SAME AGE, DIFFERENT LIVES

During our last visit to India, we observed our partner organization's new projects and spent time with their staff. They took us on a long walk through one of slums where we met community advocates and learned about families who resided there. One of the first places we stopped was a little home across from their school. As we walked through the doorway, we entered into a small single room house with a dirt floor. It had no furniture, no bathroom or kitchen - it was simply a small little home with four walls made of pieces of tin. 

They introduced us to the woman who lived there. She shared this small space with her husband and three sons. They told us that they had helped this family move off the streets and into this little place in the slum. Her husband was unable to work due to some health conditions, but we quickly learned that there was a lot more to the story. 

She sat across from me on the ground. A mother of three boys, she's been married for 13 years. Her oldest son is 11, her middle son is 6, and her youngest son is 4. They explained to us that she was originally from a village in a different part of the country. She and her husband had been transient throughout their marriage. They lived in train stations and on the streets, working as day laborers. Her husband is an alcoholic and very abusive towards her and their children. He wasn't present during our visit, but I could see the pain in her eyes as she talked about him and the things she has endured. 

Her boys were handsome little guys. The oldest has never been to school because of their lifestyle and lack of money. The younger two are enrolled in the school our partner organization has in their slum. She is currently a teaching intern and will become a teacher for the 2-4 year olds over the next 3 years after proper training and a certification course. 

As I looked around at the tin walls, mats on the ground, and barren space, I couldn't help but feel so heavy hearted for her. Knowing that she is facing abuse, the breadwinner, and responsible for all chores and raising her boys, she has a lot on her plate with no support. I tried to encourage her as best as I could. I told her how proud I was of her for taking this opportunity with our partner and having her younger two in school. I told her to stay strong and thanked her for allowing us to spend time in her home. But as we were preparing to leave, I had one last question for her. It's as if I instinctually knew the answer, but needed to hear her say it. 

"If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?" 

She smiled and said, "29." 

I exclaimed, "me too!" We smiled at each other and held onto this thing that we shared. 

I think about her almost daily. I've not been able to shake her or her story from my mind. We are the same age, but have lived completely different lives. I come from a loving family who was able to meet my needs, provide me with stability, and give me higher education. She was married at 16 and has lived a life of homelessness, abuse, and extreme poverty.

Despite our differences, for a split second, I could feel our similarities. Two young women with potential and possibilities in front of us. For her that means becoming a teacher and finding stability for the first time. For me that means furthering my nonprofit and going deeper into the unknowns of loving and restoring this hurting world. Either way, we're just two 29 year old women trying to make our way through this life. We couldn't be more different, but we also couldn't be more alike. 

2018 PASSION PROJECT

Over the last few years, I've had the privilege of meeting people all over this beautiful world and hearing their stories. Meeting new people, sitting in their homes, sharing a meal or cup of tea together, this has changed me. It's made me more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding. This is not a privilege that I take lightly and one that I want to steward well. I'm constantly surrounded by people and stories that inspire me and transform my heart.

As I look at our divided world, I can't help but think that if more people could hear the stories and experience breaking bread with people who are completely different than them, it would change the world as we know it. I've wanted to capture and share the stories of people that I'm meeting and the cultures I'm immersed in for the last couple years. 2018 feels like the year to do it.

Images by Caryn Noel

Images by Caryn Noel

I might be an idealist, but I hope that this small gesture of sharing stories will change our hearts and minds, challenge stereotypes, and ultimately restore identity and dignity to those who are desperately misunderstood. We don't have to give in to the "us vs them" mentality. We don't have to live divided, fearful, and judgemental. No, we can live in a world where we invite, accept, and relish in our differences. This is how we fight against division and move towards unity. It's how we fight against hate and move towards true, unrelenting love for others.

This is a passion project for me; something that compliments what I'm already doing. I'm praying for courage to share with my whole heart what I'm learning and experiencing from the incredible people that God has placed all over the world. I hope you enjoy the stories that will come from this little passion project of mine and pray it changes you like it will me.