Local woman finds her niche halfway around the world
For the first time in a long time Granville’s Cassie Dodge feels like she’s got a direction in life and a goal to pursue – and it only took a missionary trip to some of the poorest places on the planet for her to find it.
Cassie Dodge, daughter of Carmen and Dale Dodge of South Granville, sat down with the Sentinel to recount the last few months of her life and how much they changed her.
“I know that my time here is done – I have a peace about it,” Dodge said. The 21 year-old left Granville Sept. 19 bound for the headquarters of Youth With a Mission, a ministry based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. There she spent three months getting ready to go – at the time someplace – she didn’t know where.
After three months she found out India was her destination.
Although she was nervous about the trip and what she would find there, Dodge said she came out the other side with a purpose – something she’d been seeking when she first stopped going to college and began fundraising to go on this mission trip.
“I’m planning on going back down to Charlotte for the next two years. I’m going to be on staff as a commitment there,” Dodge said. “I’ll be working on training schools and doing American mission work and then training others to go out and then leading those students out into India and other countries as well,” she said.
The group, Dodge went with a group of student-aged volunteers, left for India in January and went to Hyderabad for the first month where they did ministry in slums, AIDS orphanages and clinics. “It was just straight out of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’,” Dodge said. Although the suffering from the disease draws more attention in Africa, Dodge said its effect in India is much the same in the poor population of the country, particularly around the sex-trade.
From Hyderabad the group traveled to Mumbai which Dodge said was one of the “hugest places for human sex trafficking.” There they spent a couple of days with girls who had been rescued out of the sex trade and got to interact with them.
“It was neat because we got to see the finished product of what taking them out (of that situation) and what an orphanage can do,” she said.
“After that we actually had the opportunity to go into the brothels. I went into a brothel and I sat on the bed of a prostitute. She bought me a Coca-Cola and I sat on the bed and talked to her for a while. It was pretty intense stuff,” Dodge said.
Any elements of danger were less about physical violence and more about acceptable behavior with that culture; grabbing or groping could happen. Dodge’s mission group worked with an organization called ‘Oasis’ trying to get women out of the sex trade. Going into the area with a translator, Dodge said she was told: from this moment on every building you see is a brothel and every person you see is either a pimp or a prostitute and every child you see is going to be one of those when they get older. “You could feel the oppression, but I felt protected knowing I was doing what I was supposed to be doing,” Dodge said.
No encounters or shows of force took place, she said, there were no pimps like the cartoonish image Americans might conjure up from popular culture. Dodge said the biggest thing in being a white woman in the brothel area, “I was automatically a target.”
Indians watch a lot of movies and get this distorted perspective of American women from them, Dodge said.
“I was not allowed to make eye contact, especially in that setting that would have led to some sort of encounter. I would have been harassed,” she said. Not necessarily threatened with violence, but simple eye contact would have given the cultural signal of invitation.
“Our goal is working on a project how we can actually start a women’s home in India for women who have been taken out of sex trafficking,” Dodge said. The key is giving the women somewhere to go after they get out of the life. “It’s easy for them to be taken back to that life because they don’t have a place to go,” she said.
The group finished up in Jaipur for the last month on the nearly three-month missionary trip working at a school teaching kids who lived in a slum.
Dodge said the people in the slum belonged to an entertainment caste. “They made puppets and put on puppet shows,” she said.
The caste system in India dates back thousands of years and dictates that everyone is born into their station in life and can do nothing to change that, if you’re born poor then you stay poor. “There were so many castes and Gods, so many different rules and regulations (dictating) who an individual is over there – it controls everything – there were arranged marriages, it was very strange,” Dodge said.
For Dodge the high point of the trip was not one particular moment, but the overall effect of doing something she feels is a calling and what she is supposed to be doing with her life.
“(The highlight was) realizing the hurt that is in the world and realizing the impact that one individual can make whether it be myself impacting another person or another person impacting me when I was over there,” Dodge said.
“As much as I can be sent over there and pick lice out of the kid’s hair or teach them about health or art, the encouragement and the hope that they brought into my life was that they’re living how they do that was just life-changing for me,” Dodge said.
“It was way more than I expected it to be. I went in trying not to have expectations because I didn’t want to be let down but it totally blew everything I believed it would be out of the water,” she said.
Cultural differences were huge
“There was a lot of culture shock. It was definitely different to go over there and experience just, their way of life, it’s so much different than ours is and then coming back to and having to adjust back to American culture – that was very interesting,” Dodge said.
Indian culture is considered sexist by the west, where women do not hold the same status as men. As a result the women in Dodge’s group were not allowed to even approach an Indian man, especially a group of Indian men gathered together.
“Their mindset of American women is very warped. They would just think that we were talking to them and that they were going to be able to date us or to marry us, that was basically their goal; so we talked to a lot of Indian women and it’s difficult for them because it’s become a way of life,” she said.
Family is huge, she said, the majority of Indians often live at home until an arranged marriage, and then might still love in with the bride or groom’s family.
“For them it’s very (homogenizing), you’re not know for who you are personally, or as a person, but more you’re known by who your family is and what your caste is and what your beliefs are and who you’re going to marry in that caste – you don’t really have much voice for yourself to create and individual life, ” Dodge said.
The influence of culture over the people makes the goals of the ministry and the missions difficult to achieve as individuals don’t have a concept of class mobility as we do in the United States.
“They’re used to it,” however, Dodge said, “it was kind of sad but at the same time kind of neat they don’t have to worry about picking a college or what job they might hold or even whom they might marry, it’s hard to picture doing it when coming from America.”
Even before returning to the United States Dodge had made up her mind this was something she wanted to continue to do for the foreseeable future.
Dodge said being able to make a difference in the kid’s lives changed her perspective on life – she had found her calling.
“It’s been an amazing experience and I definitely want to share it,” Dodge said.
Interested in having Dodge speak to your organization? Time is short, but you can contact her at [email protected]