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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XIII. ORPHANAGES.

Life And Work In Benares And Kumaon 1839-1877 by James Kennedy

CHAPTER XIII. ORPHANAGES.

All over India missions have had orphans under their charge, but from personal knowledge I can only speak of the North-West.

[Sidenote: FAMINE IN THE LAND.]

The need for these institutions was most pressing in 1838 and 1839. I remember hearing, on my arrival at Benares, the most harrowing account of the fearful sufferings of the people over a great extent of country. The famine had been sore in the land. People fled from their towns and villages, hoping to reach a more favoured region; but travelling through districts as destitute of food as those they left, they received no help, and perished miserably. The weak and the very young were the first to succumb. Many struggled on, eating grass or anything that could allay the pangs of hunger, in the hope of reaching the cities where they could expect relief from their own people, and still more from their English rulers. At that time Agra was the seat of government for the North-West, and as the famine was specially severe in that district, so great a multitude poured into it that, notwithstanding the strenuous effort put forth by Europeans, official and non-official, helped by wealthy and benevolent natives, only partial relief could be afforded. The means of communication between one part of India and another were, even at that time, far better than they had been in the days of native rule; much had been done to improve the roads, but owing to the distance of places where food was comparatively abundant, and the length of time and the expense incurred in conveying it to the afflicted districts, timely help was not obtained. Many children were abandoned, and the authorities sent out orders to their subordinates to rescue these waifs and feed them till arrangements could be made for their support.

Missionaries felt themselves called on to offer their services in this dreadful emergency, and the offer was readily accepted. The large expenditure for which they thus became responsible was met by a small allowance made by Government for each child, by a grant from a Famine Fund which had been raised, and by contributions received by missionaries from friends to help them in this new undertaking.

The institutions then established have become permanent. The places left vacant by the death of many of the first inmates, and the entrance into active life of those who survived, were soon filled by others who had equal claims on Christian compassion. On the occasion of great melas children are often lost, and in not a few cases their parents are never found. In the great cities, by the death of parents, and by the abandonment of children -- sometimes through extreme destitution, at other times by unnatural indifference -- helpless little ones are cast on the pity of the public. From country places forsaken children are sent to the head-quarters of districts. In seasons of scarcity, which frequently occur, and especially in famine years such as 1861, large additions are made to the number of orphans. With these causes operating to produce the class from which orphanages are recruited, there is no likelihood of the time coming when they will not be needed. The people, as a rule, are undoubtedly kind to children; but when we consider the great poverty of many, the extreme difficulty with which they obtain the necessaries of life, there is no reason to wonder at the cases of destitution which are continually presenting themselves. In our own country, with all its advantages, we have numerous orphanages, where many are sheltered and trained for useful life, who would otherwise be thrown as waifs on the surface of society.

[Sidenote: SANGUINE HOPES.]

When orphanages were first formed in Northern India, great hope was entertained they would not merely relieve present and pressing distress, and do good to a large number of destitute young persons, but would tell powerfully on native society, and lead to the formation of a large, strong Christian community. The sufferings of the people afflicted by famine were deplored, they were regarded with deep pity; everything was done which could be done to relieve them, but it was hoped that out of this calamitous state of affairs would be evolved, through the overruling of Providence, a signal moral and spiritual benefit to the people generally. Here was a large band of boys and girls taken out of native society, cut off from idolatrous training and associations, and made over in the most plastic season of their lives to be moulded by those whose supreme aim would be to strengthen and elevate their character, and prepare them for a happy, useful, and honourable career. It was hoped that when these children thus trained grew to manhood and womanhood, they would go out among their countrymen striking examples of moral and spiritual excellence, and would by their manifest superiority make a greater impression on the minds of the people than could be made by the preaching and efforts of missionaries. A worthy chaplain sent out a pamphlet advocating the gathering by Government of all the orphan children in the country, and, if I remember rightly, of all the children with whom parents were willing to part, and the placing of them in institutions where they should be brought up as Christians, and as members of the Church of England. He maintained that if this was done, in the course of a few years a great number would go out to native society to leaven it with Christian sentiment, and with loyalty to the British Government. He drew a glowing picture of the good that would be accomplished if this policy were adopted and vigorously carried out. Few were so hopeful as my friend, but many did anticipate great results.

