Photos: See a movie, help free a child

This weekend, Not Today, opens in select theaters across the country. Told through the conversion of a spoiled American 20-something, the film takes the audience on a journey through rural and urban India in search of a young girl, Annika, who is unintentionally sold to human traffickers by her father, Kiran.

Persis Karen, a Dalit and Good Shepherd student, holds an award for her portrayal of Annika in the film, Not Today. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Persis Karen, a Dalit and Good Shepherd student, holds an award for her portrayal of Annika in the film, Not Today. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

The film, which was made on a small budget but filmed on location in California and India, is a way to introduce the audience to the devastating reality that is the plight of the Dalits in India.

A boy stands next to a motorcycle in a Bangalore, India slum. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

A boy stands next to a motorcycle in a Bangalore, India slum. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Last summer, I was able to travel to India with the creative team and pastors from Friends Church in Yorba Linda, Calif. to see first hand what all the profits from the film will help fund.

School boys smile during an assembly at a Karnataka Good Shepherd school. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

School boys smile during an assembly at a Karnataka Good Shepherd school. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

All over India, children’s lives are being transformed. For the first time in many of their young lives, they are receiving the message that they have inherent value and that they are not less than animals, as the practice of untouchability against the Dalits tells them. They are given education that allows them to compete in the rapidly developing economy of India.

Student pose outside their school in Secunderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Students pose outside their school in Secunderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Most importantly, they are given hope.

A Dalit boy poses in a Bangalore slum. Credit: Hillary Senour/CNA.

A Dalit boy poses in a Bangalore slum. Credit: Hillary Senour/CNA.

I talked to a group of 14 year-old girls who dream of becoming engineers and helping support their parents. I met a young woman who was rescued from sex slavery and is now an accomplished seamstress earning a living and working towards starting her own business.

Women stand in their tailoring class in Hyderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Women stand in their tailoring class in Hyderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

These stories of hope contrasted sharply with the empty stares I saw on many young people’s faces in the slums. One group of young men in particular still stick out to me. On their faces were the signs of despair and abuse that I can only imagine are the result of a life filled with nothing but pain.

A Good Shepherd student shows stands in front of his home in Hyderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

A Good Shepherd student shows stands in front of his home in Hyderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

It broke me to see their hurt compared to the joy radiating from the school children. One could only wonder what those men would be like today if they’d had access to the same opportunities those children have.

Teachers and students mingle before a school assembly in Karnataka, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Teachers and students mingle before a school assembly in Karnataka, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/ CNA.

Seeing the smiles on these children’s faces and hearing about their goals for the future was nothing short of a miracle.

A student performs traditional Indian dance in Karnataka, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/CNA.

A student performs traditional Indian dance in Karnataka, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/CNA.

The film’s goal is not only to raise awareness, but to give viewers the opportunity to sponsor a child’s education, help build a new Good Shepherd school, or get involved with the film’s global partners.

Mother Teresa was right in saying, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.” However, we must not forget the end of her quote, “But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Women venerate Our Lady of Lourdes outside St. Joseph Cathedral in Hyderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/CNA.

Women venerate Our Lady of Lourdes outside St. Joseph Cathedral in Hyderabad, India. Credit: Hillary Senour/CNA.