Bhubaneswar, Odhisa, India
December 26 th to 29 th ‘2016
My name is Sasha Almeida and I am a 28 year old female Canadian who has lived a privileged life compared to the suffering others have endured around the world.
However my parents always stressed the importance of helping those in need of our help whether it be the homeless, destitute, mentally/physically ill and those that just need a helping hand. My parents are part of Couples for Christ and a few years ago, began participating in the sponsorship program called Answering the Cry of the Poor (ANCOP) and were asking me to sponsor a child as we should do what we can for those who need our help.
I always said yes I would, but never followed through because I used to feel that I didn’t have enough money to sponsor a child as I could barely afford my own expenses. One day I was visiting my parents and my dad asked me again if I would sponsor a child, and without fail I agreed half-heartedly thinking he would not ask again for a while. However, my amazing dad, went and got a flyer and plopped it down in front of me to fill out and to be honest it was the beginning of something very special to my heart.
My very first sponsored child was Akash who was only six years old from Orissa, India, and what really made me happy was that he wants to become a teacher! When I started to receive letters from him, with his photo and his progress in school, the feeling I experienced was like something I had never felt before. I was so proud and happy and filled with love, because to me he is my adopted son and think about him every day.
I couldn’t shake the need to do more, so I asked my dad for another form in order to sponsor a girl from Africa and my dream came true. Her name is Harriot and is the same age as Akash. Both were born in 2010 and she wants to become a nurse. I do worry for her as she is a girl in Nairobi and the political and civil unrest makes me nervous but I know God will look after my adopted son and daughter and lead them to opportunities that will enhance their lives as well as those around them.
This Christmas I had the opportunity to travel to Bhubaneswar, Odisha to meet with the priests my dad worked with to bring ANCOP to India and also to meet my sponsored child, Akash. After everything these amazing men of God have done I am happy to say the movement is sweeping across the country and around the world educating children who have been almost forgotten by society as a whole. These priests were so kind and full of joy, laughter and intelligence, it was infectious and inspirational. We even met and ate dinner with the Archbishop of the Orissa, which I can say I have never done before.
Spending time and speaking with the priests of Bhubaneswar was an eye opener for me. They were so welcoming to both my sister and I (as we had never met before) and it felt as if we were family from the beginning. The laughter and conviction these men have really moved me. They took time out of their extremely busy days to drive us around and show us the beauty of Odisha. They did this out of the kindness of their hearts
We then went to visit Dhanmandal where my sponsored child, Akash, lives. I did not know what to expect as we had visited an all-girls orphanage in Goa (which in itself is another beautiful story to tell another day). At first I knew these children might be weary of foreigners speaking a different language; but they were so sweet and welcoming as they greeted us by presenting us with beautiful flower arrangements and touching our feet as a sign of respect, which is a custom of their tribes. After that we were treated to a beautiful dance by both the girls and boys which was a joy to watch with the beautiful music playing and the pure innocence of children unaffected by the materialism that has gripped our society as a whole.
After lunch, we distributed the candy, crayons and soccer balls we had brought with us. This brought joy to their faces. What moved me was when we were giving out the candy they waited in line and just took one. We had to coax them in Oriya (their native language) to come take more. At first they were hesitant as they are not afforded this luxury like we are. But once they were sure we weren’t kidding they happily came back over and over to get more until all the candy was gone which brought joy to my heart. Seeing them play with the soccer balls made me realize how much I truly take for granted at home but at the same time how life’s circumstances brought me to this position where I am able to help in the way I can.
Finally it came time to do what I had been waiting for the last year; to speak to with my sponsored child. Speaking to Akash, through an interpreter, and holding his hand was a big moment for me. He seemed so shy and surely did not fully understand the scope of what ANCOP is doing but to me he is perfect.
He has made me very proud as he is going to an English Catholic school and his sister is sponsored by my grandmother who resides in Goa (which we did not plan at all!). Children given a chance at education can contribute to their families, their villages, and society as a whole. By educating one child we educate a whole generation.
My trip to Orissa was a rejuvenating experience. Love can overcome the hatred, anger and destruction of the world.
I would like to end with what Gandhi said “we but mirror the world”. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him? This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness.
“We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Contributed by Sasha Almeida, Canada, January 2016.