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Begging on the Streets

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By Caroline Anderson

SOUTH ASIA—Fadia Akhtar* is only 17 years old, but she is the primary breadwinner in her family.

Akhtar is one of the thousands of youth in South Asia’s slums who support their families by begging on the streets.

While most girls her age in the U.S. are applying to universities and preparing for senior prom, Akhtar worries whether the three dollars she made from begging is enough. She is concerned her family might not have enough to eat.

According to Mickey Hennerman,* a Christian worker in South Asia, many of these youth come from one-parent homes. Sometimes the mothers have too many children to allow them to work. In other cases, the family simply cannot live on the parents’ incomes. The responsibility to help earn money falls to or is forced upon the children.

“A lot of [the youth], they’re the only breadwinner in their family even though they may be 14, 15 or 16 years old,” Hennerman says.

On good days, the children make two or three dollars a day begging on the streets. Sometimes the girls fall prey to pimps and are abused or forced to become prostitutes.

In 2006, Hennerman’s wife Geri* decided to do something to help the beggar girls in the slums. Hennerman and several national partners decided to open a center for girls like Akhtar.

The Light of Hope Center offers another option for 36 girls from age 11 to 17. During two daily sessions, girls can receive a hot meal, training in job skills and Bible stories. The girls also learn how to read and write, which betters their chances of landing a well-paying job.

Hennerman hopes some of the girls will be able to find au pair or healthcare jobs. One of the South Asian administrators at the center is a nurse, whom Hennerman hopes will be able to help some of the girls enter nursing school.

As well, a Korean non-profit organization has an apprenticeship program in place for these girls after they reach maturity.

Of course, the Hennermans’ goal is not only that the girls learn job skills, but that they also learn about their Creator.

“Our goal has always been that a church would start among the girls and also [that they would] reach out to their community,” Hennerman says.

Eleven of the girls have become Christians, and they now meet as a church every morning for a 30-minute devotional. The devotionals have taught strategies for studying the Bible, the books of the Bible and showing the girls that they are special in God’s eyes.

The Hennermans also pray that the mothers of the girls will believe. “That’s our big prayer now, that [Christianity] could spread into the slum,” Hennerman says.

Some of the girls’ families and communities have threatened them for their conversions. Hennerman says a Muslim leader of a mosque kidnapped seventeen-year old Rushda Ahmad* and questioned her for an afternoon. He wanted to know why she wasn’t coming to the madrasah, the Muslim school.

“I’m following Jesus now,” Ahmad answered.

Many of the Muslim leaders in the town became angry when they heard that several girls chose to follow Christ. They threatened to confront the Light of Hope Center, Hennerman says, but the mothers of the girls took a stand.

“They’ve done more for our children than anybody here,” the mothers said.

Ahmad says that without the Light of Hope Center, she would still be on the streets, worrying—like Akhtar does—about whether she’s earned enough money from begging.

Ahmad has the opportunity for a better life now. She isn’t an average carefree 17 year old, but she’s now able to consider and prepare for her future.

But more importantly, Ahmad says, the center has given her the hope of Jesus.

The Light of Hope Center is supported through OneLife, which partners students and short-term teams with Christian workers globally. The focus of OneLife is to provide opportunities for students to make a difference overseas.

A OneLife student volunteer recently came to help teach in the center. “We love students and we’ve used them greatly,” Hennerman says.

The Light of Hope Center needs more volunteers. Hennerman says that showing love and kindness means so much to the girls.

Students and churches can also be involved by praying for the Light of Hope Center.

“Pray that the girls who are believers will continue to grow in their faith and become active with their faith, sharing more and going out and telling stories,” Hennerman says. “For the center, [pray] that it will just continue to be a light to the community and it will continue over the years to be something that provides for those who are forgotten.”

Students or churches who want to be involved can learn about this ministry through “OneHope,” an advocacy project through OneLife that connects U.S. college students to volunteer opportunities with this local church network.