Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why I will be wearing black this Thursday

I'm in the process of moving house and whilst clearing through the mountains of boxes in my room I came across the diary I kept when I visited India at 18.

I always find it bizarre to read over my scribblings and looking back over the words I wrote makes me cringe a little as I feel I am an entirely different person to the one that wrote this. I wanted to share this experience with you, (almost) word for word as the work I saw on this particular day has become a foundation for what Thursdays in Black means to me.

‘This afternoon we travelled by rickshaw to Maher, a home for abused, exploited and destitute women and children. The journey was a real experience, I will never complain about driving in England again!

The traffic is so erratic with animals and people randomly wandering all over the roads. Drivers seem to use their horns before attempting any manoeuvre. At junctions you are deafened by the cacophony of horns from all vehicles ranging from huge lorries to bicycles and even carts as they are all vying for their place in the hierarchy of the road.

Rickshaw is my favourite way of travelling. Driving through the streets is a real assault on the senses with brightly coloured markets with spices and saris on show, cows sauntering through the city traffic and the smells of incense, sewage and mysterious treats sold by street vendors. All of these colours, smells and sounds are sharpened by the rain which has been falling on and off all day. Although we were drenched to the skin by the puddles we splashed through, the humid air would dry our clothes as soon as the deluge stopped.

At every junction the street children pressed their hands inside the rickshaw begging for money. Many of them are very young and some have been horrifically disfigured to encourage tourists to give more money. Yesterday I saw a boy with no legs pulling himself along on a skateboard, the driver told me it was common for children to be deliberately maimed by adults in this way.

This made me incredibly angry and I was frustrated by how powerless I am to prevent this. By giving money to the children you are proving that the violence is effective but by withholding money the children are punished when they return empty handed. There is no clear right choice and we are forced to ignore their outstretched hands or shout ‘Bas!’ if they get too aggressive to avoid being swamped. The guilt is overwhelming at times.

When we arrived at Maher all the women and children were lined up to greet us. They sang songs and performed a welcoming ceremony, presenting us with garlands of marigolds which the children placed around our necks.The flowers symbolise sacrifice and are used in many ceremonies here. We were also painted with a red and yellow kum kum on our foreheads by the older girls.

One of the house mothers then came forward and began to tell us the story of how the home had started.

In 1991 a destitute woman came to Sister Lucy [one of the project founders] while pregnant, begging for help. The woman’s husband wanted to kill her as he desired another woman. The sister had to turn the woman away as she had nowhere to house her that night, promising that if she returned the next day she would be able to accommodate her.

That night the woman’s husband doused her in Kerosene and set her alight. Both the woman and the baby died. From that day forward the Sister vowed never to turn away women in that situation and so set up Maher (Mother house) to council and rehabilitate the women, teaching them crafts so they can be re-introduced into the community and stand on their own two feet.

The work they carried out at the Maher house was amazing and it made me feel humble and privileged in my life at home. It is too difficult to describe all of the emotions I felt today but I think people in the UK need to know about what these women are suffering and help support these projects so that people like Sister Lucy will be able to go on helping them.’

It’s hard to see it from these words but India got under my skin like no other country I have visited before or since really. It was here that I first began to realise that development work was becoming a vocation for me.
My experiences at Maher have been the driving force behind wanting to promote Thursdays in Black and why I will be wearing black this Thursday.

To find out more about the Maher project please go to their website:

No comments:

Post a Comment