Have you ever celebrated your birthday halfway around the world from family and friends? This year, I’m celebrating in Darjeeling, India – a world away from family in California, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, and Colorado. On this day, as I awoke to gifts, hugs from colleagues, and messages on Facebook from friends old and new, I’m reflecting on the connection of community near and far.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I stood in Darjeeling’s lower market outside the main police station, surrounded by colleagues from Edith Wilkins, staff from several other NGOs working with children*, students from local high schools and colleges, and concerned community members. We were gathering to rally around a common cause – child sexual abuse. Someone in the community was recently accused of numerous counts of sexually abusing children under his care. While his guilt is yet to be determined, we came together to ensure that his trial was taken seriously and to bring awareness to the issue. Lining up, we marched from the police station down to the District Magistrate’s office and court, awaiting his arrival. We stood holding signs representing our organizations, signs representing our cause, and faith in our community’s strength.
As I stood there, I couldn’t help, but think that this is one of the reasons why I’m here. Sure, I can work on global issues of child sexual abuse from the United States, as well as stand up for other internationally relevant causes. I can even contribute to orchestrating community awareness raising campaigns from the US. What I can’t do is stand together with my colleagues and community in reaction to recent events. Or perhaps I can? Perhaps, just as I feel the sense of community, friendship, and support on this birthday that I’m spending so far away, I can more fully lend my own commitment from a distance in the future. I’m looking forward to this upcoming year – to building relationships for a lifetime and learning about community engagement close-up. Among my many birthday wishes today, I wish now to take these lessons and relationships into the future in a way that makes me a stronger advocate and a better community member wherever I land next.
*To learn more about the many organizations contributing to the health of children in the Darjeeling region, please check out their websites: Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance, Edith Wilkins Street Children Trust Foundation, World Vision, and MARG.