I first stepped foot in India in the new year of 2008. I was 15, on a school mission trip. That 10 days had a real impact on me, my heart was broken for the poor living in extreme poverty. I knew that I wanted to return to India, it had its claws in me and I was definitely drawn to it.
I’ve heard that India is like marmite, love it or hate it. I can totally see why. Nearly 10 years later, after spending 5 weeks here I have felt both of those, I think. Getting to Mumbai has reminded me why I love it. I don’t think I have the words to explain what it is that draws me in. It’s certainly not pretty, peaceful, or particularly easy for the tourist. It’s the opposite, chaotic, filthy, loud and messy.
This week we’ve linked up with IMCares - the same charity I visited on my first trip. It’s been a very humbling and eye opening experience even more so this time round.
IMCares serve the poorest of the poor, the most marginalised of society. Timothy, the director, explained to us that many NGOs are now working in the city amongst children and sex workers, and so IMCares decided to move focus onto those that are still left untouched. This is mostly the homeless and children with disabilities. Both are cast aside by society. Many of the homeless people have chronic medical conditions and life-threatening wounds. Imagine - wounds so deep that you can see down to the bone where maggots have eaten away at the flesh. Hospitals refuse to care for them. Children born with learning difficulties or disabilities, not counted as part of the family, cast aside, explained away as ‘mad’.
IMCares act as their advocates, they work with these individuals and the children’s families, attending appointments, surgeries, follow up clinics, ensuring that they get help, care and support. Alongside this work they run regular clinics from their base and in slums around the city. They also have a beautiful children’s home just outside of Mumbai. Mostly the children’s’ mothers are sex workers and they are born into the tragic way of life. In Agape Village they are given a new family, education, food. They become wanted children again.
This week we have had the privilege of seeing the IMC team at work! We’ve been part of the medical clinics and the ‘pavement rounds’. The way the whole team love the one in front of them is quite astonishing and inspiring.
On our third day we went on a pavement round with one of the very experienced social workers. These rounds happen twice a week, it involves around 5 hours of walking the city in the heat of the day. They have regular areas that they work in, checking up on old clients, and finding new ones. Having conversation, giving first aid medical help where needed, taking someone to hospital if required. Walking the streets and loving hard. It was challenging for Ed and I. The heat, the dirt, the crowds and smells combined with the tragedy of what we saw.
Our first stop was to chat to a new mum. Joyti is a sex worker who lives on the street with her 2 children and mother. She gave birth 2 months ago to a premature little girl. The IMC team took her to hospital and stayed throughout the birth. Joyti took us to a bench outside by their small makeshift shack, she undid a heavy blanket to reveal the tiniest baby I have ever seen. On first glances I didn’t think she was alive. This sweet girl is so severely malnourished and premature that she is literally skin and bone. I will go as far as to say she almost didn’t look human. She is out in the hot midday sun under a blanket being bitten by the flies. It was hard to see. Joyti sat and chatted to us whilst feeding her little one, she gave her formula from a bottle and swaddled her in a sari. Even this family with nothing, offered us tea from tiny plastic cups, Indian hospitality yet again humbles me.
I don’t know what will happen to this family, I am comforted that they are being supported by such a great organisation.
Amongst other stops, we visited a man, again in his roadside shack who is suffering severely from cancer. He has a huge tumour disfiguring the left side of his face. He has had a tracheostomy and is fed through an NG feeding tube. Thanks to IMCares he has had all of this treatment and they will continue to support him. His eldest son lives at the Agape Village during the term. He and his wife were surprisingly happy and positive in the face of very difficult circumstances. It was an honour to hear their story and pray with them.
There were many others we stopped to talk to, to encourage and check up on, a disabled little girl being cared for by her grandmother on the side of the road, a mother living on the streets with her 2 children since becoming a widow, a man with TB taking care of his kids faithfully, a very cheery 75 year old lady, widowed 3 years ago and yet so happy and thankful.
Its hard to explain what it is like seeing all of this. The poverty is unlike anything you can imagine if you have not walked through it.
For dinner we found a McDonalds in a mall, air conditioned, full of expensive shops. I ate my (indian flavoured) burger feeling subdued and noting the irony of being in such a contrasting world. Minuets away from us people are selling their bodies for their children to eat.
Although what we have seen is tragic and painful, it is a huge joy to see this organisation working faithfully and with such compassion. They see the ones that are the most broken, they lift them up, love them, care for them. They see them clearly, as people, as a beloved child of God and they change their lives.
This week again, my heart is broken. . It’s been a rocky kind of 5 weeks but I have seen so much, learnt so much, felt a shift in perspective over my own life. I am hugely encouraged to see the work of the Indian Church, they are loving their people so wholeheartedly, they will not stop. It challenges me greatly.
I will never forget India, in all its heartache and beauty, it sure is like marmite, and I have to say, I have soft spot for it.