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Monday, October 18, 2010

Wedding Bells in Chennai

Today is a very special day in Chennai, India. It’s a wedding day for a young girl with a bleeding disorder I met there.

Chennai is located on the southeastern coast of India and I actually visited it early in my 19-day odyssey. Given the frantic pace of the trip, I was not able to write about Chennai, but now, sitting in Rome with some free time, I can recall that today is the day.

India is still vividly branded in my mind as I only arrived home a week ago. But there’s one person in particular I think about today: Revathi, an 18-year-old girl with von Willebrand Disease. Slightly built, very pretty, soft spoken with an infectious laugh, I met her September 27 on my one-day visit at her home. I was thrilled to meet her, as I know her Save One Life sponsor well: Diane H. from New Jersey.

We pulled up in our small car, the air-conditioning panting to keep up with the brutally hot air outside. We stopped in front of several buildings of concrete, where many families lived. Revathi was enchanting. Lithe with large brown eyes, she was demure and engaging. The air between the family members was electric, so excited were they that we had come to visit. Revathi invited us into her humble home, a one-room concrete dwelling in this neighborhood of concrete boxes. She was surrounded by her mother, sister and little brother. The neighborhood turned out as well to see the visitors. Revathi couldn’t take her eyes off me. I told her a bit about her sponsor, what a kind person she is and how much she enjoys sponsoring Revathi.

Revathi shared that she was learning to be a tailor, to make saris and clothing to sell. We sat on the single bed owned by the family and received lovely little gifts from them. Very thoughtful for a family that earns only about $2 a day.

And Revathi invited me to her wedding. I was stunned: why would she marry so young? Her mother hastened to add that an 18-year-old living where they live should be married, as it was “too dangerous” for an unmarried girl to live here. Usha asked if they would consider postponing the marriage: Revathi might get more education, or mature a bit more. We were thinking of her having VWD and complications related to childbirth in a country where factor is scarce. But no, everything was arranged and the marriage would take place. Would I come?

Maybe during my visit next year, I said hopefully. But her mother added that the wedding was October 18. Today.

I felt a pang of sadness, while trying to look happy. She was happy in a giggly, shy way. No doubt she was thinking of the wedding itself, as even the poorest of Indian girls get dressed up with costume jewelry, hands and arms scrolled with henna, head veiled. Perhaps that’s as far as her planning went?

What could I do for her? I thought of a contest I knew for girls with bleeding disorders, run by my friend Cheryl D’Ambrosio of Seattle. I asked Revathi to write a few words. She wrote a complete essay, detailing life in poverty with a bleeding disorder, about the time spent in the hospital, about the day she almost died. It was sobering. She is guaranteed to win this contest, which offers a $50 prize, more than a month’s salary for her family.

When it came time to leave, Revathi came with us to the treatment center, where we met more families. The Chennai Chapter had assembled a large group of families, all Save One Life beneficiaries, all patiently waiting to meet me. I enjoyed this visit a lot, and got to meet all the children; many wrote letters to their sponsors or taped a little video to say hello (I will get those out to you all soon!).

I met Chakravathi (sponsored by Patty F.) who spends his Save One Life money on education, and who just started learning English six months ago and is conversational now! And a lovely mom, with her son Abdul, who has an inhibitor, and was lying on a cot. Usha said that when the Muslim mom first attended their Women’s Group meetings she would never unveil, so low was her self-esteem. Now she is very confident, and greeted me unveiled and smiling.

A sad case was this child: his mother hasn’t told her husband about the sponsorship money. She wanted to take us to her home, but she was afraid of her husband’s reaction, as there is domestic violence. Her funding really helps give her some independence from her husband.

Akram Jaffer’s mother gratefully told us that with the Save One Life money her son does not have to go to work and drop out of school. He’s now in school. Perhaps the funniest was Lakshan, age 4: he was scared to come to the front of the room to see me, as he thought I was going to infuse him!!

We spent all day meeting patients, and it can be mentally exhausting. But when I think of their lives trapped in poverty, struggling to find factor, this work becomes joy. Connecting Revathi to Cheryl’s contest, and then when I return to the States, filling in Diane about her beneficiary’s life, makes the distances between their treatment and ours, and their poverty and our wealth, a little less distant.

Thanks to everyone who sponsors a child through Save One Life. See for more on prizes for girls with bleeding disorders.

2 comments : said...

I wish to get connected in this. My email address is

jayakumar said...

very good friend keep it up and my hearty congrats