Tag Archives: poverty

Let’s Stop the Snack Madness………..

I have been trying to figure out a way to be more helpful to others and I think I might have figured out a small little way to make a difference.

It will relieve stress on parents, address childhood obesity and pollution in America, and possibly feed some hungry children in the world. Sounds good, right?

If you have ever had a child in a rec sport, then you probably already know where I am going with this. But in case you don’t, let me ‘splain.

Take little Suzy Quzy. She’s 8 and she loves soccer. It’s Saturday and she has a 10am game.

Her mom gives her a good breakfast because she has a game. She’s going to need the energy. Suzy goes to the game and warms up. During warm ups, she drinks some of the water from one of the tw0 bottles of water that she brought with her. Then she plays about 15 minutes of soccer.

During half-time Suzy’s mom comes running across the field with oranges slices. She is slightly frantic because half time is such a short period of time to give out a snack. There is real pressure here to make sure everyone has a snack. Seriously, the children might actually starve because they have not had anything to eat in the last 45 minutes. Those aren’t airplanes people, they are grumblies in their tummies.

And not for nothin’, these kids better love these oranges. Afterall, Suzy’s mom went to two grocery stores to get oranges because they didn’t look great at the first one (where they had been on sale because it’s not really orange season and they are expensive, so a sale sounded good). And there was traffic. Jeez Louise the traffic. It took her an extra 20 minutes to get home. Now she is running late. She yelled at her kids to leave her alone because she had to get these oranges sliced for the game. She cut her finger because her husband tickled her when he walked by. The sheer nerve of that man. Now he is in trouble. Suzy cannot find her soccer cleats but mom cannot help because she is slicing oranges.

While the coach is talking, Suzy’s mom sees that most of the kids don’t have oranges. Suzy’s mom really wants everyone to know there are orange slices. So while the coach is talking, she is weaving in and out of the kids just to be sure everyone knows there are oranges. Oh, and diaper wipes. She wants to make sure no one plays soccer with sticky hands. That is critical to soccer play because – fyi – you don’t even use your hands in soccer but, sure, it is probably better if they are not sticky.

During half time about three kids have one orange slice each. But one of the players has a three-year-old brother who just loves oranges, especially when they are sliced and bought (out of season) by someone else. So, deflated, Suzy’s mom gives him the bag of oranges and he plays with eats them with very dirty hands. The husband is wondering why they just spent $20 on oranges but he is way too smart to say it out loud. He compliments his beautiful bride on having the best snack ever. Oh, yeah, those diaper wipes kicked it up a notch. How is it possible that no one had thought of that before?

The kids open their second water bottle because they cannot figure out which ones are their original bottles. There are 8 bottles on the ground, all only half empty. But, they can’t drink out of those because they might catch a real-life cootie. Don’t laugh, I have seen it happen and it ain’t pretty.

Finally, the kids finish up their soccer game. Another frantic parent comes over with a peanut-free, glutten-free, and dairy-free end-of-game snack and another drink. They must be famished by now.  Holy cow, it’s been an entire hour and a half since they have had a proper meal. Yeah, Suzy’s mom thought she was all hot stuff with those exotic, organic orange slices, but we see where those ended up – abandoned and alone in the dirt.

The kids forget both of their original water bottles and suck down a juice box. And honestly, they are glad to have another drink. At this point, water is so two hours ago. Now each child has 3 bottles of trash. Only one of which will actually be claimed. The rest of the bottles nearly filled with perfectly good water get left on the field. Along with some  orange slices formerly known as perfectly good. The kids all open their snacks but it’s not one they are crazy about (maybe because peanut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free snacks actually taste like cardboard) so they don’t eat it. The overachieving mom brings a trash bag to pick up all the leftover pieces – take that Suzy’s mom – diaper wipes indeed. But a lot of trash still gets left on the field.

Oh, wait, the coach has one more announcement. It’s Stephie’s birthday. Everyone sing and there are cupcakes. And boy, are they cute. Another fyi, the cuter the cupcake, the more likely it is to go uneaten. Kids love looking at them, but if it’s too complicated, eating them very quickly becomes not-so-much.

More trash is created by the cupcake wrapper and one-bite-taken-out-of-cupcakes.

Suzy’s family gets home exhausted. And Suzy’s mom announces, “It’s lunchtime!” They are having fruit salad with dirt dressing. However, Dad is not hungry. He has already had a really cute cupcake and a half of a bag of cardboard.

