The Journey That Came Full Circle

Story by Deborah M., India Content and Communications Specialist

As William rides a train to a village in India to help families in poverty, he remembers a ride long ago — along the same tracks — that transformed his life.

William Kisku at his Hope Center office. In the photo at the top of the page, William stands with youths from his village during a community visit.

In 1975, 9-year-old William Kisku stepped onto a train that would take him from the lush, dense forests of his birthplace, a predominantly indigenous community in India, to the concrete jungle of urban life in Nawabgunj, India.

William’s father, Samuel, was a pastor at a church in his village, located in the interior of Jharkhand state, and there were no motorable roads then.

Situated near the banks of a major river, the region is prone to annual flooding. During the monsoon season the entire community gets cut off and one has to travel as far as 4 kilometers (nearly 2.5 miles) by rowboat to reach villagers’ homes.

William helped his family graze their cows and goats and attended the village school. The school was the only one in the village and it lacked almost everything. There was no safe drinking water available and no furniture in the classrooms or even electricity.

William’s mother gave him a large plastic bag (the kind that had once held 55 pounds of wheat) to take to school.

“It served a dual purpose,” William recalls, “to keep my books and as a mat to sit on the floor.” A single teacher taught several subjects to a group of children, and there were days when there was a shortage of teaching staff.

“Every child in the village dreamed of studying in the city,” William says. “Even parents desired that their children would go to the city to study, or study in a good school. There was a genuine desire in the community to be able to study in a bada (big) school. So, as a child, I wished that, given an opportunity, I would like to study outside my village.”

Opportunity in the Making

Long before William was born, the foundation was laid for a school that would give children like him just such an opportunity.

William (third from left) with the Rev. and Mrs. McCabe at James Harvey Memorial School Hope Center. This photo was taken by his sponsor, Mr. Poncob, when he visited William in India.

In December 1913, Esther Bragg arrived in India from England, following her calling to serve the underserved. Shortly after her arrival, she responded to a plea for support to carry on the work at Nawabgunj, where she met and married James Harvey, a fellow Englishman.

Together, they built a school and home for orphaned boys, which opened in 1914. Sadly, three of their children passed away, followed by the death of James.

Despite her personal losses and challenges, the young widow’s commitment to bring hope in hard places continued through the decades, and Esther earned the nickname “Mama ji” (mother) from the children.

The school they founded still bears the name of her husband — James Harvey Memorial School. And today, it is a OneChild Hope Center.

After Esther Bragg Harvey’s death in 1986, partner Rev. McCabe and his wife, who had been serving at the school since the 1960s, carried on the work of providing education to children in need. In addition to orphans, the boarding school started welcoming boys from families who could not otherwise afford a quality education for their children.

Along with his work at the school in Nawabgunj, Rev. McCabe also oversaw community work in neighboring states. He would travel by road, visiting villages at least once in a month.

William sits with the Rev. Andrew McCabe who was his Child Champion when he was young.

At the time, William’s father partnered with a Norwegian organization, helping them establish schools in various states in east India.

As he traveled in his work, William’s father heard about the Rev. McCabe from local partners, though he had never met him.

Some of the local partners also made it possible for Williams’ elder brother to attend the boarding school in Nawabgunj, nearly 500 miles from their village. He and a few other boys were the first from their village to have that opportunity.

Rev. McCabe wanted to learn more about the people and the region these new students came from and promised them he would make the effort to visit their village.

During one of his visits to the village, Rev. McCabe met and got to know William’s parents.

Rev. McCabe was fluent in the local languages and dialects spoken in the region and was able to communicate well with the people, including William. One day the reverend asked William an amazing question in Hindi.

Shaher may padna chahte ho?” which means, “Do you want to study in the city?”

William didn’t hesitate to accept, and his parents gladly agreed.

The Student Days

Thus began William’s journey to the Hope Center where he remained under the mentorship of his new Child Champion Rev. McCabe until he completed high school.

William started a tailoring workshop for women to help them make a living.

Living at the school, a new world opened to William. There were between 150-200 boys at the boarding school at the time, and William made many new friends from different states in northern India and Nepal.

The boys had many opportunities to play sports such as football and cricket. Years later, William made it onto his college football team. Even today, one of his hobbies is playing football.

Although there was no hospital nearby, health care was easily accessible in the city compared to the village. When a boarder got sick, the staff would call a doctor who would visit the school to examine the child and prescribe medicine.

As Hope Center Director, Rev. McCabe was always available to offer a listening ear and became a trusted mentor to William.

“My life changed,” William recalls. “I had to maintain a certain discipline, and that is something I learnt and practice till today.”

William especially enjoyed studying English, as it was a new language for him. He was introduced to it for the first time at the Hope Center.

