WILMINGTON, North Carolina — In an interview with The Borgen Project, founder of Homes of Hope — India, Paul Wilkes explains that poverty is disproportionately gender-based, significantly impacting girls and women in India. Because of a cultural gender bias surrounding women in India, families often do not want young girls, leading to abandonment that results in girls becoming orphans. Wilkes is all too familiar with the harsh realities that women in India face. In 2006, while on a trip to India, Wilkes became painfully aware of the poverty in India and how it affects young girls. This insight inspired him to take action and found Homes of Hope – India, an organization dedicated to rescuing girls from the streets and providing them with a stable home, education and empowerment to break the cycle of poverty.
How Poverty in India Impacts Girls and Women
While the burden of poverty is always significant, women in India are especially susceptible to falling victim to poverty and its dire consequences. Typically, Indian families prefer to have boy children over girls because of the cultural and societal perception that males are more valuable. The Times of India reports that, in 2011, 90% of the 11 million abandoned children in India were female. This statistic is reflective of the cultural bias surrounding women in India.
“They’re really considered second-class citizens,” says Wilkes. “In some of the villages we work in, girls can be traded for a cow.” Due to dismal adoption rates and limited facilities for abandoned children, approximately 18 million children are left to survive on the streets of India, with girls accounting for many of the children.
The girls that do live on the streets become vulnerable to various threats. These threats include sex trafficking lures, traffickers selling girls into domestic servitude, physical assault, malnourishment, a lack of education and other hazards.
Wilkes became inspired to make a difference in this issue after meeting a young girl in India named Reena. He noticed that one of Reena’s eyes had scarring and looked dull in comparison to the other. Reena had fallen victim to the “beggar mafia,” who held her down and put a needle into her eye in order to garner more sympathy, and therefore, more profit, from the people whom she begged for money.
Deriving inspiration from Reena’s story, Wilkes made a commitment to help in any way that he could. Thus, Homes of Hope — India came to be. Wilkes began to relay Reena’s story to potential donors and raised money to build her and the other orphans a new and improved facility. Wilkes made it his mission to found Homes of Hope — India and to continue building orphanages and schools for the girls living in poverty in India.
How Homes of Hope Helps
Homes of Hope orphanages provide girls with an education, medical care, emotional support and anything else they require to flourish. At Homes of Hope orphanages, “[Each girl] lives [a]community life,” says Wilkes. “[The girls] work together, they eat together, they pray together, they study together” and “learn to live in common and to share and to look out for other people.”
Furthermore, Homes of Hope does not turn any girls away, regardless of their age. “No girl is put out,” says Wilkes. “That’s the important thing. No orphan girl is put on the street.” Homes of Hope takes care of the child from the time they become a part of the organization until they leave and are “settled in life.”
Making a Difference
Since its beginnings, Homes of Hope — India has built several orphanages, providing a stable environment and education for thousands of girls. “We are now working on homes 26 and 27,” says Wilkes. “We already have [more than]2,000 girls in our care.”
The success of Homes of Hope— India is evident when one considers the success stories of girls who lived in these orphanages. Reena, the little girl who once fell victim to the beggar mafia, is a prime example of this success, going on to secure employment and a healthy marriage. “She has a very nice husband,” says Wilkes. “His family has a little family business and she works for them. If anybody deserves it, she does.”
Other girls once residing in Homes of Hope orphanages have found opportunities in nursing, computer programming and various other fields of work.
Ending the Poverty Cycle for Girls in India
Organizations such as Homes of Hope— India play an important role in getting young girls off the streets in India. While there remains the issue of a high abandonment rate of female children in India, Homes of Hope is working toward improving the future for abandoned girls. This will hopefully end the cycle of poverty for many women in India.
– River Simpson