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Sorority sisters volunteer in Indian orphanage over Spring Break

Three students from Sigma Sigma Sigma mentored and befriended children of prostitutes dead or dying from HIV/AIDS in a rural village.

Three Elon University students visited the Sangli region of India over Spring Break to volunteer at an orphanage where many of the girls have mothers dead or dying from HIV/AIDS. From left, in the bottom center of the photo: Kalli Veldman '14, Hadley Stecker '13 and Paige Host '14. Veldman's mother, Lynn, is kneeling next to her daughter.

For the better part of her three years on campus, Elon University junior Kalli Veldman has solicited friends for their financial support of an Indian orphanage that educates girls whose mothers worked as prostitutes in a nearby “red light” district.

Veldman, an exercise science major from Avon, Conn., would share stories about the Home of Hope in the Sangli region of the country, a place for “untouchables” with almost no possibility of escaping the same conditions that drove their own mothers into prostitution.

Though friends supported her, Veldman said, she felt no one fully understood why she dedicates so much energy to children on the other side of the planet. So she invited her sorority sisters from Sigma Sigma Sigma along on her most recent visit in March - and two of them accepted the offer.

Kalli Veldman '14 teaches children about whales during her visit to India over Spring Break. Standing next to her is the Rev. Timothy Jalam, founder of the Home of Hope.

Veldman, senior strategic communication major Hadley Stecker, and junior international studies major Paige Host spent Spring Break in southern India visiting the Home of Hope and a nearby boys shelter run by the same organization.

They taught children about the ocean by using string to measure the length of a whale. They visited lepers in a hospital and later distributed toothbrushes to children in need. They even painted the fingernails and toenails of the girls who delighted in simply spending time with people who showered them with love.

Now, her friends can relate.

“They can actually feel in their heart exactly what I’ve been feeling,” said Veldman, whose involvement with the orphanage stems from her family’s ties to the missionary who founded it. “And they got it all. They didn’t miss anything.”

Visiting India was an opportunity that Stecker and Host both said they wouldn’t soon have again, and it was a change of pace from a “typical” Spring Break at the beach or relaxing at home. Each woman had already collected many hundreds of dollars from their own family networks to assist the Home of Hope.

“You can tell how much they look up to her and aspire to be like her,” Stecker said of witnessing the way children reacted to Veldman. “It was an absolutely amazing experience that I wouldn’t have changed for anything. It was life changing.

Hadley Stecker '13 with children at the Home of Hope. “The second we pulled up to the Home of Hope, all of the girls were waiting outside and waving with the biggest smiles on their faces," she said. "It was the most amazing feeling!"

“The second we pulled up to the Home of Hope, all of the girls were waiting outside and waving with the biggest smiles on their faces. It was the most amazing feeling! They were so grateful to have us there and accepted us right away.”

Veldman’s paternal grandparents were missionaries in India in the mid 20th century. On a tour of India several years ago led by her grandfather, Veldman’s parents met the Rev. Timothy Jalam. Jalam stayed in touch with the family and eventually told them of his idea to open an orphanage in Sangli, where approximately 40 percent of prostitutes in the region have contracted HIV/AIDS.

Veldman’s mother, Lynn, started making regular visits to the region. By the time they were in high school, Kalli and her sister younger Monica were part of a cause to help the very same children, many of whom endured physical and emotional abuse prior to their arrival at the Home of Hope. Now the Veldman daughters are spreading awareness and fundraising through their college communities, Kalli at Elon and Monica at the George Washington University.

In previous years, money the Veldman family collected in the United States has helped build chicken coops, bunk beds, groundwater wells and more, not to mention contribute to food, medicine and educational supplies for the Indian orphans.

“Caring and donating takes so little of your time,” Veldman said, “but it makes a monumental difference to them.”

Almost no educational opportunities exist for children in a rural Indian village visited this spring by three Elon University students, which is a big reason why one of those students, Kalli Veldman '14, has been a vocal advocate on campus for the Home of Hope orphanage.

The Spring Break visit was transformational for Stecker and Host, who respectively described the experience as “unlike anything I’ve seen before” and something that created "a bond now that will last a lifetime."

“When we were nine years old, our biggest worry was whose house we’d play at on Friday,” Host said. “These kids? Some of them are fighting for their lives against HIV. Some came from homes where they didn’t have food for days, and that’s why this place is such a phenomenal base for them. The Home of Hope gives them hope for the future.”

For more information on the Home of Hope, visit http://www.icangel.org or contact Kalli Veldman at kveldman@elon.edu.

Eric Townsend,
4/27/2013 8:00 AM