Earlier this week, upon completing the launch of CorStone’s Children’s Resiliency Program for Girls in Surat, Gujarat, I spent a night in Mumbai while waiting for my flight back home. The view outside my hotel window was of an immense sprawling slum. Clusters of grey ramshackle tin roof shacks as far as I could see, immense piles of litter, barefoot children, and the smoke of small fires in the alleyways as women began to prepare the evening meal. Frankly, I felt pretty depressed. Hundreds of millions of people in India – and throughout the world – live in conditions just like this, and I couldn’t help thinking that the challenges of poverty, discrimination and indifference are so overwhelming that surely our meager efforts weren’t going to amount to very much.
But then I thought about the difference between this slum and the slums that I’d visited in Surat. There was only one difference really – in the slums of Surat, I’d made friends. In Surat, my heart had been touched and I’d had the immense privilege of touching the hearts of others. And in that mutual reaching out towards each other, human connections had been made, love had been shared, and perhaps seeds of hope and possibility had been planted.
A wise and dear friend once told me that the journey through life is really nothing more – and nothing less – than the ‘lighting of candles’. Candles of the soul. We all hold the possibility of light deep in our souls and we can each serve as a candle-lighter for others. I’m convinced that what a person holds in their soul is what truly matters. It’s what makes us who we are, and it’s what we draw upon as we encounter others along the way, in turn sharing the light that dwells within each of us.
When I think of the women we met in the slums of Gujarat, I hardly think of the poverty they endure on a daily basis. Rather, my memories are of warmth and generosity, heartfelt smiles, authenticity, and dignity. I consider those friendships a blessing, and yes, it’s what makes the difference between seeing a bleak slum when you look out the window and seeing a community of hope.
Last but not least, my sincere thanks to the wonderful team that journeyed with me to Surat – veteran Attitudinal Healing trainers Carolyn Smith and Joe Keery; Bay Area photographer Laura Kudritzki; writer and volunteer Brandi Dawn Henderson; the film crew at 24 Frames; and M. Daniel Macwan, of Swaman Trust, who’s tireless dedication to the slum-dweller women of Gujarat remains an inspiration to us all. To each of you, my gratitude for your presence and contribution.
Please click here to donate to the Children’s Resiliency Program for Girls in India.