Book Review: The Weight of Silence, by Shelley SealeIndia, Travel Books & Movies, Travel Philosophy, Volunteering & Giving Back — By Lost Girls on June 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm
Author Shelley Seale discusses her new narrative non-fiction book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, which depicts her journey into orphanages and through the streets and slums of India where millions of innocent children live without families. During her three years of writing The Weight of Silence, Seale has befriended and told the stories of many such children – and has born witness to their struggles first hand. Foreward by Joan Collins with endorsements by Geralyn Dreyfous (Executive Producer of Born Into Brothels), Kate Dancy (Save The Children), Dominique Lapierre (Author of City of Joy) and more.
Available In-Stores: June 15, 2009
For more information, please visit: http://weightofsilence.wordpress.com/
Q: When did you first go to India, and why?
A: One day in early 2004 I was paging through a local magazine when an article grabbed my attention. It told the story of Caroline Boudreaux, who had visited India three years earlier and happened upon an orphanage full of children living in incomprehensible conditions. She had returned home and started the Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit which raises money and recruits sponsors to help support the home. I began volunteering for the organization and sponsored a child, and Caroline invited me to go to India with a volunteer group. My first visit was in March 2005.
Q: How did you first start thinking about writing this book?
A: When I arrived that first time, I assumed all the kids there were orphans in the true sense of the word – their parents had died. Instead I was shocked by how many of them had been “orphaned” by poverty; their parents had left them at the Miracle Foundation home because they were too poor to feed them, which in some ways seemed an even greater tragedy. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go back home, or if they ever had. Many of them had also been affected by other issues such as disease or child labor and trafficking; some had been found living on the streets.
As I bore witness to the harm that lay in each of them because of their pasts, as I discovered the stories behind the faces and the names, there was simply no way to go on with my life afterwards as if they did not exist. So I embarked on a three-year journey researching the issues, traveling throughout India and talking to many professionals and those working in the trenches to uphold these children’s rights and improve their futures. I could see that they were “invisible” children, without a real voice of their own. My sole purpose in writing the book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.
Q: There is so much poverty and plight in the U.S….what drew you to India?
A: This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked: Why India? You’re right, there is much poverty and need in the U.S., and we must all be aware and active in the struggles against poverty, racism, sexism, social inequities and other challenges that create vast problems right here at home. I believe that, and I am also involved in a huge amount of work on behalf of foster children and children’s rights in the U.S.; I donate much money to these causes and volunteer hundreds of hours a year here at home. I truly believe it is all of our obligation as citizens. It’s not like I think only India has children in need.
My simple answer to the question “Why India” is, why not? Once I got involved and then traveled to India and the orphanages myself, and began researching the issues for my book, the vast differences between children’s issues and lives in the two countries were glaring. Extreme poverty in India is not the same as poverty in the United States. And there are very little, if any, safety nets for the children who fall through the cracks. Although we have vast problems as well, millions of children in the U.S. aren’t threatened by malaria and tuberculosis, denied their entire educations or trafficked – sold into factories or domestic labor if they’re lucky, to brothels if they’re not. A childhood cannot wait for the AIDS epidemic to subside, for poverty to be eradicated, for adults and governments to act, for the world to notice them. And quite simply, because those twenty-five million children exist.
Q: Who has inspired you on this journey?
A: From a very early age, my grandparents and parents always inspired me. I have the most wonderful, close, loving family who have always supported me unconditionally. It’s an amazing gift, which is why it breaks my heart to see other children go through life without that. While writing the book, there were so many people along the way who inspired me and have become my heroes. Caroline Boudreaux was the first one – this woman gave up a very successful television advertising career after meeting a group of orphans, by chance, on one evening – and dedicated the rest of her life to supporting them and ensuring their fundamental rights. Dr. Manjeet Pardesi, her Director of Operations in India, has a similar story – he left behind a successful accounting business in Delhi to open and run an orphanage and home for unwed mothers hundreds of miles away.
Outside of the social workers and professionals, there were so many people who awed me with the lives they laid bare to me. One woman in particular in Vijayawada in Central India, named Durgamma. This woman lives in a slum village that has been completely devastated by AIDS, which has wiped out a large portion of the middle generation there. What it has left behind are dozens of families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren, after their own children have died of AIDS. This type of household is so prevalent there that the women have developed “Granny Clubs” to support each other. Durgamma is trying her best to raise her two young grandsons – one of whom is HIV-positive. She is a stooped, elderly woman who can barely walk, and yet she may be one of the strongest women I have ever met.
Q: If you could ask people reading this to do one thing, what would it be?
A: Give these children a voice by reading their stories. And, as I said, find the something that is “your thing” and take action to make a difference in someone’s life. Remember, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
About the Author: Shelley Seale is a freelance writer based out of Austin, Texas, but she vagabonds in any part of the world whenever possible. Shelley has written for the Seattle Times, Washington Magazine, the Austin Business Journal, Intrepid Travel and Andrew Harper Traveler Magazine among others, and is the Sustainable Travel Columnist at The Examiner. Her new book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India, follows her journeys into the orphanages, streets and slums of India, where for millions of children the life portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire is their reality. Her mantra is “travel with a purpose.” She can be reached at http://www.shelleyseale.com/.