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Never Forgotten MAG
“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” – Mother Teresa
Picture this: You are in rural India, standing in a field, talking with a woman and her husband. Suddenly, she turns and walks away as her husband continues to answer the interview questions meant for her. She crosses the field and pulls out of the grass a 10-month-old baby girl. She returns, a smile on her face, and displays her youngest child. You pull out your camera to take pictures. The interview continues, this time with this additional audience member, whom the mother is constantly talking to and playing with. At the end, you pack up your things and wait as the translator finishes talking with the husband. The woman comes over and holds out her child to you, speaking quickly in Telugu. The translator turns to you and says, “She wants you to take her daughter away from here. She wants you to take her to live with you.”
How do you respond? How can you respond? Is there really any way to answer this woman who is offering you a child she obviously loves? As you look into her eyes and see that she is making an honest offer, tears sting yours.
I had to look away, red-faced, without answering. I couldn't. I couldn't force myself to tell her “no” when I knew that coming with me would allow this beautiful child to escape a life of poverty. I knew I had the power to provide this baby with a future she might never even know was possible. I couldn't answer the woman who wanted me to save her child from the existence she herself grew up in, and was trapped in. I couldn't do what she wanted: rescue her child from a life of poverty and hunger.
Imagine you sit cross-legged on a plastic tarp covering a 67-year-old woman's dirt floor. You can't speak her language, but she looks at you the whole time as though you can. The translator describes how this woman is poor; anything her carpenter husband can earn is spent on food and medical expenses. He is 75 years old, older than your grandparents, and has to keep working despite health issues just to provide an income for their family of two – about 30,000 rupees, or $543, per year. The wife is unable to work any more. Their children have all moved away to cities, and none sends money home. They can't take loans from the bank because they wouldn't be able to pay them back, let alone pay 24 to 36 percent in interest.
When you stand to leave, she wants to shake your hand and never let go. She comes up later for a focus group talk, and tries to give you one of her necklaces. She tells you how precious you are, how wonderful you are, and how she wishes you could stay with her.
She wants to give you jewelry, even though it is probably all she has. She wants you to stay with her when she doesn't even make $550 a year. She is 50 years older than you but acts as though you have the power to save her. The 1,500 rupees for your room and board and the $50 in emergency cash suddenly weigh down your bag, a heavy guilt pulling on your shoulders. Is this not an emergency? Shouldn't she eat for a week, even if it means you miss one meal? But she wants to give you a gift. How absolutely twisted is that?
I was amazed as I spoke to this woman – as well as all the other women I interviewed during my four-day visit to India – because they never complained. They were accepting of the cards they had been dealt; it was just how they lived. They woke up every morning, as soon as the rooster crowed, and started working – cleaning the house, preparing breakfast, getting the children ready for school, and readying themselves for a long day of hard work. Most of my interviews and focus group discussions weren't held until 7 p.m., when the women returned from the fields, and even then I had to keep the meetings short because their families were waiting for dinner.
It was inspiring to see their attitudes, and even more humbling to learn from them. I learned to appreciate what I do have, instead of dwelling on what I don't, and discovered how to be happy with what God has blessed me with.
I couldn't give the old woman the money that would keep her from worrying whether her husband could support the two of them.
I couldn't take the baby girl and show her a world of opportunities, where she could leave behind the hardships of her ancestors.
But these people are not unwanted; I want them. These people are not unloved; I love them. These people are not uncared about; I care . The only way I know to help them is by sharing their stories, learning from them, and keeping them in my heart always.
These people are not forgotten; I will remember them.