Relief Funds Help Kids Escape Hardship of Slums

Post a Comment » Written on February 7th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

PUNE, INDIA (February 7, 2007) – Jim Sundholm has witnessed suffering among tens of thousands of people of all ages living in the poorest regions of the world. But the director of Covenant World Relief (CWR) says he has hardly been more emotionally moved than he was by a child in India.

An eleven-year-old girl both broke Sundholm’s heart and inspired him, all in the same moment. “I will never forget her face,” he says. “She had a glow on her that I’ve rarely seen in a child.”

Slum streetThat she could be so radiant once seemed impossible. Both of her parents had died. She was burdened with making sure her three younger siblings learned how to survive on the slum streets of Pune, the seventh largest city in the country with a population of 4.5 million, known as the “Oxford of the East” due to its prestigious university.

Each day, the four children would scavenge through garbage for rags they would clean and sell to people such as truckers, who would use them to check their oil. “She was a little entrepreneur,” Sundholm says with admiration and awe.

But the children lived under pieces of cardboard and faced a future that might be worse than the present. Odds were that, like millions of girls across the world, she would be forced into the thriving sex-slave trade.

Sundholm met the girl when he toured a school operated by the Hindustani Covenant Church (HCC), which responded to her situation. The visit was part of a trip last November and December by he and Elliott Johnson, director of finance and controller for the Evangelical Covenant Church. They were traveling across Southeast Asia on an “accountability trip” to see how well the 2004 tsunami relief funding was being used.

“She was so excited to greet us,” Sundholm says. “She was so happy.” He asked the child what the new life meant to her. Her reply: “We’re safe.”

Slum pigsThe church is seeking to educate and care for children who still must work in factories and other businesses for only several dollars a month. Numerous children work directly or indirectly for overseas firms that are investing heavily in Pune.

Each day, the children are able to eat a good meal, get clean, and receive several hours of instruction. That instruction includes learning a second language, which is needed if the children want access to better-paying jobs, which generally are supplied by overseas companies, Sundholm says.

The church can’t afford to take all the children off the streets, but the ministry is “empowering the kids to take control of their hard lives,” Sundholm says. “The church is trying to embrace the kids in their reality.”

Sundholm says he always is struck by the intense desire of impoverished children around the world to acquire an education. “These kids will come to a muddy building that is totally inadequate, but they are so excited because they can study.”

He adds, “I come back and I’m really moved by how much we take education for granted.”

CWR donated funds for the ministry after Sundholm visited the school and has encouraged the HCC to submit a grant request for future assistance.

Editor’s note: the accompanying photos show a typical narrow slum street, as well as animals roaming freely in littered mud streets.

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