This is about our first visit to India and our experience in the country and with the people we encountered. If you visit the other pages about the missionary work, you will see that God has provided so much for the people including a church, a school and an orphanage.
Missionary Work in India 2008 - 2019
The India Experience 2008Two of our church members, Jeff Collington and Richard Drew, went on a trip to India in October 2008. This report on that visit will focus on the real India; something most tourists don't experience. We went, primarily at the request of a man called David Lima and to support and encourage some newly formed churches that are suffering persecution from the majority Hindu population. We also spent time at an orphanage that he administers. and a leper colony that he ministers to. We were hosted by David and his brother Himansu [HK], both truly wonderful men who are pictured below.
Our JourneysOur journeys were mainly in the state of Orissa, the poorest in India. From the outset, as soon as we left Vishakapatnam, all illusions and preconceptions were dispelled; it was life at its most basic, unbelievable wall-to-wall hardship and poverty. The roads in the mountain areas were atrocious, barely a ribbon of pot-holed, broken tarmac [of sorts] that would often disappear completely into rutted tracks. And these were the main routes between towns and went on in this condition for hundreds of miles. There were no side roads other than dirt tracks.
The villagesThe villages themselves fared no better. Shelters were generally poles cut from the jungle, tied together with creeper and covered in palm leaves. The better-off families had a concrete floor; other than that it was compacted dirt. They had no furniture except, maybe, a ‘bed’ frame for the man of the house, across which was stretched straps of some sort. Everyone else slept on the floor, maybe on a thin mat.
One shelter, away from the living area because of the fire risk, was set aside in each village for communal cooking and this comprised the most basic single fireplace fed by wood collected from the jungle, usually by the children. No electricity or sanitation and the water supply was from a single communal hand pump where all laundry and ablutions were carried out.
A Hard LifeLife is very hard in Orissa. From about the age of six, the children are set to work tending the cattle and collecting firewood from the jungle. The adults, both men and women, find what work they can mending roads, collecting materials for traders, subsistence farming or whatever. They get paid about £1.00 a day and that is barely enough to feed themselves. It’s nothing for them to cut and collect a bundle of logs that most of us would struggle to lift, carry them barefoot for 10 miles along awful roads and then walk the 10 miles home again with a bag of rice to feed the family.
The villages we went to visit were called Hajaridang, Achaba, Hukumba and Deringa. These were way up in the hills and where Christian communities had emerged. Far remote from any amenities, even the most basic, they were surrounded by dense jungle where the people ran and hid, often for days at a time, when Hindu persecution reared its head.
Despite the hardship, they really were lovely people, so welcoming and generous. We were always greeted with garlands of marigolds and given green coconut milk, straight from the jungle, to drink [a luxury for them but putrid stuff to my taste]. White faces were something of a novelty in Orissa. One old lady told us [through HK] that she could die happy now that she had, at last, met a foreigner.
Hajaridang is situated close to a quarry where rock is blasted for road repairs. The villagers all work in the quarry from the age of about 10. They rise before dawn, breakfast on rice and are at the site soon after first light. There they toil all day, seven days a week and in all weathers, working at breaking the rocks by hand or moving stones by hand basket ready for collection. If they don’t work for whatever reason they don’t get paid their 100 Rupees [£1.30]. Injury or sickness attracts no sympathy or charity from the employers. Obviously families and villagers support each other in difficult times but that’s as far as any form of welfare goes.
Doctors and healthcareHealthcare is non-existent and they rely on traditional medication that they can obtain from their surroundings. Drugs are available from the larger towns where you can buy any medication you want, without prescription, so long as you can pay for them. But, of course, these folk don’t have that sort of money. The nearest hospital is 150 miles away but it might as well be on the moon when all you have is Shank’s Pony and the treatment has to be paid for. In the village of Hukumba there was a delightful little girl by the name of Sujata, pictured here. She’d been playing in the jungle and had fallen from a tree and broken her leg.
The local ‘doctor’ had set it in a mud cast braced with bamboo, but the bone hadn't been aligned properly, with the result that she could no longer stand on it and was in great pain. She had to be carried everywhere by her Dad and faced a very uncertain future, not being able to walk, far less work. I had some Ibuprofen which I gave to her mother and you’d think I’d given them a gold bar. But that wasn't a solution and I took it on as a personal challenge to make sure she got the treatment she needed. I'm delighted to report that she has seen a surgeon and had the operation to reset her leg. She is now in proper plaster for the next 40 days and, after physio, should be as right as rain.
