The Path to India, Part 3:
Poverty sleeps in the midnight hour

Posted March 30, 2007

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series inspired by Hillier’s trip to India during January interterm.

Late at night, when darkness swallows the streets of Kolkata, India becomes a mystical paradise.

It is at night, where the howl of a lonely dog, the chirp of an exotic bird and the song of a soulful man, brings this city into the realm of fairytales.

The sounds that ignite the midnight hour are the very sounds that reminded me of how far away from home I was.

I would lie awake in bed, jetlagged from the 12 hour time difference and listen to all the unusual noises from the outside, inhale the thick scent of incense and feel my heart skip a beat with every cry and moan from the street below.

The sidewalks of Sudder Street unfold at night and become the bed for many families.

It is here where the seriousness of poverty took hold of me, and, to this moment, has not let go.

One thing is for sure; being born in the United States is like winning the lottery.

At least here, a homeless person has clean drinking water and a sturdy shopping cart to haul his belongings in, while those who are destined to the streets of Kolkata are lucky if they even have belongings.

What is most upsetting while walking the streets of Kolkata at night is seeing the same person who sold me a gold bangle during the day, sleeping on the sidewalk in front of his shop at night.

This man is not even considered homeless for at least he has a mat to sleep on and a job to wake-up to.

In some ways he is a middle class citizen because there are so many people much more unfortunate than he, lying nearby amongst urine, rodents and patches of waste.

It’s important to see this type of poverty in one’s lifetime so as to give context to one’s life.

I could never have understood severe poverty until I saw it with my own eyes.

It is devastating, and as a group of Americans glimpsing in on it, we choked back tears knowing that at least we were able to go home.

We were able to leave, but they could not.

I feel guilty that I have such a privileged life, now that I know of the unbelievable circumstances in which others live today.

I cringe to think of every time I threw away a meal because I didn’t like the taste, or when I splurged on a $100 pair of shoes “just because.”

What we throw away or waste money on could help so many people in the world, and yet it’s hard for us as Americans, who live such privileged lives, to understand this.

I now know how lucky I am to have food to eat, clothes to wear and an education that enables me to write stories like this.

I can’t change the face of poverty alone.

No one can end world hunger single handedly.

But, as a community, as University of one, maybe we could all make a contribution to help some of these people whose lives are so much more complex then our own.

Maybe instead of those new sunglasses or that fancy meal, we could help feed a family of four for a few days.

The first step is knowledge and the second is action.

There are many organizations like care.org, worldvision.org and one.org that work to help these people.

If each of us could give a small donation of $5 or more, we could at least feed a few people for a few days.

Today, lets stand-up as a University that cares and give back some of what we have to those who have nothing.

It’s time for us, as Americans and citizens of the world, to acknowledge the extremely dire poverty that exists here on earth.

Katherine Hillier can be reached at khillier@ulv.edu

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