It started with Nisha. Her parents had been working in the rice fields in a farming village just outside Vijayawada, India when they were both bitten by snakes and -unable to reach aid in time- were killed, causing Nisha to become an orphan. Soon after, she showed up on the doorstep of Raj and Chinni Kumar who took her into their home and provided her with a safe place to live. Over the next months the Kumar family continued getting knocks on their door from child after child who had been living on the streets needing a home. The need was so great that Raj knew something had to be done. These children didn't just need a place to live, they needed a place to grow and be cared for, a place to thrive and be encouraged to become the best they could possibly be. And just like that, with only the knowledge of what was right and the assurance that God was blessing every step of the process, The Pillalu House was born.
For quite some time, our dear friend -and former YWAM Herrnhut DTS student- Raj, had been patiently waiting for us to come and get involved in the work that had been laid in front of him. The Pillalu House - Pillalu being the local word for a lion cub- is the safe haven for 28 children from the villages surrounding Vijayawada. Raj, his wife Chinni and a small team of trusted local friends have been doing their best to provide these kids with basic necessities such as food, clothing, education and housing. All of the adults involved strive to love these kids parentally, to give each of them personal care, attention, love and support. Their only problem is, that they lack financial support. Raj knew that he could not continue supporting Chinni, their two young daughters (Irish & Glory Crown) and the fees to cover every child in the children's home, so he asked us to help.
When Pick a Pocket was first introduced to this project, it was very clear to us that this was not only a well run and worthy project to invest in, but also a community that we felt shared our same belief. The belief that all children have the intrinsic value and basic right to be nurtured, loved and protected. That they are entitled to have caring adults who help them develop to their full potential. This is why we named the orphanage The Pillalu House. We believe that with the right care, provision and support each of these children can develop into their full potential and become the powerful, strong “Lions” we see in all of them.
So, after months of planning, tricky communication and despite reports of monsoons and intense heat, we packed up all of our gear and headed to Vijayawada…tripods, easels and all. Our objective was split in three parts; One, make space to get to know the culture and spend time with the kids so we could have more vision to pour into our artwork. Two, spend time doing prep-work for our individual and team art projects like photo shoots, recordings of the kids singing, paintings and collecting footage for future media. Lastly, doing research in order to come up with long term solutions for the orphanage to become self sustainable through a social business. Research and experience told us that monsoon rain and intensely high humidity would make all of our projects very challenging, we had no idea if we could actually pull off everything that needed to get done. All we could do was pray that God would show us how to do what we needed to do despite the harsh conditions we knew very little about.
After two short rough flights, one even causing a Pocketeer to experience sickness, we stepped off the plane expecting a monsoon. We were ready to make the best of whatever situation we were given and knowing that we were in desperate need of God to show up. But what we found was that He already did!
Chinni greeted us at the airport, where we piled ourselves, our gear, and a few new friends into a very small van to make the 1.5 hour journey to the village. Only three of the seven of us had been to India before, but all of us sat in that cramped little van taking in every sight and every smell. India is so colorful and alive! We wound our way through the busy streets of Vijayawada and then began the two-lane journey through the tiny dirt streets of the outlying villages. Arriving safely at the home of Raj's Mother and Father, who pastor one of the village churches, we found that Raj was not there. He had been taken to the hospital in the night for some severe stomach pains, but they were hopeful that he would rejoin us soon.*
After a night of much needed rest and miraculously no rain, we packed in the van again and headed to the opposite side of Vijayawada to go visit the Pillalu House. As we drove into the small village suburb we passed the schools that the children go to and as Chinni waved to school kids, we could see the excitement spread across their faces. We made our way to the home of Misu and Chanthi, their son Bavarau and his wife Swarna. Alongside Raj and Chinni, these four are the backbone of the children's home. Day to day, Chanthi and Swarna work to prepare three meals a day for the 28 kids. Swarna also serves as the after-school tutor, helping the kids with all of their assignments as well as further enrichment for those that need it. Bavarau and Misu serve as voices of security and fatherly figures alongside working to provide financially for their families outside of The Pillalu House.
As the children arrived, we were ushered over to the two-room house that serves as the actual building for the children's home. For weeks we had played a memory game of cards we made with the kids names and faces and it was so incredible to see their eyes light up when we greeted them by name! It was such a revelation of what it means that God knows us and calls us each by name… to be known, what a feeling!! We quickly learned the names of the newer kids that had come into the program more recently and before we knew it, we were laughing and running in circles playing 'Duck, Duck, Goose'! Over the next days, this became our routine and we enjoyed hours of laughter as we played 'Red Light, Green Light', had thumb wars, jumped rope and learned a bevy of new hand games. It was such a joy to just be a kid again!!
Over these days, we learned a little bit more in depth some of the children's stories. We were under the impression that most, if not all, of the children had been orphaned in a similar way to Nisha. But what we found was so much more than just unfortunate accidents and lack of access to nearby health care. We heard stories of suicide, murder, death during childbirth and even being given away because they were another girl in a line of female siblings. The most powerful thing, though, was seeing the way that most of our little lion cubs truly clung to Jesus. Walking with one of our oldest girls, Ahalya, she thought for a few moments and looked at one of our Pocketeers and said "Jesus is my best friend." The serene and thoughtful smile on her face showed just how true that statement was. It wasn't an exclamation of what she thought she ought to say but an outward confession of the feelings of her 14 year old heart. Amazing!
During our miraculously rainless days, we had an incredible time working on all of our projects with the kids. We had photo-shoots with a giant handmade lion mask, Pocketeer Ruth worked on a plein air painting of the rice fields (which had them sitting quietly, staring in wonder), they made drawings of the things they pray for and we even got to film a Liz and the Lions video for a song about Pillalu on the new album being released this fall! The day we finished all of our major projects and prep, we piled in the van and headed back for home and as we began to drive the rain started. It started and it didn't stop… we were right in the middle of a monsoon. Our work was done and suddenly we were all so aware of the power and presence of God. He literally stopped a monsoon for the exact amount of time we needed to get all of the work done. Two days before we arrived everything was flooded and then suddenly, overnight, it dried up completely and remained that way until the minute our gear was packed and no longer needed. Outside of just getting work done, this miraculous halt allowed us to spend time loving on these incredible kids! Play is such a strong language, it was the only way we could really communicate and God knew that! Man, that is incredible!
We left Vijayawada with excitement. An excitement that has us buzzing with wonder at the ways that God is going to use our creativity to bless and serve The Pillalu House. We are already beginning to make art that will communicate our vision for these kids and the dreams we share for their futures. Fine art photographs that show the fierce little fighters they are or paintings that carry their light and joy, connecting them with people halfway across the world. Media that effectively communicates the need and stirs people to want to meet it as well as visually connecting people with the culture and daily life of our sweet Indian friends. And even plans and dreams for a social business (that is in the making) that will help sustain an income for this little community long-term.
This fall we will be going on tour with our art and music, blasting our little trumpet and telling all of Germany about The Pillalu House and doing what we do best, using art as a platform to connect the friends we advocate for with people around the world. Be sure to stay tuned as we post more updates on our art, the tour and all things Pillalu!
* An Update on Raj- (We later learned that it was actually a failing liver and that he would need to come up with the money before a much needed transplant could be obtained. Thankfully, in the matter of a week we saw God multiply money and bring it in from all corners of the globe. Pick a Pocket was able to raise over $10,000 for Raj’s surgery! We couldn't believe this miracle and now Raj is able to receive his surgery. We will give an update about his surgery and when it will happen.)