Yasmeen Maqbool, an all-time softie is the Features Editor of Filmfare ME, Salt ‘n’ Peppa and Femina ME. Her passion lies in telling stories about people who do what they do because it matters.
Not every time does your passion find realization. But Liz Gabriel, originally from Syria, and now a social worker running an orphanage in Kerala, India called ‘Children’s Village’whose life is a testimony to the fact that if you have the will your dreams do see the light of day.
Her passion for helping children and her experiences while pursuing her Masters Degree in Social Work, led her to launch the Children’s Village that has touched the lives of over 120 children since its inception in 2003. Today the village is home to 55 children who have been victims of domestic violence and addiction. Their mothers are those that have run away or were abandoned by abusive husbands.
HOW IT STARTED
Liz loved being with children from a very young age, and hence wanted to pursue a career related to children. Soon after her marriage, she shared her dream with her husband and family, who were pleasantly surprised and supported her whole-heartedly.
From 16 children in 2003, the ‘village’ has touched the lives of over 120 children, since its inception. Four of the eldest children from the village are pursuing graduation studies; while two are studying BSc. “Leading by example, these children are studying Nursing, Commerce and Economics, which will be a role model for the rest of our children,” believes Liz.
The name ‘Children’s Village’ comes from an old African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. “We have individual homes with a mother for every 12-15 children, so that we can replicate the home model in a small way. The mothers are mostly destitute women, some of whose children live in the village.”
THE ‘WHY’ BEHIND THE PROJECT
Pursuing her Doctor of Philosophy in Social work from the Mahatma Gandhi University, researching on domestic violence and its effects on women in Kerala, Liz details, “The project was initiated to make a difference to the society in a meaningful way. As our children grew up and when more children joined the village, it slowly dawned on us that we were treating the symptoms, rather than the root cause.
Almost all the children were victims of domestic violence and addiction. I, therefore, decided to pursue my research in this field and found some startling facts: despite Kerala’s position as India’s most literate state and with the best health care, it unfortunately also tops the list when it comes to domestic violence and substance abuse across India.”
“On the first day of the inauguration of our Children’s Village, we sat down for our first meal (lunch). As everybody dug into their meals, one child sat cross legged in front of her plate with a blank expression, not touching her food. Her explanation brought tears to our eyes. She said she was used to eating just one meal a day (supper) and was not used to the concept of lunch.” This little child is now pursuing her First Year Degree in Nursing in Bangalore. Her principal says, she is a true role model for the other nursing students, owing to her humility and hard work.
The biggest challenge that Liz faced was to get an approval from the Social Welfare Department of the Indian government and to build the infrastructure. The Indian state of Kerala has very strict rules and periodic inspections, which goes a long way in ensuring that orphanages maintain quality.
Liz recalls, “We started with a small home and then realized that the state requires boys and girls to be raised in separate homes. My father’s friend in the United States donated a building for a home for the girls.”
She hopes to build more homes and create a small ‘village’ of children. “We do not restrict our intake to just orphans. We also take in destitute children, needy children from single parent homes or kids of mentally challenged parents as well.”
While most of the admissions are by word of mouth, they also get referrals about abandoned children from media organizations.
Liz’s parents, Dr. John and Kunjamma Gabriel and her elder sister Lynn Gabriel, run the project in her absence. Moreover, Liz also believes that both her children have gained insurmountably while interacting with the kids at the village. “They’ve learnt to handle grief with grace and to be grateful for the little pleasures of life, which kids of the iPad generation generally take for granted.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
While they continue to support destitute children and battered women through the Children’s Liz with the kids: From 16 children in 2003, the ‘village’ has touched the lives of over 120 children Village, they envision launching an organization to eradicate domestic violence from Kerala and eventually India. “We aim to work with the Government of India and other social organizations to educate the public about the dangers of domestic violence and empower women to stand up for their rights and maintain domestic harmony.”
Liz is also passionate about the state of civic hygiene in India and is working on a community sanitation programme in Kerala in association with the Ladies Circle India, which launched its first successful aerobic composting unit in Kottayam, Kerala. Their aim is to find a sustainable solution to tackle India’s massive garbage problem.
FUNDING THE PROJECT
Liz raises funds for the ‘Children’s Village’ through individual sponsorship for the children. She currently has sponsorship for 38 of 55 children, both from local as well as overseas donors. Sponsoring a child costs $1 dollar/day – about $30/ month, that is about Rs.2000 Indian Rupees. “We are unable to take in any more children, as we have run out of space in our current building. Therefore, we are looking to construct a new home and take in more children, for which we have begun approaching donors.”
HOW TO HELP THE CHILDREN’S VILLAGE
• Financially – You can sponsor a child for $30/month or fund some of our infrastructural needs
• Time – Spend some time with our children, play with them, pray for them, read to them or teach them some skills. You can celebrate your birthdays and anniversaries with us.
• Spread the word – If you know someone who can be of help to the Children’s Village, please pass on our contact information.