Written by Joseph Akure, Programs Officer and Jermaine Broetje, Programs Assistant
When I (Joseph) joined Vista Hermosa Foundation as a Program Officer to steward relationships with partners in East Africa and India, I was excited about the possibility of visiting India. Recently I took my first flight to India with mixed expectations. As a Kenyan, the affluence of the Indian community in my home country made me believe that India was a rich country, and there would be less poverty than what I had seen at home. On the other hand, after a year of virtual interactions with our Indian partners, I knew that India was socially and economically divided. I walked into the warm Delhi night with these conflicting perceptions.
Upon arrival, India’s vast streets, smells, music, and communities greeted us. Many cars flooded intersections as nearby families on motorcycles sped quickly past our cab. Although it was the middle of the night, Delhi was bustling and alive with business, color, and spirit. Our cab driver asked where we came from, and when we said America, he said “oh, you must be rich!”
My colleagues and I spent a few days acclimating before traveling toward the Northeastern region of Bettiah, where the people welcomed us with music and “open arms”. There, we quickly confronted the reality rural communities face. Water inaccessibility, malnourishment, poor agricultural practices, discrimination, and childhood exploitation are all vulnerabilities preventing these communities from living a holistic life.
Still, in the villages of Bettiah District, Bihar, we interacted with happy and confident community members. Women, who previously veiled themselves due to low self-esteem, told us they no longer cover their faces when walking in public. Women and girls excitedly shared with us their pride in being able to contribute to their family economies and be involved in family decision making. In collaboration with the communities, our partners have crafted projects and programs geared towards reclaiming the community’s identity and self-esteem, all while creating hope and vision for their future.
In the hills of Sahibganj, Jharkhand, we witnessed a cultural event bringing together two warring communities. In the past, the two communities would never meet respectfully. They lived in separate villages and called each other derogatory names. On this day, they danced together, raced in friendly competitions, and played football (soccer) while proudly celebrating their different cultures and traditions. We witnessed the powerful effect of mindset change, where people who never respected each other before now embrace each other as fellow human beings. They now live together as neighbors sharing knowledge and resources they used to guard closely. Observing these communities proudly accepting and appreciating their cultural, religious, and ethnic differences and envisioning a bright future for their children reminds me of our mission statement at Broetje Family Trust: “Stewarding a legacy of ‘bearing fruit that will last’”.
Throughout our trip, it was a privilege to witness the wealth of communal gifts in the places our partners work. We met leaders wishing to learn, teachers creating brighter futures, farmers driven to love the land before them, children breaking generational barriers, and women strongly rooted in providing for their families. Though these gifts are present in many, India continues to struggle with resources at the spiritual, physical, and emotional level. This lack of resources was especially noticeable to us when we traveled through the slums of Bhubaneswar Odisha.
I (Jermaine) recollect the sight of a three-year-old girl in the red light district, feet decorated with red henna, big-eyed, and unfamiliar with the visitors in her community. Seeing her shaved head reminded me of the photographs I had seen of my mother as a child coming to the US from India. As the girl followed our group, I offered some biscuits to her as she stood in front of me, and I wondered how she would receive this attention from a stranger. She accepted it, and as I stood there, I suddently realized that she was not simply like my mother, she was my mother and every child uncertain of protection, food, health, and love. I believe that Jesus gave us these experiences to sustain our spirits with the breath of new perspective. Between biscuits and bread, Jesus is broken. How will we draw forward the gifts of our own brokenness, healing, and development?