India is an incredible country. In the last few weeks we have tasted so much delicious food, consumed copious amounts of chai, met amazing people who we honestly would not have survived without, and have seen natural beauty that has left us both in awe.
India is a wild country. In the last few weeks we have jumped onto (and off of) moving trains (they were going pretty slow), been stranded in a city that was almost entirely shutdown as the state entered a time of mourning for a lost leader, driven an SUV on city streets during rush hour, wandered through mangroves that tigers are known to inhabit, and slept on a boat in the Bay of Bengal, all while India was in the middle of a financial crisis with rupees nearly impossible to come by.
In the midst of this once in a lifetime adventure we have been challenged, heartbroken, inspired, and filled with a deep sense of hope and gratitude. We want to share some of these stories with you.
In Kolkata we were still travelling with Lance and Sara, who are two of my close friends from Calgary. Two years previous, Sara had spent time in Kolkata and one of her connections there offered to give us a place to stay. Despite their own financially uncertain situation they asked for no money in return for the accommodation or food. They loved us like family and took incredible care of us. But, more than their their unparalleled generosity and hospitality, it was their desire to actively support those in need in their own country that inspired us most.
They currently provide education and care for ten young girls, who come from unstable homes where abuse or neglect have been involved. This hits close to the heart for us because it is children in these circumstances who are most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. We had the unbelievable privilege of spending a few hours with these young women. They told us of the dreams they had for their lives and we were so inspired by each one of them. It wasn’t until after they left that we learned of the situations of violence and utter depravity that many of them had come from. This broke our hearts, but seeing how far they had come gave us so much hope for their futures, and a deep gratitude for the incredible family who has taken them in as their own.
In Bangalore we stayed with a friend who is doing work with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). We got to hear about the work they are doing to combat sex-trafficking and bonded labour in India and around the world. These people are working alongside law enforcement and government officials to bring about lasting change in these areas of blatant and brutal injustice. We learned of the deep-rooted nature of the problem, but were inspired by the action being taken to see these institutions of injustice brought to an end.
We also got connected with the most wonderful powerhouse of a woman who works with children’s homes around the city. She invited us to help take the kids Christmas shopping and come with them on an overnight stay at a camp. The boys all chose to get suits as their Christmas present, which shocked both Brad and I, but seeing them fully suited up and grinning ear to ear was such an incredible experience to be a part of. We were so honoured to be able to help them try on their suits and teach them some gentlemens etiquette, especially considering the lack of male influence in their lives.
When we arrived at the camp the first thing we did was push the beds together because this would be the first time any of the children had slept on proper beds in their lives. We were worried that they might fall off during the night. Then, by the light of a bonfire, we danced. We are talking wild, nothing held back, South Indian dancing. The kids had already had an exhausting day, but the moment the music started they jumped and screamed and left nothing on the dance floor. I consider myself a man with pretty good dance endurance, but these kids put me to shame.
Over the two days we spent with these children we saw love and care that is rare even between siblings. We saw joy in spite of difficult life circumstances and we saw kids overcome fears with the encouragement and support of their friends. Most of all we saw the hope and joy that results when one willing person is able to put others before herself. The fact that these children are in a safe home and receiving education means that they are safe from exploitation and have the opportunity to grow into empowered and dignified contributors to society. This is first hand prevention work and is so encouraging to see.
Since then we have had a busy few days. We welcomed our good friend Sam to India and toured the city by auto before saying goodbye to him and our new Indian friends from the church we attended during out time there. Then, after a 30 hour train ride and a day touring he historic city of Agra, we arrived in Delhi.
We are now less than 24 hours away from boarding our flight back home to Canada. It is a surreal feeling. As we reflect back on this trip we are so grateful for the experiences we have had and all that we have learned about the world and ourselves, but we are so excited to come home. When we arrive home, we are not finished fighting for justice and freedom. We will continue to support the work of Lighthouse Voyage and will always challenge ourselves and others about the way we choose to view those around us and issues that affect us all.
We cannot thank you all enough for the constant support along the way and for getting behind this cause that we are so passionate about. We are thankful for everyone of you and hope to see each of you soon! Keep fighting for others and never stop believing in hope.
With much love and great anticipation,
Joel & Brad