Friday, February 15, 2008

The Family On The Corner

In August of '06 Mr. Smith and I came to India, without our kids, to look around. We stayed in the company guest house, about 25 minutes from the office. The seven days of that first trip were busy from early morning to late in the night. By the time we headed back to the guest house at the end of each day I was exhausted and wanted to fall into bed. It was on this trip that I first noticed the family on the corner. A man and his wife and their three children. They lived in a semi permanent shack with three walls and a roof that was erected next to the neighborhood dairy market. I noticed them for two reasons. Number one, it was my first close look at real poverty and number two, when I saw them out the car window it meant we were almost home for the night.

In February of '07 we ended up moving into that same guest house for our three year stay. At that point I became more familiar with this family. We buy our bread from a guy who sets up his bread stand every morning right in front of their shack. With as many kids as we have, we go through a lot of bread, so I see them fairly regularly. I learned that they do not speak any English. I learned that the father supports his little family as a tailor. I have seen him sewing away on one of those foot operated sewing machines while his wife ironed the clothes with the an iron that heats up over a fire. Can you even imagining having a fire in your shack all summer so that you can iron? It is mind boggling. I have watched their littlest child grow from infant to toddler. At night I have seen them all sleeping in a row in their ten by ten foot space. I have often wondered what I could do to help this little family, but they were working and living the same way that a large part of the population here does and they usually seemed cheerful, so I stopped worrying.

Last week I heard that the two oldest daughters (grade school ages) were caught digging through some garbage in an area that was fenced off to keep kids out. When asked what they were doing, they replied that they were looking for pencils they could use in school. They attend a free public school and while the books and teachers are available at the school, any other supplies must be provided by the student's family. As I thought about how often I went to the stationary store and just how many pencils and erasers our family had used in the last year, I vowed to find away to give some school supplies to the family on the corner without offending the parents.

Apparently I waited a little too long. Yesterday Uday told me that for the last few days the father has been coming to our gate asking for financial help because his wife has died and he is struggling. Uday finally told me about it because he came four times in one day. Since that conversation I can not get that family out of my head. It seems a lifetime has passed since the days when I expected life to be fair, but this one is hard for me. Why am I living the way I am while the family on the corner has almost nothing, not even a mother?


Toni said...

I think this is a very difficult situation. You have learned yourself that if you help one person, 500 more suddenly appear with their hand out. You could drive your own family into poverty trying to help everyone else.

Certainly you can do discreet little things for this family, but I don't believe you would have saved the mother's life. The change that needs to occur in India has to come from within India, a social mindset change.

I think it's experiences like these that help us to see just how blessed we are and how grateful we should be for what we are given.

Life does seem unfair. But you and I both know that mother is in a much better situation. And who knows what blessings will come from this experience to enhance the lives of those left behind. Our view is so miniscule compared to that of our creator.

Befriend them, love them, help them how you are able without putting your family at risk. Remember you are the visitor in that country.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Oh, boy - I am so sorry. We are so lucky here, and none of us are aware of it, are we? Have you seen the blog postings of Rocks in my Dryer lately? She's in Africa with Compassion International right now.

Alisa said...

Amy, What a hard situation. I think Toni may be onto something with helping them in small ways - maybe with food or school supplies. I'm afraid from what you've said that if you give them cash, they may be knocking on your door 10 times a day - or worse the children coming to your door. I'm sure they need far more help then just you can give - so I'd do just what you can do without making yourself responsible for their well-being.

mr. smith said...

I served my two year LDS mission n South Africa 20 years ago (man, am I old). That was my first exposure to real poverty. I remember sitting in tin shacks in townships while a family fed us all of their food, and would not accept "no" for an answer. My brother said he thought I needed to be exposed to that type of poverty because I needed some humbling - I came to believe he was right.

Coming to India has been a real revelation for all of us. It is an amazingly wonderful, rich, colorful place. The people are warm and the land is truly beautiful. I have come to love it here very much. I guess I am grateful for the fact that my children get to see what took me until the age of 19 to see, and hopefully they gain the right perspective from it.

In the lot across from our home, next to where the family mrs. smith described is living, they are now holding school for these children and others in our community - about 25 to 30 each day. The community has rallied to make a place for them so they can have a place to spend at least part of their day. Some small progress for those less fortunate. I am grateful for that. I still share mrs. smith's grief for this family who has lost a mother and a wife. As though life for them wasn't hard enough...

nicola said...

oh my... that honestly brought a tear to my eye. everytime i talk to the infamous "mr. smith" i catch myself complaining about life & family & all the problems that are apart of ones daily life. after reading this i really don't think i have anything to complain about. yes it gets hard being a single parent and the struggles of everyday life, but nothing can compare to what that family has had to go through. amy, you & your family are truely one of a kind!!! you have a heart so big, that even the unfortunate around you can benifit well from it. god belss those who aren't as fortunate around us!