Published January 13, 2015
After their mother was washed away by the tsunami (search) that ravaged southern Asia, their father told 10-year-old Devinya and her two brothers to fend for themselves.
"My father told me to go," was all Devinya could say, sitting sadly at a new orphanage that opened Monday in the south Indian town of Sikkal.
But 18 of the 22 children who arrived on the first day still had one surviving parent. Some were mothers who had no work; others said their fathers were alcoholics.
"My father is a drunk and a gambler," said Murugeswari, 14, holding her sister Rajeswari, 5, tightly by the hand. Murugeswari, like many south Indians, uses one name.
"He used to make a lot of money from fishing, but lost everything to his bad habits," she said of her father. "Now that the waves have taken our livelihood, he has lost all ability to support us."
Most affected families in the region, including Murugeswari's hamlet of Nambiar Nagar, are fisherfolk whose livelihoods are tied to the sea.
Naveena, 14, has a similar story. She said her father's drinking habits left little money for her mother, Lakshmi, to run the house. Lakshmi died in the tsunami.
"If I stay with my father, I wouldn't be able to continue to go to school. That's why I came here," she said.
Ramya, 13, said her surviving father had a heart disease and couldn't go to work. Joining the orphanage was her only option after her mother was swept away by the sea.
The United Nations expects the death toll from the earthquake-triggered giant waves to exceed 150,000 from Indonesia to Somalia. More than 9,480 are confirmed dead in India, and thousands are missing.
Raman Thangavelu, of the Tamil Nadu social welfare department, said orphanages in India do sometimes take in children of single parents if they have no means to support their offspring.
"Now the tsunami has left many single parents without any livelihood," Thangavelu said.
For sisters Shantha, 15, and Shanthini, 10, it was their mother who sent them away.
"Our mother used sell fish. Now that there is no fish to sell, she is not sure how she can feed us and send us to school," Shantha said.
The youngest among the orphans at the new center, 5-year-old Rajeswari, sat stone-faced, cross-legged on the floor. When asked why she was there, she said would only say: "No mother, that's why."