My name is Nikki and I am living in India and serving at Sarah's Covenant Homes, an orphanage for abandoned children with physical and developmental disabilities. I am a foster mama to 11 sweet children with special needs and they light up my life!

If you feel led, please go HERE and donate to help cover my expenses and keep me here in India with my babies!

*blog names (not their real names) are used online for the kids to protect their privacy

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gymboree

At the beginning of the month, Tori and I took Charlotte and Chloe to a free trial class at the local Gymboree which is a 10 minute drive from our house. I have never been to Gymboree before back in Canada, but the manager told us that the facility and curriculum is the exact same in every location world-wide. When we stepped inside the classroom, I was so impressed by what I saw.

For our trial class, we had our teacher to ourselves as she wanted to get to know our girls. With them both being blind, it was a great opportunity for her to learn more about them and see how they reacted to different activities.

Gymboree offers many classes including art, music, and sports, but it was clear to us that the play class would be the best fit. We are really focused on teaching the girls play skills right now and engaging them in stimulating activities to get them exploring and learning. At their ages, Charlotte (18 months) should go to the Level 4 class, and Chloe (turning 4 in January) should go to the Level 7 class. The staff were really open to us wanting to put them in the Level 2 class, which is more at their cognitive level. It is typically for babies aged 6-10 months and is all about cause and effect, strength building, and using noises, gestures, and facial expressions to show what they want.

The free trial class was amazing, and as soon as it finished we enrolled the girls for a month-long membership of 4 Thursday morning classes. We all go together and I really look forward to this time with them. It also allows us access to the facilities for free play in the afternoons, so we have gone weekly to 1 class and 1 free play.

The first time we went, I was shocked at how well Charlotte did. I didn't have high expectations, but I can't explain how happy I was that first class. Charlotte was interacting in ways I had never seen her do before! Since we began, I have learned that she loves the parachute. We have a big parachute at home and I never really thought to use it with her, because I didn't think she would hold it and move it up and down. But in class, we lie the babies on top and underneath as we shake the parachute, and she loves the feeling of both! During a class focused on texture exploration, she sat and explored many objects with her hands, including a feather, a paintbrush, and sandpaper. I always have a hard time getting her to use her hands to explore, and as she did this I just sat in awe watching her. The teacher told me that most kids in the class aged 6-10 months just throw the objects down, and that she was doing a much better job of feeling and exploring, which was great encouragement and gave me an idea of where she is at in comparison to typically developing babies. She is not yet crawling, but I take her arms and legs and support her in crawling through the equipment, which I think is a great step towards teaching her to crawl. She really hates this part and usually cries, but we push through. The equipment is great and is filled with different types of surfaces and levels, so I support her to crawl through it following the sound of an instrument until we reach the end. I really would love to see Charlotte learn to crawl, and it is hard to facilitate it at home on the hard marble floor, so I am excited about this opportunity! She giggles on the rocking horse. The teacher noted how well she listens whenever we sing songs- Charlotte loves music!

Chloe is just joyful in the class. She makes us all crack up because she just laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs some more! When Chloe doesn't like something, she makes that clear and cries loudly. If she likes it, she giggles and giggles! She loves when the teacher blows bubbles and sings the bubble song. She lies on her back and opens her mouth, trying to catch them and eat them! Like Charlotte, she loves the rocking horse and can get nervous crawling on the equipment. One time she was crawling on the balance beam and slipped. Of course, Tori was right there to catch her, but she cried for the rest of the class and became very fearful. However, we went back the next day and she did great, crawling through the entire obstacle course with only a little bit of prompting encouragement.

It is expensive, but it is so worth it to me to find new ways to help the girls engage with us and learn and explore. What a blessing it is to have resources like this to help us support our kids' healthy development. It makes me so happy to be able to take them here and see them light up! And if other kids who live with their Mom and Dad can have this opportunity, why shouldn't my kids? I don't ever want them to have less because of their history or because money is a barrier.


