Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Jai Dee in India: Visiting the Forgotten Children

I have arrived in India on my own. I have so much to share with you, I don't know where to begin, so I will just begin...

Jobs For Children

I'm walking toward Park St. in Kolkata (previously Calcutta)-- when I hear the rhythmic pounding of a drum. A small crowd has gathered, mostly children. My first instinct is to avoid whatever it is, because I'm craving familiarity. My goal is to find a cafe for breakfast.

Then I see her, balancing like a trapeze artist on wood pole no thicker than a handful of pencils. It is raised up about 8 feet on two basic wooden platforms. I can only see her from behind as she moves to the beat of the drum, her tiny body inching forward, her feet pushing along a metal pan with each step. The drum is played by a pre-teen boy, possibly her older brother. When she safely reaches the end and jumps down to collect money from the crowd, I see a flash of her eyes, thickly decorated with black kohl, now smudged down her cheeks. She's about 5 years old. This is her life.

And this is one of the better jobs for children in India. Thousands of children work up to 70 hours a week in the slums around this city. Yesterday, in Haora--just across the river from Kolkata, I saw an 8 year old boy crouched in a tiny cement room in an alley, covered from his forehead to his toes in black powder, used to make metal. All down this street the scene was repeated, machines clunking, fires burning, people sorting metal parts. Mostly young men working with dangerous materials. Two were using blowtorches, staring at the bright blue and white flames without protective glasses. They will eventually go blind.

Right now you can't find a newspaper or magazine in India that isn't boasting about it's new wealth and prosperity--Indians see themselves as living in the second world power after America. But as it often happens, the people helping to build this wealth are not benefitting. You could say at least they have a job, but what does that matter if you will go blind or get cancer from the chemicals, or if your childhood passes by in haze of smoke and machines?

But there is hope. And I have come to see its light; to see if we can help urge its flame into a brilliant fire. There are many people here trying to make a difference. I am here to visit one of these people, a man named Mamoon Akhar, who calls his project Samaritan Help Mission.

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