Students’ service overseas leaves lasting impact on local orphanage ... and themselves
A gray, colorless wall surrounded the compound. Glass shards jutted from the top, warning off any unwanted visitors.
But inside, the faces of 70 smiling girls filled the orphanage. This place had become their sanctuary and their home. Despite their situation, they had hope and, more importantly, love.
Last January, 15 Huntington University students traveled to this girls' home in the southeastern port of India to continue the good work that the orphanage had begun. At the time, they knew the task at hand was important, but they did not foresee the deep impact these children would have on their own lives.
“Well, I know that when our plane left the ground in India, I left part of me there,” said Kaleigh Woodcox, a junior nursing major. “I learned about love. … I now have a deep, deep gut-wrenching love for the country of India — for its culture, its people, its diversity, its land even. I simply and purely love India.”
The students spent two weeks in Chennai, India, serving at Home of Love, a Christian orphanage for girls at risk of living on the streets or being sold into the sex trade. The group included students with a wide range of academic majors, including art, film, animation, nursing, ministry, communication, education and sociology. While there, they called on their experiences gained at Huntington — both academic and spiritual — to help the girls at the orphanage. They set up a Vacation Bible School, painted the perimeter wall and filmed documentaries and other promotional footage to support the orphanage.
In all, they accomplished everything they set out to do — and more.
“They were blessed more than they were able to bless,” said Varun Kaushik, the staff adviser on the trip.
Preparing their hearts, minds ... and stomachs
It was God’s doing in how quickly the trip came together, said trip student leader Luke Brenneman. He learned of Home of Love orphanage in India through his brother-in-law. It did not take long for Brenneman to connect to Nirup Alphonse, the orphanage owner’s son and a resident of Fort Wayne, Ind., to began the work of forming the team and planning the trip.
“Things just fell into place so well,” said Brenneman, a 2012 sociology alum. “It was so obvious that that’s what God’s plan was the whole time.”
Through the fall semester, the team worked under the direction of Kaushik, a 2006 Huntington alum and native of India, learning the culture and preparing for what they would face in a new country.
“We met almost every week, talking about Indian history, Indian culture, the economy, the major religion — Hinduism, the cast system and female infanticide,” he said. “We also ate at an Indian restaurant in Fort Wayne one night and watched an Indian movie.”
While the team acclimated themselves to Indian heritage and food, they also began to prepare themselves to serve. They had three goals in mind, and all of them needed to be met.
“The overall preparation for the trip was from Huntington’s commitment to service,” Kaushik said.
When a wall is more than just a wall
The gray, cinderblock wall surrounding the compound was meant to provide protection, but not to be aesthetically pleasing.
“It didn’t really feel homey. It felt like a jail,” Kaushik said.
But today that has changed as a new ray of sunshine has fallen on Home of Love.
Three art students, Sarah Stine, Hannah Hochstetler and Gen Alexander, used their expertise to bring color to the compound. The team painted the sections that were most visible to the girls, and to provide them with a constant reminder of the team’s visit, they painted a mural depicting the sun with the verse from Acts 13:47, “I have made you light … to bring salvation … to the ends of the earth.”
“The best part of it is each girl put a handprint on the wall,” Brenneman said. “Each girl is a part of the wall that surrounds their home.”
The note “Huntington University 2012” written at the bottom of the wall was the final reminder that the team will never forget those girls.
Dancing, crafts, and the story of the English David?
Goliath marched out on the stage — a combination of one student on the other’s shoulders. David arrived, sporting an unusual English accent. He took out his sling, and BAAM! Goliath fell to the floor.
The girls erupted in laughter.
“It was hilarious. The whole skit was done with a whole cartoonist style of delivery,” Kaushik said. “When Goliath fell, the kids just cracked up.”
With skits, crafts and dancing, the team tried to make a week of Vacation Bible School fun for the girls.
Under the guidance of Laura Stuckey, a senior children’s ministry major, the team created crafts (including the handprints on the wall), formed a Bible message and found a fun and entertaining way to tell the story of David and Goliath.
“The kids also made bookmarks with Bible verses on them. They asked us to make them bookmarks with our favorite Bible verses so that they could remember us,” Kaushik said.