“At the village school, we were taught Hindi and Santhali (indigenous) languages,” William says. “English was something new for me. I had no clue what ABCD was. Rev. McCabe arranged for a private tutor who taught me after school. Within a year I was able to catch up with the rest of the class.”

William travels to a village by rowboat.

William says that he was also introduced to a more varied diet while at the boarding school.

“In the village, if we ate rice in the morning; more often than not, we would eat the same for lunch and dinner. In the hostel, there was a time to eat different meals during the day. This was not possible at home, where it was the same routine, there was no variety.”

Over the years that William was a student at the school, he saw firsthand the love that the Child Champions — and especially Rev. McCabe — had for him and all the children. William developed a special bond with Rev. McCabe and looked to him as another father-figure.

An Opportunity to Serve

While he was in school, William received support to continue his education from his sponsor, Mr. Poncob, in Florida. On completion of secondary school, William received support from Charlotte Baptist Church in Scotland to enroll in Lucknow University for a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

After completing his accounting degree, William had begun to study law at the same university when the accountant at the Hope Center he had once attended had to step down due to a sudden illness.

Rev. McCabe immediately reached out to William and asked if he wanted to step in. William decided to follow his heart and left law school to join the Hope Center as its accountant in 1992. He has continued in that role ever since.

When asked about the significance of working at the Hope Center, William says, “A person can work anywhere in India, whether in a private company or for the government, or even set up one’s business. One thing I learnt working in a charitable institution is that this work is not for everyone. We serve poor children. We serve the people who live in the villages. We work among them and in some way, we are able to help them. It’s a different experience that you will not get working elsewhere.

William visits a village.

“If you live in a city, it’s possible you may not even be able to offer a glass of water to your neighbor when they are ill. It’s rush-rush all the time; no one has the time to talk to each other.

“At the boarding school, we are able to look after the needs of the children and serve them. They get into a discipline; they learn about cleanliness. It’s a different environment here among the children.”

To the Least of My Brothers

Looking back, William has no regrets about his decision or that he declined the offer of a comfortable and secure job in the government services. As all his six brothers are employed with the government, he is often asked why he chose the path he did.

William admits his decision to work at the Hope Center was challenging. But one can sense the deep influence William had being around Child Champions like Rev. McCabe and the environment of the Hope Center that he grew up in.

William with his family.

He recalls the parable of the sheep and the goats that Rev. McCabe often taught,  from Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

William learned early on in life the importance of caring for those in need and working to help them.

“He [Rev. McCabe] educated me, and always had a dream that everyone should be educated,” William says.

“I may not have much wealth, but being a Child Champion myself, I feel I am in some way fulfilling his dream by serving others.

“If I were not given the opportunity, if Rev. McCabe had not given me the chance [to study], then I probably wouldn’t be able to talk to you today about it.”

2021: The Pandemic

In 2021, 18 months had passed since the pandemic struck, causing the shutdown of Hope Centers. Most of the children were back in the village in Jharkhand.

During the week of Independence Day in August, William was on the train journey again. Only this time, he was heading back to give the boys and their families love, hope, and encouragement.

His wife Mariam accompanied him, and together they ministered to the families, praying with them, distributing food rations, and even sharing a meal with them.

Some of the children’s homes could only be reached by rowboat, but they ventured out, nonetheless.

Bringing Hope to Communities

In one village, some of the children from the Hope Center live in humble mud houses with bamboo frames that serve as the entrance doors. The community has only two major sources of income. One is collecting and selling firewood from the forest and making biodegradable, disposable plates and bowls from leaves. The other is making country liquor.

William is happy to use his education and skills to help empower women like this one who is learning how to sew to make a living.

Over the years, William has been trying to convince families to try alternative means of livelihood. He and his team recently enabled three families to learn how to raise poultry and are hopeful it will succeed.

William and his friends also recently started a workshop on tailoring for the women to help them transition to a more respectable trade instead of brewing liquor to sell.

William is very excited that he is able to use his education and skills to empower the community, especially the women.

The Power of Sponsorship

“Being a Child Champion at the Hope Center has been a wonderful experience,” William says. “My colleagues have taught me to work in unity and to help each other. My elder brother, Khris, has a very loving nature, and he inspired me to love all the children.

“I am trying my best to practice this, by loving the children in the Hope Center and loving their families in the villages. I have learnt to interact with the children and help them in their studies.”

William’s dream for the children at the Hope Center is for them to pursue higher education, secure good jobs, and to help their families.

He is thankful to the sponsors who helped him start the train journey as a child, enabling him now to take the same train journey back as a Child Champion who is bringing hope to kids and their families in hard places.

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