It cannot be doubted that orphan institutions have done much good; but I think none will maintain that the sanguine hopes with which they were begun have been realized. There have been obstacles in the way of success which might have been partly foreseen, but which could not have been fully anticipated. Many of the children brought to the missionaries were so sickly and emaciated, that they soon died in spite of all the attention bestowed on them. The mortality has been at times most depressing. There was no vitality to resist disease. The effort to preserve life was in many cases frustrated by the vitiated taste of the children, which led them to eat lime, earth, garbage of any kind on which they could lay their hands, in preference to good food. They were closely watched, but it was impossible to watch them so closely as to prevent them from doing that which hurried them to the grave.

[Sidenote: THE DIFFICULTIES IN ORPHAN MANAGEMENT.]

The orphans were of different ages, from very early youth to fourteen or fifteen. The elder ones were steeped in the spirit of the class from which they came -- as a rule the lowest class of the community; and the younger ones had in their very blood hereditary qualities which put obstacles in the way of successful training. We do not believe there is in blood the overpowering efficacy which some have attributed to it; if it had, responsibility would cease, and the effort to raise certain tribes and classes would be hopeless; but we believe it has a strong influence, and we think we have seen clear evidence of its hurtful effect on Indian orphans. There were these difficulties to begin with. And then it was impossible to bring these children under the happy influence of an orderly living family. In our own country it has been found highly conducive to the right bringing-up of orphans, to the repressing of evil tendencies, and the drawing forth of the finer elements of character, to secure for them domestic training to the utmost extent circumstances will permit. The keeping of many together, not merely taught together, which is very desirable, but eating together, sleeping together, constantly acting and reacting on each other, is found very unfavourable to the formation of the right character, however careful, wise, and kindly the superintendence may be. In India, where hundreds of orphans were brought at once to mission premises, this gregarious life was unavoidable. Besides, it is impossible to separate orphans from the community around so completely as to leave them unaffected by its moral atmosphere.

There was of course a difference in the qualifications of those who undertook this great charge, some being more fitted for it than others; but this we say with the utmost confidence, after an intimate acquaintance with the working of some of the larger orphanages, and a general knowledge of others, that they have been managed with a laboriousness, a patience, a wisdom, and a kindness, deserving of the highest praise. Those in charge acted as parents, so far as that was possible, but in the nature of things there could not be the close attention and the fond personal affection to each of ordinary domestic life. We remember cases where children were committed to well-ordered Christian families with happy results, but for many years after orphanages were founded there were no such families to receive them.

[Sidenote: THE OCCUPATIONS OF ORPHANS.]

With the exception of orphans sent to Baptist Missions, they were as a rule baptized at once, and were thus brought within the pale of the Christian Church to be trained for the love and service of Christ. The first place was given to Christian instruction and training. All were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. Those who proved themselves capable of receiving a higher education were continued at school, in the hope of their becoming qualified for offices such as those of teacher and preacher, for which mental and moral fitness was indispensable. The great majority were early taught a trade. In the larger orphanages a variety of trades was introduced -- tailoring, carpentry, baking, dyeing, carpet-making, printing, bookbinding, and farming. Some of these trades, after much labour had been bestowed upon them, were given up, as it was found the orphans could not compete with native workmen. They had not the energy and aptitude possessed by those who followed their ancestral occupations, and who had been from their earliest years familiar with the conditions of native trade. Hopes were entertained many would betake themselves to farming. These hopes have been only partially realized. On land secured by the Church Mission of Benares, at a short distance from the city, orphans when they grew up were settled; but few took kindly to the work, and most soon abandoned it. There are now a few Christian families on the ground, but the larger part of the land is let to ordinary native agriculturists. In some places, such as Goruckpore and Shahjehanpore, the experiment has been successful. A greater number have continued at printing and bookbinding than at other trades. Co-operative associations of native Christians have been formed at Allahabad for printing, and at Futtygurh for tent-making, which I believe continue to prosper. These associations are under unfettered native management. A considerable number who have come out of orphan institutions have followed the trades they were taught, and have succeeded in getting employment in different places. Many were trained as servants, and in that capacity they are scattered over all Northern India. These have been joined by not a few who were taught trades, but did not continue in them, as they deemed service easier and more profitable. This is much to be regretted as native Christians in service are exposed to many disadvantages and temptations from their fellow-servants, and too often from their European masters and mistresses. The position of a capable artisan is far superior.