Our month-long membership ends soon. We have spoken with the Director of Gymboree and they have put together a discounted 3-month package for us for Chloe, Charlotte, Theo, and Louise, at 1500r per month per child. Although Theo and Louise attend school, they need so much more sensory integration and social interaction. Theo attends school with his ayah, Anjamma, and this class will be without her as at their age it is a drop off class. This will be the first time he has taken part in a social activity without an adult as his support, which will be great for his confidence. Louise is super social, but she struggles with some sensory challenges and we really want to expand her interests.

We would love to find people to cover the cost of 3 months of Gymboree classes. They are giving us a great discounted price. The following amount includes 1 weekly class, autos to that weekly class, and autos to a once weekly free play.

It will come to $115/child.

Would someone be able to donate $115 to send Chloe to 3 months of Gymboree classes?
Would someone be able to donate $115 to send Charlotte to 3 months of Gymboree classes?
Would someone be able to donate $115 to send Theo to 3 months of Gymboree classes?
Would someone be able to donate $115 to send Louise to 3 months of Gymboree classes?

Update: All 4 kids are sponsored. Thank you so much! 

Send me a message at ncochrane3@hotmail.com and I will let you know how to donate. Thank you so much! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Place To Call Home

In 2011, just over a year after my first trip to SCH, Sarah took in a group of about 20 or 25 new children from the state orphanage. I remember when I saw that news, I was frustrated and scared. What about Anjali?? How would she get the attention she needed to thrive if SCH kept adding more and more and more children?

Fast forward three years and I am in a place where I understand Sarah and her heart a lot more than I did back then, and it all makes sense. In fact, I find myself in a similar position (on a smaller scale) as Tori and I added Louise, and then Charlotte and Chloe, and received a lot of criticism for it. And yes, we are praying about adding another child. I know, we have a lot of kids. I know. I get it. But what is one more? God has cared for all our needs so far and I know that if it is His will for another child to join our family, He will make that clear and He will open the doors for it to happen.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Proverbs 31:8-9

Us staff at SCH have started ministering to the children in the special needs room at the government orphanage where most of my kids (all but Theo) came from. We each take a day, and Tori and I started today. Every Wednesday from 12-2 we will head over there and love on the kids. Some of us will help with feeding to make sure the kids aren't being fed while lying on their backs, others will do dance and music, others will do PT and others will do sensory integration. Our nurse will come to help assess which kids are in immediate danger and need to be transferred to our care right away. One child in the room died last week, so this is a very scary reality in this room.

Every other time I have been to the government orphanage, it was to visit Chloe and Charlotte. I was almost able to ignore everything else around me because I only had eyes for our girls. Today we went just for the sole purpose of visiting and filling a need, and gosh... it was overwhelming.

There are 27 children in the special needs room, most of whom are girls (only 4 boys). They have autism, cerebral palsy, global developmental delays, and microcephaly, among other diagnoses, I'm sure. We came armed with a bag filled with textured books, musical instruments, balloons, and my iPad, and yet I walked in and didn't know where to begin.

There are no beds in the room, just thin mats where all the kids sit and sleep. There is one crib in the corner with a little baby boy. Beside his crib are shelves up high, lined with toys that are never brought down for the children to play with.  Along the back wall are most of the kids who are completely immobile. They cry when you sit them up. They cannot talk or do anything for themselves. Some made eye contact with me when I brought them toys and giggled when I put headphones on their ears. Others stared right past me as if I weren't there. In front of them are the more mobile kids. They can't walk, but can sit up and spend their days sitting, observing the room around them. There were two little girls in this group that I fell in love with. One reminds me so much of Lily, in a pint-sized body. The other has so much potential to learn and speak and walk, but she is so timid and scared. I spent the last fifteen minutes of my time just rocking her. And then there are the mobile kids... the bulldozers. Desperate for attention, they run to you as soon as you walk in the room and jump onto you with open arms. When I sat with the other children, they would push them out of my lap or steal the toys away from them. I found myself getting frustrated, and had to keep reminding myself that they do it because, just like the kids who are immobile, they are desperate for love, desperate for attention, desperate for someone to call Mom.

