Chrissy’s Visit to Our Lucknow Centre

by Jayani on Oct 30, 2014

My daughter Chrissy writes:

I fell in love with India a few years ago.  Once I had stepped off the plane into New Delhi in 2009 and managed to get over my initial culture shock, India had me.  After that visit, I found myself raving about the country to anybody who would listen.  Yes, while there is immense poverty, there is also beauty… and something else which is impossible to describe.

This time, returning from my second trip to India, I feel completely different.  India has my unconditional love, but when it comes to telling people about my trip, I get stuck.  Go for a cup of coffee with a friend, and the inevitable request comes up… “So, tell me about your trip!” Obviously, they mean for me to tell them the bright and the shiny;  that India consists of curries, chai and colour. That’s what they’d prefer to know. Anything else would need a stronger drink than our lattes.

So, how can I even begin to explain the entire range of emotions I felt in those few short weeks?  How can I explain exactly how I’ve simultaneously had my heart broken and put back together?

On behalf of the India I discovered this time, let me try…

I found my new India in the space of three short days in the Lucknow centre belonging to Children of Mother Earth, a charity that provides street-children with a safe space, regular nutritious meals, education and health care.  At least, that’s what their website says.  In reality it is so much more than this.  These street-children finally have something they can call “their home”.  They have “a family”.

The children are collected from the most horrible of situations – whether they’ve been abandoned by their families at train stations (horribly it happens more often than I’d like to think), or they’ve been used to gain income for their parents by begging or stealing in the streets, or from even worse situations that these kids have been in that I can’t face putting in writing.  My heart breaks.

To enter Apna Ghar in Lucknow and be greeted with cautious smiles, some shy hellos, and a couple of the little ones holding my hand.  My heart mends.

To watch the children climb all over my mum, Jayani, with whom they’ve bonded through her previous visits. And to hear them fill her in on what she’s missed lately, and hear about the excitement of the upcoming Diwali festivities.  My heart swells.

To meet the severely autistic boy who was abandoned by his family at the age of 2 to 3, and is now around 12 or 13.  My heart breaks again.

To be taken for a walk around the centre and see their artwork all over the walls, and be shown the decorations they have made for the Diwali festival; to see the pride they have in “their home”.  My heart mends.

They have no toys (except for the teddies which are kept for comforting any upset children), but that does not prevent us from running in the grounds all day playing varieties of cricket, chasey, something similar to duck-duck-goose, and another game that I still don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter too much… you just hit at some balls with sticks and that’s the gist of it.  My heart grows.

I watch as the children individually spend a little time chatting to Ravi, the founder of CoME, but to the children, he is simply Papa… the father figure they have lacked in their previous lives.  My heart swells.

I feel the excitement in the air because the next day we are celebrating four of the children’s birthdays, and that means party-time.  My heart energizes.

I return to the hotel after dinner, feeling exhausted physically and emotionally, and needing a good night’s sleep, to prepare me for more of this tomorrow!

I return to the Lucknow centre the following afternoon to a welcome fit for a family member.  Bright and shiny eyes are everywhere; the excitement is palpable; they are ready for the party to begin.  First, there is tea for the guests.  Then… there is cake! There is singing! There are chips! There are lollies! There is dancing!  The stereo has been brought out and tuned to a radio station that plays all the hit Bollywood music. I am taught, by the children, the dance moves from the film clips for the Bollywood songs – much more difficult than you might think!  The excitement is rounded out when the older boys bring out the firecrackers.  The popping, fizzing or failing bring as many cheers as the last.  Then, when the air is positively buzzing with the energy from these kids (and smoke from the firecrackers), it’s time to calm down for prayer time. The four major religions of India are represented at prayer time (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism), and the children direct their prayers to the deity they prefer.

The girls have changed out of their party dresses; the bracelets and headbands that signify celebrations have been put away for next time.  It’s dinnertime, and then, slowly, bedtime.  The youngest go first and then each age group slips away as it becomes their bedtime.  The eldest girls remain outside with mum and me, chatting about normal things like movie stars, fashion and school work.  My heart breaks again as one of the girls brings me her textbook on learning how to use a computer and vents her frustration about not being able to understand it properly as it hasn’t been her turn to use the one computer allocated for her class at school. But her sheer determination mends my heart again, as I know she will get it, and that she has a future.

All of these kids have a future now. They have a family – a large extended family. They have a fresh start.  They choose a new name if they don’t know their original name, and a new birthdate if they don’t know what it is. Or they may have the opportunity to be reunited with their family if it is the best thing for the individual child.

My heart breaks as Ravi explains that one of the girls has been asking to speak to her mum.  Ravi knows where her mum is and will do his best to arrange a visit, but he knows that the mother wants nothing more to do with her daughter, as the daughter is no longer a source of income.

As a result of the long hard work that Ravi and CoME have done, the police and the authorities at railway stations in the towns where he has centres, are on the look-out for children who might be lost or in dangerous situations.

Ultimately, this isn’t a new India, and it’s not about me. These children are the lucky few.  It’s true.  But the love and happiness that simply radiates out from them is something else.  I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to experience their happiness;  I feel proud to know my mum is part of this great community;  I feel sad that there are still so many children in India who are not loved equally, but I also feel optimistic that through the work of CoME, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that the cycle of poverty can be broken.





Rita March 6, 2019 at 2:43 AM

It’s wonderful to see these young children are being loved, educated and cared by such a great organization founded by Mr. Ravi.
I hope to visit Apna Ghar when I am in Gorakhpur or Lucknow in next visit to India.

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