I’m in India. The problem with being in India is that there really isn’t anything that hasn’t been said already. The likes of Salman Rushdie and the Marigold Hotel have pretty much described its over-population, pollution and paradoxical business and spiritual nature.
I think what struck me that first day was considering that 26,000 people are packed into every sweaty kilometre, Kolkata works pretty well. The traffic is better than Kampala by an enormous factor. The pavements are mostly functional and getting around on foot or on public transport is relatively easy. You take your life in your hands at every street crossing, but the fact that it all works as well as it does is nothing short of remarkable.
The second thing that struck me was how enormous the city is – a three mile walk really doesn’t begin to explore it. It has some huge building and infrastructure projects. The train station looks a bit like St Pancras in London, only ten times bigger.
As I visited the projects run by our partner, Emmanuel Ministries, I was struck by the massive disparity between the tiny but growing wealthy population in their glass towers costing millions, and the huge slum-dwelling population in a mixture of official and unofficial slums. The official ones are more ‘desirable’ because they come with basic sanitation and piped water. With a population of millions and 2000 new arrivals every day, the pressure on housing is enormous. Prices are high and the slum areas, hugely dense, are growing rapidly.
To me it is a privilege to be welcomed into the communities of the poor. Their unending generosity and grace always gives me pause and works as a spotlight to my own inadequacies. Jesus lives in the lives of the poor in such a powerful way. As I move from one house to another I am welcomed and shown such love.
One woman I was welcomed by broke down with her two young boys as she told me of her daily life and how they could only afford a tiny amount of electricity in the evenings and her kids were unable to do their homework in the dark. I thought about how much her life could be improved with a small solar light.
I also met *Sia – a little girl who comes to the Pavement Club, our partners’ unofficial school for street children, funded by Global Care. She was wearing a yellow blouse so she stood out in the group, and her smile and joyous spirit were infectious.
I went to see her home. I was dismayed to find it was a piece of board on a pavement next to a busy road. They had a few belongings under a tree and had strung a washing line between two lampposts.
Mum, Dad, two older brothers, Sia and her little brother live out their daily life on this pavement. When it rains the older family members go into the bus shelters, and the little ones are put under a board leaned against a wall. Sia’s Mum and Dad have lived here for 20 years, after their slum home was demolished to make way for a flyover. The older brothers and both parents suffer from addiction to solvents. Sia’s mum is five months pregnant.
The Pavement Club gives Sia hope of a future because she is told she is valuable, and how God loves her and wants a better future for her. She is cared for by people who show her love and look after some of her basic needs. She will have the opportunity of attending school and making a future for herself.
I am happy that kids like Sia are important to Global Care. I am angry that there are people made and loved by God who are forced to live in such difficult and relentless circumstances. This is the reason that Global Care exists. Our sponsorship programme is making a difference for Sia and many others. I met graduates of the programme who are able to make a future for themselves. They show us hope – they are achieving their dreams because of this early intervention. I thank God that we can be Jesus’ hands and feet for these little ones.
Jonathan Temple, Head of Operations
*Name changed to protect child’s identity