When Charlotte first came to us, she stimmed herself to sleep every night. She cried all day long and we didn't see her smile until she had been with us for about a week. I have never really been a baby person, but God broke my heart for her and my love for Charlotte is so deep and so strong. Every night now, I cuddle her until she falls asleep. She lies on my chest and I sing to her and rock her and toss her upside down while she giggles this perfect baby giggle. I know her body language and sounds now to know when she is tired, and then I will tuck her into my bed and she falls asleep. She doesn't stim herself to sleep anymore, and I know exactly what to do to make her smile.

I can't really process the reality that Charlotte has only known that love for 2 months. Not long ago, she was one of them, alone on a mat. And now I look at her with flowers in her hair and silver chains on her anklets, and I see a loved member of our family.

I can't process the reality that those two or three hundred kids in that state orphanage, and specifically the 27 in the special needs room, have never known that love. Ever. They aren't growing up in a home where they are being told that God doesn't make mistakes and that He made them and He loves them and they are perfect in His eyes. They don't have a place to call home with someone stable who loves them; just a mat on a floor, with people who are certainly trying their best but are struggling under the lack of resources for too, too many children.

Tori and I have our eye on a few children who would fit so well into our home. We know our limits though, and we know that we are a foster home and not an orphanage, so we tread carefully. For now, we just pray, and I ask that you pray with us.

Please pray for Promise, as we make plans to transition her to a different SCH home with an awesome married couple who have a heart for young adults. This will be a place she will live for the rest of her life, and we pray that as we move forward, God will give us a peace about it and help her to transition smoothly and happily.

Please pray for our kids, that we will finally see the first of our babies matched for adoption. Pray for mamas and daddies to step forward to love these kids and to call them their own, pushing through even when the adoption process seems impossible. Pray especially for Lily, Nolan, and Molly, who are older and understand as they see the other kids get adopted, and who desperately need a forever family.

Please pray for support to pour in to SCH. Pray that all of our children will become sponsored so that we have more funding to take in more children (let's finish off Charlotte's sponsorship!). Pray for dedicated, loving, long-term workers to join us so that all of the kids have a foster mother.

Finally, please pray for the kids of Room 8. Pray for Ganga and Kavitha and Aishwarya and Manasa and Neelima and all their other little friends. God, just keep them safe until either SCH or a forever family can come and scoop them up. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nolan's CI Eight Months Post-Activation

Wow, it has been eight months since switch-on!

Nolan overall is doing so well. He is just gaining this new maturity and sense of responsibility lately, especially since he started school. His school is awesome and I have seen a big change in Nolan since he began. He loves going to school and cries when it's a holiday. He is really growing up. He wants to be the helper; bringing the kids' food to them, telling us when someone needs a diaper change, cleaning up the house, etc. Several times a week I will hear my ayahs or our nurse yell "Nikki akka! Ni koduku!" (Nikki, your son!"). Usually he is laughing in their faces about something and refusing to do what they are asking him to do. I pop my head in the room, give him 'the mom look' and immediately without a word being spoken he wipes the smile off his face, signs sorry, and does what they were asking him to do. Little stinker!!

He is having a bit of a hard time with the addition of his newest 2 sisters, particularly Charlotte. I am trying to co-sleep with her as she came to us quite neglected and in need of some extra love. I still co-sleep with Nolan of course, so am trying to balance both of them squeezed in my little single bed! It has been interesting, that's for sure. He is jealous of her and once signed to me that he wants her to sleep by herself in the school room! He is very clingy lately and just wants to be wherever I am. He will usually cry if I get out of bed before he falls asleep, or even just go take a shower during the day or go downstairs to the kitchen to get food. He wants to be with me all the time. I am trying really hard to make time every day to spend with him 1:1 where we are just cuddling, or reading books, or playing games, where he gets my undivided attention. That is helping.

