We watched Ashna laugh, her bright smile and vivacious personality lighting up the room. She was a beautiful young girl living in Pune, India, a large city east of Mumbai. I sat with Joy Dongargive, an Indian man whose odd name fits his happy personality, and his Brazilian wife Lilliana.
It was hard to believe the story they had shared earlier, that when Ashna was born, she was left on the train tracks to die. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said a flight attendant. “So you can travel?” I asked, “No, so I can wear short skirts!” She giggled, her stylish black hair swayed as her head bobbled playfully. She showed me some of her dance moves and I told her she could be on High School Musical. I watched her continue to dance, her flowing movements speaking on childlike joy and excitement for life. I couldn’t imagine the world without her.
Joy and Lilliana Dongargive are a couple of ordinary people with a passion for children. Ashna was the first girl to be rescued, eleven years ago. It was and the beginning of a long journey to save kids from the streets of India. When a friend came to them with Ashna, they were on their honeymoon. Despite the bad timing, they couldn’t say no to this abandoned baby girl, abandoned on the train tracks. She was sick, near death and covered in scabies, which they soon caught, causing a maddening itch and sores all over their bodies. It wasn’t the honeymoon they had imagined, but when they held little Ashna in their arms, they knew the discomfort was worth it, and that their lives would never be the same.
Over a decade later, the Dongardive’s children’s home has developed into Hope of Glory Foundation (http://hogfindia.wordpress.com/history), with 34 kids, and many more to come. I had the privilege of spending a month with these kids and got to witness the miracle of their lives every single day. The word “orphanage” isn’t even in their vocabulary. Once these children come out of the alleys and brothels and through these doors, they are home.
When I first arrived, it was obvious that this place was anything but institutionalized. At meal times, the youngest children were served first. A precious prayer is recited in English by one of the youngest boys, and everyone dived into the nutritious rice and veggies with their hands, Indian style. On special days, there was chicken or mutton too.
I sat on the rooftop, joining the nightly devotions and worship time. The kids sang songs, in Hindi, English and the local language, Marathi as the sunset radiated orange across the hot rooftop. Each child, from youngest to oldest, thanked God for all He had given them, and asked Him to provide for their school fees. I watched nine-year-old Joshua pray fervently, and I teared up. I realized I had never seen faith like that. Joshua’s mother was a prostitute and his father a dangerous gang leader. When Joshua was three, his mother decided to take him to Hope of Glory Foundation to give him a better life. Joshua wants to be a pastor, and I could see his gift just in the way he prayed.
Another nine year old, quiet and sweet Shanti, with her short curly hair and inquisitive eyes, grabbed my hand tightly. My eyes welled with emotion when I thought of her story.
Shanti was born in a brothel, and if she had not been rescued, she would have been forced into prostitution when she turned twelve. Her mother, a beautiful and well-known prostitute, died of being “overworked” when Shanti was only two. Shanti spent her earliest years fetching cigarettes and drinks for clients, being exposed to the perversion and filth of the sex industry.
Year after year, the Dongardive’s begged the brothel owner, Ma’dam to let them take Shanti home. Ma’dam refused, saying a pretty girl like Shanti was her retirement plan.
Finally, a miracle happened. Ma’dam had a change of heart, and let the little girl go, her hardened face softening as she said “This is the one good thing I will do with my life.”
Later, Shanti drew me a picture of her holding hands with her friends in the home, standing in a peaceful meadow under a smiling sun. I gave her a hug when she gives me her drawing and I couldn’t help but think that a miracle was in my arms.
Despite all the problems in India and the overwhelming population, the endless cycle of poverty and abuse is being broken one child at a time. Ashna, would not be around to light up the world with her smile and dance. Shanti would have faced the same fate as her mother, and inevitably so would her daughter, and her grand-daughter. Joshua would have certainly turned to gang life and drugs. It takes more then just a shelter and food to break such destructive cycles in street children. It takes lots of counseling, prayer and unconditional love. After all, the streets are all they know.
We drove in the auto rickshaw at breakneck speed. The smells of India, an odd concoction of sewage, spices, sweat and flowers bombarded my nose. Joy pointed out the filthy slums, huts made of tin and trash that some of the children had come from. We passed a toddler, dressed in rags, carrying an empty water bottle with her bandaged hand, just feet from where buses pull in and out.
I finally understood the difference one ordinary person can make. If each of these 34 children were sponsored, there would be more funds to rescue more children. Currently, the Dongardive’s are giving everything from their own pockets and hardly scraping by.
As we drove out of the slums and into the red light district, I saw girls with hallow eyes crowded in dark doorways. Joy explained with compassion how they desire to start a day shelter for these girls to get away from the brothel for a few hours and get a shower, a hot meal and a Bible study. I thought of Shanti and the many other girls at the home and how that should have been there fate. Despite the darkness, I couldn’t stop the hope that flooded my heart with light. I knew the future of India could change.
As Mother Teresa once said, “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”
* Names of the children have been changed.
Brooke Gale Luby is a 25 year old freelance writer, who just returned from two months in India working with different orphanages and writing the stories of street children. Please check out her blog at http://www.brookegale.com