Austin author releases new book about the orphans of India

For three years, Shelley Seale would travel to the orphanages of India, bags loaded with treats and toys to share with the children who had made such an enormous impact on her. After all, these were the same children who inspired the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Each time she got to know the children’s stories a little more, which compelled this Austin writer to compose a new book called, “The Weight of Silence: The Invisible Children of India.”

“I hope that people will see that even though this topic is serious and the stories often heartbreaking, it is not a depressing book or subject!” says Seale. “The kids’ hope and resilience amazed me time and time again; the ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. The issues are tough, what has happened to a lot of these kids makes you want to cry – but the bottom line of their stories is a very strong, hopeful voice.

I interviewed Shlley to find out what compelled her to travel, return, and make the children of India such a big part of her life.

What prompted you to travel in India and get to know these children?

In early 2004, I read an article in Tribeza magazine about Caroline Boudreaux, who had visited India three years earlier. She had happened upon an orphanage full of children living in incomprehensible conditions and 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.

Was the situation what you expected?

Yes and no. 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. Afterward, there was simply no way to go on with my life afterwards as if they did not exist.

I had gone expecting it to be a sad place, an emotionally wrenching experience with these parentless young people. But those expectations had been turned on their head. Yes, there were stories behind each one of these children – many of them painful and tragic. Yet the man who ran the orphanage, and the house mothers, had made the kids their own in a community of sharing and acceptance. They were poor in wealth but not in spirit; limited in resources but not in joy and laughter. They gave me a complete unconditional love, for nothing more than showing up.

This kind of journey isn’t for everybody… is it?

Probably not. The specific type of trip I took with The Miracle Foundation, the volunteer trip to the children’s homes, is not the same as a sight-seeing vacation.

India is definitely a complete culture shock for someone who’s never been there, especially if you haven’t traveled in a developing country before. The poverty and hardship is stark and in your face. At times, quite honestly, I just wanted to look away and say I’d had enough. But the suffering remains whether we choose to look or not. They do not go away simply because we decide that to be a witness to them, to say I care about your story, is too difficult for us.

But still, like I said before, the moment you meet these kids, that all goes away. I have been on four different trips with all kinds of different people, some of whom love India and some who barely tolerate it, yet every single one of them fell in love with these kids and had the time of their life.  It’s amazing how this experience hooks you – I sometimes tease Caroline Boudreaux about putting something in the water. But the truth is, we go thinking about giving something back, and in the end it’s us who end up getting something amazing out of it. We are the ones who get rescued.

I guess sometimes it seems hopeless. There are so many children who need help. What do you think?

The truth is, each person can create incredible impact with even small actions. It’s a ripple effect, and I have seen it happen over and over, so many times I can’t even count them. Most of us could never sell all our belongings and go work in the trenches in India, but that doesn’t mean we should think, then, that we can’t do anything at all.

If you can change the course of the life of ONE person – still, that one person’s life is different and better because you impacted it.  I think that’s worth it. Don’t focus on the big picture, just focus on what you are passionate about, what you want to do. For me, I can’t constantly think about the 25 million kids in India who live in orphanages or on the streets – I can only think about the one who is in front of me at that moment.

What do you hope to accomplish with the book?

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. And so, the main thing I hope to accomplish is awareness – followed by action. Some kind of action. I think the key is to discover what you are passionate about, what you have genuine feelings and caring about – and then do something about that issue. But just do something.

To learn more about the book, go to Seale’s website or purchase one from The Miracle Foundation. Note that for all books purchased through The Miracle Foundation, all proceeds are donated to them.

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