Well, well, well . . . I’m barely back from a deeply soul-searching retreat in the Colorado mountains—where my life in France, Italy, England, Africa, India was a relevant discussion point—and I see flashbacks of my days in India in the award-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. (Btw, this picture is not from the movie, but is an actual street child I’ve worked with in India.)
No, I was never on Millionaire (not that smart!). And I wasn’t born in a slum (although parts of my native London are close). But I have visited India several times. (In fact, Orphans First has an orphanage there with some ninety children.) And I have been to Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). It was in Mumbai, more than a decade ago, that God allowed me to help start a children’s home. More on that later. For now, let’s focus on the film.
Slumdog Millionaire is about orphans, corruption, exploitation of the poor and defenseless, and cruelty to the innocent. It is a story of extreme suffering, love and beauty. The real India—and India’s beautiful victims enslaved to the harsh hand of poverty.
Slumdog Millionaire reminds me a little of Pursuit of Happyness, Blood Diamond, or City of Joy inasmuch as its suspense-driven plot is more nerve-wracking than entertaining. I spent most of the movie riveted to my chair, gripping my husband’s arm and feeling sick. (Not what you’d usually opt for after a retreat—but no doubt what I needed to remind me why I’m here.)
Still, in spite of the reality shock about what life in India is really like, the story line is brilliant, with unexpected twists, and exquisite artistry. But beyond art and plot--even Oscars--lies a far greater kinship between Slumdog and me. For me, it stung me to the core because I know children in India—children like Jamal, Salim, Latika, Arvind. I’ve hugged children who lived in Mumbai’s slums or at the train station. The pain they’ve borne has given them an unusual perspective.
Mani lived in the streets. He used to tell me, “Mummy, it’s not that I lost the toy you gave me, it’s that they stole it from in the streets.” Ganesh had only one leg because he got hit by a train: We bought him a prosthesis, but somehow it never seemed to feel comfortable for him. And Vijay--beloved Vijay who fought back tears the day I left, his face so worn with worry and stress that he looked like an old man. Vijay hugged me so hard, I felt as if he was trying to keep me with him forever. How I wish I could have kept him. I will never forget those children (now young adults).
I met many of these children In 1996, during a visit to my orphanage in Guntur, India. We went with a team of friends from France, and spent some time with the street children of Mumbai. It was there and then that the seed for a children’s home was planted. Orphans First began funding the upkeep of 20 street children, providing food, school (thanks to two saintly women), and church life. This initiative was catalyst to the founding of a home which then became an independent entity – no longer needing Orphans First funding. It was a miracle. However, because life in India is so precarious, most of the original children we’d worked with ended up back in the streets—something which has kept my heart broken ever since. Still, a home was established and we’ve been able to do more in India since.
With regards to India, Orphans First has its largest children’s home in Guntur and helps poor children in Delhi—and, of course, in many other countries. Check out the Orphans First updates.
India, land of dreams and demons,
Of poverty, despair and misplaced hope,
Yet land of beauty,
Simplicity of survival,
Land of squalor, shame, scum and slums,
Born in muck,
Cut and carved by pain’s sharp tool,
Fashioned by destiny’s cruelty,
Oh, not because of money—
but because of heart.
Because of the heart of the One who died for them.
His name is Jesus.
Janey L. DeMeo M.A. © Copyright March 2009
www.orphansfirst.org / www.JaneyDeMeo.com