The Kodaikanal Crèches
The town of Kodaikanal with Perumal Mountain The Kodai crèches are in rural areas outside Kodaikanal.
Three of the BET crèches are within a half-hour drive of Kodaikanal, in more remote settings deep in the Palni Hills. Kodaikanal: “Jealously guarded like a prized jewel by the dark forests, is Kodaikanal. In fact, the name itself means ‘gift of the forest’ in Tamil. Founded by American missionaries in 1845, Kodaikanal is steeped in history. In the early days, there were no roads: people had to travel by bullock-cart and palanquin, braving the dangers of the forests. Slowly Kodaikanal developed, missionaries established church properties, many of the then ruling princes built summer holiday-homes, clubs were opened, school and hotels were built, and civic amenities were introduced.” India Post, March 30, 2012.
Kodai’s popularity pushed its native population to the margins. Illiterate and poor, they largely exist on temporary, poorly paid jobs and lack the funds and know-how to improve their lives. Their traditional culture is eroding; they live amidst those better off but lack the resources to enter that life. Alcoholism, depression, and anger are common, much of it directed at women. The crèches are a strikingly bright spot in their often bleak lives, providing day care, nutrition, health care and education so parents can work and children can flourish.
Founded in 1999 with Betsy Dailey’s assistance, Grace Kids Center in Chellapuram was the first Betsy Elizabeth Trust crèche. The crèche was initially housed in a series of rented facilities. In 2006, Asha for Education, Seattle Chapter, became involved with Grace Kids Center, leading to the much anticipated opening of its own brick and tin-sheet roof facility on July 4, 2008. Asha continues to fully fund all operations at Grace Kids Center, with funds going directly to BET. In 2018 Asha will complete work to expand both the crèches classroom and its playground area, in accord with government requirements.
Little Lilies Crèche in Palangi was founded by BET in 2002 with help from the students and staff of the International School of Geneva, Switzerland. In 2014, with help from the Rye Presbyterian Church in New York, BET purchased land and replaced a corrugated metal shed with a brick classroom, doubling the space for children. Little Lillies is funded by Help Kids India.
Peach Tree Crèche
Founded in 2003, Peach Tree Crèche is in the small village of Attuvampatti. Students from the International School of Geneva helped to set up the crèche and student groups visit every other year. The international school of Geneva fully funds Peach Tree Crèche with funds going directly to BET. Peach Tree does not meet the new. space requirements of the government and is looking for a new home.
The Porayar Crèches
Porayar is a small town, 145 miles south of Channai (formerly Madras) on the Coromandel Coast. The administrative offices for area towns are in Porayar but there are no notable attractions, businesses, or cultural institutions. It is near the larger town of Tharangambadi, “place of the singing waves” (formerly Tranquebar), a Danish colony from 1620-1845. The oldest monument is a Shiva temple built in 1306. Among the first Protestant missionaries to come to India were two Lutherans from Germany, who began work there in 1705. Tharangambadi is now the home of the Tamil Lutheran Evangelical Church. A large Lutheran community still calls Porayar home and the area has Hindu, Moslems, Catholics and Protestants.
Most of the BET board members were raised in orphanages in Porayar. A good education was their path out of poverty and all are professional people today. It was the board members’ desire to give back to needy children in the same way they were rescued through education that led to Helping Hearts. After opening in 2001, a much-improved new building opened in 2003. In an already marginalized community, many families suffered loss of homes, life, and livelihood in the 2004 tsunami disaster and again during the flooding in December, 2015.
St. Lukes Lutheran Church and the South Charlotte Rotary Club, both of Charlotte, NC, contributed funds and workers to start the crèche, buy the land and build the building. Both land and building are now owned by BET. Students from the St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont raised funds for the health center, adjacent to Helping Hearts, and traveled to India to build it themselves. HKI funds Helping Hearts together with the St. Johnsbury India trip students and HKI Funding Partner, The Advent Lutheran Church of Charlotte, NC.
Good Shepherd Crèche was founded by BET in 2010 with financial help from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (LCGS), Brevard, NC, and a German donor. The newest of the crèches, Good Shepherd has a generous playground, a garden, and was specifically designed to be a crèche, meeting all government standards from the start. Help Kids India supports the Good Shepherd Crèche with significant help from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. BET owns both the land and the building. This crèche was able to take in 20 additional children following the flooding in December of 2015, thanks to a generous American donor.