I feel like most of us have a mental image of what we think poverty looks like, or what tragedy looks like. When Ladki Love was first created, we moved forward with that preconceived image in mind.
Around a week ago, I visited one of the shelters that an organization that Ladki Love is donating to, "Homes of Hope," helped to build. In the days leading up to the visit, I began to feel inexplicably nervous. It wasn't until I was met with a room full of girls sitting in neat rows and over a minute of silence, that I realized why. I felt like I needed to say something profound and prophetic to these girls–– but I didn't know what. As the girls gestured to the row of plastic chairs lined up in front of them, I began to come to terms with the fact that nothing that I could say to these girls could make their situation any less unfortunate. Rather I sat on the floor and began to ask them some questions, eventually asking them who their first friend at the shelter was, and what they talked about. One girl raised her hand and pointed at the girl sitting beside her. She told me that the night she arrived at the shelter, her new friend asked her two questions: what her name was, and why she was crying. "I only told her my name," she told me.
Regardless of the fact that these girls had likely gone through more than most could ever fathom, that answer was the first and only time during my visit that anything of low-spirit was discussed. Even the former was not necessarily negative. It was heartwarming to hear that the girl did not want to dwell in the past; rather she wanted to move forward with nothing more than her name and hope for a better future. We then began to talk about their hopes and dreams, and their talents. Many of the girls aimed to be teachers and nurses, while others told me about their goals to become a police officer, a social worker, and even a fashion designer. What's incredible about organizations like Homes of Hope and these shelters is that they allow for these hopes and dreams to become very plausible; two of the girls I spoke to were already well on their way to becoming nurses. I asked one of these girls if she knew how to sing or dance. She excitedly told me that everyone in the shelter knew how to, and that they could show us.
The rest of the visit consisted of almost every girl in the shelter dancing. Each time a new song came on they'd yell as if they were at a party and it was New Years Eve. As they tried to teach my uncoordinated self to dance, I noticed how incorrect my preexisting image of tragedy had been. While I'm sure it was accurate in different settings, it wasn't universal. With each minute that we danced, I further began to appreciate this experience, the new friends that I had made, and the closing gap between us Indian girls like myself, and those that were not as fortunate.