Touching the Untouchable

The first thing I remember about India was the aroma.

As I stepped off of the plane and into Rajiv Gandhi Hyderabad International Airport it was a sickly sweet smell, a mixture of curry and cumin and slight body odor that filled my nostrils. We were travel weary but excited and eager for what lay ahead.

It was April of 2010 - a date that marks my first time out of North America, my first international adventure. An adventure which would only fuel my passion for travel even more.

But the memory that sticks with me, the picture that is still as vivid in my mind as if happened only yesterday is so much more intense than the smell wafting through the air.

It is hot and humid, temperatures soaring well above 120* F. The current isn't reliable, which means neither are the fans, our only source of relief from the summer swelter. During the hottest part of the day we rest, staying indoors hoping for relief. We are, after all, a group of fair skinned Americans who recently bid the cold northern winter farewell and we are experiencing a climate we thought was reserved for places like wood-fired ovens and the deepest parts of hell. But as it begins to cool off, as temps lower to the 100* range, we set out to see the city and visit the different schools the mission we're visiting supports.

After piling into a white jeep and traveling for what seemed like hours, a ride equivalent to that of a roller coaster at a Six Flags theme park, we unfold our whip-lashed bodies, limbs tingling from loss of circulation, and take in this new surrounding.

I remember the loudness of machinery, it's the kind of noise that left ear drums ringing; the tanned bodies of men and women, pick axes in hand, doing the back breaking labor of hitting the boulders again and again, working through the intense heat, chipping away slowly, tediously until smaller sections of rock broke off; and I remember the children, their clothes and skin covered in a grayish film, their limbs thin from lack of nourishment, their deep brown eyes empty but filled with longing for love and acceptance.

The place I am describing is a stone quarry, and the families who live and work here are bond laborers, struggling to pay off debt. Many of them don't get to leave this grimy and near desolate place for months on end. The children may know nothing else as many of them were born here.

They are of the lowest of the low in society, they are the untouchables.

I tell you this story to explain something: My love for Noonday Collection, and more specifically, the leather totes they sell that come from India.

I won't pretend that my short two-week mission trip to India greatly impacted the country for the better; it didn't. I was there, handing out lollipops to children who needed so much more than that and teaching them songs in English because I didn't know anything in Telugu, and I left again -- forgetting their names and many of their faces. The trip certainly didn't make me a hero or a missionary or a do-gooder. But what I can tell you is that the trip impacted my life.

After seeing extreme poverty first hand, I realize how richly blessed I truly am. There were moments in our first year of marriage where Herm and I felt like we were among the poorest too, living on rice and beans and hoping all of our bills and mortgage would be covered each month, but even in the state we were among the richest in the world for we had a roof over our head, clothes on our back, food in our fridge, and jobs which brought in weekly pay.

After seeing extreme poverty first hand, I realized I need to do something. Even as a stay-at-home-mom I can do something. And it was that realization that brought me to Noonday.

Noonday partners with 29 different artisan groups on 12 different countries to provide long-term jobs with fair wages for women and men in vulnerable communities.

One of those countries is India.

The Rustic Leather Tote and the Modern Leather Tote are both created there by the lowest caste in society, the "untouchables". These are people who face discrimination and poverty not because of something they've done but because of who they are, simply because they were born.

Since partnering with Noonday, this artisan group has grown, which means more jobs for more people. It means families can earn a living through dignified works. It means children can go to school. It means crime rates will decrease and the standard of living will increase.

Every time we spend money we are casting a vote for what kind a world we want to live in. And when we choose ethical, sustainable companies, like Noonday, that put people before profit, we are making an impact on an individual, a family, and potentially a village.

My short trip to India didn't make a global impact but it did impact me and my global view. And it is because of that that I am passionate about fair trade, about creating long-term jobs, empowering women, and cherishing children -- and that, my friend, is why I Noonday.

If you would like to learn more about how you too can get involved with the work of Noonday, leave a comment or send me a message and I'd be glad to share more with you. 


Post a Comment