Noori looked out the smudged window of her room. Rivulets of water ran down the pane making small puddles on the ledge before running off the side of the building. The skies had definitely opened up. She watched forlornly as a man exited the building carrying a massive umbrella, gently guiding his wife by her elbow. The wife was carrying a child in her arms and smiling as she spoke softly to the little girl. The girl clung to this woman and nodded her head in short jerks. Noori moved closer to the window. “Maya goes to her new home today. Wonder if someone will come for me.” She sighed and continued to watch the rain some more.
Noori was 6 years old, one of 120 kids living at the New Hope Orphanage on the edge of town. It was an old stone fort used to protect the town from enemies in the old times and had since been donated to charitable causes. It housed orphan kids ranging from 3 months to 17 years. The kids were each four to a room, segregated by age and gender. The younger ones got the bottom bunk.
Noori was 3 when she arrived at New Hope. Her drunk abusive dad had beaten her mother unconscious and she had later succumbed to her injuries. Noori hid under the bed and watched in horror as the blows fell on her mother. Soon her mother stopped moving and her dad stumbled out, muttering to himself and calling his wife names. Noori had tried to revive her with no luck. This wasn’t the first time either so she knew the drill. She ran across the street to her neighbor, Chandu Chacha and asked him to call the ambulance. Her mom was rushed to the hospital where she was declared dead. Noori had no other relatives and her dad was as good as gone. Chandu Chacha loved Noori like his own, but he has five mouths to feed and was the sole earner. He could not afford to take her on. He needed to make other arrangements. He had heard about this new orphanage on the outskirts of their town. All the village people were talking about it during lunch, at the tea stall, at every possible event and had nothing but good things to say. Maybe they would take on Noori.
New Hope Orphanage was run by Sister Martha and Sister Amelia.
Sister Martha was an orphan herself and knew the ardors of having no parents to love you and feeling lonely. She had been through three foster homes before finally being adopted by a loving couple. Her new mom and dad were devoutly religious and wholeheartedly supported Martha when she announced at age 16, that she was going to become a nun. Martha donned the habit and pledged her loyalty to Jesus. Three decades later, Sister Martha was making sure she could find loving homes for as many kids as she could under her care. She ran an educational program to make sure all the kids had reading, writing, math and science skills. The older kids could also enroll into vocational classes that allowed them to learn a marketable skill to help look for a job once they got too old to stay on at the orphanage.
Sister Amelia was 29 years old and the brains behind the operation. She was the reason why the orphanage could provide all these programs and run efficiently, fueled purely by charitable donations. Sister Amelia was in her last semester at Goizueta Business School in Atlanta when she found her calling. She completed her course and instead of finding that lucrative job, she moved back to her home country to become a nun. She had been at the St. Mary’s Convent for two years when she heard about the new orphanage and decided to apply for a job there. Four years into graduation, her MBA was helping her change the lives of more children and adults than she had ever imagined.
Despite their disparate backgrounds, both, Sister Martha and Sister Amelia had the same goals. Get as many children adopted into loving, flourishing environments as possible and make sure the older, less adoptable ones could step out into the world armed with an education and skills to find a job.
Sister Martha was pruning the tomato plants in the vegetable garden when Chandu Chacha walked up the gravel pathway, holding the hand of a shy girl. She was holding tightly onto a raggedy doll as she sucked her thumb and looked coyly up at the Sister. “Madam, I hear you have one of the best programs here for orphan kids.”, Chandu began quietly. “Noori here isn’t technically an orphan but might as well be. Her dad is a drunk and has been missing for weeks. Would you be able to take her? Maybe someone out there would love to give her a home. She is a bright child and deserves the very best.” he said misty eyed. Sister Martha smiled kindly at Noori, took her hand and led the threesome into the front office. Two hours later, all paperwork done, Noori bade an emotional farewell to Chandu Chacha, hiding her tear-streaked face behind her doll as she followed Nagamma, the caretaker to her new room. That was three years ago.
Noori was a bright child, always smiling, always trying to make people laugh. At first she would shudder when Nagamma spoke to her but then came to realize Nagamma’s loud voice was just that, loud. She wasn’t being scolded or about to be beaten. She started to relax in her new surroundings and started to hope. She dreamed of how her new parents would be. How they would arrive in a white car and take her home to this cute cottage with a chimney and a dog, who she had named Billu. While she waited for this miracle to happen, she also started to learn the alphabet and slowly started reading short stories in English. Sister Martha taught Math – addition, subtraction, multiplication tables. Noori loved Math. She would learn by counting the fruits and flowers in the garden that she helped Sister Martha tend to. Noori was a hard worker. She never complained, even when sick and always helped make sure the younger ones were cared for. The kids affectionately called her “Little Mommy”. Even the older kids doted on her and ribbed her in good humor like she was one of them. Noori reveled in the attention but deep inside, she still craved for that family.
She had been there for three years now and while a lot of prospective parents had come to check her out and looked like they were very interested in taking her home, they never came back, or took home a younger child. Noori would always arrive for the meet-and-greet dressed crisply, hair tied in a ponytail that Nagamma had helped her put together, a red ribbon holding it up. Every time she walked into Sister Martha’s office to meet the parents, she thought she was going home but it didn’t happen. Some of the older kids told her that adoptive parents preferred younger children or infants since they were easier to bond with. At 6 years of age, Noori was teetering on the threshold of “too old”. She had begun to resign herself to the fact that she might never get adopted. And then her miracle happened.
Ravi and Usha were both doctors, she an OB/GYN, he an ophthalmologist. They had met in Kenya while there on a Doctors without Borders mission and had instantly taken a liking to each other. Four years and several missions later, they decided they were meant to be. Ravi proposed and Usha said yes. They moved to Mumbai and started their own private practice. They’d tried unsuccessfully to start their own family and Usha was on the verge of depression, when Ravi suggested that they should look into adoption. His brother and sister-in-law had adopted a little boy and they were the happiest people in the world. Usha was initially averse to the idea, how could she be an OB/GYN and not have her own child? But the longer she waited, the harder it became for her to deny the fact that adoption might give her the hope she was praying for. They had heard about New Hope and decided to pay a visit. They had planned on a baby girl. When they got there, they saw a young child, 5-6 years old playing with the baby they had come to see. She was cooing and smiling, and Usha fell for her even before she knew it. She spoke to Ravi and he smiled at her. He was thinking the same thing! The baby would get adopted easily but not many would want to adopt the girl.
Usha asked Sister Martha if she could speak with the child and then slowly approached Noori. Noori assumed they were there for baby Anna, and held her out to Usha. Usha instead said “Would it be ok if I sat down with you? My name is Usha. And you are?” Six months later, Usha and Ravi were in the office signing the last of the papers that now made them adoptive parents of a cheerful 6 year old. Noori could barely contain herself! She hopped from foot to foot, grinning infectiously. Over the last six months, Ravi and Usha had come to visit her several times and her initial apprehension that they would eventually pick another child had dissolved as they kept coming. She drew them pictures and brought them baskets of fruit each time they visited. It was now just a matter of time before they took her home. Today was that day! She was finally going “home”….such a nice ring that word has. Ravi had promised her a puppy on her birthday and had grudgingly but playfully agreed to calling him Billu. They looked like a happy family.
Papers signed, they all got up to leave. It was pouring again and Nagamma lent them an umbrella so they could walk to the car and not get wet. Noori jumped into Ravi’s arms and insisted he carry her, which he gladly did. Four floors up, Deena watched from her window, “Noori goes to her new home today. Wonder if someone will come for me.”