The following blog is written by Jocelyn Kuryan. Jocelyn, along with her family, recently returned home after serving at Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC). BTC is an organization that fights human trafficking in Mumbai, India. Jocelyn shares her experience of serving in the Red Light District.
John and I were introduced to BTC 3 years ago by our friend Dennis. He asked us to help with a fundraising event – and he didn’t really give us an option to say no! Knowing his heart (and for fear of his wrath), we happily obliged. That event opened my eyes to the horror that takes place on the streets of Mumbai. We’ve all heard of sex trafficking before, but I never realized the vast scale of the problem. I had always assumed that people chose this kind of life. I was ignorant to the fact that children and young women are kidnapped and sold into the brothels, often by their own family. Our hearts broke for these women and children, so we became actively involved in fundraising for this organization.
Fast forward to 2014 and we were presented with the opportunity to serve in the BTC medical clinics. Since many members of our church had gone before, I wasn’t fearful about the trip to Mumbai. I was more concerned about taking my daughters on a 16 hour flight! Maya is 5 and Sonya is 2. They have food allergies and obviously there are various communicable diseases in urban India. But we felt God was calling us to serve in this way. We also wanted our kids to see that there is a life beyond the comforts we enjoy. So we decided to trust in God and go to Mumbai with John’s brother, Alex,and his family.
As an ophthalmologist, I often joke about not being a “real” doctor. At this stage of my career, I only take care of people’s eyes (I’m not sure I remember how to use a stethoscope). I wasn’t sure if my skill set would be of value, but I was assured that basic eye care was sorely needed. We collected over 300 eyeglasses through a drive at church and a large donation from VOSH, a group that provides glasses for indigent populations. Allergan, a pharmaceutical company, also donated 900 bottles of eye drops! My office staff at Tricounty Eye was so generous in providing me with equipment and supplies to use overseas.They also helped me organize all of the glasses – working after hours at times! I feel so blessed to work in a place where people truly care for the welfare of those who are less fortunate.
We survived the flight with the kids and miraculously got through customs with hundreds of glasses and eyedrops in less than 5 minutes.(Those who have visited Mumbai know that this is truly a miracle!) We spent the first part of our week at clinics in two separate Red Light Districts. Professionally speaking, I felt somewhat limited in what I could offer, but I realized that for many of these people, this might be the only time they would see an eye doctor (or any doctor) in their lifetime.
As I examined the women, some were very grateful, but many had vacant looks. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. It was easy to see that they had broken spirits. They seemed to go through the motions like robots, likely because they were robbed of their innocence at a young age. These were the same women lining the narrow street outside the clinic, awaiting their next “customer”. Children were running around half-naked in the trash-lined streets, playing alongside the stray dogs, goats and rats, all while their mothers went to a back room to “work.” As a mother, I can’t tell you how heart-breaking it was to see this firsthand. I fought not to weep openly. The situation seemed hopeless.
On this street full of despair, there is a light that shines in the darkness of the brothels. BTC has built a beautiful clinic, which was made possible through the fundraising efforts of our friends back home. Here, the staff and doctors work day in and day out to help the people of the Red Light District. They go on daily outreach missions, inviting the women of the brothels to come in for free medical care. Many of the staff members were rescued by BTC themselves and have returned to continue this work. They are ultimately able to help others escape the brothels, often risking their own lives in the process. There is joy in knowing that God is using BTC to spread His message of love, grace and mercy. These women and children do have hope – and the BTC staff works tirelessly to spread this message.
Our last stop was at Ashagram, where BTC provides housing and education to those that have been rescued from the streets of Mumbai. Ashagram is the utopia to the hell of the Red Light District. From the moment we arrived on the picturesque grounds, we were greeted by smiling faces of children, teens and adults who have escaped lives of sexual slavery and drug addiction. They have clean quarters, medical care, 3 delicious meals a day, education/vocational training and a true sense of family. It is a stark contrast to the deplorable conditions from which they came.
During our week with BTC, we saw over 175 patients for eye care and distributed over 100 pairs of glasses. One woman was so happy to finally be able read her Bible! Our small contribution pales in comparison to the work that the BTC staff does on a daily basis. I was reminded that we are all Christ’s stewards and it is our responsibility to be a voice for those who do not have one. Coming here has only strengthened my desire to support the efforts of BTC. I hope to return in the future and provide more in-depth eyecare. I would encourage others to use their gifts to serve BTC and support them financially (which can be done here), as well as through prayer. I’m looking forward to seeing how BTC’s vision will help more dreams become a reality.