Earlier this month I paid my third visit to the HOPE Foundation in Kolkata, India – Free Spirit's chosen charity to support & donate to.
Since HOPE was founded in 1999 they have helped thousands of orphaned and street children into loving homes, providing education, healthcare & life skills to see them through until they reach 18 years old, and with continued support to find work from then on, it is essentially a passport out of poverty.
This is the third time I have visited HOPE and it’s amazing to see them growing each year and able to help more and more children.
They have so many life changing projects, over 60 in total, and I was humbled and grateful to visit a few during my time there.
The first I visited was an after school project where children can go for help with homework, to practice their English and study together, while their mothers are working in the markets or, sadly, in the rubbish dumps. Their ages ranged from 5 to 12 and it was so uplifting to see the older ones helping the younger ones with their reading. Many spoke very good English already and I had some really inspiring chats with a group of them. Naturally they were full of questions for me as well!
They chatted about what they wanted to be when they were older - doctors, teachers, athletes even - normal hopes and dreams of children this age. One girl I spoke with was nuts about science and showed me her whole book full of detailed drawings and descriptions of atoms, molecules, the solar system - she could probably have taught me a thing or too! (Science was never my best subject!)..
My second visit was to a mother & child protection home. This was slightly tougher to experience.. women who had had to flee their homes for different reasons but often abuse. Thankfully HOPE had been their to provide a home and food and a caring environment for them and their young children. One lady had just had a baby 1 week before and was deaf and dumb. I dread to think what would have happened had HOPE not found her..
My third experience was volunteering in the HOPE Ambulance - every night the ambulance goes around the slums & streets of Kolkata, dispensing medicine to those who don’t have access to it. In India if you do not have a fixed address you cannot actually go to a state hospital, no matter how sick you are. That is why HOPE have set up their own hospital so that if they find cases whilst they are dispensing medicine, where someone desperately needs urgent attention they take them in.
Well this night this happened. We visited a family who lived under a tarpaulin in a park. They were in the middle of a celebration of a new born baby. However the baby was struggling as was the mother. We sat for some time while the social workers persuaded them at last it was a good idea to go to hospital, because actually she didn’t want to! She was scared to leave her family.. but after encouragement from them as well, she finally agreed.
The baby was wrapped in a blanket but had no clothes and was so so cold. January in Kolkata is not a warm place, despite being in the stifling heat the rest of the year, the winter nights are damp and temperatures often below 10 degrees..
We had a bag of donated clothes in the ambulance and managed to find a baby grow - as soon as we dressed the tiny baby it stopped crying! It’s poor eyes hollow & infected, we passed it back to the mum and set off back to the hospital, the mother howling in pain around every corner.
Thankfully after a couple of days both mother and baby were discharged healthy. I cannot imagine where they would be now without HOPE’s help.
There are indeed hundrends, thousands of people living in poverty on the streets and it is overwhelming to imagine how we can help every single one. But this must not let us give up hope for the few we can help. And seeing these few happy stories first hand has inspired me all the more to continue to try and make just a little bit of difference where we all can.
Thank you once again for every single of one of you who has supported Free Spirit’s journey so far in allowing is to donate 5% of profits to this amazing cause and helping change the lives of so many. Little by little, together, we can do amazing things.