What does a birthday celebration mean to you? Is it something you look forward to? Has it become something like for me, is mostly an annual reminder that you are getting older …something you would perhaps rather forget?
Over these past few weeks my team (Project help India) in Northern India, through their work has had the privilege of bringing tears of joy and happiness to some special peoplw who have celebrated their birthday. The birthday stories of Tamanna (one of our teachers) and Abhishek (one of our students) give us a beautiful and powerful glimpse into the very heart of what it means to be human… you are loved, valued, appreciated and your identity – ‘who you are’ is honoured and celebrated. There is dignity in this, something that we can very much take for granted in the midst of our many western comforts.
At 'Project Help India' our cause is simple and powerful. It is love in action, and our mission is to bring love, hope, dignity and purpose to the poor.
Abhishek’s first ever birthday cake
Abhishek is a student of our city centre. He caught polio as a child and lost the use of his right hand. Abhishek’s mother and father have no work or income due to COVID. The family lives in a dirty rented single room in the slum, with no electricity. To make matters worse, due to their son’s disability the family is treated by many like Abhishek is a curse. Abhishek’s father is an alcoholic and he is violent at home. He spends any income on liquor. Domestic violence and an empty stomach are Abhishek’s constant companions. Through the ongoing lockdown, Project Help has regularly given the mother counselling, and regular food supplies so that they have something to eat.
One day at our Project Help school the children were asked to give their birthday. Abhishek was quiet, saying he did not know his birthday. When we checked with his mother, she said this was true. She also did not know the date and the family had never celebrated a day. So, on 14th January, when our Director Amit had his birthday, all attention was turned to Abhishek. He cried when we surprised him for his twelfth birthday and he cut a cake for the very first time. You can see this beautiful moment captured on video here. (skip to the two-minute mark for English).
Our teacher, Tamanna’s birthday
Tamanna is one of our dedicated teachers who works in our Slum Disability Centre. Tamanna is from a very poor Muslim family, and like Abhishek, she has never celebrated her birthday. The priority for her family has always been to pay for the children’s school fees, so there has never been any money left for gifts or a cake.
Just yesterday (30th January) we celebrated Tamanna’s 24th birthday with a special party for the whole staff team. There were lovely speeches, prayers, gifts, a delicious meal and of course, a birthday cake. As Tamanna cut a birthday cake for the very first time in her life, she burst into tears of joy and happiness. Gipsa, our Administration Officer writes:
"It always fills every staff member with pride and blessed feelings to be a part of an organisation who always thinks about their employees in the best way, bestowing the best of their love, care and affection on each one of us. Project Help is not an organisation but a real family. It always fulfils the dreams of happiness of their staff members. May God bless Project Help abundantly, and we pray for Tamanna’s better future."
We need your help to keep the cakes and tears coming
My work at Project help India really needs your help to keep some of our projects going this year. Due to the additional resources that we are directing towards our COVID response, we are very much aware that many of our ongoing projects are financially challenged. Could you consider joining our story by giving a small weekly donation? A donation $10 or $20 a week makes a significant difference to the lives of the poor…and will definitely contribute to keeping the birthday cakes and happy tears coming across the year.
It's cricket season here in Australia and last week I was fortunate to be at the fourth day of the India vs Australia test match at the SCG. I love being at the game each year, especially because I always sit with my son. How sad and disappointing that this game was marred by racist jeers yelled by some spectators. Racism is ugly. I am so embarrassed and disgusted that this happened in my home town. I apologise to my Indian friends and families for this. Racism is something I work hard to fight both as an educator and in my social justice work in India.
Just this week however, I was so proud of my Indian friends and the team at Project Help India, for your wonderful efforts to help the youth in Pokri. I wish I could have been with you and hopefully soon I can travel to work alongside you again. At least I can share this inspiring story that centres around the awesome game of cricket...
Cricket in India, is a national obsession. The first cricket match in India was recorded in 1721 when a group of British sailors gathered to play in Western India. Today, cricket is the most popular sport in the country and celebrity cricketers are amongst the wealthiest and most idolised members of Indian society.
Cricket in India is played in the largest of arenas across the country, on the streets and sidewalks, on open fields and in empty building blocks. When you travel through India, you see children and adults alike playing cricket on every street - in the scorching summer heat and during the heavy monsoon rains. The poor will use sticks as cricket stumps and a fence paling for a bat. It is no different in the most remote of places …like the mountain village of Pokri for instance, located in the lower foothills of the Indian Himalayas, 50 kilometres from Kotdwara where ‘Project Help’ is based.
This week it was a game of cricket that connected Pokri with our Project Help story
Pokri is arid and quite barren. It is very hot in summer and absolutely freezing in winter. The people here have limited access to life’s most basic needs. They rely on the fruits and vegetables grown in their gardens. Some rice, wheat and basic supplies can be bought at a price from the local government grocery store. The people in Pokri have no access to medical care and the standard of a child’s education is very poor. Their lives are at the mercy of the seasons and the vicious impact of poverty.
Yet, there is a strong sense of community in Pokri. Life’s pleasures are few and simple. It is often the shared experience of cricket that brings youth and young people together. The game also brings joy and happiness. Here in Pokri a cricket match on the side of the road is no less important for the young people, as is watching the current India vs Australia test match on an old television or from a mobile phone.
So, this week, our Director, Mr Amit Samuel was invited to Pokri to officiate a cricket competition. Gipsa, our Administrative Officer writes;
The young boys of this village and nearby places are blessed with good games and athletic skills, so this year they have organised a cricket tournament, in which a lot of local teams have taken part. These boys choose Mr. Amit Samuel (Founder and President of Project Help India) as their chief guest to inaugurate their cricket tournament, as they think that Mr. Amit Samuel is an inspiration for the youth because of his dedication towards the underprivileged people of the society. Today (15th January) Mr. Amit Samuel did the inauguration for the cricket tournament by ribbon cutting ceremony. These youth club members have honoured Mr. Amit Sir with flower garlands, a shoulder cloth and a small memento.
Amit delivered an inspiring message for the people and assured the youth that in the coming days he will do something to help them. Amit Samuel noticed that these young boys have really brilliant skills of playing cricket and they have amazing athletic skills.
We count this as a big day when the young boys and girls are getting inspiration from Mr. Amit Samuel. These young people, the next generation of community leaders are wanting to learn from Amit and Project Help. We see this as a powerful and authentic way for our work to continue to expand.
Our vision is to continue our work in Pokri and other similar small mountain villages. We plan to provide programs for youth educating them about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, anti-human trafficking awareness, hygiene, women’s health, along with the many other things that contribute to empowering people and growing a healthy and hopeful community.
And of course, we look forward to the second annual cricket tournament. Before then we will explore the possibility of sponsoring a team of these young athletes to participate in a cricket tournament in one of the large regional cities ...who knows where this may lead, but it's an exciting prospect.
To achieve our goals for everything we will do at Project Help in 2021 we are setting an ambitious (and somewhat audacious) target of raising $100 000 (AUS). This will equate to approximately a 25% increase in our 2020 expenditure. This might be unrealistic, but our heart and hopes are big, and this is why we are reaching out to you for help. We could achieve this amount if 100 people each give $20 (tax deductible) a week across the full year …so please spread the world. Your donation will help the young adults of Pokri Village. Can you ask friends or work colleagues to help us? Please share this story on your social media - especially to those who love cricket. If you can make a donation that would be wonderful too. You can do this at www.projecthelpindia.co