All the children reaching their dirty hands out and pulling my sleeves for money. All the crippled people who crawl on the ground begging at the feet of people who simply walk over them. All the mothers holding crying infants as they cook food outside their make-shift hut on a road divide. The one thing that I wasn’t prepared for when I came to India was the poverty. I mean, I knew it was here and that it existed but now that I have seen it firsthand it really does tear me up inside. However, it has also made me come to a couple of very important conclusions about poverty in general and how it is seen as a society.
In India, there would seem that poverty is a much bigger problem than in the US, and while I have to say I really can’t accurately comment on the state of poverty in the United States or India as a whole, I don’t really think it is the number that is the case. India just has a very different view on what it means to be poor and how people here see themselves and others. Here, poverty is much more open. There is no shame in begging, or making little tents on road divides, or in living in slums in between massive piles of trash and the constant clatter of the train tracks. Here people are openly poor but seem proud like no one in the US that I have seen. The US hides poverty away because it is embarrassing. Why would you beg when you can work? Why would you live on the streets when you can get a home? Why would you take help from the government when you can be self-made? The truth is, not everyone has the luxury of picking where their food comes from or buying a two bedroom house that has a heater and a king sized bed and a TV. But holdup, that isn’t the American Dream! So these people who are struggling to get by are forgotten about and told to hideaway and to be ashamed for not making it in the land of opportunity. I think this way of going about it is so wrong.
Just because you don’t have a house, a car, and a giant lawn doesn’t mean you aren’t a successful person. The other day I was on the bus and I saw a motorcyclist circle around the back to squeeze through the space left between the bus and the road divide. What he didn’t know was that a crippled beggar had set up that space as his place to ask for money. When the motorcycle came through and just about ran the man over, I could barely hold in my tears as I saw the man try and drag himself away. With arms emaciated by hunger and legs that had long suffered muscle dystrophy from lack of use, you could tell that a hasty evacuation from the space he once occupied was not possible. That’s when another crippled man came up on his makeshift board with wheels and helped pull the man around to a place out of the line of traffic. I wasn’t crying because I felt bad really, mostly just out of the sheer helplessness I felt from sitting up in the moving bus and also for the beauty of one human helping the other out of pure kindness and not from personal gain. And that’s the beauty of India. People will offer you everything even if it is the last biscuit (that’s what they call crackers) in the house. So yes, there is poverty but you don’t have to be ashamed for being poor. As long as you try your best in the life you are given, that is excuse for a sense of pride.
I am glad I get to end my trip volunteering. I know I can’t save every starving woman and man and it will still break my heart to ignore the pleas of hungry children but at least I can make a small difference. India has given me so much and yet, I have been here less than a month. I want to show my thanks by giving back to the country who has given me a better insight into their life as well as my own. People say travel will change you and I can honestly say this will affect me for the rest of my life. I am definitely going to make it a goal to give back no matter where my travels take me, whether it is in my hometown or somewhere across the world. Even if it is just making one person smile one day out of the whole year, at least I did something.