No child left in danger: Raju's story
Vicki Davison, Partnership Advisor, reflects on her recent visit to India.
I never knew that a job could give me family around the world. I’ve been working at The Leprosy Mission for nearly two years now and, with my family here, I’ve laughed, cried, learned, and been both humbled and deeply moved. But it’s my brothers and sisters who are affected by leprosy, and our wonderful team overseas, who challenge, motivate, and inspire me to do what I do every day.
I recently had the privilege of meeting a few members of our worldwide family in person, during my first trip to India. Along with ten of our supporters from the UK, I had an incredible week visiting our projects in Andhra Pradesh. I wanted to share some of my experience with you…
I’m still processing everything I heard, saw and experienced, but not for the reasons I expected. I’d been told about the vibrant aroma of spice stalls in the market, the vivid blend of colours as women dressed in saris pass by, and the cacophony of engines revving and horns beeping as motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and lorries veer across the road, all vying for space across several lanes of unordered traffic.
I will probably never forget the scenic landscapes of lush rice paddies and tea plantations interspersed with small village communities.
But the images that are truly burned into my mind are the faces of the people I met; it is them and their stories that will have a lasting impact on me.
Our first visit was to Rainbow Children’s Home in Vizianagaram. Many children living in this area are orphaned or abandoned because of leprosy or HIV and have nowhere to go but the railways; they shelter in the stations and scavenge on the tracks.
Staying in a station may sound safe, but the conditions there are unimaginable. Human faeces litters the floor and rats infest the platforms. Noise is constant as announcements blare and trains speed past, their carriages banging and clattering. Night time is the worst. As darkness sets in, the children are left vulnerable and unprotected as they try to sleep.
No child should be left in such danger, but for these children there is simply no other choice.
Brighter Future, one of The Leprosy Mission’s partners, responded to the needs of these children by setting up the Rainbow Children’s Home in 2004. There, the team care for 80 children, around 50 of whom are leprosy-affected.
I’d heard stories about the home and seen countless pictures of the children, but nothing compared to being there in person. Although some were shy at first, it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by little ones grasping for my hands, and older girls, still in their uniforms, introducing themselves and telling me about their day at St Ann’s school.
We sat together in their new dining area – a beautifully clean, tiled room – and listened to stories from some of the older children. Many explained how they had first come to the home more than ten years ago and were now studying at college, hoping to one day become teachers, nurses and engineers.
As I glanced from the wide-eyed, curious faces of the little ones – some no more than five years old – to the young people standing confidently in front of us, it was impossible not to feel inspired.
I was surrounded by so many little lives that had once been written-off and cast aside, but were now filled with hope and potential because of the commitment of the team here, and the incredible generosity of supporters like you.
One boy who stood out to me was six-year-old Raju. Last year, our team found him and his older brother Prashant starving and alone on the streets, abandoned by their family.
A few years ago, their dad was diagnosed with leprosy. When Raju’s mother found out, she deserted her family; none of them have seen her since.
Despite struggling with a disabled foot caused by leprosy, Raju’s father worked as a labourer in the local fields to try and provide for his sons. Tragically, in his sadness he became an alcoholic, spending anything he earned on alcohol and sleeping wherever he fell. Raju and Prashant were left to fend for themselves, wandering naked in the streets and begging for food.
Thankfully, one of our team found them and brought them to the home.
My heart felt heavy listening to Raju’s story. I couldn’t imagine the confusion and heartbreak these two young boys must have felt as their mother disappeared and they watched their father become consumed by alcohol. I could hardly bear to think about their fear as they wandered the streets desperately searching for food, and slept unprotected in the darkness.
Little Raju’s beautiful smile hides a story filled with suffering that no child should ever face, but when we met I saw a sparkle in his eyes. He played confidently with the other kids at the home, and he is regularly attending school with his brother Prashant; they have become inseparable.
Raju told us how he loves school and dreams of one day becoming a pilot.
Thanks to support from people like you, Raju's next big challenge is not to search for food or try to survive a night on the streets; it is to learn to ride a bike.