I therefore propose that if your child really cannot go an hour and a half without eating, plan ahead. Bring them a snack. One that is safe for them and that they like and that they will actually eat. And the parent responsible for snacks can take the $50 s/he would have spent on snacks and drinks and donate it to the World Hunger Organization or their local church or local food bank or whatever – you get the point.

Really hungry children would get the resources they are truly desperate for, husbands would once again be allowed to tickle their wives, moms could help their children find their soccer cleats without cut fingers, kids wouldn’t overeat as much, fields would have less trash, and the list goes on. I am not sure what to do about the little brother who really likes playing with expensive orange slices in the dirt, but hey, Rome was not built in a day.

On Track…………….

Many of the differences of living in India hit you hard and fast. But some of them emerge slowly over time and creep into your everyday life.

One such change was the availability of sports teams for my kids. Now I promise this is not a post about how my kids are rock stars and how they were cheated by not having adequate sports opportunities in India. It is not an “if only” post. India us taught a lot of things including how to adjust. And in many, many ways stepping back was a tremendous gift.

Before we left the U.S., my kids played soccer year round and swam year round. In between they played basketball. They were busy every day, every night, and every weekend. That came to a screeching halt with the plane when we landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Sports seasons are only eight weeks long at best and we missed the swimming season totally and got on the wait list for soccer. But, you guessed it, we never got called to teams.

The first real season my son could participate in was track. Eager to get moving again, Bear signed right up. He had done a tiny bit of track in the U.S. – maybe three or four practices and one mini meet – but he was by no means accomplished.

One of the things that makes me the most proud of my kids is not when they succeed but how they handle new challenges. They are not intimidated by trying new things and they are not intimidated by not being the best at something. It is really awesome to watch.  If you are someone who is mainly concerned with your child winning, step back and watch how they lose or what they won’t try because they are afraid of losing. It really is a more important skill. To be graceful in defeat. I would argue it will get you much further in life than always winning.

But I digress.

Bear went to practices and got better and worked really, really hard. It was not easy and he didn’t particularly enjoy all of it. But he never gave up. He showed up everyday in the 100 plus degree heat and he ran and jumped and threw the discus. He was way out of his comfort zones.

The team was narrowed down to seven athletes. And would once more be narrowed to the final five official members of the team with an alternate. Bear was one of the seven.

He continued to go to practices and gave it all he had. When the final five were chosen, Bear was number six. And he was justifiably disappointed. He had done his best and it was not enough to compete. He was not used to that at all.

That night there was a party for the 6th graders at one of the kid’s houses. I was thrilled that he wanted to go because he was already starting to separate from his disappointment.

But this was a new experience for me. I did not know the parents who were hosting the party or the kids or the neighborhood or what to expect.

I told Bear he could go but that I would take him and I had to meet the parents to know that adults would be home. This wasn’t his day at all. Not only did he not make the final team, now his mother had to accompany him to a middle school party in the land of everyone else is driven by their drivers and dropped off. It turns out that out of 100 kids in 6th grade, only two parents went in to make sure parents were there. It was truly a whole new world for me.

Poor Bear.

But he knows me well and did not fight it.

What a gift that ride to the party was.

Because I was not driving, I had the chance to talk to Bear without any distractions. We both sat in the back seat in the dark and talked. Even the dark was a gift because he did not have to really look at me, just listen and periodically mumble, “I know Mom”.

I told him how proud I was of him for trying something new and that I was amazed by how he handled this whole move to India. I bored him with my thoughts on how he should still be so proud of himself because it is the journey that counts and that I completely understood why he was disappointed. I even said that he had a right to be disappointed but that he had to understand that the coach was picking the best team he could. It wasn’t personal. And it did not mean he didn’t do an amazing job.

Then we heard…tap…tap….tap.

We both knew what it was. It had already become a too familiar sound. Someone was knocking on our window to ask for food or money. We were becoming a little immune to it, sadly. Immune is not the right word – maybe we were allowing ourselves some distance from it.

This is one of the hardest things to admit about poverty. When you are living in the middle of it everyday, you allow yourself to ignore it. You feel helpless and there are times when you will actually be irritated by the fact that someone is struggling. At times, you will become dismissive and even rude to a person who is starving and homeless. Even a young child.

