Her name was Shibani Das and she was not quite 2 years old. Her hair had all been shaved off because of lice, and she weighed almost nothing, just skin, bones, and beautiful eyes.
I was in India for the first time, on a vacation stopping at an orphanage near Kolkata. I’d never been to an orphanage before, and it was a lot to take in. Shibani clung to me right away, hungry for attention. We called them Velcro Babies; they stuck to you.
At the end of the day, the orphanage director asked me if I wanted to put Shibani to bed, and I was happy to do that. I carried her into her dingy hostel and thought I would tuck her in—but that’s not what happened.
I can still hear the sound her small body made as I set her on her plain bed frame. There was no mattress. Nothing to comfort her. Just fragile bones creaking on wooden slats.
There are moments in life that crack our hearts open, and that was mine. As I sat there in the gloom, questions surrounded me like ghosts. How could I just leave her here? Or could I be part of the solution for children like Shibani? What could be done? What could I do?
That was Mother’s Day 2000, and for the past 21 years, Miracle Foundation—the NGO I founded—has been fighting for vulnerable children in India. We supported orphanages at the beginning, working to improve and measure all aspects of a child’s wellbeing. But our work has evolved along with our understanding, and now we are seeking a more permanent solution for the nearly 400,000 children living in roughly 10,000 CCIs (childcare institutions) across the country.
Children belong in families. We all know that. And the fact is: most children currently in CCIs have one or both living parents. But how do you reunify these children in a safe and measurable way?
At Miracle Foundation, we have created a revolutionary tool called the Thrive Scale™ that allows us to measure progress and assess risk at every stage of our work. The Thrive Scale™ focuses on five wellbeing domains: Physical & Mental Health, Education, Family & Social Relationships, Home Finances, and Living Conditions.
Developed over the past two decades, this one-of-a-kind tool takes the guesswork out of caring for children, especially during the critical period after a child leaves an orphanage and returns to a family environment. So far we have successfully reunified 3800 children but this number is only growing larger at a faster and faster rate as our work expands.
The other big piece of our mission is to stop the flow of children into orphanages. It’s not enough to lead children out of institutional gates if other children are entering as we go.
Every day around the world, social workers, caregivers, and government officials make decisions that impact millions of vulnerable children. Along with UNICEF and other partners, we provide highly specialized training and educational resources for these “boots on the ground” workers in the childcare ecosystem.
Through this collaboration, Miracle Foundation has trained 2300+ government officials and caregivers, while activating child-protection committees and empowering youth-led initiatives. All of this outreach works to identify and support at-risk children and vulnerable families long before formal interventions become a necessity. This is the future. This is how we break the cycle.
Shibani Das is now all grown up. She’s 22, in college, studying to be an educator. We’re still in touch and she’s still my inspiration. But there are many more Indian children, just like her, who need and inspire our work every day. To reach them, we welcome all supporters who feel that the age of the orphanage has gone on long enough. Together, we really can create a family for every child in our lifetime. We hope you’ll join us.
You can learn more at www.miraclefoundation.org.
Caroline Boudreaux is a social entrepreneur and Founder of Miracle Foundation. For her humanitarian work and leadership in the child protection space, Caroline has received a variety of awards including: The Hope Award, The Impact Award and the United Nations Humanitarian Award. She’s also a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum and has completed executive programs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Yale’s Jackson Institute for Diplomacy, India School of Business and Oxford University.