Josie Hicklin, a winner of our CALL For Change competition, reflects on her trip to India
As one of five girls out in India, getting the opportunity to see the stunning work of The Leprosy Mission there, I wanted to write about about all of the thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head.
It’s difficult to put into words something that’s so alive; something that is filled with taste, and temperature and sound and culture and emotions and smells and the way people’s eyes crease so perfectly here when they smile at you. The whole of my trip has seemed a colourful blur, giving my brain a thousand different experiences each second, and the concept of squeezing people’s complicated lives into a single blog post or headline or photo has always jarred my conscience slightly. Yet there are prominent parts of my trip that I would like to share with you.
Without a doubt there is a degree of poverty here that, although I had expected it, felt overwhelming as soon as we left the airport. The dusty side roads are full of dozens of people lying in the sun, seeming to catch sleep wherever and whenever they are able. There are hundreds of stray dogs sharing the streets with masses of people begging because they have run out of any other option.
If you drive even a couple of minutes out of the city, shops made from scrap materials balanced against each other to make a structure selling sweets or bracelets or coconuts or tyres, and slum type housing covers the rest of the free space. The people here are truly making the most of what they have, but it’s difficult to view that in a positive light when in most cases it really does seem that they have nothing. I’ve been quite sick during the trip with food poisoning, yet even when I was feeling my worst, I sat looking out of my air conditioned hotel room onto a slum village with little children running around with no shoes, using a hole for a toilet and I found it really hard to have any sympathy for myself.
Yet despite the overwhelming poverty, the thing that clings to me is the hope flowing from the work of The Leprosy Mission that I have seen. God speaks to Moses in the Bible and tells him to take off his shoes because the land he is standing on is holy. Walking through The Leprosy Mission’s projects here in India I have truly felt the ground to be holy, and this call of God to take off my shoes, almost in reverence for the heaven that is so visible in these places. Elderly men affected by leprosy with so much divinity in their faces despite all the trials and heartache and rejection they have been through, the generosity of the women living in the leprosy colonies, love prevailing, and the restoration of people’s humanity is so, so powerful here.
There is a call upon every one of us to defend the cause of the oppressed. The book of Amos tells us to ‘let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’. This verse has always been so important to me, and I feel The Leprosy Mission is living it out in the most beautiful way; getting down and dirty alongside the oppressed to facilitate real change, rather that preaching to them from a distance. This, I believe, is heaven.
I guess the story of my trip then, is one of hope; that flowers grow from the dirt. That in the midst of brutal dirty injustice, there are gorgeous pockets of heaven growing where people choose to love their brothers and sisters, choose unity, community, humanity, rather that trying to climb their own way to the top. And that as a western girl with all the privileges in the world, I have to use that privilege to be a part of bringing those pockets of heaven to earth.