Rainbow House (RH) is El Shaddai’s residential home for girls aged 8-13 (when they’re aged 2-7, they live next door, at House of Kathleen, and there are two similar homes in the area for boys) and is currently home to 51 girls, including my sponsored “daughter” Renuka. The children sleep in bunk-bedded dormitories and are cared for by four full time staff plus Stella, the manager.
(One thing I always have to remember when thinking about what to buy Renuka is that each child has relatively little private space in which to store things; they each have a small, cube shaped locker and access to a hanging rail for their clothes, and that’s it).
The children are organised into groups and Stella tells me that this is to help to teach them teamwork, responsibility and leadership. The teams are named Love, Joy, Peace and Kindness and each team has a colour which they then wear as part of their school uniform. Renuka is in the “Love” group and their colour is red, so she wears a red polo shirt for school and always tries to choose red clothes from the communal pile in her dormitory. Most recently, I’ve seen her in a red Bayern Munich t-shirt and a red swimsuit bearing the Welsh flag …
Part of the way in which the charity aims to teach responsibility is by making the children part of the routine of the home; for them, it’s more than just a boarding school environment – they are part of the very fabric of the place. And they have a long and busy day, Monday to Friday: this is their daily routine irrespective of age.
5.45am Alarm call and wake up.
6.00am Morning prayers; apparently, these are non-denominational and mostly consist of saying “thank you” to an unnamed god or presence.
6.15 – 7am “Duty” – this means undertaking chores of various sorts: cooking, cleaning, laundry and so on. Each group is part of a rota and will do different things each week; one evening when I visited, Renuka emerged from the kitchen covered in flour, as the Love group had evening duty – making chapattis.
7.00 – 7.30am Breakfast – as prepared by that day’s duty team, who will also have organised the tiffin (lunch) tins too.
7.30 – 8.30am Wash and dress for school; the uniform is either a pleated skirt or shorts, topped off with an appropriately coloured polo shirt, and sandals.
8.30 – 8.45am Medicine: many of the children have ongoing medical issues due to their previous itinerant lifestyles and poor nutrition, so Stella lines them up at this time and gives them their medications.
8.45am Uniform check: are you neat and tidy? Is your hair brushed? Then off you go to school! The children travel by mini-bus, as donated by a British based charity.
9.00 – 4.30pm At El Shaddai’s own private Shanti Niketan school, the children are organised into groups on the basis of ability rather than age – so Renuka, for example, aged 9 and good at maths, is in a class with children of 12, 13 and 14. All lessons are taught in English, which is the common language; the children end up in Goa from all over India and many have other languages as their first tongue, but school work is always done in English.
At 12 noon, they break for lunch, which they eat, seated, from the tiffin tins.
5.00 – 7.00pm The children arrive back at RH and evening duty commences for the relevant team. This is also visiting time for sponsors and interested tourists, so there’s always a stream of people calling into both RH and HoK, sitting on the veranda and playing with the children.
7.00 – 7.30pm Prayers, followed by dinner. This is usually vegetarian food (rice and dal, or a vegetable pullao) but they have meat once a week for those who eat it. They sometimes also have laddu, a very sweet Indian pudding; Renuka told me proudly that she is “the very best” at making this.
7.30 – 8.00pm More duty – washing up!
9.00pm Bedtime; lights out by 10.30pm.
At the weekends, the regime is a little more relaxed, although the children still have “duty” in the morning; yesterday, they were washing sheets. However, in the afternoon, it’s the highlight of the week, when they all pile into the mini-bus for a trip to the beach; they absolutely love this and it’s truly wonderful to see them have a chance to be children.
El Shaddai set up camp on the beach, and, with a great flair for strategy, take the charity to the people. They have very cleverly realised that the children are their best ambassadors and so simply seeing the kids playing on the beach and splashing in the sea (as opposed to begging or selling jewellery) can give people an awareness of how different life can be with the assistance of ES and other charities.
The afternoon follows a loose structure. Having blown up numerous pairs of armbands and rubber rings, we all charge into the sea and play in the waves (at one point, I had three small girls hanging off each of my arms). Then it’s out onto the sand for a bit, with some organised races (relay running, bunny hopping and so on) and a sand castle building competition.
The staff then chop up some of the huge pile of fruit donated by the visitors and the children dig in to slices of pineapple and chunks of watermelon; there’s usually so much left that all four homes can have fruit for the rest of the week.
I was particularly pleased to see so many men joining in and playing with the kids, as these children really need strong male role models; many of them have been abandoned by their fathers, or mistreated, victims of neglect, violence and alcohol. And whilst they don’t lack for love and care from the (mostly female) ES staff, there are fewer men around to provide an alternative view of masculinity, so the work that these guys do is hugely important, I think, for both boys and girls. They need to know and see that men can be kind, gentle, playful and fun – all qualities in great abundance at the beach.
Finally, it’s one last play in the sea – much shrieking of “the big wave! The big wave!!” – before we get dressed, pack up toys, equipment, leaflets, banners and fruit and return back home.
Great fun – and I get to do it all over again today. I had planned to pack to come home, but Renuka had remembered that my flight back is actually on Monday and so could see no valid reason at all why I shouldn’t come to the beach on Sunday … so that’s where I’ll be. Can’t wait.