Week at Indian orphanage leaves lasting impression on local teen

Photos Courtesy of Ananya Panchal
Ananya Panchal visits with a young orphan in India, above. Despite their challenging circumstances, the residents of Sharanalayam are happy, left, and cherish life, Panchal said.

Los Altos resident and Town Crier intern Ananya Panchal spent a week at an orphanage in Coimbatore, India, in June. Following she recounts her experiences.

Along the green, winding streets of Coimbatore, India, there are temples, golf courses and rivers that are hard to miss. But on one street off the beaten path – right outside of town – there’s a giant sign that makes just as big of an impression.

It reads: “Sharanalayam – A Home for the Children of God.”

I followed the path to Sharanalayam over the summer and spent a week at the orphanage. It proved to be the experience of a lifetime.

I visited Sharanalayam in hopes of taking amazing photos while also teaching some of the hundreds of kids who live there. I left believing in the strength of the human spirit.

Sharanalayam began with one woman, N. Vanitha, who wanted to help seven children she found on the street. Thirteen years later, her not-for-profit organization has grown into a successful shelter that is home to more than 250 children.

“Any orphan, uncared and left in the street, will be given shelter, food, clothing and rehabilitation at our orphanage,” Vanitha said.

She lives onsite, and with support from her two daughters and husband, Vanitha devotes her life to these orphans.

  Many of them come from heart-wrenching situations. Ten-year-old Dhanushya survived a tsunami, but her parents did not. One of her relatives brought her to Sharanalayam, where the young girl was depressed for months. She has since made friends, however, and now seems to love her life and new family at Sharanalayam.

Children with autism – including a 15-year-old with the IQ of a toddler – have found a home here.

Another resident, a 5-year-old girl, was found tied to a building across from Sharanalayam. Many people put their kids on trains and send them to Coimbatore in hopes that they will end up at Sharanalayam. Often, the staff will drive down the street, pick up abandoned children and bring them to the orphanage.

Some parents try to erase their children from their lives. Sharanalayam makes sure these kids will not be forgotten.

Will to survive

Despite everything these children have endured, they show a strong will to survive – and most of them will do so because of Vanitha. Some of them face challenges we can’t even imagine, yet they manage to find happiness here. It was amazing to see them bounce back from disappointment and cherish life.

I was a little uncomfortable on my first day at Sharanalayam. I was reserved around the children, especially the ones with autism. I didn’t know them, I couldn’t speak their language (Tamil) and some of them had a reputation for being violent.

But after a few days, I realized that they were just regular kids who wanted to make a new friend. By my last day, I was able to walk around Sharanalayam on my own and play with them.

The younger kids performed little dances, songs and skits for me. One girl even sat in my lap. She didn’t know me, yet she was able to trust me.

Another girl, Nithya, was fascinated with my camera. She wanted to see all the pictures I took and learn how the camera worked. Other kids began to crowd around as well. I played some music and we all danced and laughed.

That was my last night there, and I knew that I would miss these kids. They taught me so much, and they gave me more than I could ever give them. I realized that the power of human hugs and love is incredibly strong.

For more information on Sharanalayam, visit


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