Thanks to all who commented. I have made a donation of $250 to The Miracle Foundation. I hope you will take the time to read this review – and more importantly, Shelley Seale’s book.
Today I’m dreaming about something a little different than my usual fare. In fact, instead of longing what I’m feeling is lucky. Lucky that I have two healthy children. Lucky that I get to travel with them. Lucky that I have the time and resources to share our adventures on this blog. That’s because today what I’m dreaming of is a better world for everyone’s children, especially the children in India.
The reason for this is that I just finished reading The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India by Shelley Seale. This book, which is both a personal narrative and a journalistic document, follows Seale’s journey over the past four years into the streets, orphanages and slums of India. The book is a thoroughly researched, well-documented account of a very large and complex problem. Lack of access to food and water, let alone education; the AIDs epidemic; drug use, prostitution, and rape; and the inequities created by an illegal but thriving caste system are all factors that add up to a reality of 25 million children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or exploited in India.
If this seems like a daunting prospect, that’s because it is. To describe this situation coherently in a short number of pages would be a feat in itself, but Seale does more than that. She humanizes the problem by describing her own visits to India and her conflicting emotions about whether she is doing enough to help. In under 300 pages she tells a compelling story by showing us who these children are and why they matter. In her own words:
I became immersed in their world, a witness to [the children’s] struggles – but also their joys, their incredible hope and resilience that amazed me time and time again. The ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. My sole purpose in writing this book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.
Seale explains that she was first drawn to help after she read an article about Caroline Boudreaux, who abandoned a career as a television executive to help start The Miracle Foundation, which raises money in support of orphaned Indian children. Seale’s involvement with this organization led her to eventually visit India, where she saw first-hand how these children’s inherent human rights are routinely violated through indifference and neglect. They are invisible, both in their own country and to the rest of the world.
In The Weight of Silence, Seale brings a light to bear on these children both collectively and as individuals, describing her relationship with the children she meets including Daina, the child she sponsors, and Santosh, a teenage boy whom she encourages to stay in school. She also describes many of the adults who are working to help these children and what a struggle it is for them to staunch the vast tide of human need that washes daily up on their doorsteps. And she talks about her own reactions to these people and the world they inhabit, recognizing always that even though she is a privileged Westerner, she has much to learn from their generosity and humility.
One of the more moving passages in the book has to do with Seale’s decision to bring her teenage daughter to India to meet some of the children she herself is helping. Full of doubt about whether or not bringing her daughter was the right decision Seale worries that the experience will be overwhelming and negative:
I had tried to prepare her for it – the mass of humanity, the filth and smell of garbage, even the beggars; but it was an impossible task, like describing a painting to a blind person. I remembered well the culture shock of arriving in India for the first time the complete differentness of it. I was afraid I had made a huge mistake in bringing her. That she hated everything about this crazy, chaotic, often maddening country and was wishing she had never come.
Seale then describes how her daughter meets some of the children at an ashram sponsored by The Miracle Foundation and is immediately drawn into their world. They welcome her as a sister, caressing her and braiding her hair. She shares holidays and food with them and by the time she leaves the country is sobbing because she does not want to go.
I talk a great deal on this site about how travel makes my children global citizens, about how it takes them out of their own comfort zones and challenges them to see that not everyone lives as they do. I have not yet taken them on a volunteering vacation or into a situation so full of desperate poverty as this. Reading this book made me think long and hard about what I might do to begin sharing not only the wonders but the problems of the world with them. I haven’t figured it out altogether, but Seale definitely offers a road map of how to do so with grace and honesty
And although I have been to India, where I did see some of the poverty described in this book first-hand, I did not fully grasp the enormity of the problem, as indeed, Seale herself admits it is difficult to do.
Seale is serious and earnest, but not sanctimonious. The strength of the book is that even as she reveals her own internal struggles with despair, the overwhelming message is one of hope. By offering many concrete examples of how individuals can make a difference, Seale inspires her readers to look the problem square in the eyes and bring whatever resources they have to bear, just as she herself has done.
Therefore, as a tribute to the faith and optimism shown within the pages of The Weight of Silence, I’d like to make my own small contribution to the cause. For every comment that is made on this post I will donate 5 dollars to The Miracle Foundation, up to a total sum of $250. It’s a drop in the bucket, I know, but one thing this book has shown me is that small gestures do make a difference. As Seale says, quoting Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”
And please run, don’t walk, to the bookstore to buy this book. Or order it online. Because truly all of us should be dreaming – should be acting – to create a world where these children are as well cared for and loved as our own.
You can learn more about The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India and order an autographed copy of the book at http://weightofsilence.wordpress.com/.
And I hope you’ll feel inspired to share your own Monday Dreaming link. If you’ve got questions about how this works, please see About Monday Dreaming.