I’ll never forget pulling up to the House of Palms—World Help’s partner program in India—after traveling for miles through remote villages. The sun was just rising and it showered a soft, warm light over the property.
The House of Palms is in the heartland of Indian Banchara communities and is a safe haven for girls who would otherwise enter into the Banchara tradition of child prostitution. Through sponsorship, they now have a life-changing alternative as each girl receives an education that will transform her future.
As we walked up to the building, girls of all ages ran to greet us, throwing bright marigold garlands over our shoulders and grinning from ear to ear.
Later at a reception ceremony, the girls recited Bible verses and treated us to traditional dances. Then they sang a song that seemed to explain everything…
“Because Jesus loves me, I can dance and sing.”
This was missing from the Banchara communities—the radical love of Christ that gives us freedom to live, move, and have our being. Instead, the Banchara are enslaved to demoralization and shame. The difference was like night and day.
While there, I spoke with 15-year-old Sanu who barely escaped the sex industry. The staff at House of Palms accepted her as their own family, and helped restore a sense of God-given value in her life. Since arriving, she’s become a Christ follower and has blossomed into a natural leader.
This remarkable young woman now wants to become a police officer to fight corruption and protect the Banchara. Take a minute to hear more of her courageous story.
Sanu is one of the fortunate ones to have escaped the Banchara’s 500-year tradition of child prostitution. Especially considering her mother and aunt have been involved in the trade since they were young teenagers. In fact, I spoke with Sanu’s aunt Pinky who told me the devastating story of how she entered the trade.
Pinky’s older sister was in the industry and helped provide for the family. After a while, she pressured Pinky to do the same. She could earn 10 times the amount as a sex worker than she could working as a field laborer.
Today, Pinky has spent half of her life in the sex trade and must sell herself every day to support her three young children. All the while, she runs the risk of contracting HIV and suffering abuse at the hands of her clients. She doesn’t have an education or any skills and worries about what she’ll do when she’s too old for the industry.
“The path to the sex industry is not straight for these women. It’s not one step. It’s taken step-by-step. It starts with exposure and abuse, then they try it once or twice, and then they’re stigmatized by their community and remain in the industry.” –Susheil, Community Development Coordinator.
I asked Pinky what her hope for the future was, and she said something that struck me.
“Hope is found in the next generation of children who are educated and don’t need to live this lifestyle.”
She understands that with the right resources, her children can be the generation to end the Banchara tradition. It’s not that these people are ignorant to the degradation of sex trafficking . . . It’s that poverty leaves them no choice.
Word has spread among the Banchara about the House of Palms, and hundreds of parents are desperate to give their children an alternate lifestyle through education, far from the sex industry.
And yet this incredible facility is already bursting at the seams with students. World Help is currently working to expand the campus to accommodate an influx of at-risk children. Construction plans are in motion, but we simply can’t grow at the rate needed without help.
Please consider partnering with us to lift the Banchara from their cultural dependence on sex for survival. It starts by equipping Pinky’s children and giving more girls, like Sanu, the chance to dream about their future.
Together, we can share the radical love of Christ, give hope, and infuse joy. We can give these children a reason to sing and dance.
The Banchara are an impoverished tribal group that make up part of India’s lowest-caste system. But they’re known specifically for one thing: child prostitution.
I know. Your knee-jerk reaction after reading that was probably the same as mine. How can this be?
As appalling as it is, this practice is a 500-year-old tradition among the Banchara community. Customarily, the first daughter is groomed from a young age to enter the sex industry, typically when she reaches 12 years old. What started as a tradition, has now developed into a cultural norm; every Banchara girl falls victim to the pressures of joining the sex industry. It’s considered her duty to support the family. Some even build rooms outside of their homes where their daughters can work with clients.
These girls and young women are totally exploited, but abject poverty and social hierarchies lead them to believe there’s no other way to survive.
In their lifetimes, 50 percent of these women will contract HIV, and all of them will suffer physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Tradition excludes them from marrying within the community, which means they will literally have to rely on prostitution to survive . . . a life sentence of trauma.
I spoke with a woman named Uma who was forced into the sex trade by her family when she was 14 years old. As the oldest girl with four brothers, she was seen as their financial security and a way to pay for the dowry for their wives, which can range from $5,000 to $20,000.
On average, Uma makes just $10 a day and will spend the rest of her life earning the money to pay these debts.
After 18 years in the industry, she’s also HIV-positive. She continues to work and risks infecting others, but without a husband or children to care for her, she sees no other choice. She has never had the luxury of dreaming of a better life.