At the end of October we skyped again with Lyndsey, the auditory therapist from the UK who has been helping us out. This time, we didn't include Nolan in the skype and just brainstormed and chatted about how he is doing. I told her how I was feeling lost and discouraged, not really sure what goals I should be working towards. She said there is so little research done on kids like Nolan that we have no idea what the outcome will be like for him. She said she would be very pleased if he could understand a few phrases that are said daily in the home. She recommended that I select three, which I did with her help, and really push them both in every day life scenarios and in therapy through games. After 2-3 weeks, we would see if he grasped them at all and could understand the meaning without any hints (sign, lip reading) but rather just from using his hearing. The phrases we decided upon were:

1) shh! go to sleep!
2) bye bye! (he hears it and waves)
3) sit down / (stand) up (we just say "up!")

It has been two weeks since we skyped. Tori and I started doing a group auditory session with the two of us, Nolan, Theo, and Louise most afternoons. We do games to practice these phrases, as well as other activities. Nolan really likes the sleep game. Tori sits in front of him and says "shh, go to sleep" and then he pretends to sleep. Then, from behind him where he can't see, I yell "WAKE UP". He has to wait and listen for the sound, and then sit up when he hears it. Sometimes he doesn't, but we have seen many times where he listens and 'wakes up'. We are building on it and trying to get him to listen to the command "shh, go to sleep" without needing to sign it to him and without him reading our lips. It takes a lot of practice but I am hopeful that he will get there!



Lyndsey also gave me a lot of insight into how to teach deaf children how to read. She told me that many deaf people don't learn to read past a kindergarten level because it is just so challenging. Reading is based on hearing; sounding words out. Deaf people have to learn to read by memorizing sight words.

Nolan recently has made huge progress with his letter recognition. Tori and I tried to teach him back in February/March, but he came to hate it so much and was so defiant that we decided to put it on hold. Right now, Tori doesn't have a daily session with Nolan, but after talking to her about it, we decided that it was time for me to move forward with giving letters another try, and we brainstormed about how to do it. He is doing so well now! He loves it and cries when I put the school activities away. He can spell his name and type the full alphabet on the iPad without help, as you can see in the video. I usually say the letter and sign it as I give it to him to type. Nothing changed about the way we facilitated teaching him letters. I think it has everything to do with him being mainstreamed in school now, and wanting to learn like the other children. He is very social and very motivated to keep up and be included.



Now we are working on sight words. He learned how to spell his name a few weeks ago. Now, I have moved to "cat" and "dog". I hold up a toy cat or dog, then do the sign for it. We practice writing it out using the alphabet puzzle, then I hold up several pieces of papers with different 3-letter words written on them, and he has to find either cat or dog (whatever I am asking him for). Right now if I give him 3 or 4 options of words that start with a different letter, he is getting it correct with an almost perfect accuracy. Sometimes he will accidentally select 'dog' when I am asking for 'cat', but even that is rare. Two days ago I started moving towards giving options that begin with the same letter, so he really has to look at the full word. He got them all right every time. Starting next week, I am adding new words in addition to cat and dog!

I am so excited about the place Nolan is in right now. He is learning, and excited about it! I have dreams all the time about his future forever family coming to bring him home to them. As much as I love him (and I love him so much I can't even put words to it) there is nothing more that I want for him than that. Please keep praying. We have to believe that God already has the perfect parents chosen for him! 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dinah, Dinah, Dinah

I shared about Dinah three months ago (A Voice: Part 2), and gosh, even in the past 3 months she has changed so much. It is just such a joy to watch Dinah grow and have a role in her development.

She is becoming a "naughty girl", as our ayahs lovingly put it. Such a contrast to the girl who, a year ago, just wanted to sleep. She is now looking for mischief everywhere she goes! If there is a cup of water somewhere in the house, you can bet that Dinah will stand up, walk to it, grab it, giggle, and dump it upside down! If there is a shoe on the balcony, be careful, because Dinah's new favourite game is tossing shoes down two floors to the main gate! Actually, shoes seem to be her thing. We had a big shoe rack in our front hall with all the kids' shoes. We ended up taking most of those shoes and putting them inside a cupboard because Dinah would just love to walk to the shoe rack, dump it over, and carry shoes to random hard-to-find places in the house! She has mastered the art of taking every single toy out of the toy box as well. I am trying to teach her to put the toys back in, but cleaning up isn't nearly as fun as making a mess!

