<b>Slice of life:</b> A refuge, indeed
In the hustle and bustle of Bangalore, do make an effort to get to know this wonderful organisation that puts hope back on the map
My family and I had a unique opportunity over the weekend. We had no idea what we were in for, but are overwhelmed by our visit to this lovely home.
From the outside, the little independent house in a quiet residential lane, full of large, shady trees, seems like hundreds of similar ones in Bangalore. But on closer inspection, we see that it is different. The board on top says ‘The Refuge’ and that is exactly what it is. What make this house special are its occupants. Twenty-five girls between the ages of four and 16, live here, along with their two akkas. Their ‘mother’ Beulah John, lives next door, and spends most of her with them —when they are not at school, that is.
All of them go to an international school, with ICSE syllabus, as Beulah believes that a girl can be empowered only through education and a good education is mandatory to get a head start in life. What is remarkable about these girls is that all of them have been rescued from some very difficult and harsh situations. Many are orphans and some have been abandoned. Some have their biological mothers who are widowed and cannot look after them because of extreme poverty, and hence prefer to keep them at The Refuge. The girls, spoke impeccable English, welcomed us with big smiles, and were friendly, happy and well adjusted. This visit, came about through the NGO, U&I which is an organisation that works with underprivileged children. They have two divisions — U&I Teach and U&I Care. The teaching programme invests in children from underprivileged backgrounds with courses in english, math, science and social studies. The care programme works with mentally challenged children.
The story of Beulah John, who founded the The Refuge is an unusual one. She grew up in Mangalore, in an extremely loving family. When she was a toddler, a beggar kidnapped her. Distraught, her parents sought police help. But knowing that action had to be taken immediately, a neighbour organised a search party. They combed railway stations and bus depots in the vicinity, knowing that it was the most logical step, if the beggar planned to abscond. Fortunately they found Buelah, in a little hut, near the Mangalore Railway station. The group of people were ready to thrash the beggar but Beulah’s father forgave him, as the only thing that mattered to him was that he had got his daughter back.
After that day, her parents became extra-protective. Beulah and her sister were escorted everywhere. Their parents would not let them out of their sight. They were sent to a girl’s school, and they would be dropped and picked up. When the whole school was going on an excursion, it was only Beulah who did not get permission from her parents. Beulah who was academically very bright, read about Mother Teresa, and inspired by her, she wanted to so something to help those less fortunate than her.
She went on to complete her BSc at Jyoti Nivas College, and soon after joined an NGO, which worked with under-privileged children. She met John, through a cousin and some common friends, and they got married. Beulah gave birth to twin boys. She continued working with the NGO, and her young sons would accompany her on her visits to the underprivileged. One day when her sons were eight, they saw a young boy their age, a rag picker who was rummaging near their home. Moved by his plight, they brought him home and asked Beulah if they could give him a bath and some food to eat. Beulah narrates how she was moved to tears as her young sons bathed him, combed his hair, and shared their meal with him, and gave him their clothes to wear. The little rag picker kept a portion of his meal and said that he was saving it for his sister.
That was the beginning of Beulah’s remarkable story. In a jiffy, her sons had taken the first step towards fulfilling Beulah’s cherished dream. She took the help of a lawyer, and the local police and the CWC (child welfare committee) and began fostering the boy and his sister. Gradually, the number of children grew, as people came to know of her. Donations began to trickle in.
After a while, Beulah segregated the boys and girls, as it was easier to manage, since the children were growing up. Today Beulah is a well-known and respected name among those who work with children. Her own sons are grown up, and in their final year of engineering. “Children are precious. They are a gift from god. And I am a mother to two boys and 25 girls,” signs off Buelah.
For volunteering or donations or more information:
Please contact U&I : http://www.uandi.org.in
(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)
Preeti Shenoy