Buy the book
Stop in for the Q & A with author and humanitarian Shelley Seale…..June 22nd; for further updates, check S.E. homepage & humanitarian updates.
Buy the book
Stop in for the Q & A with author and humanitarian Shelley Seale…..June 22nd; for further updates, check S.E. homepage & humanitarian updates.
Many of you may have read Shelley Seale’s article, posted a few days ago here, The Weight of Silence….
Now maybe you may take a moment and watch her video on these utterly beautiful innocent souls, and if you do, maybe you will pass it on and on, and stop at her site and buy her book.
It starts now.
Ms. Shelley Seale, a humanitarian and now guest blogger, shares with us a moving piece on the price and plight of innocence. It is a piece born from the heart. As you approach the end of Ms. Seale’s narrative, she also graciously shares with us general statistics on the day to day societal warfare waged knowingly against children. May peace be with you as you share your moments with Ms. Seale and pass on her moving piece, information and website to all that you know.
With no further introduction…
“The plane started its final descent, and my heart began to race. It was March of 2005, and I had been traveling halfway around the world for nearly two days to volunteer in an orphanage in northeast India, with the Austin-based nonprofit The Miracle Foundation. I had been sponsoring a child who lived there but had never visited the country before, and my stomach tightened as the plane touched down and I waited impatiently for the exit doors to open.
I had never expected to be in India. It wasn’t the exotic beauty that had drawn me. It wasn’t the storied, ancient history of the country or its rich and varied culture. It was not the colors or the spices or the sounds or the spirituality of the place. India is all of these things, to be sure; but they were not what pulled me close, made the place somehow a part of my soul before I had even arrived.
It was the children.
They are everywhere. They fill the streets, the railway stations, the shanty villages. Some scrounge through trash for newspapers, rags or anything they can sell at traffic intersections. Others, often as young as two or three years old, beg. Many of them are homeless, overflowing the orphanages and other institutional homes to live on the streets. Amidst the growing prosperity of India, there is an entire generation of parentless children growing up, often forced into child labor and prostitution – more than twenty-five million in all. They are invisible children, their plight virtually unnoticed by the world, their voices silenced.
And in the small town outside Cuttack, a hundred miles south of Calcutta, one man named Damodar Sahoo had dedicated his life to providing some sort of family for one hundred of these children, assisted by donations and volunteers from the United States. I had no way of knowing just how much they would change my life.
Eleven dazed Americans emerged into piercing sunlight and walked across the tarmac to the small terminal. As we entered Caroline Boudreaux, founder of The Miracle Foundation, was immediately spotted by Damodar – known to all simply as “Papa.” He pulled Caroline into a hug across the metal bars separating the passengers from those waiting for them. He lifted his large, thick 1980s style glasses from the bridge of his nose and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief, overcome with joy at seeing his American “daughter” again and the group she had brought along to visit the children he cared for. Alongside him were his wife, two women who worked at the orphanage, and three of the children. As we showed our passports and entered the gate, one by one, the little girls handed us each a bouquet of flowers, kissing their fingers and bending down to touch our feet in a blessing.
The visitors and our luggage were crammed into vehicles and we zoomed down the main road, which was dirt peppered with potholes, narrowly missing bicycles, pedestrians, cows and rickshaws. India was everything I had imagined it would be – only more so. More colors, more noises, more smells, more people, more everything. It was an assault on all the senses at once: The throngs of people, the muddy dirt roads, the constant beep-beep of the horns. The deteriorating buildings, the ragged street vendors, the ramshackle homes for which hut was too grandiose a term. The wonderful and the abject co-existed side by side, for the most part peacefully. There was what everyone, myself included, expected – poverty, ugliness, despair, filth.
