08/21/2006

Nike Sandals

Many people spend their New Yearís Eve, getting dressed up and dancing their way to midnight. We decided to do things a bit differently. Filling a backpack with clothes, shoes and other goodies, we headed to the railway station.

The first person we spotted was a 15-16 year old boy picking up discarded plastic bottles on the platform. We called him and started up a conversation, while discretely taking a look at his hands. Noticing his long fingernails, two of us began cutting them and telling why it was important to keep short nails (studies have shown that disease occurrence in the poor can be reduced by 30% by keeping short fingernails). We then gave him a chocolate bar, which made him look at us suspiciously. (In India, there is a fear that people cast spells on food and then lure children away). Finally after talking to him and eating some of the chocolate ourselves, he took the bar and began telling us his story.

After Rajuís mother passed away, his father remarried. His stepmother did not treat Raju well. Among other things, as punishment, she would tie up Rajuís arms and legs, pour melted jaggery on him and put him outside in the sand, where red ants would feast on the jaggery and subsequently bite Raju, covering his body with red marks. Unable to deal with the maltreatment, Raju ran away from home and has been living on the streets for 3 years, collecting and selling discarded plastic bottles.

When we met Raju, his clothes were torn and he wasnít wearing any shoes. One quick look into our backpacks and we found what we were looking for. When we dressed him in a pair of Nike sandals, Rajuís eyes and face completely lit up and his happiness was knew no words. Touched by our actions, he too wanted to do some service work. He joined us as we walked around and identified those who were truly in need in and around the station.

While doing service with us, a train came into the station. Promising to be back in a few minutes, he ran towards the train to collect plastic bottles from the compartments. When he came back to join us, somehow his smile was even bigger than before.

ďThese sandals are so awesome. When I run, nothing hurts my feet. I can run so fast, that Iím the first one in the compartments and I can quickly pick up all the bottles. Thank you so much!Ē