Gulp. You will actually resent that someone needs help. And you resent it not because you don’t care but because you feel so overwhelmed by it. That is the hard reality of living comfortably in a poor country. You cannot pretend real poverty does not exist because you slide through it every single day but you have absolutely no impact on it. Helping doesn’t change it and ignoring it makes you sick to your stomach.

We both turned to the window and could not see anyone there.

Bear looked down to find a man on a small, wheeled wooden box. He had no legs. He was unnaturally thin and dirty and had an empty look in his eyes. He had to brush his hands along the hot asphalt to move himself forward.

This is another thing that is incomprehensible. Even when someone who is living it is tapping on your window. You have to make a quick decision. Ignore it or help. I am not proud of how many times I chose “ignore”.

People who are really poor with absolutely nothing are willing to maim themselves because it makes them more competitive in the begging world. The more pathetic you seem, the more help you are likely to get.

We do not know if this man hurt himself or if he had an accident or if he was just born this way. But sometimes people really believe that their best option is to become as desperate-looking as possible and will damage their bodies to achieve that.

That is about as hopeless as it gets.

Bear and I looked down at the man and looked at each other and I simply said, “how much would that man love to be an alternate on the American Embassy School track team?”

That quickly became one of the many lessons we learned.

 

How did you decide who to help……….

Talking to my youngest child is like having a conversation with a racketball – in the middle of an olympic match with gold medal implications. She comes at you from all different angles at one hundred and ten miles an hour. It’s really too bad that Johnny Cochran is no longer with us because she could have given him a run for his money.

The other day we are riding in the car – just me and her – on the way to swim practice. Her mind is racing about anything and everything and we have this conversation…

Angel: Mom, remember the other day when we were riding in the car and we saw that lady in the middle of the road?
Me: Yes.
Angel: Why was she there?
Me: She was asking for help.
Angel: Why was she doing it there?
Me: Don’t you want to give me your Christmas list? Seriously, now is a good time to ask for just about anything because I will promise the moon if we can talk about regular old 9-year-old stuff.

We saw this woman in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was begging in between cars at an exit ramp right off of 495 – one of the busiest roads in this area. She had a severe limp and was bundled up not so warmly on a pretty cold and very windy day. I asked the kids if they had any snacks. They didn’t. So we drove by carefully and quickly, leaving her standing still empty handed right in the middle of the road.

Apparently she made an impression.

Angel: How did you decide who to help?
Me: You mean that lady? We didn’t have any food to give her.
Angel: No, in India.
Me: It just depends, honey.
Angel: But sometimes you gave them money. And sometimes you gave them food. And sometimes nothing.
Me: (humming All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.) Any progress on that Christmas list sweetie?
Angel: No, really. Remember, there was the one guy you gave money to. The one on the corner on the way to school. And then you stopped giving him money. How did you decide who to help.

That conversation made me realize that I still have a lot to reconcile and digest about living in India.

My husband suggested the other day that maybe we should stop talking so much about it with other people. It always seems to creep into the conversation and he thinks maybe people are tired of hearing about it.

Maybe.

But it is part of who we are now. It will come up.

And I hope to spend the next few weeks reconciling the effect that seeing so much poverty had on me. Some of the posts will surely be tough to read – believe me they will be tougher to write. And I will write them comfy and cozy from my office knowing that it is harder to exist in poverty than write about it from a distance.

But I do hope that we can stick through it together. I hope that I can articulate with clarity and compassion what we experienced in a way that captures your attention. Because simply clicking away from these posts will not diminish the existence and impact of poverty.

This should be fun, right?

Greeting Children with Trust/Faith…….

Sit back. But don’t get too comfortable…

Now imagine. You are 7.

Your parents have both been lost and there is no one left to take care of you. You are probably scared and hungry. Probably very, very scared and very, very hungry. Your whole world has just become lopsided.

So, you sneak onto a crowded train with no ticket and you run away to a big city filled with 15 million people where you know no one. You are completely unaware of what adventures and dangers are ahead of you. You have probably never seen a train or been very far from your small village. But that does not stop you because you are left alone with no real choices. And there are no movie cameras rolling. It is not some writer’s made-up fantasy about just how bad life can get. This is real.