But there was also much beauty, in the midst of it all. The warmth and shyness of the people, the colorful saris, the upscale shops next to the vendors, the swaying trees surrounding it all. I was enchanted by a brief glimpse into an ornate Hindu temple, candles glowing and people bowing their heads to the ground in prayer. Beauty was not its own thing to be separated out, sanitized, and kept apart for its own sake. The true measure of beauty lay in its imperfections; to see it, one must embrace it all. India immediately wrapped itself around me and refused to let go.
And in the children beauty seemed to come alive, almost making me believe it was a living entity I could capture in my hands.
Without warning, we lurched around a village corner and turned into the orphanage entrance. In a second the cars had stopped and a hundred children lined around in a semi-circle, waving and chanting "welcome" over and over. I opened the car door and they were all around me, touching my feet in blessing. The children were shy at first, obviously excited but reticent. One little girl, about seven years old, summoned her courage and touched my arm, then grasped my hand. "Hello," she said softly, looking up at me and just as quickly dropping her eyes, giggling. As soon as she did this, the crowd of surrounding children shed their reserve and instantly moved in closer, putting their hands out for me to shake. There was a never-ending supply of hands raised in front of me and I shook them over and over.
I was overwhelmed and unsure what to do, blindly following behind Papa and Caroline as they moved into the ashram. It was almost surreal, and happening so quickly. I didn’t have time to look around or get any sense of where I was in the darkness. There were just the children, all around, and my feet moving forward until we arrived in a courtyard. The children, as one, left our sides and began climbing a staircase in an orderly fashion. We followed with the dozen staff members, removing our shoes at the top of the stairs and entering the prayer room.
The children were already lined up and sitting on rugs on the floor, boys on one side and girls on the other, ages progressively going up toward the back with older kids sitting behind younger. I was handed a small bouquet of red roses and marigolds, and led to a spot on the mats. At the front of the room was an altar holding flowers, small trinkets of devotion, a picture of the guru Sai Baba and a statue of Vishnu, an ancient Hindu god. Tacked to the walls on all sides were pictures of other Hindu gods – Ganesh and Krishna – as well as Jesus, Mary, Mother Theresa and Mohammed. Ceiling fans whirred overhead to stir up the warm air. A staff member lit incense at the altar while another blew a horn softly. The children sat up straighter and ceased any fidgeting or whispering.
Then the prayers began. It started with a simple chant: "Om….om..," the small voices resonating deeply. The chanting gave way to a song, a hundred sweet voices dancing in the air and filling the room. Beside me on the rug sat one of the smallest girls, with glossy black curls and deep dimples. She was sitting lotus-style with her middle fingers and thumbs pressed together on the knees of her yellow and green flowered dress, eyes squinted tightly shut in concentration. Her strong, clear singing distinctly carried to my ears apart from the others. The voice of this three year old rising so pure and true was one of the most powerful sounds I had ever heard.
Soon the singing faded into silence and Papa prayed. He said there were many religions represented and respected in the ashram. “Here, there are Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. We pray,” Papa said, “to God and Allah and Jesus and Mohammed. The meaning of life is to love all. The purpose of life is to serve all.”
It was a simple prayer, reminding me that life need not be complicated unless we made it so. A soothing peace palpable in the air filled me, and I breathed out deeply. The past forty hours of travel and little sleep fell away as if they were nothing. There seemed no other world outside this place. As Papa spoke my eyes traveled over the faces all around me. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go home, or if they ever had. As much of a loving community as the ashram seemed, it was not the family that most of the children had once known, distant and ghostly memories for the most part.
Home is a fragile concept – far more delicate than those of us who have always had one can imagine. When a person no longer has a home, when his family is taken from him and he is deprived of everything that was home, then after a while wherever he is becomes home. Slowly, the pieces of memory fade, until this strange new place is not strange anymore; it becomes harder to recall the past life, a long ago family, until one day he realizes he is home.
Post Script: Excerpts provided by Ms. Seal
What to know:
More than 25 million Indian children currently live without homes or families – in orphanages or on the streets, where they are extremely vulnerable to abuse, disease, and being trafficked into labor or the sex trade.
