Published: 19th October 2018
Children of Deccan is a children's home that nurtures abandoned and neglected kids
Started by Michael Hubbard and N Malkanna, it helps children become good human beings in life
A home in Hayathnagar, Hyderabad, run by a Bengaluru-based NGO, once housed 70 children who were abandoned or came from broken homes. They saw several visitors, among whom were volunteers as well. A few volunteers would leave the very same day while others would stay on for longer — some for a few weeks, maybe even months. But anyone who spent time with the kids, whether it was a few hours or a few days, couldn't help but feel a connection with them because they were happy and upbeat despite all that life had put them through. HIV positive children, children whose fathers have abandoned them and with mothers who have no means to feed them, children who have seen the kind of violence we can't even imagine — all of them living in harmony, apart from the occasional squabble, of course. There is a lesson in their omnipresent smile perhaps, which says, 'Life goes on...' But that doesn't mean their hearts have hardened. So perhaps everytime a volunteer, during an emotional farewell, promises that they will be back and don't actually come back, their heart breaks a little. And we can't blame anyone because life does go on. But little did Michael Hubbard know that he wouldn't be able to break the promise he made when he first told the kids that he would return.
Hubbard has celebrated six out of seven Christmases here. He even celebrates most of his birthdays with the children
In 2011, Hubbard came to India as an intern at the home in Hyderabad. He came for two months through AIESEC, the international not-for-profit which organises international exchange programmes. His trip to India was more by design, not so much by choice. "I did not even think about India so I had no positive or negative feelings about it, the opportunity came and I opted for it," says Hubbard who hails from Cape Town, South Africa. In December 2011, he came and till date, he keeps coming back. His job was to teach the children and keep them happy. But over shared meals, conversations and classes, a connection started to grow. The farewell, which came in January 2012, was tough for the children and for Hubbard, who back then, was a student. "I broke down and like all other interns, promised to come back." But unlike most other interns, he kept his promise.
The upgrade: The new building has 20 rooms, eight bathrooms and is equipped with CCTV and fire extinguishers
After young Hubbard went back home, he passionately described his experience to his mother, who offered to give him his pocket money of six months, in advance, so that he can make the trip back to India. In June 2012, Hubbard found himself amongst the same smiling faces again. After his studies, he started outsourcing his work from India and later on, started his own office in Dilsukhnagar in 2014 but shut it down after two years, when he realised it was more work than he thought it would be. Now, he is back in Cape Town and back to freelancing and twice every year, for two months, he is back in India, spending time with the kids.
Though there is a language gap between Hubbard and the children, as most of them don't speak English, some of the older kids, translate for him. He is like a big brother to them
But this year, the Bengaluru-based NGO, which was running the home, disappeared from the picture. And Hubbard saw this as an opportunity to put all his ideas into practice along with N Malkanna (more on him later). Within a week, they found a better building which they would call home. They registered their trust, calling it Children of Deccan in May 2018 and shifted in June. The two-storeyed building they are currently settled in is in Hayathnagar too and is of 7,500 square feet. The main road is 800 metres away and the nearest building is a gated community 400 metres away. Empty plots surround the home on all four sides, which gives the boys of the home fresh air to breathe and ample space to play. "In a way, whatever happened has been a blessing," says Hubbard.
Though children come from homogeneous backgrounds, they stay together harmoniously
Michael Hubbard, Co-founder, Children of Deccan
Currently, there are as many as 35 boys between ages 6 and 16 and all of them study at Pragathi High School. The children, instead of being broken into groups, stay as one big, happy family. Hubbard's next step is to keep them this way by ensuring a consistent in-flow of funds. "There are donors who contribute every month, so we need to ensure that this flow is stabilised," says Hubbard, who turned 27 exactly a week ago.
Hubbard is working on a system where the one who donates or sponsors a child's education, can see the progress of the child. Their weight, height and their report cards can be uploaded online for the donors to see
Hubbard ensures that he exposes children to other cultures through his stories and the movies he chooses to show them. Quiz any of the children on Harry Potter, Ice Age or other animated movies and you'll find that they have been bought up to speed. "But what is more important to me is that they grow up to be good human beings," he says. To ensure this, every child is assigned a chore, so that they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, they refrain from throwing garbage around, which teaches them a thing or two about cleanliness and so on. "The other day, someone was telling them about how all Pakistanis are terrorists. It's important to ensure that impressionable children are not brainwashed like this," says a concerned Hubbard, who dealt with this particular issue by explaining to them the history of the two countries. This made it clear that while nourishment of the body is important, and this is ensured through the nutritious meals served at the home, it is important to make sure that their minds are nourished with facts and different perspectives.
Happy and how: Kids at the home of Children of Deccan
When we ask Hubbard how long they intend to keep the children, he confesses that they are still discovering the answer to this question. "Generally, families call the children back after they are done with their class X so that they can work, though we are willing to send them for higher studies, only if they are willing. Sometimes, higher education is not the solution," says Hubbard. So the goal is not just education. "It is to bring up confident, decent, independent human beings," he adds. Perhaps human beings who know how to keep promises and know the value of a given word.
The father figure
N Malkanna is as important to the story as Hubbard is. Hubbard met Malkanna when the latter was a warden of the kids at the previous home and full of ideas as to how he could take the initiative forward. It was Malkanna who managed to find their present home at a week's notice, thanks to the connections he has in the area. Hubbard describes Malkanna as a father figure to the children, someone whose authority needs to be taken seriously. Even the local authorities, including government bodies and the police, know him very well. It was both Hubbard and Malkanna who made Children of Deccan happen and continue to keep the organisation running
Why he loves India
Now that Hubbard is well-versed with India and Indian culture, we ask him what he appreciates about it. These are the best parts for him:
- Hubbard loves the fact that India is still centred around families. Cooking at home, staying together and spending time with each other is still largely a norm
- Though India comes with its own safety issues, he finds the people here comparatively peaceful and less violent
- People are quite inquisitive here, he feels. "Sometimes, they ask me questions like 'What am I doing here?'. I often have to remind myself that Indians are just curious," he says
- Finding anything here is possible. For example, he tells us that abroad, to find a spare part for a car, the person needs to go to the showroom, which will then place an order with the manufacturer and the process might take some time. In India, these kind of small things are done much more quickly
A typical day at Children of Deccan
6.30 am - Children start getting ready to go to school. They have breakfast and pack their own lunch boxes
8.45 am - The bus comes to pick the children up and the house is empty
4.30 pm - The younger children start coming back. The older ones come later as they have more studying to do
5.30 pm - Almost everybody is home. They freshen up, drink a glass of milk or eat some fruits and get to their homework
8.00 pm - They eat and relax
10 am - They go to sleep
For more on them, click on childrenofdeccan.org