When people ask me about my trip to India, my head gets filled with images and it’s hard to find the words to explain what I’m seeing. So I find myself repeating certain phrases to try to explain. Phrases like “It’s everything all at once”.
That’s better than standing there with my mouth hanging open, caught in a trance as the images and feeling of India fill me up again.
If it’s a conversation of any length, I eventually get to the part about the visiting the Day Care or Drop in Centers in the Red Light District in Kolkata. When I do, I immediately start to feel my chest tighten and my eyes tear up.
“Those kids” I say. Then I’m quiet, unable to go on. I see them in front of me. I hear their voices, the happy screams of a bunch of little girls and boys in a very small space, excited to see visitors.
Fifteen kids and half as many adults in one ten foot by ten foot room. A sense of menace emanated from the dark, crowded, noisy, exhaust filled street outside. But in that small room it was bright and clean, with a feeling of comfort and safety.
When I think of them, I remember having a conversation, even though I know we didn’t speak the same language.
We played a game with the boys, (Boys are at as much a risk as girls for trafficking in India, even though it is rarely acknowledged) something like Duck Duck Goose. We sat in a tight circle on the floor, knees and arms touching. It was noisy with laughter and yelling. Like a very small, indoor playground.
I think of the girl in the green dress. Her smile that was all teeth, her dark, sparkling eyes. She gathered our small clay tea cups when we were finished drinking our Chai. She was intrigued by my bangs, which I realized you see little of in India. Most women and girls have their long hair pulled back.
The same girl took my hand and led me thought the dark streets to another Drop In Center a few blocks away. I can still see her smile, her confident, sharp, eager eyes.
I can say it or write it, but I still can’t put it together in my mind. The idea that these are kids at risk of being trafficked. It seems so impossible to me. Because they’re so much like all the other kids I’ve known throughout my life.
It’s hard for me to imagine the reality of their lives. That until now, there was little hope for them.
I picture the girls and boys, I hear the words, but it isn’t until I feel it that it becomes real. And that’s when I start to cry, because even though my mind can’t fathom it, my body can feel it.
The Drop In Centers give these kids a safe place to go where they can do school work, get a meal, or health care. They can stay there instead of being out on the street where there’s a good chance they would come to great harm.
I went to India knowing I’d have some money, which so many of you donated, to give to good causes.
We visited four or five different organizations that help many people. Since I’ve been back I’ve been thinking about how best to donate the money.
I’ll be focusing mainly on working with Soma and the women at House Of Hearts, who are making the potholders I’ll be selling. But I’ve also decided to donate some of the money to the Drop in Centers in Kolkata.
Because I can’t stop thinking of these kids.
I can still see and feel so clearly the safe feeling of being in that room. And the danger right outside the door. The money will help keep these kids off the street and out of harms way. It will give them a chance to have a different life than the one they were born into. So much better than the life expected of them.
So thank you all for helping to make this possible.
You can read more about the Drop In Centers in Kolkata here.
(The Village Experience is the group I traveled to India through. It’s owned by Kelly and Anne Campbell. Kelly is helping me work with Soma and the Women at House of Hearts. I’ll be writing more about my work with Soma and Kelly.)