Fashion graduate who moved to India adopts 12 children

Fashion graduate, 34, who moved to India to look after orphans with special needs reveals she’s adopted ELEVEN children – including two youngsters whose parents have lost their jobs because of Covid

  • Courtney Lalotra, 34, from New Jersey, travelled to India in 2010 for college trip
  • Decided to stay and moved to the slums where she volunteered at an orphanage
  • She went on to marry her husband Yogesh, 37, in 2015, and began adopting kids
  • They have now taken in 12 children in total – including four during Covid-19 crisis

A woman from New Jersey who moved to India to look after orphans with special needs has revealed how she took in four children during the height of the country’s coronavirus crisis.

Courtney Lalotra, 34, from Brick, moved to India in 2010 to help in orphanages, before marrying her husband Yogesh, 37, and adopting 11 children, including Dipu, 17, Raju, 11, Shivam, 11, Shiva, 10, Shivam, 10, Jai, seven, Satyam, five, Roshit, five, and Piyush, three. 

The fashion graduate, who also has one biological child Adi, five, lives with her vast family in the National Capital Territory of Delhi and took in four children affected by the pandemic which is engulfing the country.

Among the children the couple adopted were Piyush, nine, whose father lost his job as a rickshaw driver in the pandemic, and Krishna, four, whose single mother lost her work due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Courtney said she has heard of many more who need help, revealing: ‘I get messages every day from people who know of families where both parents have passed away. It is a race to find the next of kin because you want to avoid children entering the system.’ 

Courtney Lalotra, 34, from New Jersey, has revealed how she who moved to India to look after orphans with special needs before adopting 12 children (pictured with Dipu, 17, Raju, 11, Shivam, 11, Shiva, 10, Shivam, 10, Piyush, nine, Jai, seven, Satyam, five, Roshit, five, Sialesh, four, and Piyush, three) 

Courtney initially travelled to India in 2010 for a college trip before she decided she wanted to move to the slums and work in an orphanage (pictured, graduating university) 

Courtney and her husband Yogesh, 37, are now parents of 12 with one biological son, Adi, five, (pictured)

Courtney first visited India in 2010 on a project to research fabrics as a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan.

She was immediately shocked by the poverty she saw.

‘What stuck with me was the first moments of stepping off the plane and being faced with poverty like that – children begging on the streets, women holding crying babies in their arms.’

She volunteered in a slum in North East Delhi and realized that her calling was to help orphans in India.

In 2010, Courtney volunteered in a slum in North East Delhi and realized that her calling was to help orphans in India (pictured with her son Jai) 

Courtney, who has been living in India for 11  years, said she ‘couldn’t even grasp the language’ when she first moved to the country (pictured with her son Shivam) 

She explained: ‘I was volunteering at an orphanage for boys and girls in the middle of the slum. The despair and hopelessness was so thick and you could feel it.

‘These children didn’t have anyone who really cared about them, asking them about how their day was and the past tragedies they had faced.

‘I couldn’t even grasp the language at that point. I would get girls who would cry into my shoulder and we were somehow able to communicate.’

Courtney was convinced to return to India when an orphan called Fatima told her that none of the volunteers usually returned.

The fashion graduate lives with her vast family in the National Capital Territory of Delhi and took in four children affected by the pandemic which is engulfing the country

Courtney initially worked for a non-profit before settling up her own home for children with special needs in 2012 

She said: ‘My visa was expiring and I said I would be back and Fatima said: “No one comes back here”.’

‘At that moment, I thought I don’t want to be that person – I really do want to give it all up and do something different.’

Courtney returned to the US and sold her car and all her possessions.

She raised $15,000 which was enough to rent a home for six months and buy linen, furniture and food for the children she intended to help.

Courtney is now committed to helping the orphans in India live a happier life, and has adopted 11 children  

She returned to India in March 2011 and worked for a non-profit before settling up her own home for children with special needs in 2012.

Despite initial reservations, her parents were supportive with her father even donating three paychecks to help her start her home.

She fell in love with Yogesh and the pair married in 2014 and had their son Adi the next year.

Courtney admitted that at the height of the coronavirus, she was jealous of her friends and family back in the US. 

Courtney and Yogesh adopted Satya and Shivam after their mother was killed by their father – their next of kin was a 17-year-old uncle who was unable to look after the kids (pictured, left to right Sialesh, Satyam, Adi and Shivam)

She said: ‘They were walking around the block, they were walking around the park.

‘We couldn’t do that – we were stuck in the house. The Indians were very disciplined about the lockdown rules.’

She added that the lockdown was terrible for migrant workers who live hand to mouth, explaining: ‘The need here is so much greater. We have a daycare center for the children of migrant families.

‘When the lockdown happened, those families were stranded. They couldn’t make money and these are people who live hand to mouth. There was complete panic.

Courtney added that she was even supposed to fly back to the US to see her family in April but opted to stay in India to help as the virus spread

She continued: ‘We started giving them rations – we had hundreds of people on our doorstep asking for food.

‘We started ordering truckloads of rations like lentils and rice and distributing it to everyone who was in need.

India’s Covid crisis 

A devastating surge of coronavirus in India has seen nearly 25 million people infected and a staggering 274,390 deaths. 

Even though India is the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation, it has fully vaccinated only 2.9 per cent of its population of 1.35 billion, or just over 40.4 million people, health ministry data shows.

India’s Covid variant is now dominant in four local authorities in England and its rapid spread could jeopardise plans to ease lockdown, experts fear.

Analysis by one of the UK’s biggest variant trackers warns the strain is focused in hotspots Bolton and neighbour Blackburn with Darwen, where outbreaks have grown by 93 and 86 per cent in a week, respectively, with more than half of lab-checked cases proven to be the Indian strain.

The mutant B.1.617.2 virus is also thought to be behind half of all Covid infections in London, Bedford and South Northamptonshire, although outbreaks in these areas are still small.

‘We have helped more than 2,000 families during this entire crisis.’ 

Meanwhile the family have continued taking in children during the crisis. 

Courtney and Yogesh adopted Satya and Shivam after their mother was killed by their father – their next of kin was a 17-year-old uncle who was unable to look after the kids. 

The mother-of-12 said that the pandemic is not just a disaster for the people who catch the deadly virus.

She explained: ‘With COVID, it’s not just people who are getting sick and dying.

‘There is a ripple effect – the whole of society is suffering.

‘There are hundreds, if not thousands, of children being orphaned every day in India, especially now during the pandemic.’

She said: ‘A lot of the children in our home are either completely orphaned or have lost one parent and their next of kin is not able to care for them.’

Courtney added that she was even supposed to fly back to the US to see her family in April but opted to stay in India to help as the virus spread.

She said: ‘The US embassy contacted all US citizens and told us to book our flights as the borders were about to be locked down.

‘I thought this was my chance to see my family again and I got a seat on the last flight out.

‘But I had to get a pass from the district magistrate here as it is a containment zone and he knew me because of my COVID relief work.

‘He said: “We would urge you to stay because the need is so great”.

‘I decided to stay because I felt I wouldn’t have any peace of mind in the US.’

Courtney added that despite the severity of the COVID pandemic in India, she still has hope, saying: ‘At this point, fear and panic gripped the nation but without hope, what is the point?

‘We were meant for service, each one of us, if we are not serving in some way we are missing out on life.’

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