Dust coats everything in a pale shade of brown, hiding reality from those who walk by. If they glanced for a moment they would see what is going on. From toddlers to old age the poor beg; some for themselves and others for someone else. A few sit in front of plastic sheet houses that cannot keep weather and people out. The more fortunate ones in front of tin shacks, but not inside for it becomes a sauna in the heat of the day.
As the light fades the women move towards dark corners in order to sell themselves to feed their children. But still after all that it is not enough, it’s never enough. In order to survive in India you either have to be rich, courageous or numb. Dr. Lalita Edwards is more than courageous.
When I first met Dr. Lalita Edwards, I found out that she is a gracious Indian in her sixties who is still going strong. Her silver hair, warm smile and grandmotherly qualities aren’t what I first expected from a woman running a home for orphaned children. But as you watch her with the children, it fits perfectly. Her orphanage is called Santa Vana, which means “comforter.” Dr Edwards is exactly this, a comforter!
All the children at Santa Vana have come from difficult beginnings. Most used to run around barefooted in the trash and scorching concrete of Indian streets, returning home at night to sleep in slums and brothels. The children of the prostitutes were often drugged and pushed under the beds in order to keep them from disturbing their mothers work. But because of Dr. Edwards they now have their own beds. They no longer fear for anyone coming to steal them, and force them to beg for them or worse, sell them to a brothel. She also has night care programs for the children of prostitutes and is currently doing evangelism among the eunuchs who sell their bodies. And yes, eunuchs still exist.
Dr. Edwards hasn’t always had the orphanage. In fact she has only been running it for five years, and her other ministries for even less. It has been a long road to get to this point. Dr Edwards was brought up in a rich Christian home, with all the comforts and education one needs to survive in India. However she was never truly exposed to its harsh realities, they were all around her but she didn’t look. The poor were just another part of India’s beautiful chaos. As she got older she decided to become a doctor. With good grades she was practicing medicine before she knew it.
In 1974 she got her first job in family clinics, working with women from all different walks of life. For the first time she saw her own country through the eyes of the women — poor women, homeless women, abused women, raped women, prostitute women. Bit by bit her heart began to break for the people of India. She finally decided in 1991 to give up her financial securities as a doctor and to dedicate the rest of her life to the poor and outcast.
Working for the charity World Vision challenged her faith in a whole new way. It was a struggle to change and become a woman totally dependent on God, but slowly she began to completely trust him. After three and a half years she felt that she was needed else where. Dr. Edwards went to start an AIDS project in Mumbai (Bombay,) along with working in the joyless red light district with the prostitutes and their children. She also began to give lessons in schools about the truth of HIV and AIDS; for there are still stigmas surrounding those who have them.
In 2002 she moved to Pune, the eighth largest city in India, and the second largest in the state of Maharashtra, after Mumbai, to start working in the red light district there. It took a long time for the women to trust her, and every day was hard. Watching the children grow up and take their place in the brothels broke her heart. She wanted to do something for them, but it wasn’t until June 2005 that she finally got a chance.
In one week different individuals gave her six children to look after, three from the red light district and three others from the slums. Four of them had HIV and half of them were under two years old. Dr. Edwards was living in a small flat [apartment] at the time and had very little money. She asked charities for help but they replied with silence. It wasn’t until December of that year that she got her first big donation, $480.00
I had the privilege of meeting the children at the orphanage. A sister and brother arrived the day I got there. The siblings still have a mother but sadly she works as a prostitute and could offer them any future except the life she is living. So Dr. Edwards took them in. She was in the middle of talking to me when the two children started crying, I realized there was no telling if they would ever see their mother again. Dr. Edwards called them to her and wrapped them in her arms. She held them in her tight embrace. She had just met these two children yet she loved them for all their problems. The children stayed in arms until their tears stopped.
On my last day with Dr. Edwards, two teenage boys turned up at Santa Vana. It turned out the boys were going to become eunuchs. I asked them why. They had been going to a conference for male prostitutes that promised “good things” if you went three times. The two teenagers and a friend went by train for a third time. In India trains are packed full and they leave the doors open. Tragically their friend fell to his death. The two boys got scared and went back home to their local church for help. Someone at the church had heard about Dr. Edwards and so the boys turned up at her door step. Dr. Edwards spoke and comforted them for a while and ended up offering them a place to stay. Before I went she left me with this wise advice which was obviously out of personal experience, “You have to be thrown into the desert, you can’t learn in the kings palace.”
If you wish to sponsor Dr. Edwards’ ministry go to: http://www.streamsofmercy.org
Charlotte Blair is a British girl living in the Texas countryside. Charlotte’s passion of writing takes her around the world to find stories about extraordinary people. She currently works with the organization Youth With A Mission and she can be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com/ Assist News Service