Out of the Slums of Nurmahal

It’s easy to get excited telling people that you’re visiting an orphanage and are going to stay there a couple nights, not thinking too hard about what you may find. Yet I found myself in a very rural village, about 3 hours drive from the closest airport, and an hour drive from the nearest major town. 

But the school where I was staying was a 10-15min drive even from the village centre. It was a shock to the system realising I couldn’t just get away with wearing a long skirt, I needed leggings to completely cover my skin. Big morale leaving those with my major baggage in Ludhiana. 

They asked me if I wanted to go to town, I said I don’t really fancy seeing more similar shopfronts, why don’t we go to the slums- not even thinking! 

So I borrowed some traditional clothes to completely cover my elbows and ankles, and a couple of the boys rode motorbikes to the slums from which the children resided prior to coming to Morning Star. My second motorbike ride had requested me to side saddle (apparently the woman is to only ride this way haha).

We got over the railway tracks and were led through well ridden dirt trails to our first stop. Some of the kids were already back home, as the orphanage school allows kids from the local slum to attend as day students, while the majority reside there.

The railway was important. Sometimes a rice train would go by and the older kids would learn how to jump on the back and steal a bag so that they could eat for a few weeks at a time.

Neyma. About 3 years old, but can’t be sure, she only knows if she was born in the hot or cold season and due to malnourishment and lack of education it’s difficult to determine age. The orphange gives her a DOB regardless & celebrate it. She was beaming when she saw me, proud to show where she lived. Yes it was made from large tree branches, plastic tarp, dirt floor, well-worn clothes lying about. She held my hand for the next couple hours as we met each family, and watched the sun go down in the background. 

There were kids playing in dirt completely naked. There was a young mum caring for two toddlers, one crawling away crying and crying. The mother instinct in me wanted to silence it, but I just watched her cry and cry til an older child carried her with difficulty back to her mum. Attachment didn’t seem to be there. No surprise though, these humans are so often in survival mode that their brains are constantly using their limbic system, and the development of their prefrontal cortex is limited. As long as you could put a bit of food in their belly and wash them, they hoped they’d grow. But with limited nutrition, each baby I saw had at least one sign of malnourishment. Whether it be bloated bellies, stunted growth, small heads, lightened hair. It was heartbreaking. 

I had to do something, I thought. 

This is a community that have been here over 30 years, have travelled from a different region but have learnt basic punjabi to exist in the community. The school was a glimmer of hope for children to be able to learn to read and write and dream about being a nurse or a mechanic. They wouldn’t even know what these occupations were if it weren’t for the school. 

Some of the stories of the children I met and spent time with were life changing to hear. I’ll be sharing them in my next post.

There’s always hope. Even in the midst of chaos and devastation. 

X. 

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