Giving the gift of life

I heard trilling laughter and the thud of small feet running in big boots. Then an elfin, pink, pirouetting imp danced into the room, smiling, laughing and wanting to be everywhere at once.

HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA

I heard trilling laughter and the thud of small feet running in big boots. Then an elfin, pink, pirouetting imp danced into the room, smiling, laughing and wanting to be everywhere at once.

Sangita had whirled into my life. The name for this teeny three-year-old should be “Happiness,” because she exudes it in every gesture.

This child is lucky to be alive, so she savours every moment of her existence and everything in it. My glasses case was an item of wonder. So were the books she was now gingerly stepping around.

She welcomed and responded to every hug. She knows only too well the hard realities of no love.

Sangita and I met at the Tonglen Charitable Trust Hostel in early January 2012. I’d come to start organizing the Hindi and English books that I had chosen and purchased in Delhi.

This hostel is located about one hour from Dharamsala McLeod Ganj. (Tonglen Charitable Trust was founded by Tibetan refugees, to thank India for welcoming and supporting Tibetan refugees.)

The hostel was set up for poor and needy children from the Charan Khadd slum village near Dharamsala. Up to 100 selected children receive education, as well as food, clothing and shelter through Tonglen.

Previously, these children only attended school part time and worked begging, scavenging, picking garbage or shining shoes.

Some parents allowed their children to be given sponsors and hence a future beyond that of a beggar. The hostel strives to provide a well-rounded education to include music, sports, as well as a library.

That is when Hands of Hope Books and Basics for Kids in India and Nepal stepped in. We offered to help set up a library with donated money. We purchased books and some library shelving. The hostel kids assisted me in getting the books onto the shelves.

Books in boxes. Books in stacks. Books being checked and entered into a register. Round-eyed, Sangita watched us solemnly, but with an ever-ready smile as we processed almost 1,000 books.

Then, she’d look at one or two children’s books, giggle at the pictures and wander off to find lunch.

The task of book organization progressed over the month. None of this could have been done without the help of seven older teenagers from Charan Khad.

The two Nishas – Nisha Devi and Nisha Kumari – entered the Hindi books into the register. Talya, a volunteer from Australia, entered the English language books and little Sangita inspected our progress.

Did she think that someday she might be like these older sisters? Both Nishas cuddled her and made sure she was warm, drawing her close to the charcoal brazier to warm her hands, and wrapping her pink poncho around her. At lunch they made sure she had enough food.

Sangita was brought to the hostel after she’d nearly died. Now, with the worst behind her, she exuded happiness.

She’s three now, but Sangita has been treated at Tonglen health clinics since she was 10 months old.

She was not developing like a regular child. When Sangita reached 18 months, she was 2.5 kilograms. But her father denied that help was needed.

Because she was being used for begging she had to look starved. She almost died.

With a drunk father and a mother worried about losing her income, Sangita almost ended up being thrown into the river.

The Tonglen medical clinic persuaded the mother to go to the local hospital with Sangita. She was barely able to eat or drink.

In the hospital she gained half a kilogram, but she was still in a dire situation. She was 19 months old and in extreme suffering.

She could not stand. She could not walk. She only slept.

Sangita was given medicine and began to recover and gain back her indomitable spirit. Then, forces moved in to intercept progress.

Her mother complained she couldn’t make money without her. She needed Sangita for begging again. Tonglen had to return her to a dire situation. Inevitably, Sangita got sick again.

Finally, Tonglen was permitted to take on the job of caregiver and hired a woman for the job.

All the kids loved and cared for Sangita. She started to talk and walk. She loves to dance, and dance she did every day for us, calling us to a much welcome lunch.

She’d then check my jacket pockets for treats such as peanuts and stand or sit next to me, close to the charcoal brazier, warming her tiny hands and chewing peanuts with delight.

After lunch she’d oversee us going back to entering books in the register, or shelving, or stamping. Then, when she got cold, she’d seek out the charcoal brazier, someone’s lap and an extra shawl.

The library at the Tonglen Charitable Trust Hostel opened January 26 – India Independence Day. The children are attending school and Sangita continues to progress.

To her, life is a gift. And she doesn’t want to miss one moment of it. That includes being read to.

Hands of Hope Books and Basics for Kids in India and Nepal has been providing basics and establishing libraries since 2007. This summer they are walking into a remote Himalayan village in northern India with books. For more information, call Liesel or Rosemarie Briggs at 668-7082.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Benjamin Poudou, Mount MacIntyre’s ski club manager, poses for a photo in the club’s ski rental area on Nov. 16. The club has sold around 1,850 passes already this year, compared to 1067 passes on Oct. 31 last year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Early season ski pass sales up as Yukoners prepare for pandemic winter

Season passe sales at Mount McIntyre for cross-country skiing are up by around 60 per cent this year

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read