“One Finds Tannu Smiling Always”

Jose Kavi reports on a remarkable village for children in India in the Winter edition of ONE.

Jose Kavi reports on a remarkable village for children in India in the Winter edition of ONE. Here, he offers his impressions of one young resident in particular.

One of the most cheerful persons I have met is Tannu.

The 14-year-old wheelchair-bound girl is a star at San Joe Puram Children’s Village, one of the few institutions in India for inclusive education.

With her withered legs dangling from her chair, Tannu greets everyone with a smiling “Jai Yesu” (“Victory to Jesus”) in Hindi.

There is always a rush around her when she comes out of the chapel or a classroom.

Young and old jostle around her, competing to push her wheelchair to Rani Sadan, one of the seven houses within San Joe Puram. The orphan girl lives there with eight other differently abled and four normal girls under the guidance of four sisters of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation.

“One finds Tannu smiling always,” says Sister Jesmy Paul, a physiotherapist nun who had brought the girl as a three-year-old child from Tihar Jail, India’s largest prison, situated in New Delhi. “We have no details about her parents,” she added.

Tannu says she feels great there. “I hope to walk one day, because Sister Jesmy Paul is giving me physiotherapy,” she said optimistically when I met her.

Sister Paul said Tannu was indeed walking to school when she left San Joe Puram on transfer eight years ago. “We had massaged her legs day in and out from the day she came to our house. She responded well and managed to get up and walk.”

After Sister Paul left, there was no one to continue physiotherapy and Tannu’s condition worsened. So, the nun was called back to resume physiotherapy.

But all this does not worry Tannu.

“I want to be a teacher,” she said. She was quite sure of her future.

She said she could be at the top of her class if she could write a little faster. “In school I find it hard to write, so I am a bit behind,” she said.

Tannu came to talk to me from the TV room, where she was watching the live telecast of the canonization of two Indians at the Vatican.

She could speak Hindi, English and “a little bit” of Malayalam, her mentor’s mother tongue. However her favorite subject is English.

She is sings well—mostly Christians hymns that she picks from the church. After a little persuasion, she sang with a quivering voice: “Lord, come softly and take me into your bosom. Stay with me and give me great happiness. Let peace bloom within me.”

Tannu, who is a Hindu, says her only desire is to be baptized. Her reasons are simple. “Jesus died on the cross for our sins,” she told me. “He loves children a lot.”

On Sundays she goes to the main chapel with others for Mass. She also attends Mass on Thursdays, when it is offered in Rani Sadan.

Tannu said she likes to pray. “I talk to God about whatever comes to my mind. I pray mostly for help in studies. I also pray for my companions and those helping them.”

Like others, she also gets up at five in the morning. “I manage everything myself,” she said. “If I find something difficult to do, I get help from others.”

She does feel sad during vacation, when others go home. “I have nowhere to go. I have an uncle who visits me occasionally. But he does not take me home because his wife does not like me. She scolds me a lot.”

She does not remember her parents. “I was told that I had a brother and my mother gave both of us to different people when we were infants.”

Sister Paul says they are trying their best to make Tannu walk again. “If physiotherapy does not work, we will find if she could be helped through surgery.”

With such an optimistic mentor, perhaps it won’t be long before Tannu is able to walk to her future singing, “Lord, come softly and fill me with peace.”

Read more about “A Place of Promise and Providence” in the Winter edition of ONE.

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