I’m still not quite sure how I made it to Phoolwari Child Development Center in Delhi’s Suraj Park slum, but perhaps one never understands the directions and way to the places that exist beneath the radar.
I remember looking out the window of the van and noticing the markets, the vibrant colors of the fruits, the beautiful sarees and then the almost instantaneous transition to a land devastated by waste and trash. A desperate look in the eyes of all the children, women and men crowded together in the hollows of the dirt pathways lined with small dirt and cardboard-built homes.
Suraj Park is one of Delhi’s largest slums, with more than 400,000 people living there. I traveled small dirt pathways littered with trash and waste. Children and older women stopped and stared as my group passed (literally squeezed) by them. I wondered if they too were trying to understand how I had made it to the slum.
The distinct smell of the slum cloaked me as I was led by a few of the center workers. There were five of us total, and we needed to split into two groups because we could not all squeeze through the pathways; even more so, we all could absolutely not fit into their homes.
My group was taken to a mother’s house. She has two small girls and is eight months pregnant with her third child. Her name is Susema.
Susema. I say her name in my mind often as if I am afraid to forget her. It is a beautiful name and she is a beautiful woman.
I stepped through the blanket used to cover the small doorway into her home. Entering her home has forever unlocked new images of poverty within my mind. It uncovered a different understanding of poverty in my heart. It is beyond me that with one step the Lord unlocked within my being a new world, but that is exactly what He did.
The first step I took placed my feet on the corner of the family’s sleeping mat. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark and I realized that I was stepping on her mat, covered by a rug — which was undoubtedly where she,her husband and their two daughters slept — I quickly moved.
I wanted somewhere else to step, but there was nowhere else to go. This mother’s home was only big enough for a sleeping mat and a few shelves hung on the walls, which held some broken toys and crumbled papers.
As our translator spoke I found out Susema is eight months pregnant. Now, I have never been pregnant but I have known quite a few women who have been.
I know that during pregnancy some parents choose to find out the gender of the child. At Susema’s stage in pregnancy, a baby shower (or possibly multiple showers) has taken place for many women. At this stage, the parents have prepared the nursery, and perhaps the mother’s overnight hospital bag is ready to go. And surely at this stage, the mother has had regular checkups to ensure her and the baby’s health.
Susema has not had such an experience. There is no nursery for her child, and to be honest I was trying to figure out how she, her husband, her two little girls and this new baby were all going to fit on the small mat tha is their bed.
With each answer she gave us to our questions, my heart poured out for her a little more. She is proud of her husband who makes a living by driving a rickshaw. She was not worried for the birth of her third child. She smiled often and rubbed her belly, an expression of care for her unborn child.
Susema. She is living in a place most people have never heard of. She is a mother to two young daughters. She is a wife to a hardworking husband. She is living in the utter definition of poverty. But Susema is also in our Child Survival Program.
Susema is not afraid of the day she will give birth. She is not wondering if her baby will receive nutritious food. She is not devastated because she has not been able to keep herself healthy during the pregnancy.
Susema meets regularly with other mothers in the slum to learn about health and how to care for their unborn children. They learn about how to care for the children after giving birth and they learn about the love of the Lord. In fact, when I entered her home the first words she uttered were, “Hello. Praise the Lord.”
Susema’s two daughters were happy and played with each other for the duration of the visit. They did not know shame and were not intimidated by the white women that filled their home. Maybe they were too young to know the shame poverty can bring, but I do not think that was the case because Susema had the same demeanor about her.
One lady asked, “What is it like to have us into your home? Is this a burden? Are you overwhelmed?”
As soon as the translation went through Susema smiled and shook her head, “No,” she said, “It is an honor. I am grateful you have come to visit me and my family.”
Her response is the product of hope, the restoration of worth; the deep knowledge of the love of the Lord and His ability to rescue her.
Susema expressed how invaluable the Child Survival Program has been for her: the fellowship with the other women, the education about pregnancy, the support from the church and the teaching of Jesus’ love, and the provision of nutritious food and necessary medicines.
It is very true that Susema and her family live in a slum, actually in one of the worst places I have experienced in all my travels to the developing world. But it is also very true that I saw no ownership of this reality within Susema. I saw no hopelessness.
What I saw was the very real, very active, very living God moving in power in a woman who in her meekness exclaims, “Hello. Praise the Lord.”
Take a step and be changed. Take the step to help rescue mothers and babies.