I first met Maya Gurung last year, a few days after a massive earthquake struck Nepal. Maya was recovering from the amputation of her left leg at a Kathmandu hospital.
I wrote a story about her because I wondered how a little girl would fare in Kashi Gaon, the remote and rugged village in Gorkha District, where she lived. It would be hard for her without the use of a leg; her future seemed bleak.
Then a second quake hit Nepal on May 12. And Maya’s life trajectory changed again.
Ahead of the first anniversary of the quake, I returned to Nepal for CNN to find out how Maya was doing. I believe hers is a story of something good happening from something very bad.
Pope Francis announced that Mother Teresa is becoming a saint. She will be canonized next fall.
The pontiff attributed the miraculous healing of a Brazilian man with multiple brain tumors, which means the Albanian-born nun can now ascend to the most vaulted status in the Catholic church.
But for me, and millions in my hometown of Kolkata, Mother Teresa’s true miracles were on the streets of that city. She didn’t just save the life of a terminally ill Brazilian man; she saved the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa gave everything to make something of people who had nowhere to go. People who had no hope.
I saw this firsthand when I volunteered at an institution run by the Missionaries of Charity. Their main chapel was just down the street from my parents’ home in central Kolkata. I met Mother Teresa many years ago, before she was a Nobel laureate, before the world knew much about her.
She has been criticized in India from various corners. Some thought she was pushing a Catholic agenda in a mostly Hindu city. Others said she gained fame because she was a foreigner. I don’t pretend to know every truth about her. But I will say this: I know she helped care for desperate people who otherwise would have gone without help. I don’t know of anyone else who gave so tirelessly to the poor.
A few weeks ago, when President Barack Obama visited India, I wrote a piece for CNN about how my homeland was poised to become a global power in the next few decades. The most recent World Bank forecast says growth in India is likely to outdo China’s.
But then came a sobering reminder of the widespread poverty in India.
The latest Census data says that 43 million households have zero assets to their name. That means about 215 million people own nothing. The Census listed cars, computers and televisions. But it also listed simple things like radios, bicycles and cell phones. Nothing. Zero.
As such, these people are largely excluded from society, marginalized by extreme poverty.
India’s extreme poor are often left out of the discussion on growth and a more fruitful future. But any measure of progress has to be diminished by these shameful numbers.
Recently, the Aam Admi (Common Man) Party won a surprising and resounding victory in the Delhi elections, putting anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal back in the chief minister’s slot. Aam Admi’s core support comes from the urban poor.
Whether or not you agree with Aam Admi, the win in Delhi, though largely symbolic, is a strong indicator that “inclusion: might just be the “it” concept in Indian politics in the years ahead. Politicians who forget about the millions without assets, the millions without clout, may have disappointments in store. India has to lift all boats. A global power cannot be a nation in which so many people own absolutely nothing.
I spoke with my friend Jean Mariot Cleophat by phone today. It has been five years since I first met him.
He was my guide for much of my reporting journey through Haiti after the massive 2010 earthquake that left Haitians is utter despair. They called in “La catastrophe.”
Reporters from around the world rushed to Haiti then, hungry to tell the story of the disaster. Ordinary people felt moved to make donations, by cell phone even. The world pledged billions of dollars.
Everyone said: Haiti will rise from its ashes and finally succeed in its long struggle to overcome poverty.
Everyone said: We will not forget Haiti.
But we did forget Haiti, by and large.
It is the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and the world’s focus is not on Haiti today.
The earth shook for a mere 60 seconds that Tuesday and 220,000 people died.
Millions were left homeless, desperately seeking shelter in camps that grew to become huge tent cities.
In their vulnerable state, Haitians braved killer hurricanes and a cholera outbreak.
There are places in Port-au-Prince now that show no hints of the catastrophe.
The palace has been fixed up and shiny new buildings built. There are new roads, new houses. The markets are do brisk business. But, said Mariot, they belie the truth about Haiti. They belie the plight of ordinary people.
I asked Mariot how his life has been.
“I feel without hope,” he told me.
Mariot is not yet 30. He is educated and speaks English fairly well. Since the last time I saw him in early 2011,he has gotten married and now has a four-year-old daughter.
He’s worked numerous jobs in international companies. He got himself OSHA certified and was working for a construction firm but when the World Bank contract ran out, so did his job. He’s moved to the countryside because it’s cheaper there than Port-au-Prince. I asked him what he was dong for money.
He said he finds temporary jobs here and there; makes $300-400 a pop. It pays for food. But it’s hardly enough.
“There are no jobs here,” he said. “What happened to all the promises of jobs for Haitians?”
That got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend whose father used to work for a major cruise company. He told me how he had been to Haiti as a boy when tourists flocked to its turquoise waters and white sand beaches. I know there had been efforts to restart tourism in Haiti, a notion that irks those who see it as exploitative. But I wondered how much Haiti might profit from a booming tourism trade.
If we can talk about Cuba opening up to Americans who want to sun themselves in the tropics, then why not Haiti?
I don’t know what happened to all the people I met in Haiti. How did they recover? Were they able to regain a semblance of normalcy?
I think of them this week and pay tribute to their fortitude. And resilience.
Before he hung up, Mariot told me he lives by faith. Like all Haitians, he said, he lives by the grace of God.