Bringing 'Hope' to those in need
Sherwood teacher touches lives in India.
SHERWOOD - The teeming streets of Vishakapatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, are no place for teenage girls to live, and that is what spurred Sherwood resident Colleen Thompson to open a home for them.
Not only has she opened Hope House, but she also is providing on-the-job training in several vocational skills so the program will eventually be self-sustaining.
And Thompson, who is a longtime kindergarten teacher at C.F. Tigard Elementary in Tigard, wants to involve both the Sherwood and Tigard-Tualatin communities in helping these girls from the lowest castes in India to become educated, productive citizens instead of victims of poverty and sexual exploitation.
Thompson had an epiphany two years ago when Theodore Wesley, an Indian who has a doctorate in theology, spoke at her church about the plight of lower-caste girls in Indian who are turned out of orphanages at age 14 with no education or skills to get through life.
'I saw the pictures, and something clicked inside of me,' Thompson said. 'I raised money and went to India two summers ago. I visited the orphanages and loved the kids.'
There are five orphanages in Andhra Pradesh, which is located in the central east coast of India.
After Thompson's first visit, she raised money for the orphanages to purchase a van to transport kids from the slums.
When Wesley returned to Oregon to raise money for the orphanages, Thompson met with him and learned more about his efforts.
'Then the tsunami hit,' she said. 'The orphanages were OK, but the areas around them were devastated, and many more orphans were created. I went back the next summer, and before, the kids seemed happy, but that time, they were sad. Who knows what they saw?'
Thompson learned about a new foundation called Innovative Ministries and got the idea to open Hope House, applying for grants and seeking sponsors for the girls.
Initially, 24 girls came to live in a rented house, and following the move to a larger house, 15 new girls arrived last week.
'Education is highly competitive in India,' Thompson said. 'Parents sell these girls for $2 because they can't afford to feed them. They often go into arranged marriages and might be widowed young. They have no rights. Only 51 percent of women in India are literate.
'If these girls have job skills by the time they're ready to leave Hope House, there's a chance for them to have a decent life. People will not know they are from a lower caste.'
Thompson is planning to start three businesses in Vishakapatnam that will cater to middle-class women - a beauty salon, a fashion-design school and a full-day preschool for children of working mothers.
The services 'are gaining popularity in urban India in a market that is not saturated,' Thompson noted. 'I think the preschool could really fly.'
Hope House, which is under the umbrella of Be a Hero (www.beahero.org) is seeking sponsors to provide either partial sponsorships at $33 a month, which pays for food and shelter for a girl, or full sponsorships of $63 a month that also includes vocational training and medical care.
People can choose the girl they want to sponsor, such as 15-year-old Srilakmi, who was found living in a slum and considering prostitution to survive, or 17-year-old Anitha, who was about to become a bonded servant.
Thompson is returning to India this summer, where, she notes, most of the girls in Hope House never knew their fathers and were abandoned by their mothers.