I am in India as an Eisenhower Fellow studying issues related to poverty, with an special emphasis on women and children. My three days in Pune were all about the kids. I visited a home for orphaned and abandoned children. They welcomed me with open arms and several traditional dances, along with the modern dances from Bollywood films that they had seen. (They even showed me a few dance moves, but I think I'm going to stick to my day job.) The children were provided clothing, food, a safe place to live and a free education. Many of the children had been street children, found abandoned on the side of the road or at train stations. It was great to know that there was a place for the children to stay, but it made me sad to know that there were so many children who were not being cared for by their parents. As I watched the children twirl their bodies in these complex dance moves, I wondered what would happen to them. Would they be able to use their education to live their dreams? Or would they be stuck in a life of poverty from which they would find it difficult to escape? Only time will tell, but I pray that these beautiful and talented children will end up in a good place.
I got an opportunity to visit BSSK, which is a adoption agency and also provides foster care for children whose parents are going through a difficult time with the possibility of being reunited with their children. They help children regardless of their circumstances. They had some of the most beautiful children I have ever seen in my life. With their big brown eyes and their smiles that lit up the room, it made me understand how people could adopt numerous children. Seeing newborn babies only hours or even a few days old tugged at my heart, but I am happy to say that these children are destined to be adopted. Domestic adoption has grown significantly in the last few years here in India, and there are more prospective adoptive parents on the list than available children. The facilities were fantastic and you could tell that the staff really cared about the children and their work. I could see it on the faces of the children. I judge an organization on the way the children react, not on what the adults are telling me. The children were happy.
One of my last encounters in Pune was not with a child but with a woman, and I don't think that I will ever forget her. I was given a tour of the slum, and she was one of the first houses we entered. It was a small dark brick room that housed five people: two on the twin bed, two underneath the bed and one on a pallet. It was not large, but it was neat and clean. I could tell care was put into the home. I was asking questions about her life, and all of a sudden her eyes filled with tears and my escort translated to me that the woman had set herself on fire several months earlier because she could not take her husband's abuse anymore, his drinking away the money that they earned. He was also jealous of her long gorgeous hair and made her hide it so no one would look at her. He works as a day laborer, she works as a domestic. She has lost two-thirds of her income because two of the three familes she worked for re-located to another area. She started to cry, and she said it was because she was embarrassed that she lived in such a small place and the person who had escorted me to her home had helped her after she had set herself on fire. I think seeing that woman again brought back bad memories. I didn't see many external scars, but I was told that they were under her clothing. We didn't speak the same language, but something about her spoke to me as a woman. I reached out to hug her and told her how much respect I had for her trying to get her sons educated so that they could have a different life. Her pain came off her in waves. As we left, I asked why someone would set themselves on fire and I was told simply because she felt she had no choice. That is what education does -- it gives you a choice, but if we don't take care and educate the children, especially the female children, they will grow into women and men who feel that they have no choices.