Hartford Courant Article

Hartford Courant Article
May 07, 2012|By JULIE STAGIS, jstagis@courant.com, The Hartford Courant

AVON — —

In March, while her classmates were in school, Avon High School senior Monica Veldman was in the slums of southern India, waking early each day to work in the Home of Hope orphanage with her mother and sister.

Veldman is the founder of the Indian Children’s Angel Network (I CAN), a group at Avon High that raises money for The Morning Star Society, an organization that aims to help children in the Red Light District in the Sangli area. The organization runs the Home of Hope for girls, a boys’ home and a hospice, and works to educate and help children of prostitutes.

Women in the village are forced into prostitution, and 40 percent of people there have AIDS, according to Lynn Veldman, Monica’s mother. The children at the orphanage are considered “untouchable,” and are denied citizenship and public education, Lynn Veldman said.

When Rev. Timothy Jalam started The Morning Star Society in 2004, Lynn Veldman, who had met him decades before, asked what she could do to help. For the past few years, she has worked at the Home of Hope on trips to India.

After Lynn started teaching the orphans, her daughters Kalli and Monica began gathering support back home. Friends and community members jumped at the chance to help, lured by the smiling faces of the children, Monica Veldman said.

After she formed I CAN at the high school, “everyone started to hear about it,” she said.

“People in Avon, I don’t want to generalize, but they don’t know much about this kind of thing,” Monica Veldman said. “Having a girl to correspond with and to learn about [what’s going on there], it’s really good” for Avon High students.

Members of I CAN hold fundraisers and write letters and make crafts to send to their pen pals.

The efforts of the Veldmans have raised over $10,000 for the orphanage, providing water purification tanks, a garden for fresh vegetables, a chicken coop and solar power. A plumbing system and toilets are going to be built soon. A sponsor named Esther sends $20 per month so a girl named Gauri can take her AIDS medication.

Lynn Veldman is applying to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Hope Shines to continue raising money for the orphanage. Kalli Veldman’s sorority at Elon University also raises money for the effort, and Monica hopes to continue her work when she starts at George Washington University in the fall.

Monica said the trip to India, where she was able to interview 19 sex workers, was “life-changing.”

“Working with them has taught me that I just need to appreciate everything I have,” Monica said. “Everything I see now … it’s so incredible. People don’t notice that.

“It’s not because they’re ignorant, they’re just not exposed to it,” she said. “Part of my goal is just to expose people to it.”