Brushed aside for trying to speak up as a child, Aaditya resolves to lend a listening ear and be a voice for kids in poverty who deserve to be heard.
The second-oldest sibling among four brothers, Aaditya, like most children, had a curious mind.
Whenever he wanted to have a conversation, the adults in his family would ignore him.
They would brush him aside. He felt unnoticed.
“No one would listen to what I had to say,” recalls Aditya, reminiscing about his childhood. “They would tell me to not to interrupt their conversation because I was just a child. I felt really bad.”
The society he grew up in didn’t give much importance to children when they wanted to ask a question or speak about something.
They were only expected to listen to instructions and were not encouraged to speak their minds.
Despite his childhood experience of his voice falling on deaf ears, Aaditya was always reminded by his spiritual mentors that we must love one another.
This teaching had a deep impact on him, and as an adolescent, Aaditya resolved that he would be an ambassador for children.
“I made up my mind to respect children’s emotions and listen to them,” says Aaditya.
A Child Champion in a Very Hard Place
In his role at the Hope Center, he was entrusted with helping kids write letters to their sponsors and taking annual photos, among other duties.
He also made regular home visits in the community.
The Hope Center is located in a community of day laborers who earn their living by sorting through trash for recycling.
There are also many small-scale factories, where children work to help supplement their family income.
The entrance to the community is ridden with garbage strewn out in the open, with a handful of cows feeding on it.
As you travel toward the Hope Center, the road narrows, making it impassable for motorists.
The smelly overflow of garbage will put your athletic skills to the test dodging the mess as you make your way to the center.
A Community in the Grip of Alcohol
Talking about the challenges in the community, Aaditya says, “While both the mother and father work, alcoholism has taken the fathers captive. By the time the men reach home, many would have spent all their daily earnings on alcohol. They enter their homes in a drunken state, beat their wives, and hurl verbal abuses on their children.”
When children experience this family strife on a daily basis, it gets normalized over time. Often, they choose to follow in their father’s footsteps, thinking, “If this is how my parents behave, then why shouldn’t I do the same?”
Initially, for Aaditya, the biggest challenge was to talk to the parents and make them realize that their behaviour impacts their children’s future.
“I remember the first time I went to talk to a parent, I was kicked out of the house, literally,” Aaditya recalls.”
The father told me that he didn’t want to listen to anything.”
Be Focused on Your Goal
When the children approach Aaditya with their problems and talk about the physical abuse endured by their mothers or the emotional stress they themselves have to deal with, he listens to them patiently.
He tells the children that, irrespective of the situation they face in the family, they have the will to choose how to respond to the situation.
Aaditya encourages them to look to the Child Champions as their mentors and role models, to observe their behaviour toward others and the kindness and love they demonstrate at the Hope Center and in the community.
“Try to hold on to what you learn at the Hope Center and follow it,” Aaditya tells the kids.
“Keep a goal in your life, or you may end up like your father. If you know you have a goal, you will have to move toward that goal, so be determined to achieve that goal.”
The Joy of Serving Children
Aaditya gets very emotional just talking about the children.
“They remind me every day that no matter the situation, with dedication and hard work, one can be successful.”
He recalls that during the pandemic the children prayed continually for protection over his family.
“When I see the children, it is difficult to control my emotions,” says a teary-eyed Aaditya. “The love I get from the children is not superficial. I see it in their smiles.”
His greatest joy in serving a community in a hard place is when he meets the children.
“There is a different smile, a different happiness each time I meet them,” says Aaditya.
Over the years, Aaditya has learned to relate at the same level as the children.
“I try to be playful like them,” he says. “Sometimes, the kids sit on my shoulders, other times, they pull my beard. It makes me happy.”
Aaditya feels that children should never be pushed aside when they want to say something. If as a society we want progress in our community and our nation, then the children need to be educated and their emotions respected, he says.
“I respect the children’s emotions,” says Aaditya. “Perhaps that’s why I am close to their hearts.”
Ripples of Positive Change
Aaditya’s consistent dedication and patience, along with that of other Child Champions at the Hope Center, is bringing about a positive change in the community.
The regular home visits have had a profound impact, with parents interacting and speaking to the Child Champions with respect, in contrast to the earlier response where the parents would not listen to them.
Most of the parents’ mindsets are changing, and they are making efforts to be good role models for their children.
“This has been possible by educating and counseling the children,” Aaditya says.
The Hope Center provides a safe space for children, where they are given a listening ear, where they are nourished, where they get help with their studies, and where, together with the Child Champions, they try to find solutions to the challenges they face.
“Sometimes, kids say and do the darnedest things,” Aaditya admits. “As a Child Champion, I need a lot of patience and wisdom to deal with the children, to make them understand what is right and wrong.”
Partnering With Sponsors to Unlock Potential
Aaditya is full of gratitude to the children’s sponsors as he believes that he is able to serve the children because of their generosity in supporting the program. He adds that he and other Child Champions are blessed as well.
He feels that the children are able to reach their goals because of the support of the sponsors, and he is hopeful that the children can emerge from their current situation.
As a Child Champion, Aaditya values the importance of education and teaching the children to excel.
“Children are vulnerable and defenseless, and collectively, as Child Champions, we need to protect them and to give them hope,” he says.
“The children have potential and all they need is an opportunity to unlock that potential.”
Aaditya is proud that when he passes by the homes of children who have graduated from the program he is treated with respect, and the children tell their parents, “This is my brother who helped me in my studies.”
“Children never seem to tire as they are full of energy,” he says. “And whenever I see them, I don’t get tired either.”
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