Regardless of faith or conviction, it’s not hard to argue that certain people have been put on this earth to do something grand with their lives. Nikki Cochrane is one of those people.
With kind eyes and a (somewhat) devious smile, the 23-year-old children’s advocate from Burlington, Ontario is something of a Godsend. I first met Cochrane while working at an international children’s charity in Toronto. She was quiet but had an infectious laugh, and you could tell that she was someone who lived life with her heart wide open.
While I knew Cochrane was a good person (we did meet while working at a children’s charity), it wasn’t until I discovered her blog One Tiny Starfish that I truly began to understand her deep affinity toward others and the true meaning of selfless love.
In July, Cochrane and friend Sarah Mens will be moving to India to live with and care for five children from Sarah’s Covenant Homes, an orphanage for abandoned children with physical and developmental disabilities. Before she left, I thought it was necessary to share Cochrane’s deeply rooted sense of purpose with others, in the hope that their eyes can be opened to the beautiful children she carries in her heart.
THEREGION: When was your world first opened up to the special needs community?
NIKKICOCHRANE: In 2010 I went to India for the first time to volunteer with Sarah’s Covenant Homes. I had always wanted to go to India and the doors just opened for me to go with this organization, although at the time I had no experience with the special needs community and didn’t think that I would really connect with that line of work. As it turned out, that month in India drastically changed my life and I realized that these kids were who I was meant to spend my life supporting. Since then, I have returned to school to become qualified to support children with disabilities, and now work in a Conductive Education program for kids with cerebral palsy. I am returning to India for 6 months to foster five of the kids whom I first met three years ago.
REGION: You convey a deep sense of hope about the work that you do on your blog, One Tiny Starfish. Where do you find the strength to be so positive in your outlook?
NIKKI: I value the kids I work with. Society as a whole doesn’t value people with disabilities because they believe they can’t contribute in life, which is a huge misconception. Because I see the way these kids have changed my life, I will fight for them in every way. Every new milestone, every smile, everything they do is an opportunity to show the world how valuable these kids are and to change the way society looks at them.
REGION: People enter into our lives for many reasons. Who have you learned the most from, and why do you think your paths crossed?
NIKKI: I never thought that the person who would impact my life would be a seven-year old girl with severe special needs, but that is the way it turned out! Anjali was 7 years old when she died. I spent most of my first trip in India working with her and it is because of her that I developed this passion. Anjali was abandoned as a baby when she was born with no eyes. Because of early neglect and abuse, she was unable to walk or talk, but she had such a joy about her and taught me everything that is important about life.
REGION: You’ve travelled to many places; India, Haiti, Dominican Republic. How have your travels influenced you?
NIKKI: My first trip to India changed my outlook on life. I went back to school to change my career path so that I could work with children with special needs. I try to live a simpler life. The kids I support in India have so little and yet they live with such joy. I try to find my joy in the simple things in life that aren’t material. Mostly it has taught me that every life is valuable and that the people whom society disregards the most (the disabled, homeless, mentally ill, etc) should be treated with the highest amount of respect and compassion.
REGION: Do you think the world needs more compassion or courage? Why?
NIKKI: To be honest, I think they go hand in hand and I don’t consider one more necessary than the other. Compassion for others is a quality that we need to instill in our next generation so that they grow up to put others’ needs before their own. But without courage, they won’t act on their desires to advocate for and support people in need. I have met so many people who have the want to go to India with me (or do something else that they are passionate about) but are too scared or worried about the cost, the time, expectations of them, etc. We need to learn to love others, and to courageously put their needs before our own comforts.
To learn more about Nikki, or to see how you can help support her, visit her blog here.
Feature Image taken by Nikki Cochrane.