A few decades ago, Dr Michelle Harrison, who has Israeli origins, came to India to adopt a child. While she already had a biological daughter, she adopted another infant girl from Kolkata in 1984.

“I always knew that somewhere there was a child out there and I was supposed to be raising her,” she says.

In 1999, after getting diagnosed with breast cancer, she moved to Kolkata to live with her adopted daughter. In the following years, she discovered the scams in the adoption industry.

“The NGOs weren’t taking in orphans who lost both their parents because they had to ‘get rid of’ them at 18 years of age when the Government funding stops,” she says.

“They would prefer to take only those kids who have a single parent, which is mostly a mother. Nobody was thinking about the children. It was all about business, laws, and rules,” she adds.

So, the 81-year-old dedicated her life to raising orphaned girls rejected for adoption. She runs a group home for abandoned children in Kolkata called the ‘Childlife Preserve Shishur Sevay’.

Started in 2006, the orphanage provides lifetime care for those who did not get a good start in life.

So far, she says her home has helped 20 underprivileged girls who were either lost, abducted or dumped to lead an empowered life of independence.

At this new home, the girls share living spaces, engage in recreational activities, and get an education.

As of now, Shishur Sevay is home to 14 girls who are enrolled in various vocational courses like practising different forms of art, practising yoga, tailoring, and jewellery-making.

Four among them are with disabilities, and they use speech-generating devices like the Tobii-Dynavox eye tracker to read stories to the children in the school.

“The home is inclusive, meaning there are no separate units based on abilities. Inclusion made us a home, a family, not an institution,” she adds.

This journey has not been easy for her. “People saw my home as a public property and were especially angry that a foreigner lived here. There were rumours that I was raising the girls to sell them for a higher price abroad,” she says.

“I was given death threats as I refused to hire people working under a political umbrella. I was warned that I was making people uneasy and that it wasn’t safe for me. I was told to stop and leave. Of course, I didn’t. Those criminals were why I was here,” she says.

Today the octogenarian says there is no other place that she would rather be at. “I love what I’m doing and feel blessed to be able to do it. India is now my home,” she adds.