Another 4 million children join their ranks each year.
India is home to the most AIDS orphans of any country in the world – approaching 2 million, and expected to double over the next five years.
By some estimates, as many as 100 million child laborers work in India.
Hundreds of thousands of Indian children go missing each year, kidnapped or trafficked – and three out of four of those are never found.
A poor child in India is three times as likely to die before his fifth birthday as a rich child.
More than two million children themselves die every year from preventable infections for which education and medicine are lacking.
One of every three of the world’s malnourished children lives in India.
Fifty percent of childhood deaths there are attributable to malnutrition or starvation.
How you can help:
The first step is awareness – thank you for reading this article and for caring. You can sponsor a child at Miracle Foundation.
You can make a donation at UNICEF, the leading champion for children worldwide. Be a conscious shopper. Is it really worth getting something a few dollars cheaper if it is made by slave labor or children? Check out The Better World Shopping Guide. You can take action by signing petitions and/or financially supporting organizations that are working worldwide to end child labor. Some of them are: globalmarch.org | endchildlabor.org | earthaction.org
Jump on over, the water’s fine….Update: Humanitarian News Update
SE says: Battlecry: “DON’T MOCK ME FOR BEING A WOMAN!”
By Simon Denyer Wed Jul 25, 9:45 AM ET
NEW DELHI (Reuters) –‘s first female president was sworn in on Wednesday, after a vitriolic campaign which undermined the symbolism of the appointment and raised doubts about Pratibha Patil’s suitability for the ceremonial role.
The 72-year-old Patil, dressed in a white and green saree draped over her head, took the oath of office inside parliament’s packed and ornate central hall, promising to uphold the constitution and devote herself to the people of India.
She then received a 21-gun salute.
“Today India stands at the threshold of a new era of progress,” she said. “We must make sure that every section of society, particularly the weak and disadvantaged, are equal partners and beneficiaries in the development process.”
But her words may count for little given her lack of power and the manner of her accession to the job.
The governor of Rajasthan, she had been plucked from relative obscurity to become the government’s compromise candidate for the job, after the coalition failed to agree on a host of other, male candidates.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful politician in the country, then billed the appointment as a historic day for India’s women.
Critics said it was a hollow gesture after a campaign marred by bitter partisan politics and unprecedented mud-slinging.
“Don’t mock our intelligence and call it a victory for women. It is a selfish victory for the Congress party and its leadership,” columnistwrote in the Asian Age newspaper.
HARD ACT TO FOLLOW?
Outgoing President A.P.J., considered the father of India’s missile programme, was dubbed the “people’s president” for his unassuming and accessible style.
The pair were escorted to parliament from the presidential palace in a motorcade accompanied by the presidential bodyguard riding on horseback in white uniforms and carrying lances.
Symbolism was heavy as the first woman president was sworn in by the country’s first chief justice from the Dalit community, formerly known as the “untouchables”.
Patil then urged a renewed battle on malnutrition, infant mortality and female foeticide — in a country where hundreds of thousands of female foetuses are killed every year and nearly half of all young children are malnourished.
But a slew of accusations emerged in the run-up to her election last week and have marred her appointment.
The cooperative bank for women she helped establish was closed down by the central bank in 2003 under the weight of its bad debts, amid accusations of financial irregularities.
The employees union have taken her and others to court alleging that loans that were made to her brother and family members were not repaid. She was also accused of trying to shield her brother in a murder inquiry.
Patil now has immunity from prosecution, but not her family.
“What people will look for … is whether her office is used to protect them,” columnist Neerja Chowdhury told. “Clearly there will be microscopic interest in how her family conducts itself.”
Patil has also managed to put her foot in her mouth in the run-up to taking the country’s highest office.
First, she offended many minority Muslims — and infuriated some historians — by saying that Indian women first veiled their heads to protect themselves against 16th century Muslim invaders.
