The youth ambassadors interacting with children from the government school in Teriya village
Poverty is such a vicious cycle. It hurts, it kills, yet still so many are stuck and trapped in this destructive cycle. When I hear the word poverty, a collection of thoughts come to mind: sadness, child labour, hopelessness, extreme malnutrition, distress, hardship, lack of housing, education, money and sanitation. Who would have thought that a single word could have so many connotations? As I travelled to India earlier this year and experienced poverty firsthand, my preconceived ideas of poverty were challenged. I discovered a whole new side of poverty that is almost never talked about: that hope can be found in seemingly hopeless situations.
Prior to going to India this year, most of what I had seen and heard about were situations where children were severely malnourished, unable to go school, forced into child labour, living in desolate conditions or all of the above. I had come to the conclusion that was what poverty was all about. What I hadn’t realised was that although these terrible situations are reality for many, hope and joy can still be found even in the depths of poverty.
However, no video, photo or presentation could have prepared me for what I experienced during my time in India where I was fully exposed to the reality of poverty and how it affects our world. So often in Australia we get caught up complaining about not getting enough likes on our latest profile picture, whining about the excessive amounts of study we have to do and struggling to find time to socialise or go shopping. But as I visited India I realised that so much of what we complain about becomes insignificant when faced with children and families living in the depths of poverty. These children are being born and raised into a world that is consumed with poverty and the many problems associated with it. It is the only life they have ever known – but poverty is not always a hopeless situation.
Almost all of the children I met had a spark of hope and joy in them. Many spoke about how happy they were and how thankful they were for World Vision’s work. Somehow they manage to find happiness even in the most extreme circumstances. Seeing a community of people living in the slums who all have bright cheery smiles on their faces is such a beautiful example of hope and perseverance.
Seeing so much hope and perseverance challenged my pre-conceived ideas of poverty. How were these people so happy? So full of life? During my time in India I had so many incredible opportunities, meeting a number of sponsored children and seeing the difference a single sponsorship can have, not only for the child, but their family and the surrounding community.
The first sponsored child I met, Rinky, who was 10 years old, shared a completely different story than what I had expected. I was accompanied with another Youth Ambassador and a translator as we walked into her house. As we sat down with Rinky, her mum and her siblings, we began asking her questions. “What does your family do for work?” … “Do you grow your own food?” … “Where do you get your water from?” … “Does anybody in your family go to school?” I was prepared to start crying as this family poured out a sad story. However, what I heard was completely different. Thanks to World Vision, Rinky and her family eat three meals a day, have a source of clean water only 150 metres away, have a bucket shower, own mosquito nets and all six children go to school. I was amazed. Hadn’t we come all the way to India to meet with the poorest of the poor? Reality was, Rinky had been living among the poorest but because someone like you began sponsoring her, her life changed.
We asked Rinky if she had any last minute questions. Instead, with a smile on her face she asked if we would play a game of hide and seek with her. We said yes, of course, and began hiding. As we began looking around the house for places to hide, we discovered that the house was in fact two stories high. We couldn’t believe it! From a family living in sheer poverty, to living in a two story house was a testament to not only the work of World Vision, but the determination and hope found in Rinky’s family. Soon enough Rinky found us so we swapped turns and Rinky went to hide. Seeing such a happy and bubbly young girl enjoy doing things that I once loved to do at a similar age, made me realise how much we have in common with people living in poverty.
I realised that people in poverty don’t want sympathy, they want dignity. Although it can be easy to fall into the trap of stereotyping people in poverty as being helpless, hopeless and sad, I challenge you to join me in breaking that stereotype. My time is India taught me a number of things, but knowing that hope can be found in poverty is the greatest lesson I learnt. Sometimes the reality of poverty can seem overwhelmingly huge and too much to tackle, however instead of dwelling on the sadness of it, Rinky’s story reminds me of the hope and perseverance that can be found. Instead of looking down on the poor we need to stand with them, recognise their strength and help them to rise.
Together, we can break the vicious cycle of poverty. So what are you waiting for? The time is now!