Finding Families For Children -Vathsalya Charitable Trust

“We are loved and we are cared for.” This is the message that invariably flows as one walks into Vathsalya Charitable Trust, Bangalore, which is welcomed by smiles of little children here. More comforting and surprising is the voice of its Director, Ms Mary Paul, who is 56 years old. Her voice and looks just don’t go with her age. With a warm smile, she begins to introduce me to the Trust’s work and her association with this institution.

Upon completion of her Masters in Social Work, Mary Paul worked with the Christa Mithra Ashram in Ankola situated in North Canara (coastal belt of Karnataka) for a year. Then, she joined Macmillan in Bangalore as an Editor. “By 1987 I was sure I wanted to get back to Social Work,” she says. This is when all her certificates in Counseling (family and Marriage, career, and addiction) helped
identifying the next step. In 1989, the Board of Trustees hired her as the Director of the Vathsalya Charitable Trust that was registered in 1988. “Setting up the infrastructure and starting the work was truly fulfilling,” recollects Mary Paul. Under her leadership, the Trust initiated a range of programmes for children. The Education Sponsorships for girl children from poor socio economic backgrounds gave them the confidence to work in the area of child care. Adoption programme
was launched soon. All programmes at Vathsalya were evolved on a need basis, and so was the adoption programme. The Trust received orphan children through a legal body, who were then placed in families (domestic and international) through the court. “We at Vathsalya believe that every child deserves a permanent loving family of his or her own. From adoption, we forayed into Family Foster Care programme,” she continues. With things beginning to take a concrete
shape, it was time for Mary Paul to take a break. This is when she founded the ‘Kutumba’ in 1991, in Doddagubdi, Bangalore. Kutumba is a rehabilitation centre for physically challenged women
from the rural parts of southern India. The centre takes care of all the needs of its residents, including transport facilities to undergo vocational training at different centres like the Association for People with Disability (APD). As she rightly puts it, “Kutumba is a home away from home. The centre is all theirs’ until they are placed in a job, after which they move out.” Soon, the circumstances in the community insisted the need to establish a day care centre for the
children in the village.

Whether it was Vathsalya or Kutumba, counseling has been an integral part of the work in both these centres. “Counseling is a very challenging job. Not all individuals are the same; each has his or her own levels of adaptability and openness,” says Mary Paul while elaborating on the need
for counseling for the residents in these centres. Almost a decade after the establishment of Kutumba, Vathsalya’s Board of Trustees wanted her to come back to the Trust and streamline the activities there.

“By 2001 the situations in which the programmes of Vathsalya were planned had changed. New challenges, and along with them new opportunities had opened up,” says Mary Paul, reasoning out the decrease in the number of children available for adoption. She attributes this scenario to two reasons – an increasing number of couples looking at abortion as an option and the government starting its own adoption programme, taking over what NGOs were doing over the decades.
This is when she decided to develop the foster care programme on a full swing. Earlier in the 90s, most of the children were under child care and only 15 percent were placed on foster care.
With persistent efforts in the decade after 2001, the situation changed – almost 85 percent of the children were in foster care now. Foster care for more than 1,000 children over the years has been a herculean task. “It has never been easy. However easier is not necessarily better,” says she immediately, seconding my thoughts.

The year 2005 had a whole new experience in store for this counselor. In the aftermath of Tsunami, she along with two of her colleagues went to Car Nicobar in Andaman Islands to train the heads of
government departments on Grief Counseling. “It was so touching to sit with people who had lost everything. Imagine losing everything overnight and starting life from scratch. We felt with them the
pain they experienced,” she recollects. The 20 days spent in the islands, she believes,
is a highlight of her career as a counselor.Today, she is an Associate Faculty with the
institution that organized this programme – PtoP (Person to Person Institute of Christian Counseling, Hyderabad). To Mary Paul, working with kids has been very joyful and fulfilling. Over the years, from planning and managing the programmes in these centres, she has moved to spending more time in administration. “I feel that I have come to the tail end of my work at Vathsalya. I will need to spend more time at Kutumba,” she expresses. Mary Paul is very appreciative of her teams in both these centres who have consistently worked in the best interest of destitute women and children.“Vathsalya is in the 25th year of its establishment and is blessed to have donors committed to the cause. On the other hand, Kutumba is completely supported by contributions from friends and well wishers. More than two decades of work has been possible only because of the dedicated teams and the almighty’s blessings,” says Mary Paul, reiterating gratefully that both the centres are now managed in their own facility, since 2006 and 2007.

In all these years, over 2,000 children had been received, out of which around 1,000 are with families in adoption and approximately 400 have been repatriated back to birth families. Those who are disabled cannot go for adoption and will remain with the centre forever. 8 children from here are placed in group foster care at Swanthana, a home for children with special needs.

Mary Paul is a recipient of the Manava Seva Dharma Samvardhini, Sadguru Gyanananda Award for women in social service excellence in 2002. She feels strange about receiving awards and says,
“We do what we are here for. Receiving an award, followed by the appreciation and recognition it calls for, is no doubt wonderful, but I would prefer that our good deeds glorify God.”

The future does not intimidate her.Confident that good work will find its way, she shares that like before, even the future interventions will be need based. “We are working on the need to establish a day care centre for the children of migrant population in Bangalore. Soon, we might also work with the elderly. We are constantly exploring the needs of the community.”

Truly, Mary Paul has carried the message – every child deserves a loving family – all through her journey.

—Shanmuga Priya