Compassion and sacrifice of one family gives slum children in India a chance to break cycle of poverty.
Many of the mythological stories I heard in my childhood revolved around seeking God. More precisely, how to actually see God.
The stories made it clear that seeing God was extremely difficult to achieve. Only a sage who trekked to the Himalayas and did unrelenting penance and sacrifice could please God enough that God would appear, and grant his wishes.
Other stories were about how God sometimes tests us by appearing in the form of a penniless mud covered wanderer or beggar, just to gauge our reaction. If we were kind and invited the beggar into our home, gave him shelter, clothing and food, even for a day, the beggar would reveal himself as God and bless us to salvation. If we were nasty, cursed the beggar for bringing filth near us, and shooed him away, the beggar – in reality, God – would punish us by making our lives miserable.
These stories had moral lessons. They were meant to teach us to be kind, compassionate, hard-working, unselfish, devoted, etc.
But on a recent trip to India, I had a couple of experiences that were different - that I consider to be “Encounters with God”.
The first was a trip to a unique charitable school for the children of construction laborers. My niece, who enthusiastically supports the cause, took me there.
The school was set up by Mr. Singh, who until a few years ago had a thriving condo development and construction business. After seeing how the laborers’ children had no education, meager meals maybe once a day, and how they had to help their parents earn some extra money, Mr Singh decided to give up his business and devote himself to transforming the lives of these children. His family whole-heartedly joined him in this endeavour.
They converted their home into a school, and poured all their savings into the charity. Bringing the children to the school was extremely difficult because they had to convince the parents that the children would be better off in the long run. The children, who never had a decent breakfast or lunch before, were fed, and clothed in uniforms. Teaching started at the elementary school level. The children had to be taught basic hygiene, basic manners, getting along with others, and so many simple life skills which we all take for granted.
Slowly, the laborers began to see transformation in their children. Their children’s confidence was growing; they were learning math and poetry; their health and hygiene was improving. The children taught their mothers the importance of washing hands with soap and water before cooking meals.
The challenges for the Singh family along the way were enormous – raising money, bringing in volunteer teachers, creating appropriate curriculum (not just academic, but basic life skills), convincing the laborers that their children need to be in school every day, in spite of short term loss of supplemental income. One of the great fears of the Singh family that created this organization was that without their endeavor, most of the children would never break the cycle of poverty; worse still, many of the poor children would fall prey to societal menaces such as gambling, alcoholism and prostitution.
Despite enormous, daily challenges, the charitable organization is growing. The Singh family does it all with radiant smiles and compassionate hearts. And in this family, I have “encountered” God.
On Wednesday I will share my second "encounter with God" on this blog.
Suresh Basrur practices the Hindu faith, participates in inter-faith activities in Victoria and speaks to audiences about Hindu religion, philosophy and practices.
You can read more posts from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This post was published in the Times Colonist, Faith Forum, Saturday, March 16 2013.