As I continue to prepare for my first book, All That Is Bitter and Sweet, to go to press, I am reminded of an beautifully poignant day I spent with homeless boys rescued from railway platforms in India. The boys (never any girls – they are snapped up for sex slavery so fast, the Anubhav staff had not ever been able to beat a trafficker or pimp to a girl), reached by this simply and effective grassroots program, are provided shelter, which includes a safe place to sleep, nutrition, being taught how to look after their personal hygiene, some basic health care, literacy training, and spiritual direction. Most essentially, they are given a safe container in which to simply be children, free from abuse, trauma, and sexual exploitation.
I especially remember two boys I was able to hold on my lap for a long visit. One was four. He had fled his home, at such a remarkably young age, to escape his step father’s physical violence. The ten year old boy shared, with no hesitation, that while homeless he had been raped five times by adult men before Anubhav staff rescued him. (This characterizes one of the gendered differences of sexual abuse: girls put into brothels and abused daily; for boys, such abuse is often episodic, committed intermittently by opportunistic predators on the street. If they hadn’t told me themselves of their agonizing pasts, I would not have guessed their young lives held such atrocities already. They were incredibly beautiful, gentle and mild. They temperaments were sweet and open. We talked for the longest while. Something that moved me greatly was that as our visit was coming to a close, I asked if they, in honor of the special time and conversation we had shared, would become each other’s brother, and look after each other. “Oh, yes!” they said, and grabbed one another in a wonderful hug, then clasped hands. When I asked them if they had anything else they wanted to say before I left, the older one nodded gravely. He tilted his chin up and me, eyes very wide, and asked, “Who are you?”
It was a wonderful moment. I threw my head back and laughed. Of course, Hollywood actor means nothing to him. He just experienced me as someone who cared, as someone who took a deep and careful interest, and was able for a time to offer total acceptance and some nurturing. It was one of my favorite moments in all my service work.
The Listening Campaign filmed much of my day at the Anubhav center, and this link gives you a glimpse of the neighborhood in which it is set, the interior of the center, and most importantly, some beautiful kids.
India was an epic visit for me….It is taking up three very long chapters in the book! Population Services International, the great public health NGO on whose board I serve, Apne Aap Worldwide, one of my favorite a sex slavery abolition programs on the planet, and our other partners, such as Anubhav, are featured. I hope you will read about them, and be moved – not just for a moment, but to action.