Ten years back, nine-year old Gowri was the illiterate daughter of construction workers who had migrated to Mumbai to escape starvation in their native villages. The third of five daughters, she spent her day on the construction site minding her younger siblings while her father broke stones and her mother and older sister hauled the rubble to the site on baskets carried over their head. She knew that in a couple of years when she was strong enough to bear the burden, she would join the older women, and would continue working as long as she was able. Her parents often spoke of returning to their village ‘when times got better’, but Gowri knew that the day would never come- when landless peasants migrated to the city, they left their roots forever. All Gowri hoped for was that her family would find permanent employment for a construction season, instead of having to hire out their services as daily wage earners.
When a local charity started conducting basis literacy classes for children at the construction site itself, her parents were initially reluctant to let Gowri and her younger siblings go. ‘What did a girl need education for?’, was their query, ‘hadn’t they survived for centuries without it?’ They relented only when the social worker told them that the classes would be conducted in a safer part of the construction site and that they would take responsibility for the safety of the children during ‘school time’. Gowri had no idea what to expect from school, but she loved having her own piece of chalk with which she could mark lines on the blackboard. In a few months, she became functionally literate, and in a few years, she became the first in her family to enter secondary school.
After graduating from high school, Gowri took up a job with the charity that gave her a new direction in life. As a teacher, she conducts literacy classes for two groups of 40 children everyday. She is thrilled that she has the opportunity to mold young minds, as her teachers had molded her’s.
Her job lets her brings in a steady income- an income that has enabled her to move her entire family into a house more solid than the shack she grew up in. Her youngest sister is a brilliant student and dreams of becoming a doctor and starting a practice in the community. Gowri is saving up to ensure that her sister is able to pay her way through medical school.
But that is not enough for Gowri. She is enrolled in a night college, pursuing an undergraduate degree in Economics and Commerce. She dreams of becoming a lawyer and ensuring justice for people who cannot otherwise afford it.
Gowri and her younger sister would have been two more of the faceless thousands who live on the streets of Mumbai. Living at the poverty line, they would have been content with staying one step ahead of hunger and starvation. Instead, they aspire to become lawyers and doctors, and to help pull their entire community out of poverty.
It doesn’t cost much to change a life. All it took was a donation of $ 30 to send Gowri to school for a year. SeeYourImpact partner, Pratham, is conducting Urban Learning Programs to deliver basic education to children like Gowri. How many Starbucks coffees is that?