By Cathy Willoughby, Correspondent
His career involved working as a school photographer for Lifetouch National School Studios. Tiffin resident John Rochotte's mission since 1989 has brought hope to hundreds of impoverished children in India, through Lifelight Ministries.
Rochotte, 74, learned of an effort to build an orphanage for boys in Aurangabad, which is 300 miles northeast of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), through his son, Neil.
"(He) went to India in 1986 and 1988 with his minister in Findlay on a mission trip," Rochotte said. "There was an older gentleman, Rowindra Dongerdive, who served as their interpreter. The church in Findlay brought him to Findlay in the summer of 1988, and they told us that they wanted to build a boys' orphanage. They started taking up collections for the project."
As their time in Findlay came to a close, they were still considerably short of the amount needed to fund the orphanage. That's when Rochotte stepped in.
"I love kids," he said. "I had the money in the bank, so I bought it for them."
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Now, the mission has evolved to include a girls orphanage and a school. Five acres of land was purchased recently with the hope of creating a campus that combines the boys' and girls' orphanages, the school, a health clinic and a small Christian college.
Rochotte travels to India every two years to check on the facilities, visit with the children and to continue to support the mission, called Life Light Inc.
"The orphanage opened in 1990, and I made my first trip in 1994, to check the organization and see what they were doing," he said.
The city of Aurangabad is in the state of Mahrastra, a city of about 1 million people. The need in the country is huge, Rochotte said; children live in the streets, seemingly unnoticed.
"The parents will bring in their kids if they can't afford to support them," Rochotte said. "They are mainly from off the street, found by Christian people in the cities. They don't even need approval from the government because they don't know they exist."
In 1997, they opened the school, St. John's Christian School, where 800 boys now attend classes.
"There are no public schools in India, only private parochial or those privately owned," Rochotte said. "We started with 15 boys in the orphanage, and now there are 47 who range in age from 4 to 16."
The boys are taught a trade while in school, and helped to find a job before they leave the orphanage.
The group began building the girls' orphanage, New Beginnings Girls Home, in 2001. It now has 30 girls who live there.
"The poverty level is high," Rochotte said. "The problem is the caste system, which is still in effect, although it's disappearing in the cities. The people in the higher castes are well to do, but they don't share, they don't help the lower-caste people. It is changing."
Another problem Rochotte has noticed is that there is a national stigma against advertising their poverty internationally.
"They don't want the rest of the world to know that they have all of these poor people," he said. "I was there when there was an earthquake in 1994. The Indian government announced that there were 8,000 killed. Actually it was 300,000, because we visited the site. They didn't want to admit that; they just said it was a shame that so many people were killed. It's the way they try to cover up reality. It's saving face."
On the flip side, Rochotte has found the Indian people to be kind, generous, sweet and polite.
"I've been in the villages where the people are dirt poor," Rochotte said. "They couldn't afford it, but they would grab and butcher a chicken right there and feed us. They are not selfish."
Rochotte is not only one of the program's main benefactors, he is one of its trustees, actively seeking funds and support for the non-profit corporation. It's now managed by not only Dongerdive and his wife, Pushpa, but his sons, John and James.
John has traveled to the United States to accompany John to churches and to meet with individuals to spread the word of Life Light and the children's needs.
John Dongerdive will be coming to Tiffin in March, Rochotte said, and he hopes his visit will serve to gather more support for the foundation's goals.
"Well over 200 kids have been helped who would have lived in cardboard boxes, or underneath pushcarts, wagons," he said. "They would sleep under there at night with the rats and the dogs."
Three years ago, five acres of land was purchased for a building for the girls, and the dream is to create one campus.
"We want to build a small, Christian college," he said. "We want to build a health clinic at the site of the girls' orphanage. We need to get the boys moved to a permanent location that's part of the same property."
They also need to build a brick wall that would enclose the buildings to keep out stray animals and vagrants. The estimated cost for the wall is $40,000.
"We encourage contributions, and any amount is welcome," Rochotte said. "We are completely supported by individuals and churches. We are small and struggling."
Individuals and groups can support the mission of Life Light in several ways. Donations are encouraged, from relatively small, yet meaningful amounts in the lives of the children, to levels of funding that help create the structures, health and educational goals of the foundation.
A child can be sponsored for $35 a month; a native missionary with a pledge of $40 a month. A leper in Aurangabad can be helped with $10 a month.
"That $35 a month covers their keep," Rochotte said. "Food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care."
"Visits are encouraged," Rochotte said. "And folks who pray should pray for us."
More information about Life Light Ministries can be found online at www.lifelightinc.com.