The Potluck Post

As of late I’ve wanted to write a themeless post; I’m breakin’ out of my blogging shell – watch out! This post will sound more like an update than a usual post… thought I’d do a little switcheroo for ya. Let’s see… At the beginning of September the government held 2 grievance days for bonded labourers who were released and rehabilitated through the assistance of IJM, cases dated back to 2004. These grievance days were held because of the influence and credibility of IJM garnered over the past decade. They were set in place just for our office – we’re goin’ places folks—can anyone smell structural transformation of the public justice system? The first day we spent 9 hours in a large room with over 250+ people who simply needed assistance filling out forms so they could receive a ration card, a land patta, a NREGA card (govt employment), a caste certificate, and voter’s ID; the second day was easy breezy. These people barely exist without these forms but on this day we helped one-by-one fill out 2-4 forms per family since most can neither read nor write. Office staff who know the written language wrote endlessly for 9 hours straight without food or break – and without even one complain of thirst, heat, or hunger. It looked a lot like a social welfare office that day–babies crying; people crowded around all the tables; expressions of inferiority and gratitude. Some displayed their indebtedness by kissing their hands and touching the feet of IJM staff. Last on the to-do list was to take photos for the applications requiring identification and that is where Alex and I sat from 2-11. What happy little campers we were! For every application we played a short game of charades to find out who was who to center each person against a wall for a photo and then a follow-up game to glue each photo to the correct form, ha! There’s never a dull moment around here. What a joy to serve them in such small ways – small ways that could permanently secure their freedom and prevent further exploitation. I’m overwhelmed as I think about the value of this work. I’m blessed to know and see the labourers and overjoyed at the sight of their joy.

My awesome roommate, whom I adore!, got tickets to a cricket match for all the interns and at the last minute some IJM staff joined us. Excitement surged within me as I knew I was about to see a snapshot of nationalism. After surviving my bouts of frustration with security (Kristin and Rachel can attest), we made our way to our seats with our yellow jerseys and painted faces, pinwheel included on the flag on my cheek. 😉 At last … I reveled in the nationalism by taking on their spirit, dancing, and love for the game. Even though we lost sorely (bummer) we still had a great time and I officially understand cricket. 🙂

I’ve moved. The time has come and it’s bittersweet for a lot of reasons but the pros far outweigh the cons. Rent, transportation, and food will all be cheaper because of our new place, and all of you know I want to be mindful of how I’m using my funds for various reasons. It’s closer to the office, the interns, and other places we frequent. All around it’s a better option for us. I guess the difficult part for me is adjusting to a new area (sigh)… I don’t want to adjust again because I’ve just recently grown comfortable and independent where I am. It’s for the best, I suppose. At least I’ve gotten over the major learning curve of adjusting to living abroad and in a large city. This should be pretty easy for me then, one would hope. It will just be Sharon and me all snuggly in our little place. Pics to come.

Several new interns/fellows have come in this week so our group is growing quickly! Nearly all of us have joined the same gym and the gelling process is in formation.The only thing we’re lacking is a british person, haha. I got used to having british people around and they’ve all returned home.. maybe ‘the brits will come again’. I can’t imagine how heartbroken I’ll be when Alex (the other aftercare felllow) leaves in December, but I’m trying not to think about it.

A close friend of mine said my blog has a negative tone about the city so I think it’s best to remedy that now since it’s not a true reflection of how I feel about this place. To say it clearly, I’m falling in love with the people. Something feels so right about being here, serving in the office, and sharing life with my new friends and I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at this point in time, maybe it’s because one day I’ll return and stay for an extended amount of time- I don’t know. What I do know is the culture has captivated me. I know part of it has to do with what the culture values. Most of the country doesn’t live lavishly and this has affected how people are interpersonally, what they care about, and their focus. In many ways, life is simpler. IJM staff members didn’t choose a human rights profession after hours and hours of thought – they just chose it with their values in mind. With this choice they gladly accepted a sacrificial lifestyle, and it didn’t take much for them to make the decision. Individualism is not on the prowl here and pride isn’t on display on every face. Simply put, life is not only about self.. and that seems to be the baseline I’ve come up with in my head- of course there are exceptions to this generalization. The more I think about the differences between America and here the more I attribute the major differences to the presence and absence of abundance (materialism) and its influence on culture development. Generally speaking, the people do not feel entitled; they’re not self-absorbed, or on the path to being the most unique person on planet earth (this is one of my greatest pet peeves). Commonality and collective identity is emphasized, not shallow, insignificant differences in style, appearance, and what not. All that to say, I feel more at home here, culturally speaking, than I do in the US — and I love, love the people. 🙂

