As a young girl, Jillian Haslam saved a life. Herself tiny and aching from malnutrition, she stood for hours at a tea shop, begging for a ladle of milk to try and prevent her newborn sister from dying of starvation.
From the slums of Calcutta to the executive floors of a global bank, A Voice out of Poverty offers an unflinching look at one woman’s journey from destitution to success.
Throughout, Haslam demonstrates an inexhaustible drive to rise above adversity and find beacons of positivity in impossible circumstances. But her rise doesn’t stop at the top; she returns to her roots again and again to extend a hand to those left in the impoverished communities that she so narrowly escaped.
British by ancestry and born in India after its independence, Haslam and her family suffered degradation and prejudice. They were forced to live on the streets, flee danger in the middle of the night, and face persistent abuse and starvation.
This treacherous environment is the backdrop of an unlikely story of resilience and an unshakable family bond. From squalor and powerlessness, Haslam finds countless moments of grace, community, gratitude, and love.
A Voice out of Poverty is a raw and inspiring memoir that shows how beauty can be found in improbable places, and how “success” is not just the act of making it through. Rather, it is the act of reaching back to bring others with you.
A bristly, grey rat jutted its head through a wide crack in the peeling stucco wall, its long tail draped behind and hidden. It squinted its beady eyes and sniffed the air, as a light drizzle started to dampen the ground.
A few feet away, an older homeless woman, sitting under a precarious building canopy, shifted her eyes towards the rat, without moving her head. A stray dog nestled next to her, one of three gathered snuggly around her, bared its teeth, and growled at the rodent, without rising.
The woman swiveled her head in the rat’s direction and shooed it away with a claw-like hand slicing the air. The rat withdrew, vanishing inside the wall. The dog returned its head to rest on its paws and closed its eyes.
The drizzle turned into a light rain.
My mother and I took in the rat scene side by side as we ambled down the street. My eyes remained riveted on the homeless woman. I wondered if she had a family or young children like me. Then, the noisy “pop-pop” of a Vespa flew near my eyes and broke my concentration, causing me to pull my head back abruptly. I gripped my mother’s hand as tightly as I could.
The rain was now steady but not enough to flood the crowded streets or inhibit the pace of the fast-moving foot and vehicle traffic. I looked up to see an old man pulling a rickshaw coming towards us. I stared at him. His emaciated body looked as if his skin could peel off in thin layers, like a stale onion. He stared at me, sharing his single black tooth. I held my stare.
The rickshaw puller veered off the line of his path, forcing a dilapidated scooter that packed an entire family to swerve near us. The scooter splashed mud onto my legs and dress, and I started to cry. My only proper dress was drenched with filth. I now would have to undress to underclothes while it got washed. My mother stopped and crouched in front of me. I didn’t hide my disgust.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Jillian Haslam was born in 1970 and raised primarily in the slums of Calcutta. Despite the severe devastation of her family’s living circumstances, she completed her education and landed her first major employment as a personal assistant to the CEO at Bank of America in India.
Jillian rose through the ranks, and Bank of America appointed her president of its Charity and Diversity Network in India, where she spearheaded charitable work in four different cities. This led her to receive three philanthropic awards from Bank of America: the Star Recognition award, the Service Excellence award, and The Individual Achievement award.
In 2011, she published the first version of her memoir, Indian. English, which chronicles her life growing up amid dreadful poverty, abuse, and tragedy. The book sold over 150,000 copies, mostly while she was on the speaking circuit. Her story also incited interest from Hollywood and British film directors and producers, leading to the development of a feature film.
Charitable giving became Jillian’s life work. In 2012, she received the first runner up award for The Asian Woman of the Year in the “Social and Humanitarian” category. In early 2015, The Telegraph of Calcutta presented Jillian with the True Legend award for her exceptional contribution to social and humanitarian causes. In mid-2015, she was recognized as a finalist for the Role Model of the Year award for her work delivering speeches in educational institutes across the UK. In late 2016, she received an award for Excellence in Humanitarianism. And, in 2017, she received her greatest accolade, the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award.
Jillian became a speaker in demand and is a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). She has delivered several TEDx talks, among other prestigious speaking engagements, on various topics that flow from her life story. Jillian speaks on topics that include entrepreneurialism, the power of the mind, and human resilience.
She has also been featured on various TV networks, including Channel 5 and the BBC, and a wide range of print media, including The Independent, The Pioneer, The Times, The Telegraph, The Metro, Gulf News, and other major media outlets. Jillian’s charitable work continues under the auspices of the Remedia Trust where she oversees several separate charities: Ageing Smiles (for the elderly poor), Happy Hearts (for children), Empowering Girls (for teaching various workable skills), India’s Disabled (for building a mobile medical unit), E3 Growth (focused on education, employment, and employability), and the Mother Teresa Project (for women and single mothers).
Jillian currently lives in London with her husband.
Connect with her here:
GIVEAWAYa Rafflecopter giveaway
The tour dates can be found here
A Voice Out of Poverty by Jillian Haslam is a sobering yet ultimately inspirational memoir that details the author’s extremely humble beginnings and the factors that made her into the success and role model that she has become.
This is a distressing and eye-opening insight into the harshness of life in a poverty-stricken country combined with the reminder that we can be inordinately cruel to one another or we can rise above ourselves and learn to extend kindness in a multitude of ways.
There are a few areas that I would have liked to have had more clarity on, and those who are sensitive to mentions of abuse of all kinds should read with caution, but I am reminded of one of my favorite axioms…that we are who we are because of what we have experienced, and we can regret what has happened, but if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t be the person we are today.
The author is a very strong person, honed by a crucible of unimaginable experiences, and I think that every person who reads her saga cannot help but be changed for the better by learning from her example.
The following quotes from the book say it best…
“This book is about prejudice and the sadness and suffering it causes. But it is, above all, about resilience and finding the mental strength to get back up every time the rug of life is pulled from under your feet.”
“My parents repeatedly extolled the value of gratitude, that we should be grateful for everything we had, for life was a blessing, no matter how sad the conditions or how prevalent the abuse and daily suffering.”
A copy of this title was provided for review