Give them hope


We need to be there for each other so that listening, sharing and ultimately healing can take place.

As a response to the previous column on being abandoned, a young reader asks me to enlarge my idea on what an ahimsa-based society can do for those who are abandoned. “How can we give them the security and love they have lost or perhaps never had? How do we build self esteem in people who have none and think of themselves as worthless?” He writes, “I ask this as I have just returned from a trip to New York and I have seen many homeless people sleeping on the streets. Some are here by choice, but many have sad stories of being abandoned. Life in New York is not ahimsa based at all, in fact it is just the opposite. But I am now beginning to see that in India, we could make it one.”

Almost every city has its share of orphanages, elderly homes, and homes for the emotionally and physically challenged. Have you ever wondered what it must be like to live in such places? On one occasion I went to an orphanage as a guest and was saddened to see the plight of young girls. One child was being terrorised because she had worn a beautiful bright ribbon in her hair. The warden who scolded her used the harshest of words. “Who do you think you are? Remember why you are here — even your own mother does not want you.”

Space to grow

I spoke with the warden and with great difficulty got special permission for a few girls to come to my home every Sunday afternoon. The girls had a nice meal, watched television, played with my baby daughter, and were made to feel wanted and loved. Within a few months, I could see a marked difference in the girls. No longer did they see themselves as worthless and abandoned. Having an afternoon set aside for creative projects unleashed new potential in them. They drew, painted, sewed, made collages, choreographed and did a host of pleasurable activities they had never done before.

In an ahimsa-based society, we need to be sensitive and aware that there are places like this where we as ordinary citizens can make a huge difference. Families can foster children once a month and develop a real and lasting relationship with them. Most of these abandoned children live a life bereft of mentors and role models and love. We need to remember too that as they grow up they will acquire himsa values unless they are exposed to ahimsa values.

Another group of abandoned people I have come across were women who were widowed through AIDS, in Kenya. Some of the women had lost husbands, lovers, fathers, brothers and sons. There had been no time to grieve or mourn as many of them were sick themselves or had children who had AIDS. I knew that the one gift I could give them was to enable them to grieve, share their stories with each other, and thus find a way to move out of their sadness and loneliness.

Sharing and healing

This experience of sharing, listening and just being there for each other, brought them healing and peace. As we shared our fears and revealed our deepest needs to each other, warmth, gentleness and humour flowed between us, forging a bond of togetherness and belonging. No longer were we a group of abandoned women, but friends. One of the things I learnt from this experience is that an ahimsa based society can offer companionship, sympathy, and bring out the hidden beauty, strength and gifts in abandoned people.

The third group of people I would like to mention are the many who were orphaned by the tsunami of 2004. Dr. Sheila and Bennet Benjamin of the Centre for Rural Health and Social Education (CRHSE) in Yelagiri were among the many who saw it on TV. It was not enough for them just to feel deep compassion for these children, they felt that they had to do something more. Being experienced in community development, education and rural health activities for over 25 years in a marginalised area, they toured the tsunami affected places in Tamil Nadu and saw the devastation, loss and pain. The Bennets realised that they had dormitory facilities at CRHSE and plenty of room for children to play around in their centre. With very little funds, they brought children to their centre and helped them rebuild their lives and gave them hope for the future.

The children call Bennet and Sheila, amma and appa. They crawl into their laps, hug them and hold on to them as if they are afraid that they too will disappear. It is this family warmth and closeness, this loving kindness and patience that has brought comfort, healing and hope for the children.

Show you care

The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To take care of each other should be our primary concern in this 21st century.” What can we in an ahimsa based society do? Writing a cheque is an important way of showing we care, as many orphanages and elderly homes lack adequate funds. As we celebrate our own and our children’s birthdays, we can take a box of sweets, fruit, toys or clothes for those in shelters and homes whose birthdays are often neglected. Festival times, and occasions to celebrate in our own families should spur us to remember those who have no one to celebrate with, and make them occasions to be shared. As we nurture and push our own children to score good grades, we need to remember the many who have no chance of tuitions and extra coaching to get into good colleges and professions. Sparing time and energy for such children too should be part of an ahimsa society’s goals.

If follow the ahimsa way of life and wish to share your story, please write to the author at > or >

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