Hope for Puja

I’ve been carrying a giving key around for quite some time that said “Love”. There hasn’t been one time I’d been compelled to give it away until last week. I’ve been to India a number of times in the last year, working with children in the slums and villages in Kolkata. We’re helping to start schools, vocational programs, and churches. It has led to my friend and I starting a non-profit here in the US to help them. My life has been changed because of it.

India is an assaulting place. It’s a sensory overload. The poverty is incomprehensible. Many people have a hard time adjusting from the shock of first to third world. I didn’t seem to have that much trouble, except for one situation. In the slum, I met a little girl named Puja. She’s a beautiful child, light skinned and flat faced. She has a sweet, somewhat shy spirit, but beams like a light. It can be extremely difficult for women in India. There are cases of terrible domestic violence, and because of the dowry tradition, it’s very expensive for a family to get one of their daughters married. For this reason many poor families don’t want daughters. Many girls are sold and trafficked for sex, and others are simply thrown out. Puja was thrown away.

Her parents now are not her biological parents. They found her in the trash and adopted her, but in a sort of ironic cosmic joke, she still lives in the trash. Literally. Her home is in a slum in Kolkata India. She lives in a makeshift tent in what is basically a landfill. In a place full of trash, wild dogs, and rats she lives her life. I’ve wrestled long and hard as to why some people draw that hand of cards. Why them? Why not me? Why do we have or not have? It’s a mystery of injustice.

The good news is, there is hope for Puja. Our organization has a school that she attends in a bamboo building there in the slum. She’s doing well, and at the beginning of next year my wife and I are paying for her schooling at a very good English medium school. On my last visit, I spent a lot of time with Puja. She was standing next to me as I was leaving, and I took my giving key off of my neck and placed it around hers. Other than a few words of Bengali, Puja and I can’t communicate. When she tried to give it back to me, I motioned for her to keep it. Immediately she became uncomfortable, almost to the point of tears. She took it off and put her head down. I tried to tell her to keep it but it just made her more upset. At this point her teachers caught on and told her to keep it; reluctantly she did. I’m not sure why Puja reacted that way. Maybe she had become so used to having nothing that she didn’t feel like she deserved it.

The most hopeless kind of poverty is a poverty of love. I hope at some point she looks down at that key and understands what that English word “love” means. I hope she knows that at the very least there is someone on the other side of the world who loves her, who wants the best for her. Who knows what the future has for Puja. I don’t, but I hope she gets the world.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
-1 John 4:11

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