Global connections will be made this weekend in Kelowna at the annual Diwali Dinner fundraiser for the East Meets West Children’s Foundation.
Kelowna supporters on hand at the sold-out dinner to be held at Parkinson Recreation Centre will have the opportunity to meet an orphaned girl from India who, through the foundation’s fundraising efforts, had multiple surgeries to save both her legs from being amputated and was ultimately adopted by a Clinton, Miss., family.
Robby and Jessica Followell made the trip from Clinton to Kelowna on Thursday at the invitation of the Diwali Dinner organizers to attend this year with their three children, a son and two daughters, one of whom is Eden, who was adopted from India.
Robby, a professional photographer, made a video about Eden’s life journey so far, and it caught the attention on YouTube of Kelowna city Coun. Mohini Singh, who is actively involved in the East Meets West Children’s Foundation.
“We connected through messaging her response to the film about six or eight months ago on social media,” said Robby. “She told us their foundation had been a supporter of Eden with her surgeries. That led to her eventually inviting us to come to the (Diwali Dinner) this year.”
He said he thought it was a great opportunity for his family to make a personal connection and tell everyone how grateful they are for the support Eden received through her medical challenges.
The family flew from Clinton to Dallas and on to Vancouver Thursday, where they caught a connecting flight to Kelowna. The family plans to spend a week here exploring a part of Canada they have never experienced.
“We have been to Montreal a few times because we have really good friends who live there,” said Robby. “But we have never been to (the western) part of the country. We’re looking forward to seeing that.”
Eden’s story is one of overcoming adversity with immeasurable intestinal fortitude and truly global support.
A then three-day-old baby, she was found abandoned at a rail station two hours outside Kolkata, India on March 19, 2013. She was born with deformities to her hands and feet due to amniotic bands wrapped around her in the womb.
After 18 months in an orphanage, and three surgeries to save her hands and legs, which were funded by charitable donors in Canada, she was brought home to the deep south U.S. by the Followells.
Robby said it was almost a three-year process from when they first met Eden to bringing her home.
“It was costly because of the reconstructive surgeries—11 in total—but there was a lot of support from grants available and charitable programs in Canada and the U.S.,” he said.
“There are still surgical concerns for her down the road but nothing compared to what she has already gone through. Right now she is just like any other six-year-old.
“We believe there has been a divine force for good working upstream from us, allowing us to take good care of her.”
Robby said the initial drive to consider adopting a less fortunate child came from feelings of good fortune both he and his wife shared for the birth of their first child coupled with doing something in the face of dire circumstances many orphaned children confront elsewhere in the world.
He said adopting Eden filled a vacancy on their growing family’s life, one they never thought existed.
“Eden has an unwavering spirit, and being around her you begin to understand the determination and persistence required to survive that year and a half in orphanages.
“On a deeper degree, she personifies what it means to be a true fighter, with all the hurdles she has had to overcome. She has redefined for us an understanding of what kids are capable of.
“We are very grateful to have been drawn to her story…she has made an impact on our lives, as have our other two children. For Eden it’s as if it was always meant to be she would become part of our family.”
Robby added he and his wife are also cognizant of her native Indian culture.
“We want to seize any opportunity to exposure her to her native culture as that is part of her life story, so being able to make that connection in any type of celebration is fitting for her to be part of.”
The East Meets West Children’s Foundation has raised money in the past to assist the Kolkata Orphanage, and also assist a centre in Mumbai called Family Home, which cares for 20 destitute boys aged four to 12 who have been committed to the care of the home by the juvenile welfare board of the state government.
The foundation has also provided 42 health kits for the 42 villages and hamlets of the Kandhmal district in the India state of Odisha. The kits benefited 1,104 extremely impoverished tribal families living in remote regions of central India.
Locally, it also supports the Starbright Child Development Centre and Karis Support Society.