Kolkata has been an amazing experience on so many levels for me. As I discussed in a previous post, an overwhelming feeling of Love and Joy has uplifted me these past 2 weeks. Despite its extreme poverty, Kolkata does not make you feel sad, nor does it make you feel pity. The poor, with their beautiful simplicity, are teaching us a beautiful lesson of kindness, compassion and love. I will talk about this in more detail in a future post. For now, I want to share with you the beautiful story of Firoza Khatun who lives outside this train station, on the ground.
During my stay, my friend Alfonso, founder of an amazing non-profit called Girl2B, suggested that I spend some time with the Hope Foundation(Make sure you check http://www.hopefoundation.ie as there are many other Hope Foundation in India, non-related), a charity that for close to 15 years has taken care of the kids in the streets and slums of Kolkata. Children here are more at risk than either babies or adults because they are often victims of two terrible threats: organ trafficking and prostitution as this video shows. So the Hope Foundation is patrolling every night in the streets and in the slums, to spot these imperiled children.
During the day it is very hard to know who is at risk because there are way too many people in the street, and also a kid walking around alone is basically “normal.” But at night, it’s a different story. You see injured kids, sick kids, kids that are alone…
I decided to embark on a few night patrols to witness the beautiful work done by Geeta, Anirban and many others with the Hope Foundation. My first night is when I saw Firoza for the first time, sleeping on the ground next to her mother, her little baby brother and a few other family members.
We are next to a large slum, on the side of one of the main train stations of Kolkata.
Firoza is six years old; she is at risk. She is at the age where she could be kidnapped and exploited for prostitution.
We begin to discuss with her mother, and the people around her, the risk that Firoza is facing by sleeping in the street. After a long conversation, her mother, Salma, agrees to bring Firoza and her baby with us in the ambulance to the emergency shelter unit for girls, run by the Hope Foundation.
It is one a.m. when we reach the emergency shelter. Twenty girls at a time live here while their psychological and physical health is assessed and restored, until they can be placed into a more long-term shelter.
Firoza does not seem too worried; I can see her playing in the ambulance with her baby brother. Her mother seems at peace, watching and loving her daughter, knowing this is a turning point for her. Firoza is not going to grow-up in the street like her mother did. She is not going to be illiterate because she can’t go to school like her mother couldn’t. She is not going to be the victim of dangerous men, like her mother was.
We weigh her. We measure her. And we do the necessary paperwork, as her mother needs to consent to leave her daughter there. She will be able to visit Firoza whenever she wants, but she is officially giving us the responsibility to take care of her daughter. She can’t sign, so she leaves a fingerprint.
Now, I think of all the other kids, thousands, we saw during our night patrol. Many we missed because we patrolled that street, and not the next one. The work to be done is tremendous, but I am fundamentally convinced that we can tackle these issues. One child at a time, one kid after one kid. When I feel powerless, I meditate on that beautiful quote from St Augustine:
"Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you."
The Hope Foundation needs sponsors, people like you and me, that can afford to spend a little each year in order to help support an at-risk child. What is very little money for us can pay for a home, food, healthcare and schooling for a kid in Kolkata. As I write this post, I am in the process of becoming Firoza’s sponsor. Can you join me and sponsor a kid?
That night that I was out patrolling was, along with my work at Kalighat, one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life. It will stay engraved in my mind forever, and today I feel blessed to be able to help her.
One day Firoza will be able to look back at her life and see how special that day was.