Asha Kiran Ashram,our special needs centre in Tamil Nadu, is always a highlight of our visit and this year has proved to be no exception. The children were as excited as ever to see us, and enjoyed singing songs with us. We had bought a lot of simple musical instruments in Trivandrum, which we distributed to them all - what a cacophony! Not at all the usual rather formal meeting, and much better. We were also able to give them a huge pile of colouring books, crayons, excercide books, pencils and so on, as well as a lot of educational toys that we had brought from the UK or bought in India. And there has been a great deal of development in the children - children who could only crawl can now walk, week limbs have been strengthened, and children who could do nothing are now enabled to do simple tasks. It is all hugely encouraging and rewarding, and parents are marvellously enthusiastic - one drove for an hour to tell us!
Another encouragement is the way that local people are supporting Asha Kiran Ashram. Last night we collected a television for the children, along with a substatntial gift, from a family who have already supported Asha Kiran generously in the past; today a widow gave the lunch-time food (and enough left over for dinner as well) for all the children, this being in memory of her husband who died ten years ago. This local sujpport, along with the givernment grant that Santhosh is getting now, is becoming increasingly important as Asha Kiran expands, well beyond our ability to support it.
It has also been a time to plan for the future. Top priority has been the children. The new physiotherapist is highly skilled and knowledgeable, and we have agreed a plan to give Buelah artificial legs - a long term commitment, as the prostheses will have to be replaced once a year for the next decade until she is 18. But the sheer joy that she approaches life with, and the way that she does not let her disabilities crush her spirit, means that we are confident that it will be money well spent and effective. We have also agreed to get Arunya surgery for her dropped foot - as this has been delayed by the fears of her family it will have to be surgery now rather than something more moderate; but we are hoping that we can sort out Mina's dropped foot using an orthosis (prosthesis) - although, as her foot, knee and hip have been affected, it will be a big (and expensive) one.
Santhosh also has great plans to expand the buildings. The main need at the moment is for a dedicated large physiotherapy room, so all the equipment is available in one place - he has ambitious plans for this and two further multi-purpose rooms; much of the funding should come from India, with us providing the rest, some of which we would hope to cover by grant funding.
We ended the day with a great celebration. A wonderful supporter had given us a lot of money for local language Bibles, and we had a really joyful time of worship before I was able to distribute 25 Tamil Bibles to people who had none, or to local pastors who had church members who needed one. It was a marvellous way to end the day.
It is now time for a very late bite to eat and then bed - we need to be up before 7am tomorrow (that is 1.30am UK time!).