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Snehalaya: from scourge to life, from darkness unto light

image0021.jpgThe train came to a standstill after several hours. It was total darkness outside; I still knew that we were hours from Guwahati. I was sitting by the window trying to get some sleep. I had a difficult time sleeping - the excitement of the impending event was tremendous. I never thought that this train journey from Dibrugarh to Guwahati would be so memorable. As the train rumbled on slowly, I began to recollect the previous day’s events.

My friend Dilip is a kind of man whose warm heart often rules his head, a man who does things first and then thinks later. Knowing his nature, I was not surprised when he told me to cancel my flight and ride the train instead to accompany a special family. Holding my hand he was telling me, "I am helping this family to meet Father Lukose at Snehalaya Guwahati, and I’m sure you are going to witness the most memorable event in your life!" Thus, here I am riding the train accompanying my friend who was being instrumental with the help of Father Lukose in reuniting a father and a mother, Ramua, a poor rickshawala and his wife Savithri with their long lost daughter.

We were total strangers when we started our journey. However as I started talking to this amazing set of parents, just thinking the long agonizing ordeal they had to undergo and their soon jubilant reunion to happen, I being a parent myself, my heart skipped a beat and my eyes welled up in tears of joy to realize how God works his miracles through ordinary people like Dilip and Father Lukos and many more like them. For their selfless acts of courage, conviction and compassion for the less fortunate among us they rise in our eyes as extraordinary people, understanding and acting by the true force of human love.

image0041.jpgThis is a true story about a mother and a father, and their wait for ten years to find their dear daughter.

Ramua and Savithri used to struggle everyday to meet their ends. They were too poor to provide their daughter Bakuli two meals a day. Thinking of a better future for her the best means they can, the parents with a heavy heart agreed when an affluent family came and offered them to keep Bakuli as a domestic help. To part with their little daughter was heart wrenching to say the least but hoping that their little one would not only receive shelter but also avenues for a better education and future as promised to them they tearfully bid their farewell goodbyes. Little did they know that their five year old daughter would be treated harshly which would eventually cause her to run away. Thus Savithri got the news from the family she trusted her daughter’s fate on, that Bakuli escaped and that they had no information about her whereabouts. This incident happened almost ten years ago; no one including police helped them locate their daughter. Bakuli was almost forgotten by all who knew her in her village, but not by her parents and Savithri would weep for hours every day remembering her little one.

As the story goes, Bakuli escaped from that family and landed at the Guwahati railway station. There, she wandered around for several miserable and haunting days, alone and vulnerable, frightened and hungry. Then one beautiful day as if God came and lifted her up, offering hope and comfort, when she was rescued and brought to Snehalaya, a shelter for the rehabilitation of marginalized children. Thus Bakuli moved from the dark and sordid days in the railway station where her future would be doomed and bitter and moved towards love and light in the warmth and the security of Snehalaya.

image006.jpgHowever she was not able to forget her family throughout her stay of ten years at Snehalaya. She would cry for hours remembering her father, her mother and her little sister. Father Lukose tried all means to locate her lost family. He eventually called a press conference requesting popular newspapers to publish her story with the hope that someone from her family would come forward to own her. The news report reached my friend Dilip living at Dibrugarh. After reading the story, Dilip began to recall meeting the family of a rickshawala whose daughter was lost ten years ago. He immediately got in touch with Ramua and Savithri and also with Father Lukose and in no time they realized that Bakuli, their long lost daughter had been staying at Snehalaya. My association with the family started at the Dibrugarh railway station, Dilip wanted me to witness the reunion of the family and perhaps he also thought that I would associate myself with the noble work of Father Lukose.

The train arrived at Guwahati main station. As we proceeded to an auto rickshaw I saw a homeless girl sitting on the curb of a broken street, with a small boy in her lap. Perhaps she too would one day come to stay in Snehalaya and would also live a life of love and purpose.

There are a total of five Snehalaya Shelter homes in Guwahati, surrounding the city like a garland of love (sneh) which shelters about 200 street children. We arrived in one of the shelter; Father Lukose , the director and founder of these shelter homes warmly welcomed us. A very humble and delightful man with love as if radiating from his very being, Father Lukose is passionate about his mission to save street children from the horrific clutches of desolation and abandonment. He founded the Snehalaya Homes in Guwahati in 2001 which first started with one home and has since has grown into more. Father Lukose dedicated his life to be a father to the fatherless, to provide homes for the homeless children, to seek out the lost and the least noticed children and to mainstream them. He said he owes it to Mother Theresa who inspired him towards this noble path and it was at her funeral that he resolved to start the Snehalaya homes. He believes that the search for God ultimately leads to children, as they are His most precious gift to humanity.

image008.jpgAs we continued our discussion, a little vision of loveliness appeared at the door and came straight to the chairs where Ramua and Savithri were sitting. She is Kabuli, a slender, graceful young girl. "I'm sorry we were poor," a sobbing Savithri told Bakuli through her tears. "We have been missing you a lot and waiting for you to return."

They cried as they expressed their gratitude to Father Lukose who had given Bakuli the education and the opportunity that they had wished for her.

Father Lukose’s eyes gleamed with fond pride, as this became one of the two hundred success stories of children finding their own homes and their lost roots through Snehalaya.

I had to leave as I had to catch the evening Guwhati Delhi flight for my final destination of Texas. As I bade goodbye to the children living in Snehalaya, Father Lukose’s voice continued to ring in my ears "Ours is an on-going program, I am always on the look out for people who share my vision of poverty alleviation, child care, juvenile justice, eliminating exploitation of children, preventing trafficking of children etc." I recall I replied "Father, I will convey your message of love and affection, your seeking help for the needy children to our community and I am a sure people will respond."

As I waved them goodbye with promises of meeting again, I heard their prayer bell ringing; the evening air was filled with echoes of prayers.

Asato maa Sat gamaya
Tamaso maa Jyotirgamaya
Mrityor maa Amritam gamaya
Om Shaanti Shaanti Shaanti

Lead me from the Unreal to Real,
Lead me from Darkness to Light,
Lead me from Death to Immortality,
OM Peace, Peace, Peace.

Ankur Bora, Texas