She then dismayed modern India by claiming that she had experienced a “divine premonition” that she was destined for higher office from a long dead spiritual guru.
In 1975, as health minister for the state of Maharashtra, she said people with hereditary diseases should be sterilised.
has had a few female icons in the past — most famously Sonia Gandhi’s mother-in-law Indira, who was one of the world’s first female prime ministers in 1966 and an infinitely more powerful and ultimately more controversial figure than Patil.
Patil will draw a monthly salary of just 50,000 rupees a month ($1,250) but have free unlimited healthcare and enjoy the former British viceroy’s palace, the second biggest residence for a head of state after the Sultan of Brunei, officials said.”
The day will come, when we no longer write and read about the “first female” president.
The day will come when women treated equally will have such a long history, that there will be no viable frame of reference for remarking at women becoming the first, it will be as if there was never a time of distinction.
The day will come, when women treat each other equally.
In the meantime, BBC News reports:
Mrs Patil’s backers say her election will be a boost to women
“Election authorities in India say Pratibha Patil has been voted in as the country’s first woman president.
Officials said Mrs Patil won nearly two-thirds of votes, although a formal announcement has not yet been made.
Mrs Patil, 72, was the governor of the northern Indian state of Rajasthan before being nominated for president by India’s ruling coalition.
Mrs Patil’s supporters say her election to the largely ceremonial role will be a boost to millions of Indian women.
But correspondents say some of her critics have described her as a political lightweight.
Mrs Patil, whose main rival was current Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, will succeed A P J Abdul Kalam, a missile scientist.”
Congratulations “President Patil”.
I am a proponent of collective consciousness thinking. I believe that we are all webbed together and our blinders prevent us from seeing or knowing this on a day to day basis.
I can rarely find an instant, where one action has not somehow affected another. There are simple examples:
I leave work in a rush, angry over some detail. I am striving to get errands done and arrive home timely. I am in traffic and become angry watching cars ahead of me race through the yield sign and shove their way into the traffic, further delaying my journey because of a lack of courtesy. Miles down the road, I sense a car patiently waiting could use a break, needs some considerate motorist to let them into the traffic so they don’t remain in place for the next hour. Do I notice, do I see, do I allow this person in or do I carry over my anger from my earlier frustrations? Do I in turn now punish this motorist for the ones earlier who almost ran people off the road without care? Do I stop and realize, at times, I may have inadvertantly been the one not slowing at the yield sign, perhaps not out of a lack of deliberate inconsideration, but because I was so in my own world, my own perspective, I simply thought it was “my turn”?
Now, this is just a loose description, the point being is that when you become aware, it is hard to divorce any moment, any action, any word from another.
Today, there are two striking news articles that made me again think: We do this to ourselves. The first is the treatment of “elderly” Hindu woman, the second the treatment of female brides and the price of dowrys.
I saw a picture of a young woman standing in traffic. BBC news entitled its piece: Indian Woman Strips in Dowry Row
This young woman, standing with just underclothes on in traffic and what appears to be a baseball bat in her hand. The picture sounds like a scream to me, I feel that I can hear her soul screaming.
The second article that I keep thinking of was posted on CNN, entitled: Shunned from society, widows flock to city to die:
“VRINDAVAN, India (CNN) — Ostracized by society, India’s widows flock to the holy city of Vrindavan waiting to die. They are found on side streets, hunched over with walking canes, their heads shaved and their pain etched by hundreds of deep wrinkles in their faces.
A widow makes her way in Vrindavan, India, where an estimated 15,000 widows live on the streets.
1 of 3
These Hindu widows, the poorest of the poor, are shunned from society when their husbands die, not for religious reasons, but because of tradition — and because they’re seen as a financial drain on their families.
They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.
