Living in the land of chai I will admit that I have one vice- I love coffee. And living with a house full of kids coffee is a necessity most days. And Indian coffee in general leaves much to be desired. I’m no coffee snob but I do have some standards. So thank goodness Starbucks has made its way to India. And there is one in our neighborhood that is beautiful and big and generally a little slice of home. I stop there at least one or twice a week. Over the past year I’ve built a relationship with the baristas there. One thing about being a foreigner with Indian children is that I get lots of questions. People here have no problem stopping me and asking why I have these children. Most people are genuinely curious and mean no harm by asking. I can be an odd sight with my Indian clothes with a child strapped onto me!
Over the past year I’ve taken many children into Starbucks with me. Some to spend quality 1:1 time with, others to celebrate birthdays or other big occasions, and others just because it was on our way home from the doctors. The baristas have taken a liking to the kids and they tend to score free cookies when the kids come. Eventually the baristas started asking if they could come visit and bring cake which we gladly agreed to. Over the past 6 months they have visited several times before or after their shifts and bring cake, hot chocolate, and my favorite coffee order which they happen to know my heart. Today they showed up with 26 jackets to give to every child at Anchor Home, which they purchased with their own money and took time before their shift to come give out. What started out as a place to chill and get my coffee fix has grown into a relationship that is much deeper then I ever imagined.
The ultimate goal of SCH is to no longer exist. Which is a lofty goal in a country that has a rather big orphan crisis on their hands. Our kids are abandoned by their families of origin for so many reasons. Some are too poor to afford their health care, others have no idea how to take care of them, others think they are a burden or a curse on the family, and some of them had their family members pass away. There’s no simple answer or solution to the abandonment of children with special needs. We are working towards a family empowerment model but we could have the most prefect model but if the society as a whole does not value these children it will be hard to implement. It wasn’t too long ago that children and adults with special needs where forced to live apart from their families and communities in the States. It took the dedication of parents and advocates changing the mindset of the community as a whole to see that these children and adults were not scary or a burden but amazing and unique individuals. Now we are not prefect in the States by any means but over the past 60 or so years we have made many great strides forward.
But what does family empowerment have to do with coffee? All the baristas at Starbucks are young and maybe someday they will have kids of their own. And maybe that child will be born with an extra 21st chromosome or with a cleft lip. Or maybe their sister or friend will have a child who has a brain injury during birth and has cerebral palsy. And maybe, hopefully they will think about all the children they met at SCH and remember how happy Thomas was when he celebrated his 10th birthday at Starbucks. Or maybe they will remember how much they liked Caden and all the photos I showed them while they were making my coffee. Hopefully they will take their passion for our kids and reflect that back into their community when they interact with another individual with special needs.
Change won’t happen overnight. It never does. It happens slowly and over time. Although I often tire of answering the same question while out in public with my kids I don’t tire of spreading awareness. Often times my interactions with others are positive and people here want to help. I would like to think every time Penny charms someone over with her smile that we are planting a seed that will hopefully bloom into something sustainable. Realistically I won’t see SCH serving as a family empowerment model. I will probably be gone by the time that comes to fruition. But I hope that with even the simple act of buying coffee and chatting with baristas that I will plant a seed that will someday grow and grow so that every child is brought up in a family.
PS. On the very, very off chance that someone at Starbucks see this please bring Pumpkin Spice to India. The expats will love you forever