Reshma is 8 years old. She just had a birthday on February 22. She doesn't have any brothers or sisters. Reshma is one of the new FOCI kids for 2020. She is a little bit shy at first, but she has a beautiful smile. She has a lot to smile about now. Reshma will be able go to school because a generous person in Wisconsin decided to donate to FOCI.
People sometimes ask, "How do you pick the kids that you bring into the program?" Well, it's very easy and very hard at the same time. Very easy, because most of the people in the village are living in poverty, they are just one crisis away from taking the kids out of school and having nothing to eat. But it is very hard too- Because there is so much need, it is hard to decide who needs it most. It's hard to have to say "not yet" to so many that need the help. I say "look for me next year, maybe I can help then." Then again, there are times when you simply cannot say no.
And so it was with this little family. This year, I met Reshma and her mom Reena Shanthi. Reena is married to Susai Raj. He did not come to meet me, he was cutting sugar cane in the fields when his wife and daughter came to visit. Reshma's parents are young. Reena is just 33 years old, Susai is 36. Both are coolie workers. To be a coolie worker means that you wait for a land owner to call you and tell you that there is work today...... and you go to whatever field he sends you to, to cut sugar cane or plant or weed rice. This is back breaking work, hard labor out in the hot sun. But they do it. It is the only way to earn a living. Reena and Susai make the equivalent of about $60 American dollars each month. They do not own a home. They rent a small hut. Susai's mom lives with them too. She's 81 years old.
But this is everyone's story in the village! So what makes them special? Why were they chosen for the program?
Look at the pictures. In the second picture, look at Reena's arm. Reena was married in 2011. Reshma was born in 2012. Within a year of Reshma's birth, Reena went to the hospital with a headache. She has been on dialysis ever since. Her left upper arm shows a large vein that is used to administer the dialysis. It looks so painful, but she doesn't complain. She has a daughter that she must stay strong for. Reena takes a very noisy and dusty bus to Tiruvannamalai three times each week- for an hour each way, to get four hours of dialysis. This has been going on for more than six years. It takes a great toll on her physically, but there is no other choice. She hoped to have a kidney transplant, but was told she is not healthy enough to be given that opportunity. She must pay for the dialysis each time she gets it, and if she doesn't have money, well..... she has to have the money.
There is just so much wrong with this story. Working poor. Working with a life threatening and chronic illness. An only child who may lose her mother at a very young age. A grandma who will have to stand in if something happens to mom. Health care that doesn't exist for this family. Just getting by. It simply breaks my heart. But look at Reshma's face. There is just so much right with this little girl. So much hope. Maybe she will become a doctor some day and find a cure for kidney disease.
And that's how I choose a child for the program.