For five days in January 2011, my friend Gabriella Wass and I had the privilege of visiting the HEAL Children’s Village in Andhra Pradesh and meeting some of the inspirational visionaries and volunteers who have made the project what it is today.

Having worked over previous months with my colleagues at PLMR to support HEAL UK gain local Peterborough press coverage for its latest fundraising efforts and to launch the new Paradise Village initiative, I was very excited about seeing it all in action. Gabriella, having recently completed a Masters Degree in Human Rights at the University of London, was also keen to visit the project – sharing a deep passion for supporting projects that improve the health and education of children from deprived backgrounds abroad.

From the moment we arrived we were struck by HEAL’s caring and loving atmosphere, and how welcoming and happy all the children and staff were to see us. Throughout our visit, Gabbi and I were continually overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of our hosts – an ethos which clearly emanates from the core of HEAL’s approach as an entirely volunteer-run charity.The first activity that we had the pleasure of experiencing was an aerobics and dance session, led by Ann Garrett, HEAL UK’s Sponsorship Secretary. Alongside 200 beautifully dressed women in sarees, who had come to HEAL from surrounding local villages to learn grassroots skills to take back to their communities (including maternal and infant healthcare, hygiene and basic education), we all embarrassed ourselves doing squats and star-jumps in time to the music – causing much amusement. The class soon turned into a massive dance session with all the children, who energetically taught us a few traditional and Bollywood-style dance moves – skills that we could never pull off with quite so much style!

Over the next few days, between more dance classes and being fed absolutely delicious South Indian food, Gabbi and I also managed to spend time singing and playing with the children, visiting the local town and going on a tour of some beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples and shrines in the region. We were delighted to meet so many members of the HEAL team during our stay, including CEO Mrs Laxmi Tatineni, HEAL India Sponsorship Secretary Mrs O Vijayalaxmi, Mr Dhana Prakash, Managing Director of Model Dairy and major benefactor of the new Paradise Village, and Varma, on-site HEAL coordinator. Everyone was endlessly generous and hospitable – we ran out of ways to say thank you.

One memory that will always stay with us was the experience of watching Dr N Manga Devi, General Secretary and HEAL visionary, reading a bedtime story one evening to 15 absolutely captivated children. Her compassionate approach was deeply inspiring and a wider reflection of the loving environment that the HEAL children are surrounded by every day, and which they clearly absorb. Never was this more apparent than at the moment of our leaving, when many of the young girls tried to give us the little jewellery they owned. We were so moved by their generosity and made to feel very hopeful for their futures, which, through the atmosphere HEAL has created, will certainly be bright.

Gabbi and I are excited about jointly sponsoring a ‘Poverty Trap’ child through their education over the coming months and years.

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