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A Patchwork Tapestry

Click here to view my video with Daina,
taken in India in March 2007.

 

I have often wept for these children, at the unfairness, at the abundance I see all around me every day against the stark comparison to their world. I have wept hot tears of utter helplessness at being unable to do enough to assuage their loss. My heart hurts for their sorrows and grief.But I have also wept in gratitude over the unconditional love they have shown me, the simple joys they have shared even in the face of so little. If true happiness does, indeed, lie in the sharing of love then these children surely possess a joy beyond measure, for they have shared with me a happiness which has seeped into my core and made its permanent home there, never to be erased. Their very existence has forever changed both the person I am and my view of the world, these children who inhabit not even a corner of it, pushed to the very margins. Untouchables to most, not even worth mentioning much less bothering oneself over. Few stop to see them, to care about them – fewer yet even think about them.

Yet their impact has not only been felt, but resonated, among hundreds if not thousands of others besides myself. The social workers, volunteers, donors, doctors, teachers – I have met many people whose lives have been touched and changed by these children, and know of countless others. Attitudes of cynicism or despair can sometimes prevail when confronted by the enormity of such challenges – that it is such a monumental task as to be insurmountable, a problem without solutions. But the truth I have found, over the past three years of visits and interviews with hundreds of orphanages and NGOs, is that all over India – and beyond its borders – people are striving tirelessly every day in countless initiatives and programs which, if scaled up and coordinated and funded in full measure throughout the country, would have an immeasurable impact on such vulnerable children’s lives and futures.

Through this, alone, the meaning of their being holds more than the greatest among us could ever hope to achieve. They have embodied hope, love, faith and charity in a way that is rarely found upon this earth – without even knowing it.

At home in Austin, I meditate sometimes to a CD recording of “my kids” singing their prayer songs back in Orissa. Mostly I close my eyes, trying to follow the Buddhist way of clearing my mind of all the clutter, the constant jumble and noise of a thousand little things that clamor for my attention during daily life. In that empty space, I let the small sweet voices fill me as they do in India, trying to transport myself back to that time and place.

But occasionally my eyes open and when they do, they fall on a wall hanging I bought in Udaipur, made of pieces from dozens of sarees. I gaze at the handmade patchwork, its many different colors and patterns so carefully stitched together by the craftsman. Each small individual piece of material, before it was sewn into the finished product, is fragile and insignificant. It is not anything except a torn scrap of cloth, beautiful but delicate, easily ripped or lost. But when it is stitched together strongly to the next tiny piece, and then the next, suddenly the pattern of the whole begins to take form. The finished patchwork, all these scraps of what was once discarded, together are strong. Together they make something, they have a purpose. To cover a bed, to keep a child warm or, as in my house, to simply be beautiful.

And so it is with these children of India – the orphans, the street children, the world’s forgotten throwaways. They may be fragile and easily lost on their own, but held together with the thread of those who care – the organizations and people who labor as lovingly and painstakingly as this artisan to make sure the children aren’t discarded but are held together and cherished – then they can be seen as a whole, they are strong and vibrant and creating their purpose – and above all they are, simply, beautiful.

The Un-Tourist

If you have been following this blog, you probably know that I was in India this past March, researching and interviewing for the book as well as visiting my kids for two weeks in the Miracle Foundation homes.

While in Mumbai in early March, I visited Dharavi, widely known as the biggest slum in Asia. Dharavi is a bustling place, filled with cottage industries and entrepreneurs. I wrote a post about it here.

The Hindustan Times newspaper in India recently interviewed me about my experience in Dharavi, and with Deepa Krishnan who showed me around and educated me on the place. The resulting article is called “The Un-Tourist,” and it is a fascinating glimpse into a burgeoning industry, where travelers are choosing to go off the packaged tourist trail in order to meet the local people and visit the places where real lives are lived. The photos are great as well!

As Deepa wrote about the visits she takes people on to Dharavi:

There is no avoiding the poor in Mumbai. The slums are all-pervasive. In many parts of the city, there are shanties by the roadside. There are the homeless – they are dirty and unkempt, living on the pavements. For overseas visitors, the image this creates is of two bewilderingly different Mumbais – one that is rich and glitzy and safe in their five-star cocoon, and the other that lives a hellish life on the streets, begging, cringing, with no self-respect whatsoever.

