Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever

Tripoto

You might have come across a particular album of how a traveler named Dick Smith changed the life of a little girl he spotted one time in India.

Traveling India by train few weeks ago, Dick Smith passed a homeless family living under a bridge, including a young girl wearing nothing but a pink bracelet. He snapped some pics on his iPhone, noted down the GPS position, and asked if Jess and I would like to go to India, try and find this same girl & her family, help them into accommodation, secure the girl an education, buy them life's basics and open her a bank account for Dick to regularly deposit into - all in three days! We just got back yesterday.

And so it begins,

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 1/24 by Sreshti Verma

Dick Smith showing us the photos he snapped on his iphone of the homeless family (including a girl wearing nothing but a pink bracelet) that he spotted living under a train bridge in India a few weeks ago. He really wanted to see if there was any way he could help the family into some accommodation, perhaps see if he could fund the girl's education etc. Well aware they might not be there anymore, that they might not need or want help, and the complexities of attempting to, he still wanted us to try...

It might seem far fetched right now,

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 2/24 by Sreshti Verma

This distant photo of the family and the Google Map location is all we had to go off - and to make it worse, as you can see, the girl and all the main people in the photo were looking the other way - we couldn't even see anyone's face! In a country of 1.25 billion people, and no way of knowing if they'd still be there or not, trying to find let alone attempt to help this family was going to be quite the adventure...

But the Brays took on the endeavor anyway.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 3/24 by Sreshti Verma

So having only just got back from running another of our photo safaris around the world (www.ChrisBray.net), this time to Galapagos/Amazon a few days earlier, and looking forward (for the first time this yr!) to being home for more than 10 days in a row, we found ourselves back in the air again, off to India! Sydney -> Abu Dhabi -> Mumbai -> Vadodara...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 4/24 by Sreshti Verma

3PM on Day 1, we landed in Vadodara, climbed into a crazy rickshaw and braved the traffic chaos to our hotel.

Finding the bridge wasn't tough, but will they find the girl?

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 5/24 by Sreshti Verma

We made it to the bridge, known as 'Polytechnic Bridge' or 'Shastri Bridge', with the huge 'Study, Work & Settle in New Zealand' advert sign beside it...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 6/24 by Sreshti Verma

We started asking around if anyone recognised anyone in Dick's photos...

Us Indians are cynical and cautious of altruistic strangers,

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 7/24 by Sreshti Verma

Everyone denied everything - telling Dr. Chellani that they'd never seen any of the people in the photos before...

So were the people around the bridge.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 8/24 by Sreshti Verma

But then we saw this man in red with the plastic leg (turns out a train cut it off!) who was also in our photo! He agreed it was him, and then others started to admit they recognised others too...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 9/24 by Sreshti Verma

Pasing around this photo, this woman recognised the girl with the pink bracelet and pointed to a woman she said was the girl's mum. The mum agreed that was her daughter in the photo, and she sent for her - she was playing out the back somwehere...

Connecting one dot to another, the Brays finally found the girl!

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 10/24 by Sreshti Verma

That's her! She's the girl in the photo! She still had the pink bracelets on too! Amazing! Her name is Divya, meaning 'divine light', and she's 8yrs old!

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 11/24 by Sreshti Verma

With all eyes on her, and these 2 weird foreigners and two men in suits here to see her, the young girl Divya thought she must have been in trouble, and was initially very shy and a little upset...

After explaining how they found Divya and made making intention clear, Chris and Jess Bray learned the heart-breaking reality of the family.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 12/24 by Sreshti Verma

The parents had been living under the bridge for 12 years, and Divya had been born there just under the bridge without any nurse etc. As the father was away at work (a plasterer, earning $4-6/day, not enough to afford even a slum house while also caring for three kids) we decided it was best to wait until the dad came home from work to discuss with the whole family to see if there was a way we could help. Dr. Chellani told them to meet at the Bank that afternoon. We even had to pre-warn the security guard to actually let them in...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 13/24 by Sreshti Verma

So on the afternoon of Day 2, the whole family filed shyly into the bank managers office and sat down...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 14/24 by Sreshti Verma

We met the dad for the first time, and mercifully it turned out that he doesn't drink or smoke (The whole state of Gujarat is a 'dry state' and alcohol is illegal but there is of course a thriving black market). We believed them too, he certainly presented better than many of the other red-eyed, hungover men under the bridge - he seems like a genuine, hard working man, loves his family, and just strugling to get ahead. Thankfully it seems they weren't under the bridge because he has some hardcore additction or something - they seem like the perfect family not only in need of some assistance, but able and willing to be helped...

And soon the Secret Santa's magic began unfolding.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 15/24 by Sreshti Verma

It was a pretty special moment to be sititng there, as the messengers of such a generous, life-changing gift, and watching realisation dawn on this family that we wanted to pay rent for them to move into a house, help Divya get a good education, help the father earn a better wage to help them start to help themselves etc...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 16/24 by Sreshti Verma

Next morning, Day 3, we all met up again in the bank, and first things first, we wanted to open a bank account for the girl, with the mother as the guardian, so that Dick could deposit rent etc every month, which would then be automatically transfered to the rental account etc. However they didn't even have the most basic form of ID that identified them even as an Indian citizen, no fixed address, or anything. Amazingly though, Mr. Ratan found a way to help, opening them what's called a 'Smile' bank account, a new initiatve for people with no ID...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 17/24 by Sreshti Verma

While waiting for them to be printed, I took advantage of their beautiful studio background and took a few photos myself...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 18/24 by Sreshti Verma

Still quite shy, Divya was starting to warm to us...

The account was opened,

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 19/24 by Sreshti Verma

With the account now open, we got all the account details so Dick can regularly deposit into it...

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 20/24 by Sreshti Verma

To kick things off, we deposited the equivalent of about 3 months rent into the account...

And from that moment, Divya was set to enter a completely different life with opportunities previously unimaginable.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 21/24 by Sreshti Verma

And then Jess and I then took the family shopping! Somehow we all fitted into the back of one tiny rickshaw...

With new clothes and supplies, Divya gleamed with happiness.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 22/24 by Sreshti Verma

Christmas came early this year! We got several sets for each family member, let them choose what they wanted, mostly very practical stuff, but Divya did fall in love with this dress so we got that too!

The story of an Australian businessman bringing Christmas early for a homeless little girl in Vadodra, made its way to Times of India and is published here.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 23/24 by Sreshti Verma

We are so lucky to have been able to make this come true! Thanks so much to Dr. Chellani (left) and Mr Ratan (right) - without whose help I'm sure we'd have failed to even find the family.

Photo of Australian Travelers Played Secret Santa to a Homeless Girl in India and Changed Her Life Forever 24/24 by Sreshti VermaAll picture credits are to Chris Bray and are taken from his Facebook album.

And here's us in a rickshaw speeding crazily through the traffic chaos one last time to the airport! What an amazing story to be a part of!

India is such a wonderful country, so busy, so colourful, full of surprises and full of people with big hearts!

The story is inspirational and also a reality check for people like us who cheekily play Secret Santa amongst our privileged lot, remaining ignorant to the true spirit of Christmas.

Do you have a warm Christmas story of your own? Share with us here.

1 Comment(s)
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Amazing story...
Sun 12 27 15, 10:39 · Reply · Report