And the greatest of these.....
First world problems take on a whole new perspective, even on very long and tiring days, when you meet people who are suffering with, and fighting against real issues that affect real people that same day.
Travelling to the airport was fine. We had time. Plenty of time. And I mean plenty. Ben was nothing if not careful to get us to Heathrow in time for our flight. In fact if the car had broken down half way we'd probably have had enough time to walk the rest of the way and pop into South Mimms services for a latte and still have time to buy the paper and do the crossword before our gate was called. Having said that it was very relaxing, even if it had meant a 5.00am start from Norwich. It also meant we were the first to check our bags in giving an opportunity to smile nicely at the saint on the desk who found us three seats with extra leg room on both legs. See what I did there. So that's two out of two for extra leg room on Indian trips this year.
The euphoria of stretched out legs was tempered by my 'In flight entertainment' which consisted of trying to get the interactive screen to work. I failed. Ben gleefully told me how good the two films were he watched. Glad you enjoyed them, Ben.
And then in our transfer in Delhi the 'inter flight' entertainment consisted of standing in a queue for an hour, having specifically asked a member of airport staff which queue we should stand in, to be told by the waiting immigration official that we had been in the wrong queue, and rather than take pity on us, he made a public spectacle of us and pointed at the other queue which, being compliant queue loving Brits, we stood in for a further hour. Mark became hysterical. Milton Jones hysterical. At least we made the plane, but only after Mark had the spiciest pizza ever for breakfast and Ben nearly got us thrown out of India by ignoring the cow free zone which was the menu board beef free board at McDonalds and asking for a beef burger Big Mac. 'No Sir. No beef. This is India.'
We came down to earth with a bump in more ways than one during this journey. Firstly literally as the plane auditioned for Strictly come landing. And secondly as we saw again the reality of sex trafficking for girls, just young innocent children being abused for pleasure and profit. That's a real problem. A whole world problem.
We met with the IJM Kolkata team and heard again the statistics, the details of the numbers of girls being abused. Every 8 minutes a child goes missing in India, the majority either from, or trafficked through Western Bengal. 60% are not returned. They end up as slaves. Sex slaves if girls, forced labour if boys. IJM are doing a truly wonderful job in seeing freedom and justice for so many of these children and they are keen to work with us in the provision of Aftercare.
We then meet with Ms Smita at Mahima aftercare home which she founded in 2009 whilst still working for IJM. As it developed she moved to working full time as the director of the home. It is basic but run so very well. A warm, friendly 'Aunty' to the girls she told us that for all the girls that she and her team have cared for in the last 6 years, only one has run away, a figure far far lower than any other aftercare home where girls running away is a real issue.
She was asked what the most essential ingredient of the home is? And she, almost word for word like the Aftrecare casework manager that we had met earlier had said, replied "To be valued, accepted and loved" and there was no doubt that the girls we saw at Mahima were the recipients of that love. The photos today are from things on the walls and doors at Mahima, some written by the girls, others by staff. It's difficult to describe an atmosphere of love. It's not red. Or smooth. Or numerous. But it was there alright. You saw it in Smita's face, in her commitment and care. We saw it in the girls smiles and in their notes saying 'Thank you Auntys'.
Yes, thank you Aunties. Thank you that you care enough to act, to give your time, talents and love to care for these broken children and help to mend them piece by piece, day by day, with love that is patient and kind. Love that never fails. And thank you that you invite us to partner with you to help change lives and bring restoration.
We are meeting Smita and IJM later in the week to build on today's discussions and to have some practical questions answered so keep reading if you'd like to learn more about what is possible.