The Orphans of Trichur

Functioning as extended families, India’s Syro-Malabar Catholic orphanages secure a brighter future for orphaned children.

text and photos by Sean Sprague

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Ten-year-old Sanjit burst into a vibrant break dance as Indian film music thumped out of a portable stereo. He had developed his technique from watching the movies; his intricate jerks were perfectly timed as he gyrated, dark eyes and skinny arms syncopated like a modern-day dancing Siva. Then he stood at attention and finished his show by bursting into song, a cracking voice evoking a melody in the local Malayalam language.

The bright-eyed boy is said to be highly intelligent and gifted; however, he is an orphan who never knew his parents and avoided the desperate life of a street urchin by just a hair. Millions of Indian children like Sanjit are subjected to difficult circumstances that are beyond their control. Even labor in unhealthy sweatshops would be a lucky option for many of these young people when compared to begging or sleeping in the streets or falling prey to unscrupulous adults. These horrors can be avoided, however, by those children like Sanjit who are lucky enough to end up in a Catholic orphanage where deprived children are given a fair chance to grow.

Thousand of boys and girls have been saved from a life of misery thanks to two orphanages in the state of Kerala run by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and funded in part by CNEWA.

St. Savio’s Boys’ Home houses about 120 boys. The home is set on attractive grounds in the suburbs of Trichur. The boys live there until they are helped with finding a job, a house and often a bride.

St. Anne’s Charitable Institute is the equivalent girls’ home and has 151 residents. In both homes care for the children continues into adulthood.

Twelve-year-old Sanju Picha has no parents and no idea of his birth name or religion, but he’s crazy about the game of cricket. An average student, Sanju’s dream is to become a famous cricket player, though he will settle for the life of a police officer. He and 30 other boys his age sleep in a long room at St. Savio’s under a huge mosquito net. Each boy keeps his possessions in his own tin trunk. A soap box, pen, schoolbooks, uniform and a ball are typical contents of these little trunks.

Ajo Manaparambil, 14, is an A student who would like to become a Catholic priest. He is encouraged by his teachers, but if he does not make it as a priest then he would like to be a lorry (truck) driver. St. Savio’s is home to Ajo: he never knew his parents.

Retish does have parents but they are very poor and live about 50 miles away. He does not see them often. If he stayed with them, however, the nearest school would be a 10-mile walk from home, so the 10-year-old attends school at St. Savio’s. He wants to be a police officer, too – or a lorry driver.

Sister Victoriana of the Carmelite Congregation of Mary Immaculate has worked at St. Savio’s Home for three years. She explains that space is a problem at St. Savio’s, so the institution is not always able to accept new applicants. The sisters hope to add new buildings soon, thereby providing more space for more children.

Sister Victoriana asserts that time is of the essence: Due to an increase in illegitimate births, there is no shortage of eligible children waiting for a lucky break.

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