GENEVA — Rocky Braat slides into a booth at Mary’s Diner and shakes out of his coat.
The diner is brightly lit and the coffee is hot, but it’s clear Braat, 31, isn’t comfortable. He shuffles his boot-clad feet and tugs at his shirt. Occasionally, he rolls his eyes at a question or shrugs his shoulders in disinterest.
He talks about the documentary film and 2013 Sundance Film Festival winner “Blood Brother,” which follows him on his mission to enrich the lives of HIV positive orphans in India, but Braat doesn’t really say much until he pulls out his laptop and starts showing clips of the film. He smiles as he watches the 33 orphans in his care as they decorate a room for Christmas. He laughs as he sees himself, barefoot, carrying an artificial Christmas tree down a path from his house to the orphanage. The tree falls apart en route.
Five years ago, Braat, a 2001 Geneva High School graduate and graphic designer, decided to take a trip to India to find “a more authentic way to live.”
He would never call Geneva, or his college town of Pittsburgh, “home” again.
The trip began with a visit to Calcutta, but a side-trip to the orphanage in Chennai changed Braat’s life.
To be clear, Braat doesn’t raise money for the children’s food, shelter or medicine — those are provided by the Indian government. What Braat saw lacking was the children’s sense of self, their lack of family or personal connections, even while they were being raised in a large group.
“It is about birthdays and Christmas,” he said. “It is about creating that emotional stability, being a good role model for the boys and giving the girls a sense of self esteem — giving them worth.”
In the film, Braat teaches the children — all orphaned by AIDS — how to brush their teeth. He cooks them their first hot dogs. He bakes them birthday cakes and gives them toys. They call him “Rocky anna,” which means “Rocky brother.”