Heroes of Poverty Revolutions

The first in their generation to read, they're already at the top of the class

Twelve year old Deepak is a scholarship student at one of the top private schools in Pune, India. Not only does he consistently top in every examination, he is cheerful and inquisitive and a delight to have in class. No wonder his teacher could barely recognize him when she saw him begging on the street one Friday.

Though she had known him for three years, the principle couldn’t bring herself to grasp the reality of Deepak’s existence. His father dead, his mother nursing a newborn, and he, the oldest child, responsible for his three other siblings.
But good grades and dreams do not fill an empty stomach. If Deepak and his family wanted to eat, he had to beg.

In ten years the situation will be different. With a mint fresh degree in engineering in his hand, Deepak will get a well-paying job working for an international company.

Determined to move out of poverty

He will move his family out of the slum where his forefathers have been living for generations, and into a well constructed house. His family will break out of the poverty that has plagued them for centuries, and find their place within the middle class. But, to pursue that dream, Deepak has to beg today.

What the Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC) is doing with Deepak and 200 other children like him is nothing short of revolutionary. There are no protest marches or long speeches. The Army is not out on the streets, and neither is the traditional or social media focusing on them. But there is a Revolution going on.

The children belonging to the Waghri and Sikligar communities who have lived in acute poverty for centuries are being given the tools by which they can move themselves and their families out of poverty.

Three meals a day

AIC started by getting the children from these two communities enrolled in private schools, and by providing after school coaching to enable them to keep up with the schoolwork. But they soon found that it was not enough.

Most of the children come from families which cannot afford to feed them more than one meal a day; often not even that. The acutely under-nourished kids kept falling ill, and could barely concentrate on their studies. AIC then started providing three healthy and nutritious meals a day to all the children in its program. Attendance shot up, and the children’s grades improved dramatically.

Hopeful that she'll deliver a healthy baby

An absence of basic healthcare was the other problem plaguing the community, so AIC set up a Health Clinic to treat both children and adults. In addition to treating common illnesses, and providing immunizations, the Clinic is also authorized by the Government as a partner in treating tuberculosis.

To ensure the birth of healthy children, the Clinic started providing  comprehensive ante natal care, upto and including delivery. In addition to conducting monthly check-ups and providing nutritional supplements, AIC also offers free meals if the women do not have enough food at home. The health workers also provide counseling to expectant mothers like Jalkaur, who is pregnant with her fourth child.

She now has a marketable skill

With primary healthcare taken care of, AIC found a new roadblock. When a family is not able to afford even one meal a day, it is hard to resist the temptation to pull their children out of school, and put them to work.

AIC started conducting vocational training courses to enable women to supplement the family income by sources other than begging.

Sapna may have been forced to drop out of school, but with the money she earns from tailoring, she can ensure that her younger siblings graduate from high school and get well paying jobs. Adult literacy classes and English speaking classes, so parents could keep up with their children.

Foot-soldiers of a Revolution

Sapna, Deepak and Jalkaur are the unlikely foot-soldiers of a slow and steady Revolution which, in ten years or fifteen, will move communities out of the acute poverty they have lived in for generations.

Some Revolutions are not enacted on a stage for a global audience to follow, but the support of people like you will ensure their eventual success.

To read more about Ashraya Initiative for Children, and how you can be a part of the Revolution, visit their site – Ashraya Initiative for Children.

* Deepak’s name was changed for his protection.

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