When a door opens

Still very groggy, Vijay, Surya, Lakshmi, Shankar, Shiv Kumar, Prabhu, Venkatesh, Swathi, Sunita and Mani make their way every day at 9 am from their wayside huts to a rambling old house on Kumaraswamy Naidu Road in Fraser Town. Jackie and Vani greet them at the gate — the kids hardly blink an eye nowadays, so familiar have these two dogs, a Great Dane and a happy stray from the neighbourhood, become to them. They open the gate, enter the garden, pass by a shade-giving avocado tree, and walk into the newly renovated house, the patter of little feet audible on the cool, colourful and discarded-tile flooring. This is their very own home till 3 pm every day, except on Sundays. They are bathed, fed and taught Kannada and English. There’s also time to play, to sing and to sleep. All ten of them are under six.  

Anne Varghese, who doesn’t forget to point out the avocado tree in this leafy garden, has an intense and engaged look, that is — believe it or not — reflected in the gaze of Vijay, Surya, Lakshmi, Shankar, Shiv Kumar, Prabhu, Venkatesh, Swathi, Sunita and Mani. And even in Jackie and Vani.

It’s soon lunchtime. Selvi teaches. Lakshmi and Vani, also from the same area, and who know the families of the children, have made a delicious curry of red boiled beans and rice for everybody.

True calling

Anne runs Door of Hope, which opened on April 1, 2009. Allwyn, project co-ordinator and a top-notch chef, assists her. As a teenager, Anne would beat the blues by walking into a slum. And always, always, she would feel better. She didn’t know then that she would study architecture at the UVCE in Bangalore, work in Australia, and then return to India, to do something for children in slums. She says, “I would be restless, I am not now; I know this is my vocation.” 

Today, Anne’s journey has come full circle. She wears the mantle of responsibility lightly. This young director of the NGO, says she doesn’t have ‘five-year plans’ but would be satisfied if these little kids have ‘some happy moments’. This is exactly what is happening in the Door of Hope, which is itself a hallowed place because of the history that has seeped into it. Years ago, a Swiss lady, Sister L E Goebel, had bought the house from her pension savings and turned it into a school for poor children. Anne keeps Goebel’s vision alive. Anne spent many hours surveying the area, meeting other NGOs working in the neighbourhood before deciding, along with the other trustees, to set up a centre for children from the ‘lowest socio-economic groups’.

The objective of the trust is the care and education of the poorest children from the surrounding slums. The trust believes,  “Such a centre will not only benefit the children who come to it but also their families and the communities they live in. Our vision is to continue the work started by Sister Goebel by facilitating a safe and nurturing environment and providing holistic care for the most vulnerable section in our society – needy children. We will achieve this by providing a caring home and good education which, we believe, empowers and prevents exploitation.”
 
These children are straight from the street. In the beginning, it was difficult to convince the single mothers – and sometimes fathers – about the need to give their children a different future. They were, after all, living on the edge. The concerns of the parents, who were mostly ragpickers, were immediate : were their children going to be taken away from them, and what did the morrow hold?

Anne isn’t looking too far down the road, but she is already in touch with educationists who would be willing to admit these kids in schools for further education. A tie-up with a Montessori school, Golden Bead, run by Anitha Loganathan, is on the cards.
Anne has laid the foundation, like a good architect, and hopes that the rest of the plan would be given finishing touches by others. A ragpicker waits outside the gate. She has a purpose: At 3 pm she must take her daughter home. Lakshmi runs out, bright-eyed and smiling, happy to be part of both worlds.  

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