This young man (the one on the left) is living this story – it is his life. He has been living on the streets of Delhi since he was 7 when he lost his parents. I do not know if that means that they died or that they abandoned him. I didn’t have the heart to ask for clarification. The Salaam Baalak Trust found him when he was 8. They have been helping him ever since. Now he has dreams of becoming an actor.

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The young man on the right grew up here with his family. Behind the railway station. He told tales of running the streets and drinking and mischief. Now he tells tales of a university education and making a difference.

The Salaam Baalak Trust takes kids from the street and gives them safety nets. John Thompson (not of Georgetown fame – but from England) thought of giving these kids some training in giving tours of their “homes” and lives on the streets. He knew it would be important to teach the children strong English skills. And now, some of the children are taught how to give tours and teach others about their lives on the streets of Delhi. To share all that their life involves – crime and poverty and loneliness at first – but then with the help of the Trust – community, education, and finally, hope.

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There is a non-government organization (called an NGO in India) that helps get street kids off street. In fact, there are several. The one I visited is called the Salaam Baalak Trust – it means “greeting children with trust/faith”. It is not a religious organization – by faith, I believe they mean that they have faith in every child – that every child can find a better life.

I went on the city walk tour that the Salaam Baalak Trust offers. It was, to say the very least, humbling, depressing, and exciting.

Humbling because most of us aren’t really doing as much as we can to help each other out as global citizens – as neighbors to everyone. As brothers and sisters of our own human race – we forget that we are all connected and that if one of us is suffering – it’s just too many. We take a lot in life for granted. We should be more generous. And, by we, yes, I mean ME too. I assure you that I am at the top of my own list.

You can hold hands and sing Kum-Ba-yah now. Please be sure to swing to and fro whilst you are singing. But really we can all do more. In my neighborhood in the U.S., I simply cannot imagine a scenario where a child would be left unattended. Really left alone. It is unfathomable. Not that it doesn’t happen in the U.S., I know children are unattended there – but it is just not so obvious. That doesn’t make it better – it’s just harder to ignore here.

It’s absolutely depressing because it is so impossible to ignore – to pretend it’s not happening – that these are children. And they are left unattended on the streets of a big city. Innocents who grow up way too fast. They eat out of trash cans and spend what little money they earn at the movie theater. They learn to be sneaky and how to swindle and how to run away all in the name of survival. They are clever, very clever, and it is criminal that their energy and talents are sucked dry just making it through the day. Finding ways to eat and avoid the repercussions of the trouble they can get into. And trying to avoid the evil that is out there. And it is out there, looking for these unattended children.

But it was also exciting. Really. The energy that these guides shared was wonderful. This Trust is swooping up kids and giving them real opportunities to succeed. And protection. And food. And hope. And a community. They are eating without stealing and learning to read and write. The Trust believes that education is the key to getting these kids off the street and everything they do is in furtherance of that. They are no longer completely unattended.

Here is a little bit of what we saw….

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This is a make shift classroom. Street children can come here and eat and learn for a few hours everyday. They can also get a bath. They catch the water that is used to clean the trains and bathe with that. Unfortunately, I am not kidding. But a bath is better than no bath.

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No matter how run down or shattered a village may be, there is still very much a sense of community and family. Thankfully, we don’t need much to care about one another. I am guessing this is a mother and a daughter.

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These train was rolling down the track very slowly in between the children and the clotheslines and the huts.

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These are some of the kids we saw that day…

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Get it? Kid? I couldn’t resist. These kids live there too.

So, now what. Now you might feel like you aren’t doing enough. What can you do? Of course, the website offers an opportunity to donate. It mentions wire transfers. Yeah, I know, that makes me nervous too. But you can donate to the Salaam Baalak Trust thru Give India. The link for the Trust is here. If you are in Delhi, you can encourage others to go on the walk – raise awareness. If you are not from Delhi, I am sure there are children in need near you. They might even be in your neighborhood. And we can all just be a little more open to others who need our help – whether it is a parent or a friend or a teacher or a child.

Change does not always have to come in big sweeping movements – sometimes a simple kind gesture changes a life forever.

No Touch………..

One of the hardest things about being back in Delhi is the poverty. The dirt ain’t so great – but the poverty. Seriously, there is no way to describe it – you have to see it for yourself. And you don’t really see it, you feel it. It is like the dirty air on your skin – smothering – it falls on your heart and constricts it. It hurts to see it and you cannot brush it off. I cannot even imagine what it does to a person to live it.

