Hope: Experiencing The Pain and Beauty in India
My first trip to India was in 1998. After a month there, in rough conditions and bringing home an unwanted parasite, I vowed I would never go back. Fast forward 13 years and I'm asked to go back. Maybe it was the maturity that had naturally happened, but I was able to see India through a totally different set of lenses. A set that showed me the heartbreak as well as the hope, the beauty and the pain.
I went to India with Hope's Gate, a project dedicated to providing hope for orphans, victims of human trafficking, and the world's most vulnerable. Hope's Gate recently launched a jewelry project to provide a means of income to women. I occupied the role of photographer as I captured the stories of street kids, modern day slavery, and those who are making a difference by not standing idly by.
Our first stop was to the area of town where the street kids live. Makeshift tents seemed to provide little shelter from the elements or those who might want to take advantage of someone younger and smaller. I shuddered to think of what these 5, 6, and 7 year-olds had already experienced in their lifetime that was far beyond their years. I understood the vicious cycle that these kids faced. With no schooling or education they would likely resort to a life of begging or worse, prostitution. The faces of these kids looking bright eyed as I snapped their mug, made my mind wander to my own 8 and 6 year-old back home. My heart broke.
Our next stop was a brothel in the red light district. The cold, dark stairwell should have been an indication of what I would encounter, but it wasn't. As we entered the room at the top we saw beautiful, young girls. They were shy but seemed happy we were there. The longer I sat, the more I noticed the surroundings, and the reality sunk in. Locked money boxes lined the wall. Girls got up from our little gathering and returned 15-20 minutes later, after they had entertained a customer. "This can't be real," I thought. As I heard their stories, I understood that this was all too real, and that modern day slavery was happening before my very eyes. Young girls sold by family members to pay off debts or the wedding of a sibling. They didn't choose this life, and without a miracle, have little hope of getting out.
As a photographer, I can't share all of that and simply stop there. Beauty does come from ashes, and I would be remiss if I didn't share the hope.
I met a 16 year-old girl who was living in a children's home we visited. She was rescued off the streets when she was 5. We asked what she wanted to do after she finished school. Her answer, "I want to start an orphanage." This girl was rescued and her heart's desire was to rescue others. I also met a girl who was given to a pimp at the age of 14. After several years of abuse, she was barley hanging on to life. She was rescued and brought to a home to recover and heal. Now, she has the most radiant smile and is learning to make jewelry which will help her achieve her dreams for the future. We visited more children's homes with many more stories of hope. Rescuing kids and girls out of sex trafficking, they are changing destinies.
As Westerners, I think it's hard for us to fathom the atrocities that seem commonplace in other parts of the world. It's easy to get caught up in our comfortable lifestyle and not even realize that there's another world out there. After a trip like this, I always feel challenged to ask, "What is my part?" How can I better communities all over the world? When the answer comes, I must not be scared to put action to words, because it's my actions, not my words, that will make a difference.
When it comes to the bigger picture, have you ever asked yourself, "What is my part?" What are ways that you can help better communities that are in need of help? How have you used your skills, voice, and passion for change?
Wife, mother, lover of people, photographer, knitter, blogger and world traveler, Jen Price has traveled to dozens of countries, not merely as a tourist, but rolling her sleeves up and going well off the beaten path so that she might get to know the people, learn the culture, and find the heart of the place. In 2005, Jen co-founded Ten Thousand Homes, an organization dedicated to bringing hope and homes to thousands of children orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa. She and her family lived in southern Africa for three years before returning to the USA last year. Jen continues to travel internationally, camera in tow, with more passion than ever to tell the stories of beautiful people the world sometimes forgets. You can check out her stories and photos on her blog, I Believe In Love.