On any given month here in Chennai 70 female burn victims will come to the local hospital. They will not tell, but most of them are victims of domestic violence.
Their husbands burnt them, or threw acid on them.
Out of the 70 maybe 7 live.
Today I was where these women go to heal, pick up the pieces and move on.
Here they shed tears of sorrow.
And then, start to shed tears of joy.
This place that reminded me of a womb, warm and caring, is a local domestic violence agency that is also a shelter for burn victims.
God lives in this building.
I started with a workshop for the caregivers, many whom themselves were burn victims. We sat on the floor, I look around the room, looking at these beautiful faces whom have been so brutally wounded, I find myself crying inside, tears of sorrow, and then I cried tears of joy, seeing their triumph and strength.
I throw the ball.
“Tell me your name, and something about yourself,” I ask them.
“I am Lakshmi, I am strong.”
You look at her scars. You look at her skin.
Lady, you are beyond strong, way beyond strong.
The women create a care machine, using their body and a sound to show how they care for the clients.
We talk about communication, and we dance, it is always good to dance.
It is intense, and it is sweet, it is deep, and silly at the same time.
So much pain, so much sorrow, and yet so much joy and love.
I tell a story and ask them to draw a picture of their heart.
It is quiet. They draw.
Then they share.
A tiny woman sitting next to me shows her drawing, and explains,
“This is where it was hard, this is where people hurt me.
I built a wall, there was sorrow, but I didn't give up.
I kept the joy, I will not stop being happy!”
She starts to cry.
I am sitting on the floor next to her, I take her hand in mine, and I don’t speak because I too am crying.
Tears of sorrow, tears of joy.
We stand close together.
I put on my song.
I am light.
We all cry.
Tears of sorrow, tears of light.
The song is over, and no one can move.
We stand together and it is quiet.
A deep deep quiet.
“Come, meet the victims.” One of the workers tells me.
We move to the other room.
It's a large room, with beds side to side.
We sit on the beds.
There are about 10 women.
Each one with burns on different parts of her body.
Some are brand new, and some are starting to heal.
They stand up, when I walk in.
“Please, please sit down” I say, and sit down on the bed next to a woman who is wearing a facemask.
I gently take her hand and hold it in mine.
“Tell me your name, and something you like to eat!” I ask them.
“Chocolate” One says.
Ahh, a woman to my heart!!
They share their names and the foods they like, they are vibrant and strong and my heart, oh my heart.
My heart cries tears of sorrow and tears of joy.
“Tell me one thing that makes you happy,” I ask.
They each tell me something and I say:
“I wish you happy!!” Oh, how I wish them happy!
They want to take a photo.
My bold wounded women, stand straight and tall unashamed.
We take photos, and we give deep hugs.
At this point I can't really hold the back the tears, they are simply flowing.
I am taken back to the art room.
They give me earrings they made, and I ask for three extra pairs for my children.
We go to the closet and in the closet is a shelf with all the supplies to clean and care the burn wounds, and the shelf under, are all the supplies to make beautiful jewelry that will support these woman.
I guess this is what it's about.
Bandages next to beads.
Sorrow next to joy.
Pain next to laughter.
This is how we change the world.
The woman who shared her heart comes to hug me; I think I am twice her size (that is the case with most Indian women).
I kneel down, and she wraps her hand around me.
“Thank you for sharing your heart,” I say.
“Thank you,” she says.
I look at this brave fierce woman, so gentle yet so strong.
So kind and sweet.
Again I start to cry, tears of sorrow because I can see not just the scars on her body, I hurt for her.
But then ah, but then, I look at her beaming smile, I feel her arm around me and my tears turn into tears of joy.
This woman is a fighter, and a winner and living proof, that we can overcome, we will overcome, and we can turn our sorrow into joy.