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12 July 2023

Written by: Rashmi Singh

When Life Gives You Lemons

On 2nd of January 2023, I visited Bal Ashram Trust, a residence in a small town in northern India where boys rescued from child labor and trafficking find a safe home and family. In the less than 24 hours that I was at Bal Ashram Trust, the children living there lovingly called me didi (elder sister) and showed me around, excitedly sharing stories they proudly owned. Their joyous laughter and pure enthusiasm inspired and intrigued me. I was impatient to read Kailash Satyarthi’s newest released book “Tum pahele kiyon nahi aaye.” The collection of selected stories of children rescued from child labor. Reading stories of their journey from being a child laborer to living at Bal Ashram Trust provided me glimpses of their pain from physical, emotional, and mental torture and crumbled hope that had lay hidden behind those smiling lips and shiny eyes that I had witnessed in the campus of Bal Ashram Trust.

It brought my attention to the little things in my everyday life where a child had to endure hardship to provide me comfort and luxury. I could no longer own the glittery nail paints that I adored on my toenails. The glitters hid my browning nails from the soil entering my finger and toenails while gardening in my backyard. I could no longer afford to put those glitters at the cost of children being buried alive in the mines procuring those shiny sharp micas that also cut their soft skin. Their gloveless hands and bare feet may have bled on the mica that was used to make my nails sparkle. The similar cuts and scratches that I get when I garden without my gloves. The other day while squeezing lemons, some juice trickled on the cuts and bruises on my hand that I had willingly received from pruning rose bushes and trees. I couldn’t bear the burn and quickly washed my hand, a luxury not available to children collecting mica several feet under the ground. This time when I went to work in my garden, I wore gloves to protect my cuts from hurting. I was moving big rocks around the birdbath. I underestimated the mass of the rocks and my hand with cuts and bruises got smashed in between two rocks. A sharp excruciating pain arose. I took off the gloves and ran to the kitchen faucet. As I placed my hand under running cold water, a child’s face flashed in front of my eyes. She was staring at me bewildered. Mocking me, she continued non-stop breaking those big rocks with a sharp tool in her tiny bleeding hand, enduring the pain, knowing there is no clean water to wash her wounds or ointment to apply, there is no healing coming for her. Her hands kept moving, she couldn’t afford to feel the pain, her eyes were dry, silent, and numb, her face expressionless. My hand was numb from the ice I had put in to not feel the pain, my eyes were wet imagining hers.

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