Three children stood in front of me – 6, 7 and 8 years of age. The girl on the left stood shyly, dressed in black with a pretty little silk scarf around her neck. The girl in the middle had short hair and an open, almost cheeky confidence, while the boy on the right looked around the room a bit bemused by the fact he had been called into the office. The other occupants of the room, besides me, were three nuns – two in blue and one, the Sister Superior, resplendent in white.
“Can you imagine?! Can you IMAGINE?!”, asked one of the nuns gesturing at the three children standing politely and quietly in front of us. “How could anyone HURT children like this?!?!”. In response to this unanswerable question, the four adults in the room sat with silent tears in our eyes; having a moment with our own grief about the issue of child labour in general and the suffering of the children standing in front of us in particular. I was sitting in the office of the Decima Glenn Home. Built by Mr Owen Glenn, the primary purpose of the building is to act as home to around 130 children rescued from child labour. The children in front of me were the three youngest residents at the time.
The boy had been rescued from working in the canteen of a Government college. He had been put to work by his parents who lived in another area in return for a few rupees a month. Subsequent to his rescue, while his parents had very little to do with him, the man who had previously exploited him had a change of heart and now visits him regularly at the Decima Glenn Home.
One of the girls was basically a trafficking case – her mother had been brought to town and put to work in a liquor shop. Her two children were sent to work in hotels. One day, the mother got drunk in the shop and started shouting “WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN?!”. The owners took her to the market, told her they would be back, but left her there. Some time and anguish later, the Cluny Sisters located and rescued the children.
The youngest girl of the three children (the one with the scarf) was a little princess. So cute. She was rescued from a private home. There whereabouts of her parents: unknown.
Despite their personal tragedies, two of these children beamed at all of us. The youngest and most recent addition to the household was a little more hesitant but even she managed a shy smile. Walking around the home, I was greeted everywhere in clear, sing-song voices, “Good afternooooooooooon, siiiiiiiiiiir!”. Outside, at the door, on the stairs – I was met with BIG smiles and this same energetic salutation. For the most part, whether at 6.30am in the morning or 9.30pm at night, they would deliver this greeting with a pencil in hand, looking up from their books.
It is important to remember that these little people were, for the most part, sold out and betrayed by people who should have protected them – traded like merchandise and put to work like cattle. And yet, here they were – smiling, laughing and looking at me with trust and kindness in their eyes. All of this was heartbreaking but also a strong testament to the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to overcome all manner of horrors.
It is the love and generosity of strangers which makes a difference in the lives of these children. The Decima Glenn Home is run by the Cluny Sisters who provide them with shelter, food, clothing and education. They do this with the financial support of Owen Glenn and others, like me and you.
For more information on Mr Glenn’s work in Kalimpong and for enquiries about how you can support it, please see www.glennfamilyfoundation.org.