Editor’s note: India’s government requires Sarah’s Covenant Homes to protect the names of its children. All of the kids have been given nicknames by the orphanage’s staff members.
Eleven months in a foreign country and one major decision recently led to a new life —and job — for Gainesville resident Lindsey Farmer.
The 25-year-old is now the director of development for Sarah’s Covenant Homes, a special-needs orphanage based in India.
Farmer took on the position after extensive involvement with the orphanage and the Gainesville-based nonprofit Adventures in Missions.
But her journey to Gainesville started nearly two years ago when she was working as a production assistant for television programs in southern California.
"I realized I was becoming someone (who) I didn’t like," she said. "I was becoming bitter and selfish, and I felt like God hadn’t created me to become this person."
In 2012, she decided she needed a major life change and she stumbled upon "The World Race." Organized by Adventures in Missions, the mission sends participants to 11 locations across the world to do volunteer work for 11 months. In July 2012, she packed her belongings and left California to work in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Though many locations made great impacts, it was her first leg of the journey that stuck with her.
Farmer met Jodi, a 5-year-old girl who suffers from cerebral palsy and hepatitis B, at the orphanage.
"She didn’t know how to walk on her own, and I would take her on walks in the courtyard," Farmer said. "I have no physical therapy experience, but it was something that I felt a calling in my heart for."
SCH is home to 120 children and young adults with disorders ranging from epilepsy and cerebral palsy to orthopedic problems and blindness. Many orphans arrive at SCH malnourished, in weak condition, with undiagnosed illnesses, anemia and unmet surgical needs, Farmer said.
At the orphanage, children are provided a place to live, nutrition, physical therapy, nursing care, doctor visits and education. Additionally, many children who are able attend mainstream private schools. The de facto motto of the organization is "we don’t want these kids to survive; we want them to thrive," Farmer said.
After the mission trip, she returned to visit Jodi and the other orphans.
"My heart really just broke for all those kids at the orphan home, and when I got home, it was a big question about what to do next."
Farmer decided to enter an Adventures in Missions apprenticeship program named the Center for Global Action, which ultimately brought her to Gainesville.
"On (The World Race), she found a ministry that she was passionate about," Seth Barnes, executive director of Adventures in Missions, said in an email. "The Center for Global Action ... helped her realize how her gifts and talents could be used to help...
"We believe in her and we believe in the vision of SCH. We wanted to continue to help both her and the organization grow."
After finishing the program and talking with staff members at SCH and Adventures in Missions — which offered her office space — she volunteered to be the director of development. Her primary responsibility is running SCH’s child sponsorship program and recruiting monthly sponsors for the children.
Full sponsorships cover all of the child’s basic needs, physical therapy and doctor visits. The program offers partial sponsorships as well. Only 30 kids out of the organization’s 120 are fully sponsored.
There is high hope at the orphanage that Farmer’s new position will bring in more money.
"Anyone who has a child with medical special needs understands that it really does take a community to give their child all that he or she needs to have a comfortable, happy life," said the organization’s founder Sarah Rebbavarapu in an email. "Gainesville has people who want to use their skills to do something meaningful."
Though donors have been on the rise, so has the number of kids the orphanage is responsible for, Farmer said.
Coupled with the fact that residents who are never adopted or are incapable of living on their own are cared for indefinitely means costs can quickly add up.
Farmer hopes one day the orphanage will be able to afford not only the basic needs, but also better education, college scholarships and a full-sized campus with therapy rooms, playgrounds and hospital beds.
"My second-to-last day there, Jodi chose to walk on her own instead of being pushed to it," she said. "It was just an incredible experience and thing to be part of."