Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It begs the question...

A few days ago we went to Bareilly to pick a couple up, drop a family off and buy a pump. After dropping the family off we had a 5 hour wait until a couple from New Zealand arrived by train. They obviously didn’t catch the train all the way from NZ, just from Delhi. After chancing a locally made lassi (yoghurt drink) and doing some shopping we still had 4 hours to spare. We whittled away the hours down making small talk and people-watching at the railway station. Especially interesting were the child beggars that were sweeping across the car park and the well established pattern they had of canvassing arriving and departing passengers, and when things were quiet heading for wealthy looking loiterers – us.

Looking down at them (we were in a jeep) with their big, well-practiced puppy dog eyes and their unkempt appearance made me rethink my strategy of not giving money, but other kinds of assistance. For quite a while I pondered how to help these poverty stricken kids without A) indulging some rich beggar-pimp or alcoholic parent and B) attracting so much attention that half the population of Bareilly didn’t flock to the jeep with their hand out. I thought of buying some fruit but surmised they could resell it and decided I would buy some biscuits and open the packet roughly to prevent resealing/reselling. This worked admirably and the band of (we later learnt) brothers were quite happy with the outcome – quite possibly because they invested 100% of the chocolate biscuit proceeds into their mouths.

Satisfied with the outcome of this little exchange (guilt-free existence for 25 cents worth of biscuits is a great ROI). It all started to unravel when another kid, obviously not a brother talked with the not-so-hungry boys and made a bee-line for our car. After another few minutes of stonewalling the boy changed tack from just pitiful looks to displaying a dirty infected wound on his finger. Upon seeing this I took action immediately and pulled out our medical kit and began treating the finger with a liberal splash of betadine and a band-aid. Not satisfied with this treatment the boy revealed a larger wound on his leg which I also dealt with.

All this medical treatment gathered quite a crowd amongst the beggars and rickshaw wallahs and via our two interpreters (a youth and driver from the farm) we established that the brothers names were Sonoo, Baboo and Kaptan and they had no father ( he died of electrocution) and supported their mother by begging, and that the rickshaw wallahs didn’t like them (because they were annoying and always got in the way of trade).

After the initial hubbub of treatment died down (keep in mind we were there for 4 hours) the boys kept coming back with minor ailments that I just ignored. Another kid also came by with a lump on his head that didn’t look real nice but since I had no scalpel or medical training I didn’t feel like operating on him – in any case I don’t think he had health insurance. I had a conniption fit when I saw that one boy was treating a cut with the betadine soaked cotton bud that I had discarded on the ground (no rubbish bins and I didn’t have anything to store the pussy, diseased thing in for later disposal), I yelled for him to stop and via the interpreter that it would make it worse. I caught myself thinking that they should know better until I realised they don’t receive any education and probably never will.

I’ve tried to make this blog entry entertaining because it was an interesting encounter – one I won’t easily forget. It was sad to drive off on these kids after handing out my backup biscuit stash to them, knowing that they have little in the way of a future and that the only help I gave was in assuaging my own conscience. What I saw was just a single instance of what is a reality for millions of kids in India every day and I felt helpless. Later I realised that I was able to make a difference – not in the lives of the kids at the railway station, but in the lives of the kids at the orphanage whose futures are brighter because of some normal people here doing an extraordinary job.


  1. Heavy.

    Been watching Hotel Rwanda in Christian Living with year 11s and talking about the issue of how one person can make a difference.

    In a sea of suffering kids it can make it difficult to feel like we can achieve anything... And like you said. Do we do it just to ease our conscience? Or is it because we genuinly want to see God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven?

    Was mad yesterday because our shower screen was wrongly measured for the second time. And this morning I saw a scratch on my pretty new tiles the shower people made when attempting to install the mismeasured screen.

    I gotta get out more. Into reality.

    I repeat. Spol-it.

    And, if you can't tell, I'm really enjoying your blogging.

    Kate Bom

  2. Hi guys

    I delight over each new post and visit your site with great anticipation. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. This last post has stirred something within me... my heart just goes out to those kids.

    That old jelly fish on the beach story comes to mind - "You made a difference to that one, and to that one you made all the difference". You are doing what you can with what you have where you have it. That must be fulfilling. And by sharing it you are certainly motivating me (at least) to prayerfully think beyond myself and circumstances. So, thanks. I only wish I could wander up the street, sit on your couch hugging a warm cup of Jarrah Mocha and discuss it with you both in person.
    Love Michelle