A classroom full of bright eyes and beaming smiles greeted members of the Indo-Pacific Endeavour Joint Task Force when they visited the Government Children’s Home for Boys in Visakhapatnam, India.
A Royal Australian Navy aircraft technician, Able Seaman Nick Smith, was immediately surrounded by children as young as nine who were keen to shake hands, play cricket and get messy with cam cream and paint.
“I’m really surprised at how playful and friendly the kids are,” Able Seaman Smith said.
“I thought they might be shy and reserved but they all ran up and started hugging me.”
The children certainly didn’t lack energy. Their enthusiasm for sport was on display with cricket, volleyball, soccer and the Indian game Kabaddi being held simultaneously on the same playing area, with nothing but a wayward ball stopping play.“I thought they might be shy and reserved but they all ran up and started hugging me.”
Task force members also took to one of the school’s classrooms with paint brushes to paint a cockatoo, kangaroo, wombat and koala to put a bit of colour in the children’s lives.
The children have had little opportunity to visit beyond the walls of the school.
Members from the non-government organisation Ken Foundation visit the kids at every opportunity and celebrate events such as birthdays and Indian holidays, which happen ‘all the time’, as one volunteer described it.
Ken Foundation volunteer Soundarya Bhargavi, also a principal of a local private school, said the children at the boys’ home were given an education so they were ready to take on the world when they finished.
“The education here is very basic, but students who show potential have the opportunity to become local police officers through the constable program or they have the chance to be sports coaches or enter other trades,” she said.
The children are taught in Telugu, their local dialect, and also learn basic English and computer skills that enable their transition from the home to the workforce.
The day ended with the Australian Army Band playing to an ecstatic audience and some sad goodbyes.
The experience was organised by the Australian Consulate in Chennai and members of the Indo-Pacific Endeavour Joint Task Force in India for AUSINDEX, the major bilateral exchange between the Australian and Indian navies.