Hana Hill writes about how her trip to India impacted her and how The Leprosy Mission’s work is providing people with hope
My trip to India has long been on my mind – from seeing the internship advertised by The Leprosy Mission to planning the visit I have spent months imagining what India would be like, and what I might learn from the experience. Looking back on my time there it would be safe to say that that many things were not as I expected.
If I could describe my visit to India in one word then the word that I would have to chose would be a ‘whirlwind’. Since stepping off the aeroplane my experience has been a whirlwind of emotions, sights, sounds, colours, tastes and smells. Never have I visited a country displaying such magnificent diversity in every sense of the word. Throughout my visit I have come across much juxtaposition, the first being what can only be described as the calm chaos of the Indian lifestyle.
As we drove away from the airport I was confronted with a driving style like no other. I thought that the roads and streets of Delhi were completely frenzied. The road traffic consisted of every type of car, from the most expensive to the auto rickshaw, not only were there vehicles on the road but also people, bicycles and animals, all headed in different directions. For a while I had to hold my breath, wondering how I would make it to the hotel alive! When I took the time to absorb my surroundings I realised that the people of India were very calm amidst the traffic, animals and noise, everyone going about their travels un-harassed and unstressed by the chaos. I realised then that if you embrace the Indian lifestyle, you will survive!
The next juxtaposition to strike me was one that I had been told about by many, the coexistence of extreme poverty and extreme wealth, suffering twinned with beauty. People lay sleeping on the street, by the side of the roads and in makeshift houses as we passed lavish hotels and temples. Children walked the streets and rummaged through rubbish, begging for food, while cars drove by and people went about their daily business. As a westerner who often feels the urge to comfort a crying child in the supermarket, this experience was more than alien to me. The poverty and begging in India engenders a complex series of emotions, walking by someone in needs goes against everything that I stand for as a human being, but so does encouraging a practice that in many cases exists due to gang culture and oppression. This took some getting used to, although I never truly did get used to it, which I am glad of, as seeing injustice should make us feel uncomfortable.
In many ways my experience was one of discomfort. Seeing such poverty and then returning to a comfortable hotel was uncomfortable, falling sick whilst travelling was uncomfortable, and being someone who ‘had’ amongst the ‘have nots’ certainly didn’t sit right with me. What surprised me as our journey progressed and we met families and individuals affected by leprosy was that the feelings I had whilst visiting the leprosy colonies were not those of sadness or distress that I had expected. To my surprise meeting those who had overcome such struggle and adversity with dignity and grace was the most humbling experience of my life. I felt at peace with these people and honoured to be hearing about their lives.
As I make my way back to the UK, to my comfortable home and bed, I do not feel how I expected to feel, lucky and fortunate to have such things (although I know that I am), I feel that I have learned more of the interconnectedness of the human race. I feel that although many things separate and define us we are all the children of God. And while poverty and injustice continue we must not sit back and stay silent, because I have seen the kindness and strength of those who have nothing, and I believe that they would do the same for us, if the tables were to turn. The work of The Leprosy Mission shows hope in the lives of those who once saw none; it restores dignity and purpose to the lives of many. I hope that this work will continue to grow and expand, changing and touching more lives, and when the rich go, and they meet the poor, I know that it will.