The Difficulty of Tikkun Olam

By Louise Baker.

‘Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena’

You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it’ (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:21)

This is probably my favourite piece of jewish text. For me it really sums up Tikkun olam in terms of how it affects us in our lives. It is also something that is easy to forget and something I am consistently having to remind myself of. I am now 2 months into my 4 month trip volunteering in Sarah’s covenant Homes, a special needs orphanage in India and it is the most challenging thing I have ever done.

I struggle here. I struggle with the fact that there are over 170 children here and I can only work with a fraction of them. I struggle because there is not enough money or resources to teach the children in the way I would like to teach them. All of the children have experienced loss or abandonment. Many have experienced abuse and neglect and I know that I cannot give these children everything they deserve. It is really difficult.

But I do not tell you this to upset you or get anything from you. I write this because it is the truth. Tikkun olam is not easy. It is a big job and not one you can do alone. It would be easy to get discouraged thinking about all the things I cannot do so I focus on the positive. I don’t want to know where these children came from, it does not help me help them. I focus on what they are doing now. I focus on how now they have people who love them and people to tuck them into bed at night. I think of their smiles when we have music on and how they concentrate when I read stories. I think about how Bella is standing for the first time and Molly is learning to read and communicate. I think about the first time these children get to do finger painting and see their work displayed on the wall.

This is not a sad place. Sad things have happened to the children, yes, but if you came here you would not see that at first. First you would see children who are healthy and happy. They might reach their arms out to you for a hug or start singing their favourite song. They would ask you hundreds of questions about where you came from. Where is it? What is it like? How did you get here? And you would hear laughing. It is only like this because people come and they do their bit. Each person comes and makes a difference to the children. Even just 1 child is still 1 child with a better life.

I cannot fix any of the problems here and I have learnt not to expect to do so. But I can help. When I told people at home What I was doing for my gap year the main response was ‘oh, I wish I could do something like that but I wouldn’t know what to do’. I believe that everyone has a skill they can use for tikkun olam. You may not even think of it as a skill. Just a passion for what you are doing is all you really need.

Molly, who has severe Cerebral palsy, is learning to read. We have been doing flash cards for a couple of weeks and are now making our way through an actual book. It takes a long time as she is non verbal but she is reading!

I want to tell you some stories about the children, because it is easy to forget that they are real people sometimes. Most of the time I have a schedule revolving around specific kids working on specific skills. Saturday is my day to do something different. This week we took 4 of the children to the water park for the first time. They LOVED it! They smiled and laughed the entire day (other than when I sent 5 year old Heidi down a very fast slide by mistake…. Oops!)

Now my favourite story. The other day, I had just finished my third class of the morning when I had to leave my classroom for amoment. When I tried to come back in, Wendy and Ginger sent me out and closed the door. I had five minutes before my next class started so I waited outside the door, listening for signs of trouble. Nothing came. A few minutes later I was pulled inside to find that they had tidied my classroom! Admittedly I still had to teach 1 more class and the stuff all over my room was for my next lesson, and I couldn’t find anything I needed for a week but it’s the thought that counts!louise2

If you would like to follow my journey in India, my blog is

I would also like to share my wish list with you. It is all toys/books for the children. I would love to have everything on it by the time I leave. Anything ordered will come straight to me.

All names used are ‘online names’ to protect the children’s privacy.