Over 19,000 miles flown, miles traversed on motorcycles, rickshaws, and taxis. For six days, I was immersed into the life of Kolkata, India. I saw a city with over 14 million people in roughly the size of Minneapolis and Edina combined (yet these two cities have 450,000 people). My senses were on overdrive. Almost nonstop I could hear the honking of horns and the temple worship music blaring from loudspeakers. My nose burned with the unfortunate air pollution. Everywhere I looked I saw colors. Indian women dressed in lively, beautiful sarees. Buildings painted in a rainbow of bright colors. Even vehicles brightly decorated with so much intricacy and personality that they could be displayed art in their own right. And the tastes! Food brimming with flavor, each dish better than the last.
Its difficult to fully explain my first impressions of India. It was beautiful, and crowded, and welcoming, and intense. Yet it also broke my heart. I met people who daily fight for their survival. People who have so much potential, and so much love and hope in their hearts. Yet live under the burden of a system that destroys them. A caste system that determines their life-long opportunities and destiny based on their birth. A system that doesn’t allow the masses to express their true potential and desires. A system that marginalizes and oppresses the “untouchables” and prevents any kind of socio-economic mobility. Wealth is abundant in India – that was obvious from the countless luxury high-rises being built in Kolkata, along with the many advertisements and storefronts for luxury cars, jewelry, and name-brand items. But I learned that the majority culture made up of Hindu beliefs, practices, and socio-political influences does not promote charity and assistance to those who need it. The poor are poor because they have earned their place in this world. It is a result of their choices, their value within the caste system, and the family lineage that they have been allotted.
In my six days, I was able to assist Paresh and Arnika – a beautiful, loving couple who have dedicated their lives to helping their fellow Kolkatans. We spent many hours making plans for the job training program that they wish to launch. A program that will train women in their community how to sew and help them start small businesses through microloans. Many of the women that they will support are converts to Christianity – and are thus further marginalized from job opportunities in their community. Paresh and Arnika are great leaders – their capacity to do this work well is high. But Cultivate is helping them create the necessary plans to launch this project, and to find donors who can help get the necessary sewing machines, supplies, and other needed pieces for this project to start successfully.
I returned home with a heavy heart, yet filled with excitement too. Its hard for me to see that just one city in India has so much need. There’s countless people who I am unable to help. Yet I know that the burden to save the world is not mine to bear, and I am so thankful for that. But I do carry a heavy burden – one of the commitment that I have made to Paresh and Arnika, and to their community, that I will do everything in my power to help them succeed. I am now carrying this load with a joy, as I know that the work that I do, that Cultivate does, will impact the lives of the families that welcomed me so readily into their homes and into their hearts.