Eleven-year-old Jemima Taylor recently travelled to India with her mother, Uniting World’s Cath Taylor, and family. Amid the poverty and hardship, she found children who wanted to play and dance – just like her.
My favourite part of the Old Testament is in Genesis where God says “Let there be light.” I think of that not just as being the world lighting up but the world becoming a happier, brighter, more loving place. I think it’s a beautiful thing to say: “Let there be light.”
I’ve just come back from India where I saw some good examples of hope and light as well as darkness. One of the main things that bothered me was the sheer inequality. How can we be treated so well – like royalty– knowing that many of the people we met won’t have a decent meal that night?
One of the first experiences we had was going out to two small villages in Bengal, one of the poorest parts of India. Recently there had been attacks in the area by Mao insurgents, who have certain political views and don’t like what the government is doing.
Because we were foreigners, we were escorted out to the village by policemen. I found it hard to know that the only reason the policemen were there was because of us – they’re not there all the time to protect the people. If the people in the villages are at risk it felt to me like they should have someone to protect them too. It seemed very unfair to me.
Another of the darker sides of India is driving and seeing so much poverty everywhere.
We saw children who should have been at school working in the fields and people sitting around doing nothing because they have no jobs, no purpose and nothing to look forward to.
It was hard to see the standard of houses that people are living in – visiting the slum areas where children seemed to be quite happy even though they don’t have much.
These same people welcomed us and girls the same age as me washed my feet as part of a welcoming ceremony in the village.
Even though it was very kind of them and part of their tradition, it made me feel it was very unfair and aware again of how much inequality there is. I really felt as though I should be washing their feet to thank them for letting me come to their village!
They also gave us flowers and sang and danced as part of the ceremony. All the children presented little recitals for us – plays, songs and poems.
These things are all good examples of darkness and light. But some of the things made me feel hopeful there is light for a better future.
The trafficking program we visited, for example, helps people who have been sold into slavery.
It helps them in the first place by educating them so that it doesn’t happen to as many people and then through counselling helps them recover from what has happened to them.
This is something that Indian people have started up themselves and UnitingWorld in Australia helps provide some of the money.
I think it’s good that countries start up their own projects instead of another country coming in and doing it for them. The people themselves know what they need and how to do it.
But the thing I found that showed the light the most was in Sarenga.
I brought my soft toy koala Kyra with me. When I brought her out in the village, the children all crowded around and were amazed to see her. They cuddled her and touched her and we went from being shy to smiling and laughing together. Kyra broke the ice and I felt so happy to see them happy too.
One night in the hostel the girls and I danced together. They asked me to show them my dance routine and they showed me theirs. One night the girls did Mum’s nails and the next morning they braided my hair and did my nails as well. This is something that me and my friends do.
I realised that these children’s backgrounds were so different from mine but their behaviour and who they are is very similar to who we are.
Our experience in India was a good example of light and darkness.
I’m so lucky to live in Australia and to have days filled with light. Seeing the way that people live was hard but it made me feel more grateful for what I have. Everyone was so welcoming and lovely and the experience of India lacked nothing.
I hope that sharing what I’ve learnt and what I have will help people in India and all over the world.
By Jemima Taylor