I have just got back from Kotdwara, Northern India, having spent an incredible two weeks, visiting our projects, getting involved in community initiatives, seeing old friends and making many new ones. The hospitality and warmth of the Indian people are always such a highlight... I wish you could experience this. If you’ve been following my adventure on Instagram @dougthomas you would have seen that I’ve been busy and productive. I’ve enjoyed great food, eaten too many Indian sweets, put on weight, relaxed quite a bit too, had lots of long chats with many opportunities for planning future initiatives as ‘Project Help India’ keeps growing, and moving forward.
Straight from the airport on my very first day I found myself as the official guest at an open-air community meeting of a couple of hundred people, put together by the Haridwar Police. Here I had to spontaneously speak to the crowd about discouraging their children from begging and why they should be going to school. I have visited our six Education Centres, assessed and worked alongside kids and their mums at our Disability Centre, preached at a church, presented leadership seminars to university students about suicide, I’ve met with police and the local media, attended two Project Help Annual Functions (kind of like a school speech day). I have trained our teachers, revised our Child Protection Policy and procedures with the Project Help team, bought lots of resources for classrooms and visited some people in need. I’ve also done quite a bit of real-estate hunting too and hope to pass on some really exciting news soon (say a prayer please) ...’Project Help’ might soon have a mortgage ...a fixed address, a centre for our administration and all our operations. It’s a house and land in the middle of town, close to all the action and central to where people in need can come for help and counselling, a peaceful garden, plus a classroom for our City Centre slum kids.
It is such a privilege to sit alongside people and hear their story. I am always humbled by their trust and openness to share. Many ask me to pray for them. All of them just love the encouragement, company and friendship. They are empowered when you show sincere interest in who they are, that I would take time to visit and just want to sit with them. They basically have nothing but there’s always a chair, a chai, a smile, a laugh, a sweet biscuit and the essential selfie! Simple, honest, authentic conversations break down fear and misunderstanding, especially the walls created by religion. I’ve learnt that our differences are few. I continue to be surprised by how much we all have in common. If only we all had more time to listen and love one another as we do this thing called ‘life’ together.
The personal circumstances of people living in poverty are really harrowing and it really takes it out of me. The emotions catch up with you when I’m not expecting. I’ve worked with kids with disabilities who have not been allowed to school for the first 8 years of their. One little chap, cognitively impaired, age 6, while his parents are working, has literally roamed the streets every day of his life by himself since he could walk -vulnerable and significantly at risk of exploitation. No wonder he now loves the warmth and safety of his teacher and delights in coming to school. He cries when he has to go home. Some of the other kids who attend our education centres have experienced horrendous things - a father recently murdered, mothers repeatedly beaten, husbands spending the family income on alcohol, floods washing away their house each year, abuse, malnutrition on a daily basis, chronic illness, street begging, denied an education because they must work to earn a few rupees for the family, or for fear of being stolen, raped or savaged by a wild animal as they walk to school along the jungle roadway.
This sounds brutal and it is. It’s like a bottomless pit of suffering, one that gets bigger not smaller. Yes, there’s a cry for help but there is joy here. There’s also inspiring grit determination, perhaps contentment too. There’s a generosity of spirit, hospitality, warmth, and a deep expression of gratitude. There can also be suspicion by many too, so I have to have my wits about me, and be careful with my very word, the photos I take, and to have a local by my side most of the time. It’s not always safe and I go through gallons of hand sanitiser.
I’m pleased to report that the many initiatives of ‘Project Help India’ are happening as reported. Things are growing and the trust and respect that we have in the community deepens. This week we also had an Australian Project Officer from the Entrust Foundation visit to inspect our work. Your tax deductible donation is banked through Entrust. Their due-diligence requires accountability on our part and I’m pleased to report that they were delighted with what they saw.
Many people donate to Project Help. Thank you! Your generosity has enabled great things to happen. Lives are changed with people’s personal circumstances have been helped and touched by God’s love and blessing. These people have a tangible sense of hope and their kids are given opportunities for success and flourishing - all because of you.
Thank you to the leaders of ‘Project Help India’, my dear friends, Amit and Daisy Samuel, and their kids Jasmine and Jonathan. They work tirelessly for others, making daily sacrifices, in the midst of your own suffering at times too. Amit and Daisy, you bring God’s goodness to all who know you, and to the wider community too. You are loved...especially by me.