AWAKENINGS

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Restores Hope for Amanda

The Poorest of the Poor & the Obscenely Rich

Returning home from India always causes me to be introspective and grateful for everything that I have (while bringing to light the things I don’t need and can do without).  India is all about extremes.  Each day I would pass by the poorest of the poor, with nowhere to sleep but the dirt beneath their feet.  On our last weekend in Delhi, Judy and I strayed beyond our Lonely Planet Guidebook to the outskirts of Delhi.  We were tired of the typical tourist attractions favoring a search for the real India.  On a Saturday afternoon we travelled almost two hours to visit the village of Gharbarah in the Greater Noida area.  There, amidst basic concrete structures provided through governmental funding, people existed without running water, in unsanitary conditions, without electricity, nor education.  Women in colorful saris and kids with dirt caked on their feet greeted us with open arms.  We were escorted by Dr. Neelam Gupta, President and Founder of AROH—A Ray of Hope Foundation (www.aroh.org).  AROH’s mission is to provide effective assistance to rural underprivileged women and children, physically challenged individuals, and HIV+ families.  AROH assists in developing their economic skills, making them aware of their rights, and motivating them in getting their place in the society.  Our visit was an eye-opener that humbled my western soul.  These people had nothing and knew no better, yet they smiled graciously through their obvious adversities.  Dr. Neelam is a woman that is making a difference through her NGO, already bringing a ray of hope to fifteen different villages in the region, empowering women and children, and enriching their lives.

While visiting the village, Judy negotiated a toxic pond and sewage overflow that seeped through the ground.  The surface of the water was covered in a thick skin of gray-green and brown milk.  Judy clung on to a six foot concrete wall carefully placing one foot in front of the other.  One slip and she would submerge into an Indian swamp that not only smelled putrid, but would cause instant dysentery or goodness-knows-what.  This was the only route the villagers could take to go to school. 

 Water buffalo munched on grass knee deep in water twenty yards beyond this stagnant cesspool.  With the monsoon rains this dirt alleyway floods making it impossible for children to go to school.  As it is, the little ones are too small to reach the top of the wall to side-step the watery mass.  House-structures are routed off this alley-way with strategically placed rocks for children to jump across to enter their plot of land.  Dung patties were strategically lined atop the concrete walls, drying and hardening so they could be used for fuel later on.  It was impossible for me to cross the six-inch wide track in my wheelchair so I sat and waited for Judy in the stinking heat.  Beads of sweat rolled from the top of my skull down my face, and then trickled down my neck under my blouse, over my chest, down my belly and all the way to my pelvis.  My seat cushion became saturated.  I was instantly surrounded by women and children—all curious to see my blonde hair, blue eyes, and a wheelchair.  My fair complexion was such a contrast to their almost black skin, dark almond shaped eyes, white-white teeth with perfect smiles, and brightly colored fabric wrapped around their thin wiry frames.  I felt like an alien and an intruder.  My camera hung around my neck yet I felt as though taking their picture would rob everything they had—mostly their dignity.  I began to feel faint from the intense heat and humidity.  The stench from the pond hung in the still air.  I couldn’t breathe.  I felt dizzy.  More and more villagers huddled around me.  I became claustrophobic.  A sea of bodies closed in on me.  I was there to see, feel, and absorb their life…yet I felt like I had become a circus attraction—the odd human that everyone had to ogle and see to believe I was real.  I made a conscious move down track to an opening away from the stench of the pond.  The villagers followed.  Not long after Judy returned with her own following of people.  She reported that the school was a one-roomed structure with barely any supplies.  They were desperately in need of slates, chalk and the basics.  This is what Dr. Neelam’s organization could ultimately provide for the community. 

After a long taxi ride home through Delhi traffic, Judy and I breezed through the door of Room 208.  The cool air conditioning engulfed us and we were home in the sanctuary of our little hospital room.  Our uncomplicated home away from home greeted us like a calming cave that was ours.  Both of us could hardly wait to have long hot showers, washing clean the dirt and stink from our afternoon escapade.  Sitting naked on the shower bench, Judy passed me each wheel from my chair so I could scrub them clean with the hand-held shower nozzle.  Every inch was soaped, even my little castor wheels and my titanium frame.  As I sat on the cushioned seat showering hot clean water over my head, I felt a pang of guilt.  I had so much.  My mind swept back to the villagers, the cesspool…and their simple existence.  It was unlikely that they had ever experienced a hot shower with fresh running water to cleanse their bodies.  None-the-less, I scrubbed and I scrubbed.  Every millimeter of my body and wheelchair had to feel clean.  I think I even shampooed twice.   

Just a couple of weeks prior to this eye-opening visit to the poorest of the poor, I was appalled to read about India’s Mukesh Ambani, ranked by Forbes magazine as the world’s fifth richest person with a net worth of 43 billion dollars.  This man is building the world’s largest and costliest home in Mumbai set at an astoundingly ridiculous 2 billion dollars.  My goodness—what decadence and obscene opulence!  Who needs a 27 story sky-scraper with six stories for parking lots, nine elevators, and a four-story open garden for a family consisting of a wife and three kids?  Yes, India is full of paradoxes to every extreme.

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