‘A light in that dark place’: Sheri Lynch travels to India on behalf of World Vision
By Katie Scarvey
World Vision staff member Steve Quant remembers the last day of a trip he took last month to India with radio personality Sheri Lynch. They had been dropped off at the edge of an impoverished area of Delhi. They kept walking, for about 10 or 15 minutes, deeper and deeper into the slum.
“The farther we got in, the more narrow the passageways got, the more horrible the odors, and the sights became, literally, more dark,” Quant says.
Since paint is a luxury, the surroundings were drained of color. “At the center of the slum there was nothing but wet, tin and concrete,” Quant said. “It was miserable … one of the worst places I’ve seen anywhere, as far as poverty goes.”
But he found no despair in his companion’s face, even as she was introduced to a pet rat owned by one of the children who lived there.
“Her passion and her love for the kids was so obvious,” Quant says. “Sheri was like a light in that dark place. She brings light wherever she goes.”
Whatever Lynch brought to those she met, her ultimate purpose was to bring back stories.
“I don’t dig wells or build houses or treat water to keep mosquitos away,” Sheri says. “But I can bring people’s stories back.”
And Lynch knows how to tell a story. Half of the drive-time syndicated show team of “Bob and Sheri,” which airs on 107.9 WLNK (The Link), she’s known for the ancedotes she shares, whether they’re about her co-host, her two daughters or her own childhood.
Lynch shared her stories from India, not to entertain, but to help make real the conditions that many there confront every day.
Along with Tony Garcia, Greater Media Charlotte’s director of syndication, Sheri made the trip last month with World Vision, in her absence phoning in to the show to describe her experiences. After her return, the show devoted an entire morning to the topic of poverty in India as it held a radiothon to encourage listeners to sponsor children through World Vision.
More than 400 sponsors stepped up, and that number continues to rise.
World Vision is a Christian relief organization that provides assistance to approximately 100 million people in nearly 100 countries, helping people get clean water, food, access to health care and education.
Before getting involved, Lynch did her homework and was gratified to learn that a high percentage of the group’s total revenue actually goes to programs that benefit those who need it.
She was skeptical, she said, of the notion that an individual can sponsor a specific child through World Vision, learning his or her personal history, and then have the opportunity to communicate with that child, with letters and photos.
It’s not an advertising gimmick, she discovered. When you click on the link to sponsor a child, you really are sponsoring that specific child, she says.
Her trip to India is the second she’s made with World Vision. Several years ago, she and co-host Bob Lacey traveled to the Dominican Republic through World Vision.
Sometimes, Lynch says, she hears from people who say,”Shame on you,” and point out that there are people in our own backyard who need help.
“My first answer to that is ‘Yes, we do have people who need help.'” Lynch says. But, she adds, numerous safety nets exist in this country, including food stamps, unemployment, Coats for Kids, Toys for Tots, soup kitchens, Angel Trees.
And while there is no doubt “real, authentic hunger” in America, there is an order of magnitude, she says.
“In India, you can literally see malnutrition walking down the street. And there is a difference between hunger and starvation.
“If you are so moved to work in your backyard, then that’s great,” she says. “But there are no gradations of humanity. Borders now are largely functions of imagination. The world is pressing at our window. And the issues that face us have everything to do with that world pressing at our windows.
“I don’t draw a distinction between my kids and a malnourished slum child in India or Africa or Haiti.”
Those who have listened to Lynch’s radio show, who know about her past, will understand why she feels such a personal connection to children in poverty.
“I was very poor, by American standards,” she explains. Her family received welfare and food stamps and surplus government cheese, she says, and she remembers lining up for free baked goods at a high school that taught commercial baking. Sometimes, all she had to eat was the free lunch she got at school.
“I wore cast-off and thrift-store clothes. I didn’t see a doctor or a dentist until I was in my 20s. I had a parent in prison, which meant I was trash. I was everyone’s d efinition of poor trash.”
But those were simply her circumstances.
“I remember that in our poverty, we were still fully human. We had the audacity to dream that we could be better. We didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to aspire. We did aspire and dream, and we lived in a country and a culture where that’s possible.
“So when I am sitting on the ground someplace, thousands of miles from home, listening to an impoverished, illiterate mother talk about what she dreams for her kids, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to me.
“Because we live in a meritocracy … the fact that I was poor, female trash… I was still able by dint of hard work and education to overcome. But an uncomfortably large percentage of women and girls in this world are so little valued, that what I just told you is a laughable fantasy.”
She speaks of sitting down with a family ó a mother, father and their 9-year-old daughter who was born with osteomyeltis, which, Sheri points out, is generally a death sentence in a slum.
World Vision was able to get her the medical care she needed to save her leg, but her upper thigh was heavily scarred.
“And her father did not want her to have this treatment because he knew it would leave scarring, and she wouldn’t be able to make a good marriage,” Sheri explained.
“He felt it would be better for everyone if she were allowed to die.”
The mother, Sheri says, poured her heart out to her, telling her that she had to fight her husband so that the girl would not be allowed to die.
Still, Sheri says, this girl has dreams of becoming a doctor.
“And you know, I don’t rule her out,” Sheri says.
Still, the prospects of many girls are grim. Sheri can reel off disturbing statistics from the World Health Organization and the United Nations. By the year 2025, one in five Indian girls 16 or younger will be trafficked into prostitution.
She describes her experience in India as an “emotional hurricane.”
Traveling in the slums of Delhi ó with which many Americans now have at least a passing familiarity, thanks to the movie “Slum Dog Millionaire,” ó did not leave Sheri paralyzed by despair.
“When I’m in these places, the emotion that most overwhelms me is joy in what’s possible,” she says. “I am just gripped by this crazy feeling of hope and potential. I don’t feel sad, pity, horror ó I feel energized.
“Because you can really do so much with so little. So few dollars and so little effort can make astronomical differences, unthinkable differences.
“I’m a really big believer (in the idea that) I cannot do everything, but I can do what’s in front of me right now.”
We have to be careful not to think that we’re somehow more deserving because of who we are or where we were born, she says.
“You can’t call yourself a truly great nation until the weakest members of your community are upheld,” she says. “Families, communities, states, nations, societies ń we are judged by how we care for the weak.”
Although Sheri grew up a Catholic, she describes herself these days as sort of a “Catholic Buddhist.” She speaks of the “looming shadow” of Mother Teresa, and her example that that while we can’t do everything, we need to do something.
Quant, for one, is grateful. “She has a huge heart,” he says. “Our kids are the beneficiary.”