From their one-room rural mud homes found in the depths of decade old slums, young men and women often have no choice but to make their way into the circle of survival inside the walls of Delhi, India, more specifically Yamuna Bazaar. Illiterate, uneducated, and unaware, with poverty at their heels and little opportunity for upward mobility, many of these young men and women are unable to find adequate employment to support a healthy lifestyle. As a result, many eventually find themselves stepping closer into unknowing ways of self-destruction for support which often lead to homelessness and a continual worsening state of living.
After years of personal neglect, abuse and disregard for not only their life but for the life of all creation, those who were once considered simply poor now live in a constant state of high-risk poverty, disease, malnourishment, exploitation and negligence. Heartbroken by abuse and society; they are dismissed as worthless, ignored by all while slowly dying on the roadside.
Under bridges and in gutters, in a state of rapid deterioration, at the door-step of an undignified death is where we often find these sacred souls. Engulfed in tuberculosis, infected with HIV, bleeding with open gaping wounds deep with maggots, skin pulled tightly across the face, showing off the curvatures of the facial bones, waiting to die, they are found and brought into Sewa Ashram to rest their weary, sometimes missing feet.
Here at Sewa Ashram, life is a celebration. To live and survive is a celebration we daily take part in. Watching the young HIV infected artist look into sky and contemplate the beauty in the form of each cloud. Celebrating in the developing round cheeks of the abandoned, malnourished child found in the gutter two months ago. Celebration in the joys of newly discovered gifts expressed best by those who have experienced life’s hardships and are now crippled by TB, have lost limbs or the ability to live self-sufficiently. A celebration of life together. Yet, woven throughout the celebration of lives resurrected, we celebrate the sacred souls of lives lost.
Many beautiful faces imprint the soil of the Ashram yearly. Many of these footprints make their way around the grounds where current patients rest, receive treatment, and are cared for as one would care for his brother. Some footprints make their way out of the Ashram with shoes strapped to their feet, awaiting with anticipation a life of full recovery and unending opportunities to make right what once went so unnaturally wrong.
Yet, many times patients enter Sewa Ashram with irreversible damage for their bodies to heal. It is in these specific cases where we celebrate the exceedingly beautiful life we came to know during their short, precious time here. These are the lives which never leave the Ashram independently, but rather are carried out with dignity by their brothers and sisters, wrapped in fresh, white, beautiful cloth scattered with orange, yellow, and red flowers from the surrounding gardens. Their ashes will return to the earth and the cycle of life appreciation will continue in those who remain.