Today, staff from headquarters in DC visited the office so for the entire day we listened to the department heads present our strategies. Sean Litton presented the 10 year plan and once again I’m reminded that I’m living my dream. You need to be a little mental to believe you can make a difference in systems, much less entire countries, and world-wide, but that’s the far-reaching vision we have here — to impact public justice systems worldwide, not just with the aim of convicting perpetrators, but so that the poor are protected from violent oppression. I had a crazy thought today … that I could be an Aftercare Director for one of their future offices. I’m pretty sure I’d be content doing that for the rest of my life. Austrailia, the UK, India — I’ll take one of those locations. I can dream, right?

I’ve met a lot of people outside of work that I spend time with on the weekends and they’ve shown me a great time. And as most of you would expect, most of them are guys, not because I’m a flirt (never have been and never will be!) but it just sort of happened that way. Don’t worry Nick and Brent, you are irreplaceable. My roommate and I are both this way, lucky for us that we get to live together.

Thanks for following me on this journey. 🙂

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From Slaves to Leaders (Name that Movie)

Leadership Training & Graduation for 2009 Labourers

This past week we ventured south to Mahabipurilam, a city of temples and sculptures on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, to put on a leadership training for all of our labourers who were released from bondage in 2009, around 200 men, women, and children.

The whole three-day training was truly something to behold. There were so many activities that were transcendent for me; it was like heaven had come to earth. As I looked at all their faces for three days I couldn’t help but notice a renewed sense of equality and human dignity. Just two years ago, they lived under the hand of a violent oppressor but today they are free… those children I saw are free, the women are free — whole families are free. The Leadership Training provided opportunity for the labourers to hear the stories of former bonded labourers along with knowledge of how to share their stories as they live in community with other people. Storytelling, leadership, and community leadership were covered for the families and children, even though only 12 people were selected as leaders for their communities at the conclusion of the training. This training represents one of the only accomplishments they’ve ever achieved. At the graduation, one labourer said “We never knew we would see a stage like this two years ago, but today we are finishing this programme and we are still living in freedom because of IJM.”  The trajectory of their lives is forever marked and altered by this milestone. And if all goes well, they will remain free, given that IJM’s rebondage rate is less than 2% (they must be doing something right). Many have yet to receive the rehabilitation funds (Rs. 19000, approx $400) they’re entitled to and it will take even longer for the perpetrators to be prosecuted, but in my opinion it’s not solely monetary entitlements or the content of IJM’s Aftercare Programme that prevents rebondage – it’s the compassionate relationship the case managers have with each client coupled with knowledge to empower them. Love is the ultimate vehicle for fostering resilience– at least in my opinion it is. 😉 They needed to matter to someone. They needed someone to care. For so long they have been ignored and exploited — no wonder some people thoughtlessly pass up the chance to live in freedom; they’re oblivious to their implicit worth.  But the aftercare managers gave their time to these precious people made in God’s image –most of which are from the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes of India (below the widely–known people group, the Dalits) and live with the reality of their inferiority everyday. These are the poorest of the poor; most of the people we work with aren’t even part of the caste system– they’re below them; they’re tribes. As Sean Litton, a staff member who recently visited our office from DC, said so eloquently (paraphrase, mine), “Miracluous transformations are happening — in individuals’ lives, in public justice systems, and across entire nations– because of miraculously transformed individuals.” The credit should go where it’s due: the strategization, operation, and efficiency of IJM is a direct reflection of each staff’s growing relationship with the Lord and our dependent partnership with a passionate God who hates injustice.

Alex and I were responsible for lesson plans and crafts with the kids which was a blast but for me, the most incredible hour was from 5:00-6:00 on Wednesday evening. Gathered together as families, we played games for an hour. The labourers laughed at each other as they felt silly playing the games; they cheered one another on and found immense joy in the moment. Most always, the poor are dysthmic and somewhat stoic, but these labourers have become a grateful people. Their joy is evidence that others have deposited love into their hearts. What a transformation for these newly elected leaders; they were once slaves – disempowered, exploited, and hopeless – and now they fill the shoes of IJM’s aftercare department for their villages and communities.

“We all long to belong. We are created to know love and to give love. Our need to love, though rooted in God, is not limited to him. Love is not a limited commodity. Love expands as we give it away. Love dies when we do not. Without love there is no life. To love is to be fully human.” – Erwin McManus in Soul Cravings