A County Armagh couple have been so moved by the multi-Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire that they are setting up their own orphanage in south-east India.
Janet and Nelson Thomas-Raja have given themselves an 18-month timetable to uproot themselves from their cosy life in Portadown and create an orphanage for at least 10 street children and raise them as their own.
It isn’t a starry-eyed leap into the unknown by the parents of four children, one of them an adopted Indian child orphaned by the 2004 tsunami which ravaged the area.
Nelson, a residential social worker in a children’s home, hails from the Madras area which the caring couple have earmarked to establish their orphanage.
And Janet, a paediatric nurse at Craigavon Area Hospital, has been in south-east India several times, helping Nelson’s family, who are in involved in running three orphanages in Madras which cater for 100 children.
“We aren’t going out blind by any means,” said Janet. “We’ve been toying with the idea of our very own orphanage, and when we saw Slumdog Millionaire, which highlights the plight of the street children in India, that was the catalyst we needed to go and do it.
“Children in India are often purposely blinded by adults and have their limbs broken and then banished to the streets to beg. It’s almost impossible to believe to us westerners, but it happens.”
Janet and Nelson met in Amsterdam 10 years ago on Christian mission work, were married within five months and she became |involved heart-and-soul in his family’s work in India.
Her dad, Billy Hughes, a former lecturer in a technical college, also became involved in a big way, and has helped raise an amazing £400,000 through a charity he founded in Portadown called Cutting Edge Developments.
Said Billy: “It has changed all our lives and given us a tremendous purpose in life. We have built those three orphanages, a church and a school, which we then handed over to local people to run. I’m so proud of Janet and Nelson’s decision to start an orphanage of their own.
“They plan to adopt these children, change their name to Thomas-Raja and bring them up as their own family. It’s quite an undertaking, but they have the love and the practical experience to do it. And it isn't a case of losing them, as I have been in India as much as Northern Ireland since I became involved.”
As well as their little adopted daughter Phoebe (5), Janet and Nelson have three other children — Solomon (7), Lydia (5) and Zipporah (18 months).
“The children are really excited at the prospect of their new life,” said Janet. “Maybe seeing that film was meant to be, as now is the ideal time to make the break.”