What draws Sue Dutton to the south of India twice a year? The simple answer is an orphanage in what was a small rural village, Podanur, outside of Coimbatore in the province of Tamil Nadu, where she is the director of education.
In the 1970s, Sandra Simpson of Montreal saw the plight of children in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and felt that she had to do something. She and several others founded an orphanage in Saigon. At the end of the war, Canada offered to airlift some of these orphans, and Sue’s father, Dr. Michael Allen, a paediatric surgeon at Toronto East General Hospital, volunteered to go to Saigon, assess the children and return to Canada with them.
Several years later, when Sandra Simpson decided an orphanage was needed in southern India, she called on her friend, Dr. Allen, to help. She also decided that an orphanage was vital in Dhaka, Bangladesh as well. And so it was, that in 1984, Sue travelled to the orphanage – a trip she says “changed her life.”
Sue is a teacher who lives in north Leaside with her husband, Brian, a lifelong north Leasider. The youngest of their three children is just finishing university. For many years, the orphanages were part of the extended Allen family interest, but the time wasn’t right for Sue to become more involved.
In 2002, she and her father, who died a year ago, went together to India. The orphanage was evolving from a place for babies waiting for adoption to one where up to 300 small children, not readily adoptable in India because of various birth conditions, were going to remain.
Originally, the children could walk down the street to the local school, but this wasn’t always possible for those with disabilities. Four years later, the Allens started with their first classroom, adding a grade a year as the children aged. In 2008, Sue became the director of education for the school – which now has a staff of 12 full-time teachers, five part-time teachers for gym, dance, music, speech therapy and braille, and a number of teaching aides and nursing staff. Most of the children speak Tamil as their first language, but the school promotes teaching in English. The school is now a proper registered elementary school – a process that took years to negotiate because of the bureaucracy involved. Whenever Sue is there she’s called “Susanmommy.” The children couldn’t believe someone could have such a short name, so they lengthened it.
Interested in learning more? This registered charity, www.familiesforchildren.ca, provides information on sponsorship.