“From rags to riches” is a common phrase. But at The Hope House, everyone is “rich” in love and care.
Driving to The Hope House (THH) even the sun’s rays feel welcoming and loving. There were no houses along the road, just an oasis of trees and colorful flowers.
The old red building is the only one in the area. Its brick-and-cement façade was left unpainted, tricking outsiders into thinking it is under-construction. “This is a green building. It is four degrees cooler in the summer and just as much warmer in the winter. It is economical and environmentally friendly.” Everything right from their cooking fuel (self produced bio-gas) to electricity (solar) was environment friendly.
The students carried buckets with waste vegetable peels and liquid slurry. They walked straight to the biogas plant and poured the waste into the plant, stirring it for while.
“This is our routine. We come from school, operate the plant, clean up, have our snack, read for a while and then have dinner and sleep,” said Priya. Priya is also known as the “Malala” of the house for having confronted an eve teaser. “When coming from school, a group of boys would tease me. I realized later that many other girls from my school were facing the same problem. I spoke to Uncle (Ruby) about it and shared my idea of conducting a presentation about protecting ourselves.” Priya made a presentation about reproductive health and how to protect themselves from men to 400 girls in her school.
For all these girls, the word ‘Uncle’ is synonymous with father. “He is like a dad to us. We can share and talk about anything with him,” says one of the girls in Tamil.
“My own children did have a problem initially when the house children called me Dad” recalls Ruby, co-founder of The Hope House. “I had to explain to them that the girls had no parents; only me.”
Ruby goes on: “I looked after them the way the way I cared for my children. For instance, my children used to drink milk before bedtime, so I used to give milk to the girls too. After few days I learnt that they used to throw away the milk because they never really liked milk. I started talking to them to find out about the things they were comfortable with, their likes and dislikes. They started opening up more and began accepting this as their home.”
The children go to a government school and a few are among the toppers there. A few of the girls who have finished school are now studying nursing at CMC Vellore.
How did most of these girls get here? “I do not believe in a house-to-house survey. I take in needy children after they are referred to us by doctors/social workers/counselors or anyone that knows the need of the child,” Ruby explains. Gradually, the programme became need-based. “One of the girls was really sick. When we took her to the doctor we got to know that she was HIV-positive. We didn’t know what to do. Doctors guided us and explaining how this was not contagious and she would be fine as long as certain precautions are taken. This case got me thinking. On doing some research, I found there were many residents of Vellore who were HIV affected. I started supporting such families with rations and other utilities. The affected also recovered emotionally; their willpower and confidence got a boost when they got help.”
His leadership is inspiring. Ruby revealed how a girl wrote to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister about organizing a bus service to their schools since local buses were inconvenient for the girls, and how a few of them were taking the responsibility for creating awareness about reproductive health among the girls.
“I focus on just one principle,” says Ruby. “Teach the children, identify their talents and nurture them. In the process I also inculcate in them ways to make their study space a better place. I get them phonics kits, which teach them English. I give them access to the internet, so when they have questions they can browse for answers. I sit with them on Sundays and try to enhance their communication skills.”
It was his girls who reminded him and his wife about the children in need of help in India. It was they who inspired him and his wife to forgo their well-paid jobs in the US to build The Hope House.
“The aspirations and dreams of these children make me want to teach them more, help them more. My driving force is them.”
As the sun goes down in the evenings, fireflies come out to light the darkness. Shining brightly, they were true symbols of the girls who live and learn in The Hope House.