In 2013, Henry and Angela Lim, together with their daughter Brenda, visited Jaidoh, a village in north-east India. Brenda had got to know a Redemptorist priest who was setting up a training and education centre to support the youths in Jaidoh. Most of the families in the village live on less than 1 US dollar a day.
Since the first visit, the couple have returned twice to Jaidoh and intend to go again soon. They led five others from Singapore during their last trip in May 2015. Henry and Angela shares with Autumn Life highlights from that visit and what turned their hearts towards the people of Jaidoh.
On 20 May 2015, seven of us left Singapore after much preparation and anticipation to make a 26- hour trip to Jaidoh in north-east India. Thanks to the generous donations in cash and kind from friends, we carried faith, hope and love to share with this little village of about 145 families.
Jaidoh is in the state of Meghalaya, which shares a border with Bhutan to the north and Bangladesh to the south. Meghalaya, which means “abodes of clouds”, is a region of scenic beauty. It has a mountainous terrain with lush rolling plains, meandering rivers and also the wettest weather on earth! Meghalaya has been referred to as the “Scotland of the East”. The people are warm, hospitable and sociable; these traits are reflected in their music, dance and sport.
Many have asked us what we were doing in north-east India. We have been inspired about life and in our faith ever since we met the people of Jaidoh. They are of the Khasi tribe and practise a matrilineal social system, where the youngest daughter inherits the wealth and property of the family. The children take their mother’s surname.
The average young family has about five to seven children. Some 70 percent of the families live on a daily income of less than 1 US dollar. They farm rice and maize as their staple food, and rear chicken for meat.
The village faces challenges such as the problem of young unwed or abandoned mothers, youth unemployment and limited educational opportunities. To get to a medical clinic, the villagers have to travel 45 minutes by taxi to the nearest town Nongstoin - if they can afford it.
The items we carried included donated stationery, shoes, ladies bags and warm clothing, especially for children, given the cold climate in Jaidoh. No one could tell us how cold it gets in winter – the village has no thermometer! We have been told that ice forms on the ground in the morning.
The houses in Jaidoh usually have wooden walls and floors, and attap or zinc roofs. The poorest families live in attap houses with bare mud floors (no different from what is outside the house). Just one simple wood-fire cooking stove is shared by the whole family which may have as many as seven children.
In comparison, we slept in “luxurious” rooms, with concrete floors and walls. However, we too experienced the nightly black-outs for many hours and on some days ran out of water. We learned to count our blessings during those times.
GIFTS OF LOVE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
A highlight of our visit was the third anniversary celebration of the Perpetual Help Centre, a youth training and educational support centre set up by Father Rajan, a Redemptorist priest. As part of the celebration, we distributed gift packs to the 145 families in the village.
Each gift pack contains basic supplies - blankets, towels, stainless steel plates and cups, plastic mugs and pails, torchlights, biscuits, sweets, sugar and tea leaves – bought from the wholesale centre in the city of Guwahati.
We also presented four scholarship awards and 17 recognition awards to support and encourage the youths in their studies.
Jaidoh has only one primary and one secondary school. Some students walk at least 45 minutes to the school through hills and mud tracks. To further their studies, the students have to attend class 11 and 12 in Nongstoin. Most cannot afford the cost of the commute and are forced to find lodgings in Nongstoin. For a university education, they have to go to Shillong, a four-hour journey from home. Most of the youths give up on their studies due to financial constraints. For those fortunate enough to further their studies, their family often rely on loans from other families or banks.
Two students who would be studying at the university in Shillong and two who were attending high school at Nongstoin received the scholarship awards. The recognition awards went to students in the secondary and primary level.
JAIDOH, OUR GIFT
Many wonder why we need to go so far to help another. Our reply is “if not us, who will?”
Our 26-hour journey from Singapore included a 10-hour road journey up the mountains. Despite the scenic landscapes of rolling plains, pine forests and flowing rivers, the road trip was still a test of patience for some of us. But a treasure awaited us at the village of Jaidoh.
Jaidoh became indeed a gift for most of us. As we lived among the villagers, they taught us much that money cannot buy. In their simple existence tilling the earth for food and their community spirit of sharing, their genuine expression of love can be felt. No one lives alone and no one is homeless. Someone would take another into a home, and they would share with one another what they have.
Likewise, we experienced the hospitality of the people of Jaidoh. Youtiful, a young mother of five was so eager to welcome us to her humble home. She called out to us, as we were passing by.
Two years ago, her baby Alisha had fallen very sick, having turned pale with a very high fever. After a prayer and an offering of taxi fare, we encouraged the young mother to rush the baby to the clinic in Nongstoin. Two nights later, she walked from her home in total darkness and presented us with two live fish that had just been caught from the river, a Khasi token of gratitude. Baby Alisha is now a healthy and friendly three-year-old (standing in yellow top, next to her mother).
The warmth of the people of Jaidoh, and how they welcomed us into their simple lives, faith and culture, has humbled all of us.
In giving, we received more.