Jeremiah Caleb went to Northern India for the first time to visit his father’s homeland and came back with the need to make a change. He started the Caleb Hope Foundation with some friends, and in a very short time has made a HUGE impact in the lives of some of the most underprivileged children and young people in this area. I had a chance to talk with Jeremiah about his vision for his incredibly humble and extremely powerful organization.
Love and Water- Tell us how you started the Caleb Hope Foundation.
Jeremiah Caleb- I’m an actor- had no intention of doing this. I had never actually been to India in my life. I’m from Singapore and then England, but my dad was from India. He was from the slums. I was writing a novel based on the life of my dad and I was trying to document it so I went to India for 40 days wearing my father’s clothes.
JC- Yes, literally. I wore a saffron cloth, which is called a Kadi. So I wore that into the slums, and I came in contact with poverty for the first time, to that extreme. And the question I couldn’t get away from was how can a child possibly live like this, in conditions like this? I was literally looking at a skeletal body with skin, living on top of each other. The second question that I had to ask myself was why not me? How come, these are my people, how did I get the life in America, you know, when I could have been here? And the only answer I could come up with is because I have to do something about it. I have a chance to do something about it. So during that trip I visited an orphanage in the slums that was started by my grand-uncle about 30 years ago for the Dalits (pronounced Dahleets). The Dalits are the lowest cast; more than the lowest cast. They’re the people who work in the sewers, in the garbage dumps. And my uncle started pulling these children out of the brothels and the slums and bringing them to this orphanage. So when I met the children who are there now I immediately grew attached to them, and I got to know them a bit. When I came back, you know it takes a long time to process a trip like that, so I sat down with a bunch of actor friends and we decided to go back. So we all went back to visit the kids, and from there we started fundraising and building our organization. Now we’ve come to a place where we’re almost a 501C3, we’re waiting for our last approval, we have 30 children who we’re completely responsible for. They all have sponsors, we write to them, send them updates, and I take the money over and directly interact with the kids. So people know that the money they give to sponsor their child goes directly to that child.
L&W- What is the long-term mission of the foundation?
JC- Our mission is twofold. First, it is really to empower the slum people. Not to take them away but work with them there to educate and train them so they can have the tools to rise up and create better lives for themselves. And secondly, to bring together artists from here to create work in New York and LA inspired by these kids in order to raise more money for them. We have cabarets, we do Rock India, and other shows.
L&W- Where do most of your donations come from?
JC- Ironically, most of the donations come from people in New York City who come to our artist events. We’ve teamed up with be.the.change.uganda for a Halloween party this year, and we do a lot of fundraising that way. A big percentage comes from our sponsors through sponsorship donations, and a lot comes from team members who are going to India. They fundraise individually.
L&W- Can anyone sponsor a child through you at this point?
L&W- What does that entail?
JC- We set them up with a child, and they can pay monthly, quarterly or yearly. They get a profile of the child, and pictures, and they keep in touch through writing letters to the child. But the beauty of it is that the child never knows that they have a sponsor. They think the sponsor is just a friend who wants to get to know them, so even if you end up coming with me on one of our trips, you get to meet the child as a friend, so there is no savior complex.
L&W- How much does it cost to sponsor one child?
JC- $30.00 a month, which is $400.00 a year, and that includes food, clothing, education, medical- everything.
L&W- What is the most moving experience you’ve had so far?
JC- I guess two things. Last year in India we went into a school for the physically handicapped, which was completely falling apart- rats and such. And our team gutted the place, painted a huge mural on the wall…
L&W- There’s a video of that on your website…
JC- Yes, and at the end of it you see physically handicapped children giving speeches about how they never thought they mattered. Because here in America we have a school for the blind, a school for the deaf, a school for every kind of handicap. But there, they just lump them all together and throw them into one room. They’re tossed aside, basically, and often disowned by their families. So here we were building something for them and they were so excited. So that was really touching for me. To see that we could really make such a difference in their lives. And the other thing that has been so moving to me is to see the older kids going off to college. They come from generations of slum people with no education. To hear them talk about their dreams- I can be a teacher, I can be a doctor- is really very moving.
L&W- Where do they go to college?
JC- We try to get them to colleges within their area. Some go to vocational studies, some go to better schools.
L&W- And they’re accepted there?
JC- Yes, because we’ve trained them so much at the school to work hard and they end up fitting in because that have acquired those skills.
L&W- You have a school too?
JC- Yes, it’s called St. James, which is part of the orphanage. And apart from the 100 children who live in th orphanage, there are 500 children who come to the school. It’s part of my grand-uncle’s work. He started it. We also plan to build an orphanage in Koraput in Orrissa, which is a very poor area with no running water. So we plan to build over there in about a year or so.
L&W- Those kids must be an inspiration.
JC- There’s this one kid who has polio, and he has no legs. And he dances just like Michael Jackson, in his upper body. His moves are incredible. And in this village they were trying to get people to give their kids the polio vaccine, and he rode his bike, with his hand-pedal, over to this pole in the middle of the town, climbed up the pole and posted this sign that said, “do you want your kids to end up like me? Wise up- get the polio vaccine.” He’s so inspirational.
L&W- What do you think about the Love and Water concept that “every drop counts?”
JC- Well, this work has changed my life. It has put a whole new perspective on my life, and as you are saying, every drop counts- every single penny counts. Because in India one U.S. dollar is 47 rupies. For one dollar I can feed a family for one whole day. A whole family. So we try to encourage that. Every little bit.
L&W- Is there anything else you want people to know about the foundation?
JC- Every single team member at this point, including myself, are all volunteers. No one gets paid, and we’re looking for other volunteers who know how to edit. We’ve made some videos that we can give to the people there that they can use to talk to the government about creating change. So if we can get them edited, they can really help us do a lot of good.
L&W- I think you’re doing an amazing thing.
JC- It’s exactly what I want to be doing. I’m getting married next year, and we’re having the ceremony here and the reception there. The kids are planning the whole reception.
L&W- Wow! That’s incredible!
JC- We just want them to know that we are here to stay. They are our family. That’s what we want them to feel and understand.
L&W- Well that’s just the most touching thing ever.
JC- Yeah, they’re really excited. And so are we.
Visit the Caleb Hope Foundation here: http://calebhopefoundation.org/
Follow them on Twitter: @calebhope
Join their Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Caleb-Hope-Foundation/97082547485