Dinah is walking everywhere! About a month ago in therapy she learned that when I say "up" she has to stand up. She is now great at following that command and even if I am across the room, if I say "Dinah, up" she will stand up and start walking towards me. She understands "come", but we are working on "go" now. For example, if I am sitting beside her, I want to be able to say "Dinah, go" and point to the school room for her to go in and sit at her table for lunch. She is making a lot of progress with this.



During her down time, Dinah is usually playing with shoes, playing with her Tigger, or walking around the room. Her old favourite toys were her ball and her monkey, but she has moved on now to a Tigger that makes music when you hit it. Dinah is walking everywhere. Most of the time you will find her getting up to a stand, walking around, falling, then standing up again. Over and over again without any prompting. It is great that she is motivated to walk and is now using walking as a way to get to people or places, rather than scooting on her bum. She can also crawl very well now, but prefers to walk. We laugh because when she was smaller, she was very chunky. She has slimmed out a lot as she got taller, but we often dress her in pajamas with ice cream and candies all over them and call her our couch potato. Whenever we aren't looking, she stands up, walks to the sofa, and sprawls out lazily. After many times of sitting her back up and giving her a toy, she started walking to the school room, climbing up on her eating table, and lounging there! Sneaky little girl!

Her attention span and eye tracking is improving so much. We took her to the ophthalmologist and they said no glasses, just continue strengthening and come back in a year. She is now able to sit and watch 10 minutes of children's songs/videos on the iPad. She actually sits and watches it, which is something she was not able to do until recently. She also loves playing the piano on the iPad. At first, she would just hand flap it, but now she uses an open palm and understands how it works. I really want to get her using her finger and making more precise selections on the iPad, but I'm not too sure how to facilitate that yet. We are working on holding a marker and scribbling. At first she had zero interest and hated doing it. Then I started making her take turns with me. I would hold a marker and colour for awhile while she just watched. Now, that made her want what I had! Every time she would try to grab the marker, I would say, "Dinah, wait, it's my turn." Ever since then, we take turns and she holds the marker properly and scribbles when it's her turn! I want to continue working at it so she is looking at the paper.



I look back at photos of Dinah from 6 months ago and can't believe how much she has changed in so many ways. Physically she isn't our baby anymore... she is growing into a beautiful big sister. Socially she has just blossomed.

Continue praying for Dinah's forever family to find her. Who knows... maybe God will have them stumble across this blog post and they will fall in love with that sweet sweet face to the left, and start the process to make her a part of their family!

One of Dinah's sponsors had to drop out, and now we are in need of an additional $100/month for her. This could be one person, or several people. If you want to sponsor her at $25/month, that would be great, or if you are able to fill the full $100/month, that would be great too. Please help spread the word about this princess! You can sponsor her HERE

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Charlotte

Miss Charlotte has been a part of our family for over one month now. It seems like so much longer than that! I feel like we are finally getting to know Charlotte. She is quiet and takes time to warm up, and I know that even now we are just seeing bits and pieces of her personality.

In the last post I wrote about her, I shared "I just have this feeling that a few months from now, we will look back on these early weeks with her and laugh about how different she used to be." Later in the post I shared how excited I was that she clapped her hands. Even since then, she has grown so much, and I know another month from now it will be even more so. It is just so beautiful watching her go from a scared, timid, neglected baby to a little girl who feels safe and loved in her family. What a blessing it is to have a role in that!

We took the kids on a trip to the water park and I spent most of my time with Charlotte, as we brought enough volunteers to be 1:1 with each of the kids. I was pleasantly surprised that she really liked the water. She wasn't laughing or smiling much, but she didn't cry at all and was very peaceful, lifting her head up to the sun and letting me drip water all over her back. Now, most mornings when I work with some of the other kids, I put a bucket of water out in the living room beside me for her to play in. At first, she cried and cried, but very quickly she came to love the activity. One day we all stopped what we were doing, shocked, as she splashed her hands and made so many sounds that we had never heard before, including "mamamama"! Now, some days she sits quietly, sometimes she sits and makes sounds, and other days she splashes wildly! This was one of the first activities that she engaged in without me or Tori encouraging or facilitating it!



