GUEST POST – Keeping cool in Kaliyampoondi

Robin Cappuccino is currently visiting all of the Child Haven homes and programs overseas. He has been kind enough to share a glimpse of his journey with us.


Greetings from Kaliyampoondi, India and Child Haven’s largest Children’s Home, with 316 formerly destitute children. Once again I am travelling with my mother, Bonnie Cappuccino, Child Haven’s International Director, whose 80th birthday we recently celebrated.

Morning comes early at our Kaliyampoondi Home. When I get up to look around a little before 6, Tamil Selvi, a children’s care-giver, has already drawn a rangoli with rice flour on the ground outside our door. This swirling blessing will be appreciated and walked over the entire day, only to be swept away by Tamil Selvi before she draws another pattern the next dawn.

By 6, the kids are gathered for a morning non-denominational prayer in the dining hall, and then line up for cups of fresh soya milk, which Johnson has gotten up at 3 to prepare. Clusters of girls sit and drink their soya milk on the dining hall verandah, a few of them chatting with Pam Hellstrom, a volunteer intern from Ontario. Groups of boys prefer the big sand pile in front of the new girl’s dorm now under construction.

Taking advantage of the cooler morning air, some of our older girls, back at the Home for their summer break from college, help clear construction debris from inside the new dorm. We keep a watch out for scorpions and the small poisonous snakes that might have moved into the broken piles of bricks we are moving. The last time I was here, a boy helping move some fire-wood for the kitchen, was bitten by a scorpion and rushed to the health clinic down the road. We see only toads.

The girls, actually young women, are studying a range of courses; Juli is in the final year of a Bachelor of Commerce degree, and Nirmama Devi is studying English with the hope of becoming an English Teacher. In addition to Pam interning here, my little sister Kim Chi’s daughter Krystal is here for 3 months. In several days she has managed to learn more Tamil (the predominate language in this part of India) than I have learned in the past 14 years of visits. Maybe it has something to do with already being fluent in Vietnamese, French and English, or maybe, (probably), she’s just a lot sharper than her uncle. In addition to learning Tamil, Krystal has been hard at work learning names, helping Kuttiyamal and the other cooks in the kitchen and learning some interesting variations on jump-rope.

On the roof of the dining hall, where I go to watch the sunrise, a tarp of chilies from the garden, dry in the hot sun. I am told they will last for less than a week of cooking for the 400 or so people Kuttiyamal and crew cook for each day. This is my first visit in the heat of the Indian summer. I am discovering the rhythm changes the searing heat brings to activities in the Home. Heavy work, and strenuous play (cricket, volleyball) where possible, happen early and late in the day. On my first day in Kaliyampoondi I wondered where all the kids had gotten to around 2 PM, and took a look into the boy’s dorm to see everyone sound asleep.

As I often complain to the kids, the hot sun wreaks havoc quickly on my relatively useless skin which lacks the melanin present in darker skin to protect it from the sun’s rays. I don’t tend to get a lot of sympathy though, the $500 million dollar a year scourge of skin whitening and bleaching products speak to a pervasive prejudice against darker, more sun-resistant skin. Massive advertising campaigns of corporations such as Unilever, purveyor of Fair and Lovely, Pond’s White Beauty and the Vaseline and Dove whitening products capitalize on racial inequities and foster a sense of inferiority while marketing products that are dangerous and or ineffectual.

A Gandhian activist visiting the Home, described how darker skin can affect everything from finding a husband or wife, to finding a job, driving some misguided mothers to apply skin whitening baby oil to their precious infants. Perhaps vestiges of colonial or caste inequities, these biases are being strongly challenged by the Dark is Beautiful Campaign among others. Certainly whitening products are not welcome in any of Child Haven’s Homes, where, as the photos attest, each of our children is the most beautiful child in the world.

Until next time,

Robin Cappuccino for CHI


Stay tuned for another ‘glimpse of the journey’ as Robin continues his travels through the CHI homes in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Tibet.