Not everyone hears the cry of India’s 25 million abandoned children. Many don’t even know they exist. But freelance writer and author Shelley Seale both knows and hears, and her goal is to give the kids a voice.
She’s made five trips to India, visiting orphanages, slums, schools, clinics and other places where needy orphaned and homeless children are found. She’s glad the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire,” was a hit and brought attention to the grinding poverty of India’s slums. But her own quest to help the children began well before the movie.
One of her heart-wrenching encounters was with a little girl named Sumitra who was near death when Shelley met her in 2006 at one of the Miracle Foundation’s five orphanages in India.
A loud knocking at the door at two a.m. awakened Miracle Foundation founder Caroline Boudreaux and the orphanage house mothers. Opening the door, they saw a police officer holding a naked baby girl who was so emaciated that her bones poked her skin up like poles suspending a tent. The nine-month-old baby’s mother had died hours earlier from a simple infection that most likely could have been cured with proper medication and care.
Though Sumitra was only an infant, Shelley said her dark eyes “already radiated hopelessness and despair.” She had “the look of someone who had been erased from the inside.” The baby’s only possession was a bean strung around her neck on a thread.
Sumitra was too weak and dehydrated to cry. She’d been without food for so long that she kept throwing up when staff members tried to feed her from a bottle. Workers had to massage little Sumitra’s body with oil to help her relax. Caroline Boudreaux described the baby as “the saddest human being I have ever seen in my life.”
“The baby’s only possession was a bean strung around her neck on a thread. Sumitra was too weak and dehydrated to cry. She’d been without food for so long that she kept throwing up when staff members tried to feed her from a bottle.”
When Shelley returned to India a year later, she got the surprise of her life. A toddler dressed in a frilly pink and green dress came running up to her on short chubby legs and clapped her hands as she smiled in pure joy.
“I was amazed because I recognized this little girl. Her deep, intense eyes were unmistakable. It was Sumitra who, a year earlier, was a starving infant who could not even cry,” Shelley said. Sumitra is now three years old.
Shelley said people often ask her why she goes to India when there is so much poverty right here in the United States. Her answer is that the level of poverty in India is “so astounding.” Homeless children in India are often missing limbs, and they die of malaria or diarrhea or even infections from a dog bite that could be cured if only the antibiotics were available to them.
“Here in the U.S. we have child protection agencies in place, but there is no social safety net for the children of India,” said Shelley. “Twenty five million children in India have no homes or parents to take care of them, a number that equals the population of Texas.”
The seeds of tenderness toward children were sown in Shelley’s heart at a young age. Her parents took in more than 50 foster children so babies and young children were always around.
“My mother fostered for an adoption agency for unwed mothers, basically taking in the babies from a few days to a few months while legal issues regarding their adoption got ironed out, or sometimes due to medical reasons.”
“I’m sure it influenced not only my ease around children and love of them, but also children’s rights and advocacy in general. I was so lucky to have a close and loving family that was very supportive of me, and I realized that many didn’t have that from the moment they are born into the world.”
Since Shelley is a freelance writer, it was natural for her to put her concerns into words. The stories turned into a full-length book, “The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India,” published by Dog’s Eye View Media of South Dakota. [The book is available through Amazon.com and other outlets.] A Texas man who reviewed the book said that Shelley does “a remarkable job of unraveling the complex issues that drive India’s spiraling population of unwanted children and provides in-depth research of the abject poverty, rampant disease and cultural inertia that fosters such dire circumstances. A Michigan woman described it as “flowing writing” that gives “the essence of India.”
Shelley’s book chronicles the lives of the children and the orphanage workers who toil among them, calling the little ones the “invisible children whose plight goes virtually unnoticed, their voices silenced.”
“Amidst the growing prosperity of India, there is an entire generation of parentless children growing up. They are everywhere. They fill the streets, the railway stations, the shanty villages. Some scrounge through trash for newspapers, rags of anything they can sell at traffic intersections. Others, often as young as two or three years old, beg. Many are homeless, overflowing orphanages and other institutional homes to live on the streets where they are extremely vulnerable to being trafficked into child labor if they’re lucky, brothels if they’re not.”
Shelley, a single mother with a 19-year-old daughter, believes that every life, no matter where it’s lived, has equal value. When she went to India, she had no idea the impact these children would make in her life when she got to know the children and listen to the details of their stories.
“Their hope and resilience is truly amazing,” she said. “Even in the most deprived circumstances, they are still kids – they laugh and play, perhaps far less frequently than others; they develop strong bonds and relationships to create family where none exists; and most of all they have an enormous amount of love to give.”
Though the task of trying to help these children is overwhelmingly, Shelley said she can only focus on the one or two children in front of her. Her philosophy is “to concentrate on what you can do, even if it’s something as simple as signing a petition.” She likes to quote one of the sayings of Mother Teresa: “If you can’t feed one hundred people, then just feed one.”
And on a more personal note, Shelley has a total of six tattoos, all of them having significance at different phases of her life. One is an “Om” symbol. Another is a mandala which is a circular diagram that represents wholeness. Shelley’s also contains a lotus flower for peace. Her most recent one is an Alzheimer’s tattoo in honor and memory of her grandfather who died from the disease this past summer.
Thank you Shelley, for sharing your Story with us.
Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2009 by Joyce Starr Macias and Story of My Life®