Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Divya and dad

If you've been to Mysore...

Have you ever wondered where the countless little girls wandering the streets of Mysore come from? Do they have parents? Where do they sleep? How do they get food? Why aren’t they at home? Like many street girls in Mysore, Divya has just one parent, her dad Ramana. Divya's dad sells peanuts for a living from his little green bicycle. And Dad and Divya, who is six years old, ride around on that bicycle, a semi-wobbly bicycle that many poor Indian men use for their jobs. Divya lost her mom about six years ago to a heart attack.

Operation Shanti met Divya on the streets near KR Hospital, where we work every morning with our street kids and moms. Dad and Divya came to meet us there one day. Dad had brought her to us, with her clothes packed in a duffle bag and her school bag. Then, Dad asked us if we could take Divya in at Karunya Mane, our facility for destitute kids in Mysore. Dad wanted Divya to continue her education and to live in a proper environment while he worked on the streets to earn his living. Since Divya met our criteria, we took her to Karunya Mane to live, and enrolled her into school.

Divya and dad used to sleep near a restaurant on Kalidasa Road. Last year, they stayed in a rented a house in Lalithadripura, a village near Chamundi Hill, but were evicted when Dad couldn't make rent (such houses are usually one-room structures). Divya was enrolled in the government school in Lalithadripura, but after losing the house, getting her to school on bicycle every day from Kalidasa Road was nearly impossible.

We feel a pang of guilt whenever we take in a new child at Karunya Mane. Ideally, kids should grow up with their parents. Although our kids are well taken care of at Karunya Mane, those who have parents may see their moms or dads at most once a month. Parents miss out, most of the time by choice, unfortunately, on experiencing the magic of their kid's childhood experiences.

We immediately saw that Divya’s dad was different. He started visiting her often and, while at Karunya Mane, began helping out around the place—digging our vegetable garden, assembling the bunk beds that we recently purchased, and making two very deep pits for our new sign. Sometimes, the parents of our street kids can be a challenge to manage. Fortunately, Ramana is a caring dad and a hard worker.

Since good labor can be a rarity in India, we offered Ramana a job as our night security man; timely, since the existing security guard had been a no-show for three straight nights. Even though Ramana has no experience in this capacity, we are certain that he'll pick up his duties quickly. He was very happy with the job offer, which comes with a steady stipend, free lodging at Karunya Mane, clothes, three meals a day, and—most importantly—the chance to see Divya every day.

In a city where numerous kids are abandoned or abused by their parents, and where countless deadbeat dads often drink their days away instead of working to earn a living, meeting families like Divya and Ramana gives us enduring hope that what little we do is helping a few change their lives for the better.