Shorts, T-shirts, bugspray. Check. Film equipment, snacks, medicine. Check, check and check.
Senior Luke Brenneman’s suitcase was still light when he was finished packing. Its contents resembled typical a summer camp fare. To anyone else, it would be hard to tell that campfires and canoes didn’t lie ahead for Brenneman.
Hired as a student trip-leader for HU’s Joe Mertz Center’s mission trip program implemented last spring, Brenneman was fostering some different ideas for his team’s trip location. When his brother-in-law traveled to Chennai’s Home of Love in India, an orphanage for Indian girls at risk of living on the streets or getting involved in prostitution, Brenneman knew he had found a worthy mission and contacted the orphanage owner’s son, Nirup Alphonse, who currently resides in Fort Wayne.
“I wanted us to be part of something that offered longevity and commitment to the people we served,” Brenneman said.
Brenneman, along with staff adviser Varun Kaushik, handpicked a team of 15 students to take on the trip. The group began meeting several times throughout the fall semester, learning about the Indian culture. Kaushik, who grew up in New Delhi, was an essential part of preparing the students, showing them Bollywood films at his home and inviting the students to dine at Indian restaurants. The trip spent this past J-term serving in Chennai.
But when they returned this winter, the HU India team was presented with a new challenge — now what?
The sari and tunic-clad students screened footage of the Vacation Bible School activities they organized for the girls in the Home of Love, and shared personal testimonies of how they fell in love with the children and the mission the Home supports. It led the team to present their new commitment to help raise $20,000 to build a dormitory for the 70 girls that live in the Home, and ask the Huntington community for support.
“We were convicted by the incredibly large amount of money we spent to go on this trip,” Kaushik said. “We realized then that the purpose of the trip cannot achieve (its potential) success ... if we let this story die when we get back to the States.”
The dormitory project for the Home of Love will provide a smaller building for the Home parents and pay the renovation costs to turn one of the current buildings into a dorm for the girls. In addition to the initial construction and renovation of dorms, the project will also fund the purchase of a bed, mattress and dresser for each girl. The furniture cost is approximately $100 per girl. The 70 girls currently sleep on mats upon the concrete floor.
“This project will allow space to be utilized for classrooms, and give the girls the opportunity to rest better and have a better chance at being successful in their studies,” Kaushik said.
In just a month and a half after the India chapel at HU, the team has risen more than 25 percent of the fundraising goal, and there are verbal pledges and promising leads still rolling in.
“I have seen so many neat things through this experience,” Kaushik said, shaking his head. “The Ministry and Missions department gave a free carwash and rose over $300 in donations, and there were several students that donated $100. No one expected that.”
Brenneman attributes the response to sympathy and the desire to help the young women.
“Obviously, the girls’ tragic and now hopeful stories have triggered a response from people,” he said. “I think it really hit home for people when they realize how widespread the atrocities are that the girls face, and how if the same crimes happened at the same rates around us, we would all personally know little girls who had been abused in ways we could never imagine. Home of Love is fighting for the girls who embody our sisters, daughters, nieces and every 3- to 18-year-old girl we see.”