There is no room for an understanding of a third Mumbai – the Mumbai of the hard-working poor. The Mumbai of the aspiring migrant, with his fierce drive for survival, for self-improvement. The Mumbai of small enterprise. The Mumbai of cottage industries. The Mumbai of poor yet strong women, running entire households on the strength of their income from making papads. Every morning, these women put food on the table, braid their daughters’ hair, and send them to schools. They have hope for the future, you see? This is the Mumbai of dreams, which I want my guests to see.

Dharavi is one place where this third Mumbai is visible. In the papad units, in the little tailoring shops, in Kumbharwada, in the kirana grain stores, everywhere Dharavi displays a spirt that is fierce and energetic. Every time my overseas visitors go into Dharavi, they come back with a first-hand insight into this third Mumbai.

I agree. In Dharavi, it was amazing to see the grace and nobility with which life was lived. Thank you, Deepa.

You can read the Hindustan Times article at “The Un-Tourist.”

From Halfway Around the World…

With all of the troubling and difficult stories, issues and subjects that I write about on orphans and vulnerable children, it’s nice to have uplifting and inspiring news to report in the midst of it.

This is a story about how lives connect around the world. A couple living in the Channel Islands between Britain and France, Dinesh and Natasha Menon, came across my blog and read about the children I have met and written about. They were moved by the stories and very interested in doing something to help, through their nonprofit trust ARC (Advocating for the Rights of Children). Dinesh and Natasha contacted me with passionate hearts for helping these children; as well as grand ideas they were excited about, such as conducting donation drives and providing dance lessons and other extracurricular activities for kids living in orphanages.

Dinesh, a lawyer who is ethnically Indian but grew up in Singapore, and Natasha, from New Zealand and pursuing her PhD, asked me to connect them with some of the orphanages in need that I’ve visited and worked with. To begin with, I’ve put them in touch with Little Hearts in Nellore and Divine Children’s Home in Trivandrum, and we are all working on collaborative projects to provide more resources for the beautiful children living in these homes.

It’s wonderful to see how people can reach out and make contact from around the world, to make these children’s world a better place.

Give2Asia

Massive flooding in South Asia is affecting the lives of millions. Incessant rains in August in southern Pakistan, northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh have inundated vast tracts of valuable crops and washed out homes, roads, bridges and railways. Torrential rains have claimed hundreds of lives and displacing an estimated 20 million people.

An organization called Give2Asia is doing something about it. The nonprofit has started a disaster recovery fund that works with local groups who are already knowledgeable about their communities. These groups will help rebuild schools, hospitals and homes that have been damaged, provide medical care, and help people recover from the economic setbacks.

In Pakistan, they have identified local health care organizations to provide critical supplies and training to medical staff dealing with outbreaks of disease and malnutrition. In Bangladesh, where entire villages need rebuilding, Give2Asia’s partnership with the Asia Foundation will work with local communities to re-establish core social services, such as schools so that children move ahead with their education as recovery continues. In India, where farm lands have been flooded, Give2Asia is helping farmers reclaim their fields and once again earn income to support their families. In some cases, this may include training farmers on new farming practices so that they can quickly begin to recover.

As Give2Asia celebrates its fifth anniversary, their goal is to have a greater impact in Asia by 2010 by reaching 5,000 new donors and achieving $85 million in new giving.

In addition to emergency and disaster relief efforts, Give2Asia is starting schools for migrant children in Beijing, burn prevention programs in Vietnam, and is launching water education projects in China in collaboration with Starbucks. An innovative charitable giving model in the international field, Give2Asia is reducing the barriers to donor giving overseas.

Founded by The Asia Foundation, Give2Asia helps overcome the common challenges associated with giving overseas by providing a flexible menu of custom giving options. Give2Asia and its overseas program advisors make philanthropy to Asia convenient, accountable, and tax deductible.

For more information about Give2Asia and their work, visit their website at www.give2asia.org