We made these three goals for her when she first moved in with us:
1) Stand holding on to the railing wearing leg gaiters for 2 minutes
2) Play independently with a musical toy
3) Hold the crawling position for 1 minute

She has made tremendous progress with her standing. She no longer needs leg gaiters ever, and quickly I changed that goal to standing on the railing without leg gaiters for 10 minutes, which she now does easily. Every morning before she plays in the water, she stands holding on to the railing for about 30 minutes to build strength. Sometimes we put her headphones on while she is doing it so she can listen to music (and then she doesn't cry!) When it is her turn for her session, we work on physiotherapy as well as play therapy. I have now changed that first goal (since she has mastered the standing) to taking 5 steps while holding onto my hands. Ramana, her ayah, is really in love with her and usually works with her every morning either before or after my session, which makes me so happy. Sometimes it can be hard to get our ayahs involved in the kids' therapy, but how awesome is it when they love the kids and are so invested in them that they just want to do it without being asked or without any direction at all! She just watches what I do and then duplicates it herself. On October 27th Charlotte took her very first steps, holding on to Ramana's hands!

I also do a lot of hand over hand play with her. I take various toys such as rattles, textured balls, tambourines, crinkly paper, and drums and show her how to play with them. She has never had any exposure to toys before. Ever. So at first, she had no idea what to do with a toy and would refuse to even touch it. Now, she is starting to play with toys all by herself! One day, for example, for thirty minutes she rolled a sound ball between her hands and feet, giggling the whole time. Another day she played with crinkly wrapping paper, scrunching it up in her fingers and rubbing it on her cheeks and head. It is still not consistent, but it has happened enough that I know she is getting there. Usually when it happens, we all stop what we are dong and watch her, because it is just so incredible watching a baby come to life like that. I can't express how sad and scared she was when she first came. It was hard to see. I am so happy that she is starting to come out of her shell!



I used to cuddle and rock her after prayer and then put her to bed. She is so used to sleeping on the floor, that up until tonight she would only sleep at night if she were on the hard ground. Recently I decided it is time to start trying to co-sleep. After Nolan falls asleep (otherwise he gets very jealous, as he and I cuddle before he goes to bed) I bring Charlotte into my bed with me. Yesterday I spent about 30 minutes with her. She stims to lull herself to sleep. She pokes her neck, rubs her head on the ground, and grinds her teeth incessantly. Every time she stimmed, I brought her close to me and rubbed her back, and it seemed to help. After 30 minutes though, she had had enough and wanted back on the ground. Today Tori and I bought her a soother to help with the teeth grinding. She bites it, instead of sucking on it, but she likes it! I am happy to report that for the first time, she is fast asleep in a bed, underneath blankets, and she didn't stim to get to sleep! It is going to be hard, because after a long day all I want to do is curl up in my bed and go to sleep! It is really not easy to teach a child to want to be loved. She pushes me away. She takes my hands and moves them off of her. But I want her to learn to be soothed by me and to be comforted by me, so I really want to make this a priority so that she can fall asleep comfortably and happily.

She is the youngest child that we have ever had in our home. I often wonder what our kids would be like if we had gotten them as babies. I am certain that if they had early intervention, a lot of the challenges they face wouldn't exist. And so it is so exciting to have a baby like Charlotte in our home. She won't have to spend years in a crib, waiting. We have her now. Early intervention is so important for kids with special needs, and it excites me so much to have the opportunity to teach her at such a young age. And most importantly, to rock her to sleep every night and to hold her and sing to her every day. She will learn to feel safe and will know that touch of a mother as a baby, where as most of our kids didn't experience that until they were much older. My prayer for Charlotte is that she will understand the safety and peace in being loved, and will rest in that.

We really need to find a sponsor for Charlotte. Please check out her page, spread the word about her, and help us provide the very best environment for this beautiful baby girl!