Calling on other unique skills of the group, Bri (Jewett) Brenneman, a 2012 film studies graduate, created dances to teach the girls during VBS.
“I basically took that dance (“Firework” by Katy Perry) and made some modifications,” she said, pulling from her experience as a Zumba instructor. “The girls just loved it. They were so good. They were the most awesome children I have ever worked with.”
The activities were designed to reinforce the good work that the Home of Love had already started with their own pastor and the Christian community established there.
“They talked about Jesus all the time,” Kaushik said. “They were so rooted in their faith already.”
But, overall, it was a week to remind the girls that they are loved — here on Earth and in Heaven.
The film that tells the story
It’s a video to tell a story about love and a story about hope. It’s the girls’ story about finding the Home of Love: “I found love three years ago.” “I found love nine years ago.” “I found love 10 years ago.”
The video was created by four film and animation majors — Ben Daron, Lynn Morrow, Anthony Frederick and Bri (Jewett) Brenneman — using the skills they learned at HU to bring attention to a very serious issue.
“The video has been very well-received. It shows the skills of the students here, but more importantly, it shows the hope that the girls have … and how the Lord is blessing them,” Kaushik said.
In India, female infanticide and feticide are on the rise. Five million female fetuses are aborted each year, according to the Indian Medical Association. And another 1.5 million girls do not live to see their first birthday. Others end up living on the street or are sold into the commercial sex trade, according to the Invisible Girl Project. Home of Love works with organizations like the fundraising operation of Invisible Girl Project to give these girls hope and a future.
The video follows the song, “We Found Love” by Rihanna, while showing the girls and the opportunities that are available to them now that they are at Home of Love. Eventually, the team hopes that the orphanage will be able to use the video for fundraising. In the meantime, they are trying to get permission from Rihanna’s management for the rights to the song.
“Luke had the idea of using the song ‘We Found Love,’ and I loved it. I knew that I wanted to use it right away,” said Ben Daron, a senior film studies major. “Once I got back and I started editing I knew that it was going to be a video that had more meaning to me than any other that I’ve made. The impact that it has had is beyond what I think any of us thought it would.”
The team gathered footage for four films while in India. Along with the music video, the footage is being shaped into a longer, informational video for Home of Love as well as two other projects for the Invisible Girl Project.
“It was kind of a fluke,” Bri Brenneman said. “We weren’t planning on doing anything with them (Invisible Girl Project) or for them. We ran into them and it was kind of mutual asking.”
Since returning in January, the team has been working on editing the films for final production while weighing in on the impact of such a unique project.
“This trip was really why I came to school to learn film. I wanted to create media that had an impact on the world to further Christ’s Kingdom,” Daron said. “I know for sure that without my experiences in the classroom that the video would not have been what it was, nor would I have been given the opportunity to even go to India.”
But now what?
The “Now what?” question was very important to the students. They wanted to make sure that their experience in India wasn’t just another missions trip. They wanted to make a lasting difference with Home of Love.
“We were convicted by the incredibly large amount of money we spent to go on this trip,” Kaushik said. “We realized then that the purpose of the trip cannot achieve (its potential) success … if we let this story die when we get back to the States.”
When they returned, they put together a plan to raise $20,000 to build a dormitory for the 70 girls who live at the orphanage. The money will be used to build a smaller building for Home of Love parents and pay the renovation costs to turn one of the current buildings into a dorm for the girls. In addition to the initial construction and renovation of dorms, the project will also fund the purchase of a bed, mattress and dresser for each girl. The furniture cost is approximately $100 per girl. The 70 girls currently sleep on mats on a concrete floor.
So far, the students have collected more than half of their goal.
“Everything that has happened so far has been unexpected and provided by God,” Kaushik said. “Their continued commitment to the dorm project is incredible.”
But Huntington’s love of India won’t stop there. Under the direction of faculty leader Dr. David Alexander and his wife Gen, the team is returning this January with hopes of making the same or even a greater impact.
“If you feel God calling you to do this, do not hesitate,” Woodcox said. “He will bless you and give you the experience of a lifetime. It is not every day that you get a chance to travel the world with awesome HU people. Pray, pray, pray about it, and if God is calling, answer yes.”