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From London to Coimbatore – How One Woman Is Educating Orphans and Changing Their Lives

Natasha was so moved by the poor condition of orphan and destitute children in Coimbatore that she started The Big Hug Foundation to provide them with a shelter and a better education.

Muthailan and Muthuvel’s alcoholic father abandoned his family, leaving them with no financial support leading their single mother to turn to prostitution to feed her children. When the villagers found out, they cut her and her children off from the community.

Depressed and shattered beyond words, the mother poisoned Muthailan and Muthuvel and hung herself. While she could not survive, the boys were fortunately saved and sent to a local orphanage called Cornerstone Children’s Home (CCH) run by the Cornerstone Trust.

There were many other children like Muthailan and Muthuvel at the orphanage — children with no parents or whose parents were unable to look after them. With nowhere to turn, the trustees at the Cornerstone Trust took all the children in.

Despite the Cornerstone Trust’s best efforts, a lack of finances and other resources meant they were unable to provide the children they cared for with the best facilities.

This is when Natasha Mansigini, a psychology graduate from London, visited CCH. Born and brought up in London, but with roots in India because this is her parent’s home country, Natasha was a frequent visitor to Coimbatore every summer.

But in 2011, Natasha’s India visit became much more than just a vacation.

Natasha has helped many children in need through Big Hug Foundation.
Natasha has helped many children in need through the Big Hug Foundation.

Natasha had always been a part of various charities and engaged in volunteer work in London. This propelled her to visit CCH while in Coimbatore, and she was moved to tears when she saw the poor condition of the kids living there.

“It was horrible. The bathrooms were so unhygienic, the kitchen too was unclean, the beds were broken, water came to them once in 15 days and was stored in a black tank, and there were snakes in the area that were dangerous. I couldn’t believe that the kids were living in such poor conditions. I decided to change that,” Natasha recalls.

And so, Natasha returned to London, determined to find a way of helping CCH. Along with her husband, Aadil Datta, Natasha decided to start a charity of her own, the Big Hug Foundation. A UK based charity to support the needs of children in India.

The first step was to get the kids a better home. Natasha found a rental property in Coimbatore and shifted all 30 of the kids living in CCH there.

Big Hug FOundation not just provides better accommodation but also better education opportunities to the kids.
The Big Hug Foundation  provides good educational opportunities to the kids.

The house is a two-storey structure, where the boys occupy the first floor and the girls live on the ground floor.

The broken beds were replaced with comfortable and clean beds. The CCH team also dug a borewell, which provides 24×7 water supply for the kids. The new house has better lights, ventilation, tables and chairs for the kids to study, and an overall better environment.

The children have been admitted into a local school down the lane and are given healthy food and fresh clothes at the home. All of this is supported by Natasha’s Big Hug Foundation, which manages to raise the funds for the upkeep of the house every month.

The charity pays for the rent, school fees and maintenance of the house. Other day-to-day expenses like food, clothes, etc., are still taken care of by CCH.

In London, Natasha organizes various events, quiz nights, performances, sports tournaments, etc., to raise funds for the Big Hug Foundation.

You can also support many of Big Hug Foundation's kids by sponsoring their education.
You can also support many of Big Hug Foundation’s kids by sponsoring their education.

Volunteers run the Foundation and all the money raised by the charity goes directly to the kids at CCH.

In addition to charity events, Natasha raises funds through a ‘sponsor a child’ scheme, where anyone can sponsor a particular child’s education and expenses.

Natasha’s intervention has changed the lives of the 30 children drastically. They live in a healthier environment, get a good education, and have a house they can call home.

Natasha even keeps track of the weight of each kid! Since many of the children were underweight when she first met them, she is thrilled that the majority have achieved normal weight now.

And Natasha’s efforts are now visible in the lives of so many of the children. Muthuvel is doing a degree in Business Administration.

Similarly, Selvi, a 10-year-old girl who came to CCH after her single mother died of TB, is now studying in class 7 and is excelling academically.

Nandini has fantastic stamina and loves competing in track and field. To encourage Nandini's passion, this year Bug Hug presented her with a pair of running shoes which they hope will lead her all the way to the Olympics!
Nandini has fantastic stamina and loves competing in track and field. To encourage Nandini’s passion, this year Bug Hug presented her with a pair of running shoes, which they hope will lead her all the way to the Olympics!

Achieving all this was not easy for Natasha, given that she is from London and did not have knowledge of how the system works in India. But her Aunty, Divya Hari, based in Coimbatore has always supported and encouraged her in her work.

Thanks to the Big Hug Foundation, about 30 kids who were living in darkness now have a reason to smile. Big Hugs to this wonderful lady!

Over the last year, the Big Hug Foundation has expanded it’s reach and has now begun supporting a further 500 children in Kolkata through the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy. The two projects they support; the Early Intervention Clinic (a service which screens babies at a high risk of cerebral palsy and other motor-neuro difficulties) and the Jugnu Pre-school and Nutrition Programme (a free pre-school for underprivileged slum children aged 2-6 with no access to education).

To know more about her work, check out her website.

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