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The children of Bethania


These eyes have seen a lot of pain.

Barathy wore the clothes of an orphan. A faded yellow dress with white and orange brocade decorating the front panel. The young dark-skinned girl sat quietly on the steps, a curious look on her face, but with no humour in her eyes. Her straight black hair was pulled back, her small calloused hands tightened the pink elastic behind her head. She had a strong face, nearer 12 than 15, with skin that is constantly exposed to the sun. Her tiny figure remained stationary, but alert.

Her younger brother Prabakaran sat beside her. His rough hands fidgeted on his lap. He wore dark green shorts, with a cuff around the edge. The buttons on his abstract beige and brown shirt were done all the way up to the top. Prabakaran appeared proud that his shirt had all its buttons, and he wanted to use them. He pulled his knees up, blinked his eyes, and flashed a mischievous eight year old smile.

Their sibling profiles appeared virtually identical; high foreheads, flat noses, round gofer cheeks, full lips and long eye lashes. Neither child wore shoes. All four feet were dusty, their skin hardened from the heat, sand, and gravel.

Eight months ago their mother committed suicide. She sent her children to their grandparents’ house, doused herself in kerosene, then lit the match. She burnt herself with the children's school books. Apparently she had had a little misunderstanding with her husband.

Twenty three children call Bethania Orphanage home. Twenty girls and three boys. Their ages range from five to 18. Bethania is located on the plains of Southern India, two kilometres from Kannivadi, a small town on the Madurai-Palani Road. Situated on 13 acres of land, a rectangular, light green, main building houses the kitchen, dinning hall, sleeping quarters and offices. Steps lead down from the verandah; to the right a path leads to the barn, to the left a small playground. A set of monkey bars, a couple of see-saws, a swing set, and a slide all freshly painted sky blue sit under the shade of several Neen trees. Behind the building a manual water pump, embedded in cement, provides water for drinking, laundry and all the household needs.

Bethania opened in 1987. Mrs. Dayavu Dhanapal, a retired social worker, founded the orphanage with her daughter Priscilla Mohl, Peter Jayapandian, S. Alexander, B.S.J. Victor, Pennarasi and A. Watson. For years Mrs. Dhanapal had taken orphans into her home in Kodaikanal, however, the needs of the children quickly outgrew her home and she appealed to friends and family to help her attain her goal to develop an orphanage.

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