Ten area residents recently traveled to India to show care and support at an orphanage for girls.
The travelers, primarily from Bethel Community Church, in Washougal, included Connie Jo Freeman. They visited the Home of Love, which provides housing and education for 87 girls, ranging in age from 5 to 18.
The children are either orphaned or from parents who are too poor to care for them.
“Unlike most orphanages, when the children turn legal age they are not turned out to fend for themselves,” Freeman said. “They have college to look forward to, financially provided by Home of Love.”
While the visitors from the Camas and Washougal area were there, former residents of the home dropped by.
“Their love of the younger girls and gratitude for the opportunities given to them at Home of Love is evident by their commitment to return and serve as volunteers and even as graduates from college as teachers in the school on site, Providence Residential Academy,” Freeman said.
The motto of the orphanage is “How do you change the culture of 1.2 billion people? One Girl At A Time.”
“Our team got the privilege of being God’s hands and feet to these precious girls,” Freeman said. “Now we know them by name. Their beautiful black eyes and happy giggles will forever be etched on our hearts. They are growing up as strong, confident women knowing that they are of value to God and to us.”
None of the visitors had ever been to India before.
“Seeing the poverty, filth, masses of people and the lawlessness all around was shocking to our senses,” Freeman said.
She said the orphanage is located on a nine acre plot of land, protected by a high wall with broken glass cemented onto the top, a gate and a security guard.
“The streets outside the fence were strewn with piles of rubble and trash of all sorts — bottles, bricks, broken cement, cans, human waste, rotting food, cows, dogs and birds feeding on the leftovers,” Freeman said. “Buses were filled to overcapacity, industrial trucks, thousands of motorcycles, bicycles, auto-rickshaws everywhere and Mercedes-Benz mixed in with people walking alongside and dashing across traffic like the ‘running of the bulls’ in Spain. Everyone is honking. Yet, in the midst of it all is a small haven.”
The local visitors spent nine days in Chennai, a city with a population of 12 million. At night, they slept at the YWCA.
Rich Blum, pastor of Bethel, said his first impression of India included noticing “the poverty, trash everywhere, pollution and crazy driving.”
His lasting impression was the plight of women.
“Unwanted girls are often killed or left for dead,” Blum said.
He and others became aware of the Invisible Girls Project through the Home of Love.
Blum described the IGP as a great group trying to rescue girls who are in danger and get them off the street.
“If not for the Home of Love, many would either be beggars or involved in sex trafficking with no hope or they would be dead,” he said. “The Home of Love is one place where the IGP is trying to make connections, so that unwanted girls can be brought there as opposed to left for dead.”
Blum described the orphans as well-educated.
“Those girls could quote Bible verses in both Tamil, their primary language, and English like nobody’s business,” he said. “They worked hard in school, and their school work ethic was impressive.”
Melisa Gates traveled to India with two of her sons, Brandon, 17, and Devon, 15.
They taught a vacation Bible school, which included arts and crafts, stories and games.
Gates described it as a very unique and amazing experience.
She mentioned Devon has a driving permit and wanted a car, but his perspective changed after the trip to India.
“Material things just don’t make you as happy as you might anticipate,” Gates said. “These little girls have nothing, but they are happy.
“We could send money there,” she added. “We all felt the same way.”
Gates described the roads in Chennai as terrifying and crowded.
“At first, that was a challenge to get on the bus,” she said. “There’s lots of honking, and everybody is in a hurry.
“Bicycles and motorcycles and cows and dogs and goats and children are crossing the road,” Gates added. “It’s very unique, but it made me a little nervous. I am very thankful no one got in an accident. We crossed the streets, which was a challenge with all 10 of us.”
Another challenge occurred when the arrival of the group’s checked baggage was delayed by a day. The baggage included VBS materials and extra clothes.
Gates said the rewards of the trip included being able to go to another country and see things you would not normally see.“It made all of us appreciative of the lives we have in America,” she said. “I hope to take my sons there again in a couple years.”