More than 8,000 miles from home here in Malibu, local Malibu High School student Quinten Smoller found another family he cherishes in India. It is a group of 60 kids, ranging in age from two to 22, who live in a tiny orphanage in Kerala. It’s called Our Home and Smoller felt quite at home at the orphanage making connections with the kids there.
Through a nonprofit organization called the Kaiizen Foundation that was founded in 2014, the now-16-year-old Smoller traveled to India and Swaziland, Africa, for humanitarian causes last summer. In 2018, Smoller, then 14, went with Zaiizen to Ensenada, Mexico, to work in an orphanage “which is really amazing to me. It was really cool connecting with all these kids. I felt like there was such an unbreakable bond between me and all the kids and I only just met them,” he said.
The trip to Mexico left such an impression on the young Smoller, he asked his parents if he could travel again on a humanitarian mission with the nonprofit. This past summer, Smoller and another local Malibu teen, Finn Case, accompanied Josh Brazier (who runs Kaiizen), on “the trip of a lifetime,” according to Smoller.
“All we knew is that we were going on a service trip for two weeks to Swaziland, Africa.” The trip also included some backpacking in Europe and then on to Kerala, India, for another two-week humanitarian trip. The two Malibu boys were joined by nearly 20 young adults, mostly from Utah, on the service trip. Case, now a junior at MHS, didn’t make the India portion of the trip.
Smoller described Kerala.
“We drove roughly two-and-a-half hours into the jungle with trees as far as you could see. You couldn’t see any other buildings,” he said. The group arrived at the small Our Home orphanage—a tiny, ramshackle two-story building with open walls and no windows.
“Just a beautiful place in a forest with rain pouring down,” Smoller said. “All these beautiful children who just flock towards you and want to play with you, meet you and see who you are as a person. They are so thankful you’re there trying to help them and help out.”
While at the orphanage for nearly two weeks, Smoller and others worked to build a fishery to eventually produce enough income to pay for other food and supplies. It could also generate enough to pay for some of the kids’ higher educations, “which is really special for us to be a part of,” said Smoller, a MHS sophomore. The group also poured a concrete road for truck access to the fish farm, previously only accessible by a dirt road that often flooded, turning it into a muddy mess, all this during monsoon season when it poured “crazy rain” every day making their construction even more difficult.
Smoller relayed how he and the group bonded with the kids playing soccer and eating meals together (the same rice and curry dish eight nights in a row).
“We were fully immersed in the culture,” he said. “Every night we had prayer ceremonies. They read their version of the bible. They speak English very well. This is a very special orphanage. All the kids are very well mannered and well educated. It’s rewarding to put all the time in and see all the kids benefit and become better people with their lives and accomplish things.”
Unfortunately, just two weeks after returning to Malibu, Smoller received word that the rainwater in Kerala was so severe, soaking the mountains above the orphanage, it caused a landslide that crashed down on top of the girls’ dorm. Thankfully, no one was hurt because the orphans had evacuated. However, the dorm and the kitchen were destroyed in the mudslide. According to Brazier, the local Indian government declared the property uninhabitable. Kaiizen Foundation is trying to purchase a nearby piece of land to rebuild a new dorm “to keep a cohesive family that it’s been.” The children are currently housed in rentals provided by the foundation.
Kaiizen is sponsoring an online GoMundme fundraiser to raise money to rebuild the Our Home Orphanage with $50,000 collected so far, “which is phenomenal,” according to Brazier. However, $125,000 is needed to buy land and rebuild in Kerala.
Smoller and his Malibu family have a fundraiser boutique planned Oct. 18 at 6936 Fernhill Drive from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Local Malibu moms and businesses will be selling their products with 20 percent of the proceeds going to fund the rebuild of the orphanage.
“My hope,” Smoller said, “is that we will raise enough money that they can continue living as a family. I’d love to go back.”
Find out more or see how to donate at Kaiizen.org.