People (many, many people) here are truly starving – not just for food, but it would seem they must be starving for some sort of self worth. Starving for some way to care for themselves and their families. They cannot all be resigned to this – they cannot all believe that there is no higher purpose for their lives. There must be some spark inside of them that has not died out yet. Some survival instinct that is ready and waiting and literally begging to kick in.

Many people have said that human life isn’t that valuable in India – I had to admit it – but I think it might be true. At least, very poor human life. Otherwise, how could this continue?

In India, there is begging pretty much everywhere you go. It’s hard to accept as simply ” just the way it is” when you didn’t grow up with it constantly in your face. It’s hard to turn your head and close your wallet when you see it. Very hard to believe that a quick fix of a little money really does not make it better – but just perpetuates it.

The problem quickly becomes that if you share with one person – you better be ready to share with many. This is a horrible analogy – but it is like roaches – if you see one, you can be sure that there are many more watching, waiting for the crumbs to drop. There is also the reality that a great deal of the begging is really equivalent to organized crime. The beggars do not to keep the money.

Most beggars are not aggressive. Anyone begging is not allowed to physically touch anyone they are begging from. My understanding is that it is actually illegal for beggars to touch while begging. Most of them follow this rule – no touch – I think naturally, they just don’t touch people they do not know. But like everything in India, there are levels and some beggars push the limits. They will touch you and follow you. It can become quite uncomfortable and sometimes even a little scary. I have given myself permission to say “no touch!” firmly. But you do not walk away untouched whether they physically reach out for you or not.

It is hard to instantly become unsympathetic to those in need – even if it is a situation of neediness they choose. It is impossible to come to grips with the idea that they truly see this as their best option. That this is the best, most economical use of their time. The best way to feed their children and themselves.

It is hard to understand that giving a little money or a lot of food is not helpful. It is nightmarish to see children maimed and living in filth and selling ridiculous trinkets while standing in between cars on a busy street full of unsympathetic drivers. It is hard to keep the window of my air conditioned car closed.

In some respects America is not that different, there are poor people everywhere. Sure, America has people dripping with diamonds while others are simply dripping. It is not all even Steven. But in America, there is more of a real chance to rise out of a situation, if you are willing to work hard for it.

This is not to say that there are not a number of people fighting the good fight in India. There are. I have written about two women in previous posts. One is Karin Bedi and the other is Anou with Project Why. Can Support is another great organization – I will be joining their fight next week and working on the Walk for Life. There are quite a few wonderful people working hard to make life better. But clearly more are needed.

The problem is so vast that it must be hard to know where to begin.

That was true for me. I was overwhelmed by how to be helpful. So, frankly, I did not do much. A little here and there – but is was like a dropping a lit match in a volcano. Yeah, any impact was surely very quickly melted away. This time I hope to do better. You can scold me if I don’t.

I hope to leave India very much touched…….

Okay, I have some questions…………

It turns out that quite a few Indians read my blog – Namaste and Donyuvard! Yes, I am sure I misspelled those – but hopefully you know what I mean.

I have a few questions. Please know that I am not being a smart arse – I really, truly am curious. So, if you can help me out with any of the following, please do……

1. What is this about? My husband said he thinks it might be an ad for a t.v. show – a comedy – is it?

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2. I know every religion has its contradictions, but why is it okay for Hindus to have leather goods like purses and belts, but it is not okay to eat beef?

3. What is the little boy sitting in the corner on the AirTel (maybe it’s TaTa) commercial saying to his mother? It is an adorable commercial and I am so curious what it is about. He gets out his phone and goes on the roof, I am guessing to call his dad. Do you know which one I am talking about?

4. As far as reincarnation goes, am I in trouble if I kill a mosquito or an ant or a bee – if the answer is yes – does it matter if I am protecting myself or my kids from being stung or bitten? In the U.S., there are pesticide companies that will spray your house every quarter to rid your house of creepy crawlies. Is that available here?

5. Where is the best place to get Mexican food in Delhi?

6. How do Indian women keep their hair so soft and shiny? Is there a special treatment for that?

7. How do you feel about non-Indian women wearing sarees? There is a debate among western women as to whether we look silly in them.

8. Do you give anything to the women and children and handicapped who knock on your car window?

Thanks! And feel free to ask me questions too.