Building Bridges to People from afar – A Christmas Post

4 times this year I travelled to our project regions, most recently to Nepal on the weekend of St. Nicholas’ Day. After two days of plane rides and transfers I found myself in a world so very different. New languages, clothes, scents, landscapes. Though I undertook a lot of those journeys in my life, it is a small adventure over and over again. I don’t mean the difficulties of the journey: I can cope relatively well without a lot of things we take for granted for a while – power, mobile phone network, good roads or drinkable tab water. And the Jeep stuck in mud or blocked by a herd of goats is routine by now. What is truly adventurous and different every time is encountering the local people.

I see a lot of beauty on my travels. I am touched by young people showing their gratitude with local dances, songs or small speeches. It is very motivating to experience this progress. And being soaked to the bone from the rains or dripping with sweat, my admiration for the project workers grows even more, as they perform some small miracles under these circumstances. But I also admire the children, standing ready and awaiting us in uniform and tie even though we ran late a couple of hours, only to rush towards us, laughing, as we finally arrive.

Often, those encounters are however tremendously sad. On early morning in October, one of my project managers took me to the garbage dumps of Guwahati – the smell took my breath away, pungent vapors reached my nostrils. But still, all around me, hundreds of people rushed through the garbage, many of them children, in search of usable goods. At that very moment, our program ‘Child-friendly Guwahati’ seemed incredible to me: Are we really able to build a brighter future for these children? We agree on expanding the neighborhood center  and the work with parents in order to motivate them to send their children to school. But this is by no means enough, we have to do more, but don’t know what and how. Project 2 outbalanced this a little bit: In a small tailoring workshop around the corner, some girls learned diligently how to use sewing machines – the same young ladies, whom, just a couple of months ago, I encountered doing slave work at a stone mill. (My kurta, which I ripped before on the garbage dump, was sewed immediately by Anita, and with that, I regained my emotional balance.) Change is possible after all.

My journey is also an emotional rollercoaster. The hardship I encounter makes me concerned, angry, or sad, sometimes simply helpless. Children, talented and diligent, are without a chance for a better future, just because they were born in a wrong place, into the wrong caste, or to parents who are themselves victims of the vicious cycle of exploitation, drug abuse or disease. And yet at the same time, such small things can change so much: A one-year scholarship for a refugee girl in Assam costs 25€. A teacher is happy with 50€ per month – and then able to teach 40 to 50 children. As a weaver earning 2€ a day, some can double the wage they would get if they still did piece-work in tea gardens. Our projects cannot wipe out poverty, but change the life of more than 30.000 young people already – with classes, schools and workshops.

The key for this success are the people in our projects. They are project managers who have to cope with lacking infrastructure, difficult housing situations and high demands to their relatives, but who are also highly motivated to put themselves out for children in need. Padres, who really do live their vows of poverty and work around the clock for refugee or street children. Politicians and scientists, who do not fall for corruption or avarice, but fight for social justice and equality.

‘There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met’, an Irish idiom goes. Throughout the years, I have met many new friends in the project areas. People who touched me with their sincerity, hospitality, their conversations with me and their actions. People I value highly and whom I trust, with whom I feel connected beyond cultural and linguistic differences. People of whom I know that they try to advocate for the needy and endorse social justice at least as much as I do. Abroad I have found a piece of homeland.

In the name of the Childaid Network Team I wish you all the best for Christmas and take the opportunity to thank all of you sincerely for the generous support and companionship in 2015.

Dr. Martin Kasper

Honorary Chairman, Childaid Network

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