Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bare feet, a trash bag, some pepsi and love.

The other day, as I was walking to the hospital, I heard my name “Hannah, Hannah, Hannah,” being yelled. (Here people pronounce my name "henna," because henna is the dye that Indians use to draw on themselves, and that’s why most people pronounce my name that way.) I looked up and saw three young girls (probably from 5 to 10 years old) from Lakhtokia, the slum by the railroad tracks that I visit a lot. They were picking up trash across the street. Most of the slum kids make money for their families by digging through the dumpster to find plastic and other materials they can sell. They walk around Guwahati with huge bags, bigger and heavier than any one of them, filled with trash and hoisted over their backs.

One of the girls picking up trash. 
Puja, one of the girls picking up trash. 

A scene often witnessed in Guwahati: A man digging through the dumpster with his huge bag. 

 Anyway, one of the kids ran across the street, dodging cars, before she jumped into my arms. Then I walked over to the others to talk to them. They continued picking through the trash, selecting which materials would get them the most money. Their filthy, bare feet walked on top of the trash that had spilled out of the overflowing dumpster. I cringed thinking about broken glass and other sharp items that could cut them. But then I was reminded how they walk through their neighborhoods barefoot without thinking twice. The dumpster might in fact be more safe than walking across the mud, train tracks, and broken glass right outside their homes.

I sat with them and made them laugh as they finished their job. They hoisted up the bag, which I think was bigger than me at this point. I tried to think of the positives of these kids working instead of going to school. All I could think of was at least the bag was big, and that they had had a good morning. I tried to carry the bag but they would not let me. I bought them two bottles of water and one can of Pepsi. (When I told them I was going to buy them some water, they also asked for a Pepsi, and I could not say no.) The man I bought the drinks from would not sell them to me at first, as he knew I was giving them to the poor kids. Why? I don’t know and I would rather not know. After much convincing he took my money and handed me the beverages. 

I walked with them to the next dumpster, unclear how they would stuff anything more in the bag. They sipped on their waters and shared the special Pepsi, all with the bag hoisted on their backs and walking along on their bare feet. After picking up the trash from their second dumpster, I told them I needed to head to the hospital to work. They walked me to the hospital as we laughed and sang, all while switching who carried the trash bag and who carried the Pepsi. Before I went in the gates, they each gave me a huge hug and a kiss. Off they went, bare feet, trash bag on their backs, and a Pepsi in hand.

Barefoot Free Month

This month, Pratyasha has decided to make November “Barefoot Free Month.” We are trying to give Lakhtokia children shoes by the end of November. A pair of shoes costs $2. Last week we measured 46 kids' feet, and next week we are planning to measure lots more. When we measured them, we gave them a sheet of paper with a number, which corresponded with their name and size on our chart.
Measuring their feet. 
Getting the slip of paper with your number on it. 

Today (Sunday, November 4), when we fed the kids, the 46 kids who had their feet measured ran up to us with their slips of paper, waving their numbers, having no idea what it was for! The scene was so cute. We'll have the shoes for them soon.

All of this is to say, a Pepsi is not going to make them healthier (as a matter of fact, it makes them unhealthier), and giving them a pair of shoes will not help them escape the slum either. But what will help them is the love that both sides feel. It is the love of going around with kids and picking up trash with them. It is the love of caring enough about them to give them shoes to keep their feet from constantly cutting. It is the love of giving them one hundred hugs on Sunday and blowing them one hundred kisses as you drive away. These kids in Lakhtokia want to give love and receive love more than anything.

Rosie getting lots of hugs!
Driving away after our Sunday visit. 
I leave you with this quote from Mother Theresa: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Sending smiles and love from India,

Things can get a little chaotic....



  1. Dear Hannah,
    I am a good friend of Ann Roberts and I know your Mom and Dad. Ann started sending me your emails and now I subscribe. I love your emails and especially this last one. It was wonderful to read about these beautiful children. I also loved hearing about your visits to the house of your friend. I lived in a little village in the mountains of Honduras for a few months in '94. Ann bravely came to visit me when I was there. The poverty of the countryside somehow seems less than the cities...perhaps it is not quite as concentrated. Yet still, I was struck by the strength of family bonds and the joy people took in even the littlest thing. I have a friend at church and she directs Blood Water Mission which works with poor villages in Africa to bring clean water. She is only 27 and has been doing this work since she was a senior in college. I predict a future like this for you. Keep your open heart, and continue with your beautiful letters. Ellen McPherson

  2. Hannah! I read all your posts (catching up) and especially love this one. You are so right, it is all about loving and being loved. Keep on smiling and spreading love, you are wonderful <3