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Brave Third World
A stream of sewage swirls like a snake on the ground, engulfing its inhabitants in a horrid stink,
choking them, squeezing fresh air out of their lives, surrounding them with helplessness. The
houses are lean-tos made of straw and sticks, sagging underneath a weight of grief. An upturned
cart leans against a wall; clothes hang from hooks: yellow, purple, blue, red. Animals wander the
abyss of wreckage, smelling the garbage, the way it is piled on the sides of houses and in mounds on
the roofs. A man with cut off jeans, no shirt or shoes, gazes at the camera with fascination.
Seven years ago, in this broken down sewer of Ahmedabad, India, a mob poured gasoline onto a young
girl and lit her on fire. In front of her parent's eyes.
The mother looks away, clinging to the wooden pole that keeps the house from caving in from sorrow.
The red scarf and the yellow glint of her blouse sharpen the shining pain in her face.
The father stands next to her. The grays of his hair, the tension of his forehead, the wrinkles of
his cheeks, stand out more than his listless smile.
One night during the Gujarat Riots of 2002, a Hindu mob, raging with wrath and religious hate,
stormed across the bridge toward the shacks of this Muslim slum. The women and children hid. The
men stayed back.
The daughter of this unnamed couple would not hide while her father was forced to face the mob. As
it came closer, she and her mother ran out to stand by his side. With vengeance on their lips, the
men from the mob grabbed the eight-year-old girl from her father's arms and set her on fire.
This couple spends their lives in the wake of that haunting memory.
There is a boy who lives in the same area. He is a smart student. Half of his body is paralyzed;
he cannot travel upstairs on his own, and he stutters.
When he was eight years old, he too lived in Ahmedabad during the riots. Some police officers opened
fire near his house. While playing outside, he was shot in the head. In one end and out the other.
His mother heard the screaming and ran outside. She was shot in the shoulder, with a bullet that
narrowly missed her heart. The father, on the verge of losing his whole family in a matter of
seconds, rushed the boy and his mother to the hospital. The boy was pronounced dead. He went to
another hospital. Dead again. The father put his head on the stretcher and wept.
But the stretcher was shaking. The boy was alive.
His father screamed. Frantic. Panicking. Please doctor; just give me one more chance'
The boy is still alive.
He smiles at the camera; his hair slicked sideways, his hand in the right pocket of his jeans.
Two stories: similar beginnings, different endings. The lonesome couple and the smiling boy are
only two of a multitude of images, a small part of an enormous collage of misery captured by Junior
Saema Adeeb and her camera. They resonate with her even now, when she is safe in the luxury of her
During the summer of 2008, Adeeb went on a six-week journey through six cities in India with 13
other people and an organization called Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC). The purpose was
to understand the financial, educational, and social issues that plagued people in third-world,
With a suitcase full of clothes and suitcase full of toys, she began the journey with an air of
curiosity. Senior Salman Khan who also signed up for the trip began it with an air of uncertainty.
'I wasn't sure about it at first,' Khan said, 'but once I got into the program I liked it
The first stop was New Delhi, India; a city of mosques and tombs, of politics and religion, of men,
women, and street children'children who invade the trains, the buses, and the bridges, who line
the streets, the shop fronts, and the alleys, children with ragged clothes and pitiful faces,
children who sell water or sew clothes or collect garbage or beg.
'They're everywhere,' Adeeb said.
Adeeb and Khan visited an organization that helps children like these in New Delhi. It is called
Aman Biradari and was founded by a human rights activist named Harsh Mander.
In an article about the plight of these street children, Mander writes, 'If one cares to count,
the numbers on any night, would cross fifty thousand, among an estimated 10 million homeless and
children in cities and towns all across India.'
Aman Biradari sends counselors out to recruit these children to hostels. They provide food,
shelter, and education and they allow the children to enter and leave whenever they wish. Adeeb and
Khan helped paint the hostels with vegetables in the kitchens, underwater themes, and a tree with
apples representing each of the children.
Amidst rioting over the paintbrushes, the American kids explained unheard of marvels: cameras,
starfish, and bubbles. To a group of Indian poverty stricken kids, bubble solution was the eighth
wonder of the world.
Among these kids was an artist. On the walls of the hostel, he painted a moon in the midst of white
clouds; but when Adeeb tried to talk to him; he muttered and stuttered and shook, and she could not
understand why. She discovered later that he was deaf and dumb.
The children in the hostels are fortunate. They do not live in the filthy alleys behind Meena
Bazaar, with countless other homeless and begging children. They have escaped drunken fathers,
mothers forced into prostitution, and lives as ignored beggars.
'Poverty here is nothing like poverty in India,' Adeeb said, 'Over there, they treat you worse
After their week-long stay in Delhi, the group then traveled on to Lucknow. A town nestled in
greenery, with rice fields, goats, creeks, and bicycle rides. Inhabited by women slaving away at
sewing machines and ripped off by middlemen who buy their work at a few rupees and sell it for much
more, this town is home to the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA).
This organization works to help women become independent by having them make and sell their own
merchandise. These women sew detailed sequins onto Indian blouses, embroider flowers onto cloth,
and hand paint peacocks on greeting cards.
At the house of a woman who had not joined SEWA, Adeeb witnessed miserable children focus their eyes
upon a massive checkered cloth spread before them, their tiny fingers grasping the needle that sewed
on miniscule beads.
'I'm pretty sure India has child labor laws,' Adeeb said, 'but look at how they're
In Hyderabad, a city in Southern India, Adeeb and her group assisted IMRC in handing out
scholarships to local children who excelled in school. Adeeb remembers pages and pages of names and
excluded kids who snuck in line to get at some of the money.
The kids herded around the van of the Americans, clamoring for a chance to have their pictures taken
and be remembered.
'We were like royalty to them,' remembered Adeeb, 'We felt like really important people.'
As Adeeb and Khan immersed themselves in India and its pulse, the differences between an American
life and an Indian one became clearer and clearer. But India was no longer a far off country to be
named only in news articles and family stories, no longer a detached land on the other side of the
world. India was real, its people were real, and its stories were heart wrenching.
These beggars and child laborers, orphaned street children and slain daughters, childless couples
and paralyzed boys bear stories similar to films like Slumdog Millionaire. But they are not meant
for entertainment, to be acted out on a large screen for the world to see for two hours and then
forget. These stories are real. They happened.
Although the western world may forget them, the lonesome parents and the smiling boys of India will