It must be acknowledged by those who have the kindest feeling towards the orphans, and who wish to entertain the most favourable opinion of them, which truth will permit, that they have often been wanting in energy and self-reliance. There has been a tendency to lean unduly on those to whom they have been indebted for the preservation of their lives, and for everything which makes life desirable. They have been accustomed to call them, in the language of the country, ma, bap -- mother, father -- and to expect everything to be done for them as if they were still helpless children. This can not be said of all, but it must be acknowledged this unduly dependent spirit has been often shown. A greater wrong could not be done to orphans, when grown to maturity, than to treat them as children, unable to make their own way in the world. This would be to destroy all strength of character, and turn them into abject, and at the same time discontented, paupers. Few have been so destitute of common sense as to have supposed that in this way they were to be supported, but there has been a tendency to expect the missionaries to set them out on a career of self-support, and remove all obstacles in their way without any special effort on their part, and when difficulties have arisen to fall back on their missionary friends to set them out afresh. When these expectations have not been realized, they have been disposed to view their guardians as having failed in parental duty and affection. We have known cases where the rough experience of life has taught self-dependence, and thankfulness also for the treatment, which at the time was regarded as unkind, but had led to lasting benefit. So far as we have been able to ascertain, the ordinary feeling among those who had been inmates of orphan institutions, and of their descendants, has been one of affection and gratitude to those who have watched over them and provided for them in their days of helplessness, and who have toiled and in many cases suffered to promote their temporal and spiritual good. When travelling we have met many of this class, and have been much gratified by the spirit they have shown.

Some have come out of orphanages well equipped for the highest work by character and attainments. As teachers, catechists, and native preachers, these occupy honourable and useful positions, and have been a great blessing to the Church and the world. In the course of our residence in India we have seen many of the missions in the North-West, but our acquaintance with them is too slight to enable us to mention the number given by orphanages to the higher class of native agents. We have known several who are worthy of all respect, confidence, and affection.

[Sidenote: ORPHANS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS.]

To the question, |What is the general character of the large community of native Christians formed of orphans and their descendants?| it is difficult to give a satisfactory reply, though easy enough to give one's impression. A characterization of communities is one of the most common and at the same time most unsatisfactory of operations, as the data for its being done well are so wide, recondite, and difficult to grasp. As I proceed I shall have occasion to give my views of native Christians generally. All I can now say about orphans and their descendants is, that considering what human beings are, as shown from age to age, considering the circumstances and surroundings of those of whom we are speaking, the moral and spiritual results are what might have been expected, though not all that had been wished for and hoped for. Sanguine spirits had hoped that they would have had a striking superiority to their fellow-countrymen, which would have drawn forth their wonder and led them to inquire whence the superiority had come; but no one will maintain this has been the case. A few, I believe very few, have turned out utterly reprobate. The character of some who have not lapsed into gross wickedness has been very unsatisfactory. Many are respectable members of society, and make the profession of religion implied in attending public worship and calling themselves Christians. A considerable number show in different ways spiritual character. What more can be said of congregations composed of those whose advantages have been immeasurably greater? It would have been a most pleasing, but at the same time a most remarkable and unparalleled result, if orphans brought up under the charge of missionaries had gone forth a united band, with no defaulters, to maintain the cause of God among their countrymen, by a life so adorned with excellence that its testimony to Christ could not be resisted. The result actually attained, though chequered, is sufficient to show that orphan institutions have by the Divine blessing done much good, and that the faithful labour bestowed on them has borne gratifying fruit.

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