Uma’s story was a dramatic contrast to that of Nilam’s, another young Banchara woman I met. Despite pressure from family and peers, Nilam’s parents vowed she wouldn’t enter the industry—an extremely rare decision among this community.
But the alternative was a difficult one. Nilam’s parents wouldn’t have a steady source of income like the rest of the Banchara families, and there was no guarantee they could pay for her schooling.
Then hope came in the form of sponsorship.
Through World Help’s partner program, the House of Palms, Nilam received an education and found safety from the pressures of the sex trade. In this loving environment, she also came to know Christ.
Today, this bright young woman is in nursing school and wants to return to her community to provide physical, mental, and spiritual healing to victims of the sex trade—many of her own peers.
She told us she feels like she escaped a “living hell” when she sees what her childhood friends are still going through today.
Nilam’s escape from the sex industry is an example for families that rely on their daughters for income. Slowly but surely, they’re awakening to the long-term implications of education over prostitution.
And this kind of investment—this paradigm shift—is absolutely critical to transforming Banchara communities from the inside out.
“Where there used to be only darkness, there is now light. There is hope. Children growing up in the Banchara had no chance at another life, but now their home is here. There’s a light.” – Ramchand, National Indian Partner
I urge you to consider taking action for the sake of these young girls and women.
You may be wondering . . . Where do I even start?
Start by impacting one life at a time with help and hope. Your gift of any amount today will allow us to do exactly that through immediate and preventative care. And by meeting physical needs, you also open doors for World Help to care for spiritual needs.
With every girl rescued, we step closer to the transformation of an entire community. That’s what help and hope is all about.
From the Banchara communities in rural India, the World Help team and I traveled to the Tejaji Nagar slum in Indore. Tejaji is a 25-year-old tattered tent city, and “tent” may be too generous of a description. The community is literally constructed with torn tarps held up by sticks.
These people are considered the lowest in India’s archaic caste system. No one, I mean no one, seems to care whether they live or die.
But we know otherwise. God sees this impoverished community and He has loved them from the beginning. And now, He’s using World Help and its partners to be His tangible hands and feet in Tejaji Nagar.
A few years ago, a World Help supporter named Christine raised the funds to dig a well in Tejaji. This fresh source of water was the first of its kind here, and from it, everything started to change.
Beforehand, the villagers had no choice but to collect water from a contaminated water source, which wasn’t even remotely close to the community. They have suffered in so many ways without access to clean water. I saw a young boy whose leg was permanently maimed from being hit on a busy highway while bringing home water. A man was killed on his way to gather water, leaving behind a wife and five small children.
The lack of clean water writes tragic stories around the world. And Tejaji’s was no different. That’s why we think clean water is the starting point for combatting physical, mental, and spiritual poverty.
First, it transforms physical health. Our partners noticed an almost immediate difference in the village. Hygiene improved and sickness decreased dramatically.
Second, it helps to restore dignity. People from surrounding communities are now coming to Tejaji to collect the pure water. Before, they wouldn’t even come near the village. I saw how proud the Tejaji families were of their well . . . how important they felt that someone would care enough about them to make such an investment.
But most important, this clean water has opened the doors for us to share the love of Christ. The people of Tejaji have come to love and trust our World Help partners, which has built a strong foundation for our work. And because of this, just this past Christmas, we were able to hold a special program in this community—sharing the Gospel for the very first time.
In addition to the clean-water well, we’ve been able to launch a Child Sponsorship Program that funds the education of every child here. None of Tejaji’s children had ever attended school before this.
The morning we arrived at the slum, we saw 130 children in school uniforms and carrying the backpacks World Help had provided through our Back-to-School campaign. Their smiles nearly broke my heart! They were so proud to be going to school—a confidence that will be critical as they mature within a crippling social infrastructure.
Now that these fundamental needs are being met, our next community project is to build bathrooms and sewage systems throughout the slum, which will make way for improved hygiene and sanitation.
Little by little, the chains of desperation and poverty are falling from Tejaji. Our partner Ramchand reminded me of Isaiah 58:10:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness.
“This is our calling; this is our goal, to bring hope and light in the darkness,” Ramchand said. But this can’t happen immediately; it takes time and slowly light comes. Hope builds.”
That’s why we can move forward in faith, even when we feel like we’re starting at zero. God takes even our little and invests it in the process of transformation. I certainly saw this process underway in Tejaji.
I pray these stories remind you that we can join God’s work anywhere, anytime. He can use you to build hope for communities like the Tejaji slum . . . to bring light in the darkness. All you need to do is say “Yes.”