Brandy Campbell is a feature writer at Compassion International. In August, she traveled to India to gather stories for Compassion’s Water of Life system — but her travels through the country weren’t limited to clean water! See her journey around northern India and learn more about Compassion’s work there.
When I found out I was going to India, I was thrilled. As a writer at Compassion I’ve had the opportunity to travel and meet amazing people. But so far, my travels had not brought me to Asia. India was new in a whole different way.
I thought of you, my reader, from the moment I arrived in Mumbai. When I travel to gather stories, I always try to think of the people who will read my words. I wonder what things I will see that I can share with you. So, armed with my camera phone, I want to show you India.
We arrived in Mumbai during monsoon season, which felt ironic since we were there to talk about India’s lack of safe water. But as we drove out of the city on our first morning, I learned we would be leaving the soggy streets behind as we headed north, away from the city with its congested streets and western malls, to Nandurbar.
Compassion India is on a mission to reach what they call the “tribal belt.” These are the people the world has forgotten. Their villages are remote and they speak indigenous languages, and little help has reached these villages.
But while they may have been ignored, they are some of the kindest, most hospitable people I have met. As we visited them we were offered countless cups of steaming chai and bottomless plates of chicken curry we scooped up with chapatti. I knew their hospitality came at a cost, though — in this agricultural village we visited, there had been no substantial rain in a month. The crops were lost, and the ribs on the cow and water buffalo were sharp against their skin.
It is a privilege to visit the homes of the children we serve. At our first home visit, the little girl warmed up to me slowly, overwhelmed by our cameras and my questions. But I knew my silly faces had worked when she held out her kitten for me to pet.
Telling the stories of the families I meet is an honor. They let me into their homes so I can bring their lives into your home. In our comfortable houses, with clean water and sturdy walls, it is hard to understand another world where the unsafe water leaves painful boils on the arms of little girls and their mommies.
Much of what we see on this trip revolves around that lack of clean water. We spend one day traveling with a brother and sister to the well that is 1 kilometer from their home. It doesn’t seem far in my mind. I mean, I’ve run a 5k. But I’ve never run a 5k in the heat of India. Lugging a water can. Uphill. And these children do that every day. Multiple times a day.
And to add to the struggle, on their walk to the well they pass one hand pump after another. I point to one and ask why we don’t just get our water there.
“It’s dried up,” I’m told simply. And here, there is no one to complain to about the dried up wells. Nobody to write a complaint letter to. These children and their parents must simply walk farther every day, cutting into both work and school time. And when I ask a mother how she feels about the journey, if she and her daughters ever feel unsafe, she looks at me, confused.
“We must have water,” she says. “We have no option.”
That almost feels like the theme of my trip to India. We have no option. These beautiful families I met don’t get to choose what their jobs are — this farming village offers no other options. They don’t choose what to eat — their only options are what they can harvest. They don’t choose where they get their water — the choice is made for them based on the spigots that will bring forth a few drops.
The important thing for me to remember each time I travel is, our Compassion child development centers are operating in the midst of that poverty. They are a haven, but not a bubble. The children I met still had to carry water from the well, but they were learning how to make that water safe to drink. Their shelves at home may still sometimes lack food, but they know that at the center they will have hot food. Their parents may be at work when they rise and still be in the fields when they go to bed, but there is someone at the center who will notice if they’re not there.
That is the India I saw. That is the India I want to show you. One far from the city. But close to the heart of Compassion.