As I said before, David administers an orphanage in a village called Kujendri. There are some 33 children at the home and they are looked after by 3 carer's and the husband and wife that own the house. There are 2 rooms for the children and in those they eat, sleep, play and receive some schooling. This picture on the left is the front entrance and, to the side, is the kitchen. In there one lady cooks for the children and staff over a single wood fire. We had lunch there and, in our honour, a chicken was killed and prepared. It was a very rare treat for them but, to be honest, it was like road-kill.
The childrenEach child has a metal box about the size of a battery drill case and in there is everything that they own in this world. Their faces when we gave them each a little cuddly animal toy had to be seen to be believed; they'd never had anything like it before. After initial fear and reticence, they soon latched on to the rocket balloons and had great fun letting them go all over the house.
Truly lovely children, they sang, danced and did a little enactment for us with great enthusiasm. All of them, even the adults, loved to have their pictures taken, especially when they could see the result on the camera screen. Although they have to help with cleaning and collecting firewood, they are comparatively lucky, despite being orphans, in that they don’t have the rigours of normal village life and are receiving some education which should help them escape the worst of the poverty that is all they have known.
There is no funding or subsidy for the orphanage. David has to raise funds from wherever he can and we, as a church, have been able to help to some degree. It costs £22 a month for each child; maybe that doesn't sound too much but in the environment of Orissa, raising that sort of money is formidable. He also has long term plans to build a new home and school in a safer area. Knowing David and his faith, I have no doubt he will achieve it eventually.
The LepersDavid also ministers to a leper colony in the area. In Indian culture, they are truly ‘the untouchables’, totally abandoned by society, friends and family, and mainly through ignorance. Because of the disease they cannot find work and yet still have to support themselves and have to resort to begging. Even then, because of groundless fear, people just throw coins to them. Because leprosy has claimed their fingers in many cases, they can’t then pick up the coins and children come along and pinch them.
Their living conditions are truly awful, even in that deprived area. They have an old government hospital that has been neglected for many years. No maintenance has been carried out and, of course, because of their disability, they can’t do anything themselves.
Naturally, we wanted to help where we could. They try to cultivate a small garden where they grow vegetables. Their biggest problem was transportation of water from the pump to the garden [it’s difficult to carry a watering can or bucket with no fingers!]. A few pounds for a length of hosepipe and fittings and they thought it was birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Simple things like socks and gloves for the winter made a huge difference to their impoverished lives.
No one we met, including David, realised that leprosy was easily treatable. I did some research before we went and David is now pursuing a WHO treatment programme through the local hospital. They have undertaken to provide free drug therapy to anyone in the world who has leprosy. The biggest obstacle is getting people to acknowledge they have it in the first place and to endure the stigma that is attached to it. Even the worst cases can be cured within 12 months. It won’t rejuvenate damage that already happened but it will prevent further deterioration.
ConclusionI'll stop there although there is much, much more I could relate. I'm not naive enough to think any action on our part can make any great difference to Orissa in general. However, targeted help can make a big difference. We have chosen to financially support the orphanage and the leper colony through David. This will be done through the church missionary account so that it is all properly recorded and administered. We feel called to provide such help as we can, and are confident you'd do the same if you’d seen those lovely little kids, the life they lead and the difference a few quid can make. Believe me, I can't adequately describe it here but I've tried.
If you feel that you’d like to help, whatever you send will make a big difference in those lives. Without knocking the big charities and their work, there are no overheads to erode the benefits in this case. Every penny will end up on the ground in India. So, please give it some thought and, if you feel so moved, we’d be grateful to receive whatever you deem appropriate. If you send a cheque please make it payable to PEFC [India]. At no additional cost to you, if you are a taxpayer, the church as a registered charity can claim back basic rate tax from the IRS. All that is needed is for you to complete a Gift Aid declaration. If you are fortunate enough to pay higher rate tax, you can claim back the difference between basic and higher rate tax on your Self Assessment Return.