- The most beautiful thing I have seen
- The ugliest thing I have seen
After yesterday’s experience we were taken to a different train station, hoping to avoid confrontation, countless stares and a river of urine.
After wading our way through the crowds and the nearby market we were on the train and ready to head back to the school. Today we were going to visit the houses of the students from HOPE’s Champhati school.
The team split into two groups and we set off to visit the houses. Most of the places we visited barely pass as houses, yet the hospitality we received at every one quickly turned each of them into a home.
Baking hot corrugated iron boxes, small rickety shelters you have to crawl to get inside and tiny rooms that host more people than you could imagine. We saw it all today after visiting a combined total of nearly 40 students.
The most beautiful thing you could imagine
One home we visited stood out the most. The father had died from problems associated with alcohol. The family suffered, having to foot the medical expenses on top of trying to support themselves. The mother wasn’t home but was out working to support her family.
Thank goodness she could send her kids to the HOPE school, otherwise she would have to do jobs around home or get her youngest son Amit looked after. They were one of the poorest families in the school with a monthly income of around 3000 Rupees ($60). 600 of that ($12) went immediately toward rent which gave the four of them $48 to live off for an entire month. Roughly 40c per person per day.
Now 12, the eldest daughter is considered ‘old enough’ to be working. She earns the family another 2000 Rupees ($40) each month putting together shoes. Even with that, the combined monthly income of this household is $100. Roughly 75 cents for each person each day.
While at the house we were introduced to the youngest daughter who at 8 is already a woman. We sat down on the one bed inside and were presented with what we had hoped wasn’t for us, a bowl of sweets, juice and some biscuits. Having just heard their story we knew full well that these things came at a great cost. This 8 year old girl had spent weeks saving up money and was so happy to have been able to do this for us. We couldn’t refuse her hospitality but we did try to turn down her offer for more. She wouldn’t have a bar of it and piled more sweets into our bowls until they were all gone.
We all had tears in our eyes, blown away by such generosity.
We had to choke back more tears as we asked what she would like to do when she is older. “Make my mum happy” our translators explained “she has had such a hard life, I just want her to be happy”.
Wow. What 8 year old would ever respond in this way? Her dream was simple, but it was the most beautiful dream I have ever heard. We wept silently again. This little girl had reduced four grown men to tears. The rest of the houses were a blur. All I could think about was this girl.
We returned to Kolkata and grabbed some dinner, still shaken up and challenged by this little girls generosity. What had just happened reminded me so clearly of a Bible story that I had to read it aloud. I was holding back tears as I did. This short story called “The Widow’s Offering” is from Mark 12:41-44
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
The beauty we had witnessed this afternoon could not have contrasted more clearly with what we were about to see.
The ugliest thing you could imagine
As we headed back to our accommodation, I heard a shout moments before a toddler 2-3 years old, waddled up to us and stuck out her hands. The voice had raised my suspicions and we watched to see what this tiny girl would do. She waddled back to the man that had sent her who was currently knelt down with a ring of small children around him. There were too many kids too close in age for them to all be his. As he gave instructions to the children and pointed the girl straight back in our direction we knew what was going on.
I was outraged. I still am.
So, here I was watching the most horrible thing imaginable. I couldn’t stand there and do nothing. My first reaction was to go over there and belt this man. With six strong young men (one a black belt) there was no doubt we would could have. The only problem I saw was communicating to him what he was being beaten up for!
Lisa joined the conversation, gently reminding me of a shirt that says “Defeat Evil” which changes in the mirror to say “With Love”. I didn’t want to hear it. This injustice needed to be made right and I knew just the fists to make that happen!
Eventually, I relented went to the police station instead.
After a few minutes of being ignored and officer finally addressed us only to turn away moments later and refer us to someone else. We waited until another officer came in and started speaking to us. Immediately I could tell he was important. He looked and spoke like he was in charge, but softened a little once I started speaking some Hindi. After explaining everything to him he asked us where we were from…”Oh, Australia…the ashes 5 nil, what an incredible performance…” This went on for a little bit and I sat awkwardly, trying to listen to a man that clearly had the power to do something. Lisa wasn’t as polite “We aren’t here to talk about the cricket” she snapped.
The others were sent home and I waited until two undercover officers escorted me out to find this man and his ring of child beggars. It didn’t take long for me to spot the toddler that had approached us. “Follow her, she will lead you to the man in charge” I explained.
One of the officers escorted me back to our accommodation while the other went in search of the man. I ran upstairs and out onto the balcony hoping to see this man be bought in to the station. I saw nothing.
A few days passed before we realised what had happened. We were getting in the car to go to the airport and I saw her again. This same tiny child waddling around, waving her arm in the air looking for money. The police had clearly taken a bribe.
I was furious. Words cannot describe the feelings.
How could anyone believe these children’s lives were worth a few extra dollars? How could anyone sentence a child to a life of slavery, beatings (one had scars on her cheek) and poverty, knowing they will be thrown away once they become older and less profitable?
Even now, weeks later I can’t bear the thought that this man has gotten away with it. While deep down I agree with Lisa, it’s hard to stomach such blatant injustice. It’s no wonder that those who have been robbed of land, of livelihood, of rights, of dignity and of justice act violently. It’s hard to see any other option.