Picture this: A baby girl is born in India. Instead of joy and pride, the parents feel as though their new daughter is a burden and an expense.
“The situation for girls in India is really difficult because a lot of families don’t want girls,” senior Jag Lally, founder of New Hope Relief charity, said. “There are a lot of girls just being left on the streets.”
Now, imagine a boy starting a charity, raising over $10,000 and going to India to try to make a difference in these girls’ and other people’s lives.
All of these situations are realities.
Lally started New Hope Relief in 2014 to help impoverished people in India through food, water and medical care.
An additional goal is to emphasize the value of education by sponsoring students whose families struggle to pay for schooling.
In August, Lally led a group including his parents and brother (sophomore Harkirat), senior Jacob Sands and his parents, senior Madison Judd and teacher Patricia Jacobsen to India for sightseeing and community service. Judd and the Lally family stayed for an extra week of service.
To make this happen, Lally started planning six months in advance to determine how his charity could best help.
Over Spring Break, he went to India for the first time ever to scope out community service possibilities in Punjab, a state in northern India.
Lally said he hadn’t known the poverty people in India faced until this trip.
“Coming from (the United States), you see people asking for money, but it’s not the same thing,” he said.
“(The beggars in India) are nearly dying from hunger. There’s no possibility for them to improve unless they get some direct help. There’s no support system.”
With the support of donations from family and people who stopped at Lally’s booth at a Sikh parade, Lally raised over $10,000.
The first stop was Unique Home, a girls’ orphanage in Jalandhar, which, according to Lally, makes a positive difference in these girls’ lives.
“All their needs are being met,” he said.
Judd concurred. “The girls were just so happy,” she said. “They were just living life, and they were getting education.”
Still, the day-to-day operations of the orphanage are expensive, and the facility is small, Lally said.
So he and his team brought 10-15 grocery carts full of Indian staples, including lentils and grains as well as dry powdered milk, cereal, baby food, diapers and soap.
Upon receiving the groceries, Lally said, the people were ecstatic.
Days later, the group returned to the orphanage to give the girls chocolates and hard candy and an array of toys including dolls, soccer balls, cooking sets, and teddy bears.
Judd said the girls’ reactions was a highlight. “Watching their faces just light up with excitement, that was so gratifying,” she said.
Nonetheless, it was a conflicting experience. She remembers thinking, “I know these aren’t actually going to help you. They’re just making you happy in the moment.”
Still, “if they were raised in a poor family, it’s a better life than that,” she said. “They’re better equipped for life.”
Lally did a similar delivery run for St. Teresa’s, a home for children with mental disabilities.
Lally said the accommodations for disabled children in India are very different from those in the United States.
“Their options are either end up on the streets or (go to) a disabled home,” Lally said.
The next stop was Pingla Ghar, a home near Jalandhar for disabled people, widowed women unable to support themselves and abandoned young girls.
The home is run on donations, so the income is sporadic.
There was already a stock of groceries, so Lally and the group bought medication needed for specific patients as well as commonly used prescriptions.
This required trips to six different pharmacies because each pharmacy didn’t carry the same medicines.
Judd said she felt extremely uncomfortable at the disabled home.
“There’s no enrichment,” she said. “They’re just living their day-to-day lives trying to get to the next day.”
Next, the group visited a broken-down village school in Domeli, where Lally delivered “anything they could need to learn,” including notebooks and pencils as well as backpacks and lunchboxes.
“It’s where all the poor kids go,” Lally said. “They’re not expected to learn much.” The teachers, Lally said, don’t even have legitimate degrees.
Everyone in Punjab must pay for school, he said, whether the school is public or private. And as a child continues education, the cost for school increases.
Even a small sum is a huge amount for a family, as their income goes toward day-to-day living.
Thus, Lally’s charity also “adopted” 10 academically successful young girls and boys by paying for their education for a year.
Surprisingly, New Hope Relief spent only $200 there, as the cost of education for a year is about $20 per student.
“The kids we’re supporting, their parents are earning pennies a day,” Lally said.
The last stop was a home for blind men in Model Town, right outside of Jalandhar.
Lally said there isn’t a stable electric grid there, so there would be no reliable light, AC or fans at the blind home.
“It’s insanely hot, insanely humid,” he said.
The temperatures were in the mid-90s, but there was 100 percent humidity. “You’re always sweating,” Lally said.
So Lally bought the home a new generator.
“They had an old one, and it was completely trashed,” he said. “Oil was leaking. Parts were falling out.”
Long after the week of community service, scenes of poverty remain vivid in Lally’s mind.
“You could see little kids with no clothes sitting on the streets, just begging for money,” he said. “They looked like they hadn’t eaten in a long time.
“Everyone’s just sitting on the streets. They don’t have anywhere to go.”
Judd said she knew the charity work would be difficult.
“Because of ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ I already knew that it was going to be rough,” she said.
But Lally isn’t done with his work.
He plans to return with his charity to do a similar week of service in a different area, Rhajastan, where one goal is to install a central well, as women have to walk 20 kilometers a day for water.
Lally also wants to continue sponsoring these children’s educations.
“If I sponsor these kids, they have the opportunity to escape poverty,” Lally said.
Without the financial support, the children’s future is grim, he said.
“It’s most likely that their parents couldn’t afford their school, and the (children) would have to drop out and work in the fields or work as maids or cooks at home.”
—By Zoë Bowlus