We grew up with stories of our Grandpa Luther. He died when our dad was a teenager, so all we had were stories. Some of my favorite times at home are quiet evenings when Dad starts to reminisce about Grandpa. Before WWII, our Grandpa spent 10 years working at a girls orphanage in India. We grew up with stories of them going out at night and picking up the abandoned girls that were left by the road. My favorite picture of him is when he is holding a cobra he killed – and it was as tall as him. Coming back to the States during WWII, we heard stories of them not being allowed to use any lights on the ship at night out of fear of being spotted by German U-boats. The stories are great, and are the type that I hope to never forget.
We always talked about an epic pilgrimage to Grandpa’s orphanage. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but after nearly 2 years in India, Evan and I finally made it. I felt a lot of pressure, trying to document everything for the family, especially Dad, who I continually wished could have been there with us. We were able to stay in one of the original buildings that is likely where our Grandpa lived while he was there.
We saw the cart that they used to use at night to gather the abandoned babies and bring them back to the orphanage. The orphanage is set up in homes. Each home has a home mother and about 15-20 girls. Each of the homes are still named after flowers, just like they were back then.
I didn’t know what to expect when we showed up at the orphanage. After hearing about it all my life, I had no idea what to anticipate. The people were incredibly friendly, and the orphanage is huge! They currently have around 600 girls and women (women who are blind or have no family to help care for them), and about 150 workers. They try to be as self-sufficient as possible, growing grain and raising dairy cows.
The buildings are old but incredibly clean and well-maintained. The orphanage is structured and orderly which is something truly rare in this part of the world. The girls are all so sweet and incredibly well taken care of, looking healthier than the typical person you meet around town. The orphanage is primitive by American standards though. They didn’t have electricity until the 60s, and it was consistent until the 80s. They didn’t get a phone until the late 90s! There are about 20 blind girls that live there, and until 2005 they were still sleeping on mats on the floor. They don’t have hot water or internet. By Western standards, there is much improvement needed. They cook primarily over open fires. But it is clean and the children are cared for, and they take in those that society wants nothing to do with; children who are abandoned out of desires for a boy, or the inability to care for them, women that have no where else to turn.
I didn’t know what to expect, going to this family heritage site, 70 years after my Grandpa left. I was encouraged by the care they provide, and grateful that the work that Grandpa did all of those years ago continues to this day. The orphanage is well-known and respected throughout India. In a time in history when orphans are often exploited instead of cared for, and in a society that under-values women, it is truly a bright spot where one is needed.
*Though I have no actual connection to the orphanage, I can vouch for the legitimate work they are doing. If you would like to learn more about the orphanage and how you can help, you can visit their website.