Stories of HOPE – Shiuli Davis

Stories of HOPE Shiuli Davis

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“HOPE literally spoke to my DNA,” says Shiuli Davis, who is of part Bengali and part Anglo-Irish heritage. Here Shiuli, a HOPE UK Trustee and a daughter of Kolkata, shares her experiences of the City of Joy and what it means to sponsor a child.

In 2010, a very close friend invited my husband Philip and I to a charity event at Luxters Barn near Henley-on-Thames in the beautiful Chilterns Hills. Wishing to surprise me, he kept the charity a secret.

Imagine my total surprise when I discovered the charity hosting the event was The Hope Foundation for Street Children (HOPE), founded in 1999 by Maureen Forrest, a lovely lady from Cork, Ireland, with a steely focused determination and a huge heart.

Witnessing the plight of street children in Kolkata, Maureen resolved to do something there and then, and thus HOPE was conceived with just one residential childcare centre for destitute street children.

By happy coincidence I was born in Kolkata. My late father, who was Bengali, had travelled to England to study engineering at Faraday House. Whilst lodging in Notting Hill, he met my mother of Anglo-Irish descent who was best of friends with the landlady’s daughters.

A long courtship ensued as she was just finishing school. My father then returned to Kolkata to start full-time employment with the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation. At the young age of 23 my plucky mother left England in 1956 bound for Calcutta, to marry my father.

Maureen’s Cork provenance ties in beautifully with Tipperary in

Shuili outside Victoria Memorial in Kolkata
Shiuli outside Victoria Memorial in Kolkata

Ireland, which was my maternal grandmother’s birthplace. And Kolkata being my birthplace will always hold a special place in my heart. HOPE literally spoke to my DNA; provenance and serendipity converging sublimely. And I am so glad it did.

My childhood in Kolkata

Born, raised and schooled at La Martiniere in Kolkata, I lived there till the end of 1970 when my parents moved us back to the UK. Like many of my primary school friends, I enjoyed a privileged and happy childhood, never questioning the inequality and poverty of those less fortunate, tacitly accepting the plight of the homeless, shoeless children who tapped on car windows to beg for money, as part of Kolkata’s burgeoning, overpopulated cityscape.

Successive trips later as an adult, I witnessed barefoot, ragged children still searching for food on rubbish tips. It hit a raw nerve to see the hopelessness and helplessness in children, whose eyes spoke volumes, all these years later.

Jarring images surfacing many years later reminded me that, if I could help, then this is precisely what I would do.

Creating change through child sponsorship

Standout stories from my time with HOPE have to be visiting my sponsored child in her residential childcare centre for the first time; watching her perform a dance routine with a confidence and enthusiasm that belied her age.

Treating her to a pizza in Kolkata on another trip and watching her caringly wrap up a couple of slices of pizza for her sister back home. Receiving a small present from her, when she had so little to give materially, and listening to her promising to cook me a prawn curry.

On another occasion, taking her for a picnic and a boat trip on the Hooghly River and watching her dance to her favourite Bollywood hit - these are moments of gold and nothing

Shiuli and the young woman she sponsored enjoying a boat trip

touches this. I sponsored her for almost 10 years and am happy to say she is an independent 26-year-old now juggling being a carer, provider, decision maker, counsellor and breadwinner to her family of eight siblings, which is no mean feat.

Other close relatives like my husband Philip, who is devoted to HOPE, and my mother Muriel shared sponsoring a child. Now that Muriel has sadly passed away, my husband happily continues with this sponsorship and I too, am about to sponsor another child.

Perhaps most heartwarming of all was when eight of my UK school alumni (whom I have known for more than 50 years) clubbed together jointly to sponsor their own child. Half of them being retired teachers now, they must be delighted to receive an end of year report in a hand-crafted Christmas card from their sponsored child.

At the London Royal Overseas League and Henley HOPE Diwali events last year, six of our closest friends – who were moved by a short film of HOPE’s work in Kolkata – either sponsored a child, supported ‘mother and child’ campaigns, held yoga events, made substantial donations or even bought virtual tables when they sadly could not attend.

Shiuli's school friends on the Henley riverfront

As a proud resident of Henley, home to the world’s most famous Royal Regatta, one of my most fulfilling achievements was coordinating and facilitating HOPE Kolkata children being treated to ‘dry rowing’ coaching at a friendship regatta celebrating 150 years of fraternity between two of the oldest rowing clubs, Calcutta Rowing Club CRC (host) and London Rowing Club LRC (guests). This went on to generate child sponsorship and much awareness of HOPE’s work.

Supporting HOPE in the City of Joy

Twenty-five years on from its inception and HOPE is celebrating a quarter of a century as one of the largest NGOs operating in Kolkata, having successfully launched and supported 60 vital projects and initiatives helping almost 3 million street-connected individuals.

As a HOPE Trustee my focus is to lead by example in raising awareness by networking and fundraising at charity events.

Immortalised as ‘The City of Joy’ by Dominic Lapierre, Kolkata has so much soul, and is often cited as the cultural capital of India. There is something so palpable and authentically honest, warm and welcoming about Kolkata and the Bengali people that it reels in the first time, open minded overseas visitor. Embrace it and you will always yearn to return.

I would encourage anyone considering child sponsorship to visit HOPE’s projects in person in Kolkata. To experience HOPE’s remarkable programmes - where you will meet child after child who has so little, is so accepting of their destiny

Shiuli stands with her sponsored child
Shiuli and her sponsored child spending time together

with a radiant smile, who expects nothing in return and yet gives so much back - is frankly so rewarding and humbling that it prompts your heart to pledge to do as much as you can to make a positive difference to a young life. 

Should you wish to support a HOPE programme, sponsor a child or volunteer, know that you are making a life changing positive difference, one that lifts a child out of poverty and into a safe environment where they can be educated, nurtured, receive medical aid and above all have hope for a brighter future.

But it’s so much more than this. You are also saving a child from begging on the streets, vulnerable to sexual abuse, human

Footsteps for HOPE

Do please support me on my fitness walk of 10,000 steps per day as I clock up ‘Footsteps For Hope’ starting on 12 April until 12 May:

Anyone reading this who wants the challenge of walking for the street children of Kolkata do please start your own Just Giving page. Together we can make a collective positive difference.

trafficking, disease and starvation.

To combine a visit to a HOPE project, meet your sponsored child and experience cultural Kolkata, contact Juliette Whittaker, Juliette@thehopefoundation.org.uk.

And if you wish to sponsor a child for £20 a month, please do contact Yvette Lowery, Yvette@thehopefoundation.org.uk.

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