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Verve People
September 13, 2016

An Insight Into Miracle Worker Caroline Boudreaux’s Journey

Text by Shashi Baliga. Photograph by Prateek Patel

The founder of not-for-profit organisation Miracle Foundation, shares an account of her stirring venture….

When she first told people in her hometown of Austin, Texas that she had decided to help orphaned children in India, she received a less-than-encouraging response. Caroline Boudreaux recalls, “They looked at me as if I had three eyes because I wasn’t a mother, a social worker, a fundraiser or an Indian.” She ticked none of the predictable boxes. Yet here she was, on a summer’s day in Mumbai, telling me about the 19 orphanages that her Miracle Foundation supports across India today.

Rewind to 2000. Boudreaux was 28, had a well-paying job with a TV station and believed “the more money I had the happier I would be.” Strangely, it didn’t work that way. “I was climbing the ladder of success but I’d placed it up the wrong tree. To be honest, I didn’t know I wanted to do something more meaningful. I just knew I wasn’t happy.”

So she and her friend Chris Poynor (then Monheim) decided to take a year off to go globetrotting. On the itinerary was a remote village in Orissa (now Odisha) where Poynor had been sending a cheque every month for over four years to support a boy named Manus. “There was no volunteer aspect to our trip at all,” clarifies Boudreaux. “I was just trying to run away from the life I was leading and Chris wanted to meet Manus.” Boudreaux was convinced the boy was fictitious and that it was all a scam.

But Manus did exist and the friends stayed on in the village. At the end of their stay, a social worker, Damodar Sahoo, invited them home for a meal. There they were greeted by over 100 hungry, undernourished, bald orphaned children. Boudreaux, who had never met an orphan or encountered such excruciating poverty, was thrown into extreme culture shock. She was especially guilt-ridden when she and Poynor were served chicken though the children weren’t.

After dinner, a little girl, Sheebani, desperate for physical contact, cuddled up to her sleepily. Boudreaux sang her a lullaby and took her upstairs to put her to sleep. As she lay Sheebani gently on the hard, bare wooden board that was her bed, her heart finally exploded. “It was like a lightning bolt,” she rewinds. It was Mother’s Day in the US and it seemed as if the universe was sending her a message. She couldn’t just walk away: “No child deserved to live like this”.

Once home, Boudreaux pulled out her life savings to set up the Miracle Foundation, dedicated to helping orphans realise their full potential. But initially, she was met with scepticism. Why was she supporting children two continents away and not those in her own backyard? Her answer then and now: “This isn’t about India or America. This is about innocent children who don’t have parents.”

The Miracle Foundation doesn’t set up orphanages but supports already-established ones and the funds are given after monthly checks on the children’s progress. Almost all the funding — 98 per cent, says Boudreaux — currently comes from the US. It’s a statistic she’s trying to change with a two-month-long fundraising drive in India. It’s not easy, of course. And there’s one factor that particularly disturbs her. “I’ve met people who say, ‘IIT did a world of good for me, so I’m going to donate to IIT.’ But that’s the elite giving to the elite instead of the poor! And that can be a bit of a danger zone. There’s nobody you can help more than the people at the bottom. And the transformation is… whoosh!” she emphasises, swinging a hand upwards.

The Foundation takes up so much of her time now that Boudreaux, who grew up happily with six siblings, has decided not to have children of her own. “If I did, I would have to give them my time. And I want to focus on this work,” she says. How involved is her husband, Ed Goble, in the Foundation? “He writes me a big cheque every month,” she laughs. Her friend Chris does the same. “She’s a very busy mother raising two children. But she supports me financially and is like a sister to me,” she says.

Family and friends contribute generously to Boudreaux’s cause but she sees philanthropy as more than monetary help. “People tell me, I’m donating to this or that organisation which provides food and clothing to the poor. But are they breaking the cycle of poverty? That’s what we have to do; we have to give the poor a chance to fulfil their potential. We have to move the needle.”

There’s a touch of impatience as she speaks now, the sort that is seen in people who have long-term goals and are short on time. It does get to her, she admits. “Everybody says, ‘You must feel just so great every night!’ But I don’t. I feel, what the heck are we doing? We know what needs to be done; it doesn’t cost that much, so why aren’t we doing it? Let’s move, let’s move!” And move, she has, going from one orphanage to 19 in 16 years. Impatience — of the right kind — clearly works.

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