At 10, Roberta, or Robi, Ley knew she wanted to be a writer. She would dream endlessly toward the day she would see her byline printed on the cover of a book.
Many years later — she did.
She has written four books, but the journey to write one book, “Caste Aside: Hope for Orphans from the Hearts of India,” ended up changing her more than she imagined, she said.
In 2006, the former Alvarado resident went on a mission trip to India to help a couple, Rachel and Amol Pawar, build an orphanage. She learned of the trip through a youth camp of which she and her husband were sponsors.
“Something in me — God spoke to me, I can’t explain it, but something told me that I had to go on that trip,” she said.
She talked to her husband and he agreed that if she could raise the money, then she could go. She raised the money and in December 2006, Ley met up with 39 people she’d never met and flew to India.
“I knew I was going to write a book about the trip. I even had part of the title written,” she said. “I thought about writing a romance novel, but in the end, I didn’t know what it was going to be about.”
Ley grew up reading books and educated herself in various subjects, so she knew poverty still existed in most parts of the world — but she had yet to see it.
The sights were shocking, Ley said.
“I never knew what poverty looked like. I felt it. As good as I am with words I can’t describe it,” she said. “Our homeless people are better off.”
In her book Ley says there’s no way she can describe India’s beauty and she also mentions that India is one of the world’s largest democracies.
“But there is another story to be told. Actually, there are thousands that need to be heard,” she writes.
Next to India’s elaborate architecture and beautiful landscapes were trash heaps almost 6 to 7 feet high and people living in cardboard boxes, she said.
She spent 14 days in India helping the Pawars build a home for India’s orphans. During those two weeks, Ley said she began to experience a gradual change, which would continue after her return to the U.S.
Ley often says she sought to change India, but she was the one who was changed.
“That’s when I knew I had found my story,” she said. “Anytime you have the chance to experience a culture not your own, it changes you, and I knew I wanted to help these kids.”
Rachel and Amol are caring for about 75 kids.
“They just don’t have 70 orphans, they have 70 kids. They have become these kids’ parents,” Ley said. They do it because they truly want to help these children. They would like to save 20 million. But they’re doing it one child at a time.”
The couple travels back and forth between the U.S. and India and weren’t able to be reached for interview, but their website, www.crosspointofindia.org, tells the story of how they started along with updates.
The couple, along with other volunteers and builders, are constructing a larger compound for the orphanage, Lighthouse Children’s Home. The new facility will have about five rooms and is located on more than 30 acres of land.
The couple funds their program through private donations and Amol’s dog breeding business.
The culture in India is different from U.S culture, said international student Nisha Patel.
Patel, an Indian student studying at UT-Arlington, said after coming to the U.S she was shocked at the western culture and how it differs from her own.
Patel said the sights and sounds of India are normal to her and her people and that she lived her life like a normal teenager.
“It works both ways,” she said. “I think that’s what interesting about traveling and learning about different cultures. You never know what to expect. I think it’s just important that we all respect each other’s culture.”
And Ley agrees. Though it’s been almost five years since her trip to India, Ley still looks to help despite the 8,000 mile distance. All royalties from her book, “Caste Aside,” go directly the orphanage.
“I wrote this book because God told me to write it. It’s $8.99. That’s next to nothing,” she said. “They just need people to know that they are there. Because people will help them if they just know.”
Ley will sign copies of her book at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Alvarado Public Library to help promote the sale of her book.
The book’s last chapter, “The Children,” is the most important chapter because it’s about India’s most important people, she said. “These children need help. My trip was eye-opening and heartbreaking,” she said. “But it’s not about me or how I changed. It’s about the children.”
What: Alvarado Book signing for Caste Aside: Hope for Orphans from the Hearts of India
When: 10 a.m. - noon Wednesday
Were: Alvarado Public Library, 210 N. Baugh St.
Caste Aside: Hope for Orphans from the Hearts of India can be purchase at www.tatepublishing.com and by searching for Caste Aside. Price: $8.99 (Paperback) $14.99 (CD audio book)