This is part II of a series of F(Ph)enomenal Friday posts about the people of Children Walking Tall. For part I, click here.
And today, I welcome you to.....
“Who Wants To Be A (rupee) Millionaire” (cue loud audience applause)
For 1000 rupees: Have you even seen or read about an injustice or disaster and thought “I’m going to do something about this? I can do something to make this better”?
Come on. Hands up…. high in the air….that’s it, right up. Yep, lots of you and I’m very glad to see it.
For 10,000 rupees: Have you ever followed that thought by donating money to charity? Done a sponsored bike ride/swim/run/Harry Potter reading marathon? Keep your hands up….come on Hilary, Karen, raise them high. Do you sponsor a child in a 3rd World country? Have you ever written a letter to a politician or stood up in a meeting and declared your desire to right an injustice? Yep, keep them up – Fantastic!! Many hands still in the air.
For 100,000 rupees: Have you ever been so moved/incensed that you have decided to up sticks, leave a career, move to another country, battle with (often corrupt) officials who constantly question your motives and set up your own charity, to make absolutely sure that you can make a difference?
No one? All hands down? You can ‘Call a Friend’……
Hang on….I see someone….weaving in and out of Goa traffic (worthy of a blog post all of its own) at breakneck speed, on a Bajaj Pulsar 220, dodging sacred cows (ugh, apart from that one ;-) and skidding into the hall with both hands aloft!!!!
Meet Rob Lyon, founder of Children Walking Tall!
Is there anyone here with the patience of Job, who has his motives for running a children’s charity in India constantly questioned, is at the mercy of a landlord who can (and did) double the rent of the charity headquarters? Anyone who, when the license for having a ‘childcare facility’ ran out, refused to pay the um, “fees” (bribes) to unscrupulous officials because he was determined to spend that money on the KIDS, endured multiple hostile “inspections” and decided that with no license to have children at Mango House, he would take Mango House to the kids…..into the slums…. for two years and counting? Anyone that has done all that and:
Add a few ‘Dudes!!’ to Rob’s vocabulary and a skateboard (or maybe, more fittingly – rollerblades – he used to be a wicked rollerskater) to his feet and Rob; dark hair, glasses, 5 o’ clock shadow, laid back almost to the point of falling over, would blend into a southern California surfer town. His tenacity however, has taken him on a completely different path. His dedication to > 100 slum kids is palpable. His life is the kids. Like a dedicated father, he works non-stop to give them the very best. That laidback trait of his has served him well also….during eternal interactions with Indian burocracy. Curiously, said laidback trait completely disappears when on aforementioned bike ;-)!
8 years ago, Rob, a (then 30 year old) computer programmer traveled to India with his then-girlfriend to volunteer at a kid’s charity in Goa for 8 months. When he returned to England, he couldn’t stop thinking about the kids and how he might do things a bit differently (and better). Friends and family encouraged him and not too long later, Rob was back in Goa. He founded Children Walking Tall “A UK Charity Helping Children In India To Have a Childhood Worth Remembering” in 2004. Rob wanted the charity to have a base, somewhere kids from slums near Mapusa, Goa, could come, learn, wash, eat, receive basic medical treatment and most importantly PLAY in safety. The Mango House looked like the perfect place! What do you think?
FOR RENT: Charming Portuguese-style house, large gardens, a dream home for the DIY enthusiast. (Reproduced with permission from the Children Walking Tall Website)
Rob however saw the potential, and with determination, and volunteer support the dilapidated wreck was transformed into this!
Build it and they will come…..Reproduced with permission from the Children Walking Tall website
The Mango House kitchen - BEFORE:
you could eat off the floor!! (not advised by author!!). Reproduced with permission from Children Walking Tall website
The Hallway BEFORE:
Reproduced with permission from Children Walking Tall website
Fun times with Goofy, Tigger, Pooh and Dumbo! Reproduced with permission from Children Walking Tall website
And come they did. Around 50 kids from 2 local slums came to the house 5 days a week for morning school, afterschool, showers, play, sewing classes, crafts, meals and basic first aid (every kid LOVES a “puttee” (bandaid)!). As Mango House’s childcare license was nearing expiration, positive inspections were thought to guarantee a seamless renewal……Two years later, at a burocratic crawl ungreased by backhanders, Rob still doesn't have a renewed license in his hands. With bittersweet irony, since the license has lapsed and Rob et al. have been forced to take CWT into the slums, the charity has been able to help many more kids (well over 100) but with less structure and stability (slums are often transient locales). CWT may also have the world’s only slum savings bank for kids (with an interest rate to make you envious!).
Rob and the staff at CWT still labor to get the kids (usually from out-of-State and lacking necessary paperwork) into school. Savita and Heena at Mango House sew their uniforms. Rob rushes them to hospital in emergencies (severe cuts, burns, abuse and infections are rampant in a slum environment) and the charity pays for all the kids’ medical bills. CWT organizes day trips to the beach, the circus, for a boat ride, pedalos, a train ride, to the aquarium….heck even the bus rides to get to where we were going were adventures (and some of my happiest memories).
Rob LOVES those kids. And they love him. Go anywhere around town with him (eeeek! Perched on the back of the Bajaj Pulsar 220) and you will pass lots of beaming faces, frantic waves and ‘ROOOOOOBBBBBBBBBB’ s. The man is mobbed like a rockstar when he arrives in the slums! and it’s all that love, that keeps him doing it. Let’s face it, how many of us get to witness on a daily basis, how much good our work is doing? I mean really doing? In a "be the change you want in the world" type way?
Rob’s future hopes for the charity are simple:
“…to keep helping slum and street children by providing them with a chance of a loving and fun childhood. I will try to get them off the streets, into school, get them fed, improve their health etc.”
I hope he keeps on keeping on.
If you are interested in volunteering, riding on the back of that motorbike or just finding out more about CWT, click on the cute little animated icon in the top right hand corner of my blog! While you are there you could subscribe to my blog and start getting email notifications when I post ;-)
More about the people of Children Walking Tall next Friday!
Have a fantastic JULY 4TH WEEKEND!!!!