Hindus have long believed that death in Vrindavan will free them from the cycle of life and death. For widows, they hope death will save them from being condemned to such a life again. Watch how some widows are rebelling »
“Does it feel good?” says 70-year-old Rada Rani Biswas. “Now I have to loiter just for a bite to eat.”
Biswas speaks with a strong voice, but her spirit is broken. When her husband of 50 years died, she was instantly ostracized by all those she thought loved her, including her son.
“My son tells me: ‘You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away,’ ” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “What do I do? My pain had no limit.”
As she speaks, she squats in front of one of Vrindavan’s temples, her life reduced to begging for scraps of food.
There are an estimated 40 million widows in India, the least fortunate of them shunned and stripped of the life they lived when they were married.
It’s believed that 15,000 widows live on the streets of Vrindavan, a city of about 55,000 in northern India.
“Widows don’t have many social rights within the family,” says Ranjana Kumari with the Center for Social Research, a group that works to empower women.
The situation is much more extreme within India’s rural community. “There, it is much more tradition-bound; in urban areas, there are more chances and possibilities to live a normal life.”
But the majority of India’s 1.1 billion population is rural. “The government recognizes the problem,” Kumari says. “It can do a lot, but it’s not doing enough.”
One woman, a widow herself, is working for change. Dr. Mohini Giri has formed an organization called the Guild of Service, which helps destitute women and children.
Giri’s mother was widowed when Giri was 9 years old, and she saw what a struggle it was. Then, Giri lost her husband when she was 50, enduring the social humiliation that comes with being a widow. At times, she was asked not to attend weddings because her presence was considered bad luck.
“Generally all widows are ostracized,” she says. “An educated woman may have money and independence, but even that is snatched away when she becomes a widow. We live in a patriarchal society. Men say that culturally as a widow you cannot do anything: You cannot grow your hair, you should not look beautiful.”
She adds, “It’s the mind-set of society we need to change — not the women.”
Seven years ago, Giri’s organization set up a refuge called Amar Bari, or “My Home,” in Vrindavan. It has become a refuge for about 120 of India’s widows. Giri’s organization is set to open a second home, one that will house another 500 widows.
But as she says, “Mine is but a drop in the bucket.”
At Amar Bari, most widows reject traditional white outfits and grow out their hair. Along the open air corridors that link the house’s courtyard are green wooden doors, leading to dark tiny rooms, home for each widow. See the widows of Vrindavan »
Bent over by osteoporosis, 85-year-old Promita Das meticulously and slowly sweeps the floor just outside her door and then carefully cleans her dishes.
“I came here when I couldn’t work anymore. I used to clean houses,” she says. “Nobody looked after me, nobody loved me. I survived on my own.”
She married at 12 and was widowed at 15. Seventy years later, she finds herself at Amar Bari. “I used to live in front of a temple, but then I came here,” she says….”.
On one end of the spectrum of life, there is mistreatment for not bringing enough into the marriage and the family. On the other end, there is banishment for not having enough left to give after already have given it to everyone else.
I have posted before about the eternal question: why? And yes, as I read these and other stories, my first impulse is to still ask why, but I no longer am convinced that figuring out the “why” will fix these problems. Whose “why” would I begin with? Through whose eyes would I look through first and with whose eyes would I end in trying to figure out the origin?
I was reminded today about the “Little Arrow in the Upper Right Corner”, by Ronnie over at Out of My Head.
For kicks, I started clicking and clicking. I saw some lovely blogs, but it was a blog focused on saving children and stopping child slavery, that caused me to stop and read and then start clicking on the resources/links listed.
I began to read articles written by Shelly Seale.
The information focused upon the plight of children in India. I of course had read many things about the plight of children in India before, but today, it hit me differently and I was overwhelmed by the enormity of how many children live not only without parents or other family, but live under despicable conditions at the behest of people that mistakenly call themselves human.
I came across information on The Miracle Foundation and news articles talking about the founder Caroline Boudreaux. The grace of one open heart with the humble goal to simply help children is beyond inspiring.