The noise was pungent. On our walk from the main street deeper into the center of the Khalighat Temple, the busier and louder it got. It became so crowded that someone was constantly shoulder to shoulder with me. Strangers. I grabbed my book bag and placed it on the front of my body. Various dialects were being shouted between the hundreds of people trying desperately to give their offerings to the goddess, Kali. Children without shoes were grabbing my arm with their eyes, and begging. Artisans were clutching to our attention with their colorful saris and gold-plated jewelry. Five weddings were proceeding at the same time, each bride without a smile. Men stare at my pale skin. Women glare at my clothing. Indian music is played from one corner. Muslim prayer on a loudspeaker somewhere else. A bit of panic sets in as it all begins to close in on me. A few of us started to circle up and frantically look around for familiarity. As our eyes were searching, a goat screams out and our heads are drawn towards the turmoil.
That was day three. The day we witnessed the goat sacrificing. The day I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. 5 flights, 11 time zones, 7,000 miles and a tornado was the only thing that could bring me back home.
I need a halfway house to recover. Or at least I wish such thing existed as I transitioned from two weeks in India back to American soil. It’s taken some time to process those weeks. I’m tattooed by emotion.
You simply can not take 15 participants from first world countries and drop them into a shelter designed to hold 150+ young girls who’ve been saved from various forms of exploitation. Not only is it overwhelming and piercing to our worlds, it is highly unsafe and unhealthy for the survivors. The two days priors were spent recovering from our journeys into Kolkata, as our group represented 8 countries. Not knowing it then, but feeling its great importance now, we needed to bond internally. We needed to trust each other, and as we laid a foundational web of support and understanding for one another, it prepared us for ground zero. A friend said it best, sometimes you have to first be selfish, to be selfless. We studied the introspective aspects of body movement and mind, followed by an exploration of trauma and its effects on both. In essence, we learnt how to handle trauma, before we handled it.
During our first few days on the ground, we met the real visionaries. The founder of The Women’s Interlink Foundation, the charity we worked directly with, spoke of her 45 years being an activist for women and children in India. We met with freedom-fighters from Sanlaap and Made By Survivors, too. Each speech was an introduction to the human trafficking industry in the world, specifically Kolkata, and shed insight to the depths in which their passions have manifested significant change in the area. They spoke about kidnapping, rescues, the day in the life of a trafficked victim. They told us about success stories, they admitted to those who do not make it. We shed tears and shared smiles.
We spent the remainder of our days at the shelters with the women and children, visiting 250+ street children and survivors at 6 of the 15 shelters sustained by WIF.
I’ve seen poverty. From the squatters in Africa, to the slums of Argentina, poverty is not new to me. The more I’ve seen the less shaken I’ve become by its sight. Kolkata is certainly on a different level than the rest, probably because its population is so vast. But, it wasn’t the impoverished extremes that impressed me - it was their joy.
Because of YOU, our group raised over $40,000 dollars. Each shelter can survive for an entire year off of $2,000. That means we are fully supporting the safety, medical aid, education and nourishment of 500+ children, across 15 shelters through 2016. It may not seem like much to you, but to them, it gives them the chance to live again. And I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, they feel your love.
YOU have be a vital force in creating change. YOU have made a child smile. YOU have lit a fire within us that will not fade out. Thank YOU for being a part of this. For proving our little ripple can turn into a big wave. For making us believe good is everywhere.