who will grow up in a Christian home, free from the struggles their grandparents knew. Additionally, Upma and George continue to minister to other children rescued from leper colonies. “Now we sponsor one child in the home and hope to support another when we get a raise in salary. We also encourage other alumni to sponsor children,” Upma shares. The result of her parents’ sacrifice is a legacy of changed lives that continues to grow.
For more information about The Children’s Home, visit http://home4children.com.