From the poverty I have witnessed in North India, it would seem I have everything. A roof, a bed, food, clothes and health. But no words. How can I have words to do justice to the beauty that overflows from children that show no ill will to anyone or anything? Children that are so rich in their love and gratitude yet are the same children that are among the absolute poorest in Lucknow city.
I don’t know how to portray the incredible reality that I encountered in words, and so I’ll try and paint a little picture for you.
I am part of a team called STORM (special team of role models). We are a social justice initiative group, and we teach self-defence.
Sonia Singh from Astha Kiran- a school for under privileged children invited us to stay in her school so that we could train her students over 4 days. They are living in high-risk situations exposed to the daily threat of kidnap, rape, acid, chlorophyll and murder.
The students that were in lines in the little school yard amounted to 100 girls ages between 6 and 15, only four years younger than myself. Some of who had already in their short lives been victims of such crimes. To teach them, and give the little I had, was the most humbling and rewarding feeling that I have ever encountered. Training from morning until dark, 100% effort and attention was paid and smiles never slipped from their tired little faces! It was amazing. We were there purely to equip and empower, and to give back voices that will demand to be listened to and not just heard. Yet by the end of our time there I came away wondering if I had given enough because although the girls had trained so well and their technique was as good as 4 days will get it, speaking for myself, I feel like I had come away with more of an education than I had given.
Understanding and seeing a glint of constant worry in a 15 year old’s eyes as she relayed to us about how she had been sexually harassed, made my heat ache for her. They began to call me “didi”, meaning big sister. How can I leave my little sisters in situations like that? Rape is not ok in this country. Why is there a rape every 45 seconds in India? And how am I expected to sit back and do nothing knowing I have the skills to do something?
After a few days in India, we then travelled on to Kathmandu, in Nepal. Here we had also been invited to teach, and this time we weren’t only working with threatened women, but survivors of the human trafficking trade. It is much too over looked and dismissed in my opinion, maybe because we’ve been hearing about disastrous trafficking stories for years? With no less enthusiasm than encountered in Lucknow, these ladies put their hearts into learning also. They have been there, they knew the dangers, and they’ve not escaped from their horrifying pasts in vain! Here, we’re talking safe houses. We received feedback after 3 days training together resulted in 2 of them already using what they had learned, out on the street. And more and more promising to train daily so that they may pass on what they know to help others stay safe! It was beautifully rewarding to see that we were making such an impression on such strong people, and they were soaking up all that they were learning with an eagerness that won’t ever be wasted.
During our time there, we also visited 2 orphanages, both felt like a family home, full of love and encouragement for every child to grow into their own person. An amazing experience!
I learned so much about the reality of Nepal, and I was seeing so much more than I expected. The famous Himalayas as a backdrop to overwhelming group of women giving their all learning to defend themselves.
The hospitality shown towards us in both places was second to none and I will be back to visit everyone, see the progress and again, give as much as I possibly can, as soon as I possibly can.
This is just the beginning. There is a need for such an important skill set for anyone to have, and especially in places as diverse and uninhibited as third world countries.