2011 Personal Statements – In the Embrace of OpportunityMarch 7, 2011
In the Embrace of Opportunity
“You are wasting your time,” a prosperous looking man scorned at a business entrepreneur who had just arrived in Bangalore from America in 1995.
“And wasting your money,” an even older looking man added. His eyes shone like two pennies.
The others who had come as a group to see the businessman at the hotel nodded their heads in approval.
He looked at them in apparent amazement.
“How can poor children from these kinds of families study well? Their parents didn’t go to school. Their grandparents never saw a chalkboard. These children do not have the capacity to learn,” a scholar in the group spoke from wisdom.
“India is the right place to do business,” another man added with pride.
The business entrepreneur stood silent. His dream to provide opportunity for children from economically and socially deprived backgrounds to go to school and receive quality education did not seem to flicker.
“What are you doing, Dr. George? You can do something meaningful instead with your hard-earned money,” a low, concerned voice asked.
Doing what was right. Attempting to find a solution for the vicious cycle of poverty that had scarred the faces of millions as long as one’s past could stretch.
“You don’t need to invest in such projects for the poor. There are so many of them. Moreover, these changes that you are trying to bring about have to be organic. They have to happen over time,” another man suggested.
“Over centuries. Social change doesn’t happen over a period of ten to fifteen years.”
The business entrepreneur stood expressionless.
He was going to make it happen. It is possible. Poverty is not immortal.
“You are trying to bring about a quantum change”, another voice mocked.
Yes. At least they understood that. A quantum change was needed in order to break the cycle of poverty.
“A quantum change doesn’t happen like that. It has to grow slowly from the bottom – like a banyan tree. It has to take generations to bring about that change,” a scornful voice muttered.
1997: I learn the alphabets of the English language.
2000: I learn how to identify a circle from a rectangle.
2003: I am able to name the nine planets in ascending and descending order.
2006: I am capable of naming all the capitals of most nations just as fast as I can multiply 756 x 23.
2008: I pass in the national exams, setting a precedent in my family to be the first to have completed tenth grade.
2009: I am able to differentiate between right and wrong.
2010: I embrace the idea that honesty, integrity and hard work are the keys to success.
2011: I am three months away from fulfilling my dream of going to college — a foreign reality for my family.
The bond that had united me with a great majority of the 1.2 billion people in India who count their stars for every rupee earned was broken in 1997. At the age of four, I was uprooted from my alcohol-infested village and sent to receive an education at Shanti Bhavan, a school and home founded by Dr. George for some of India’s most socially and economically disadvantaged children. Miracles are rare, if any, and getting selected to study at Shanti Bhavan was one of them.
I was among first forty-eight children – the poor, the ignorant and the oppressed — who were destined until then by the voices of prejudice, the breath of inequality, and the acts of discrimination to remain uneducated. They believe that the poor cannot think for themselves or become anything substantial.
But Shanti Bhavan brought me up with a good education, universal values and the fire to fight my social disadvantage. Besides being taught how to read, write and question, Shanti Bhavan also instilled in me universal values of honesty, integrity and equality, which are among the defining factors of a person’s character.
My passion for writing founded my dream to become a journalist and an author. Through global exposure, which is one of Shanti Bhavan’s striking features, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with visitors and volunteers of diverse professional backgrounds, interests, nationalities, and beliefs. This exposure has enriched my knowledge of the world and given me a greater understanding of life. I have also had the privilege of meeting professionals and admirable journalists like Thomas Freidman, Lama Hasan, Mark Tully and many others. These interactions have broadened my perspective of journalism and its endless possibilities.
In trying to experiment with this passion, I have written articles on various subjects and been the chief editor for our school newsletter. These experiences have not only given me a chance to speak through my words but have also taught me the importance of leadership and responsibility. My first encounter with success came in the form of getting my article entitled ‘A Chance to Dream’ published on the home page of the Carnegie Institute of Policy Innovation magazine. The article examined the reasons for the poor being denied of the benefits of globalization. Using my own life example, I argued that the poor would be able to participate in globalization if they are given the chance to get educated. Being published helped me truly discern how powerful words are as a medium of change.
My life is as double-sided as any argument. When I return home, I take in the sights of India. A barely clothed child running around barefoot and trudging behind her parents as they walk the fields contrasts with the neat clothes and shoes I wear at Shanti Bhavan. A small child sitting joylessly for hours under the shade of a large tree as her mother plucks groundnuts from the dry field compares so differently from my school’s classrooms. This girl or child could have been me back in my village, but now my body does not have the purple scars that run on my sibling’s thighs and arms like aimless tributaries. My palms are not as rough as theirs; unlike my siblings, my future is not borne of ignorance.
It gives me chills to think of who I would have been had I not come to Shanti Bhavan. I no longer see myself in the care of my mother’s withered hands marred by years of washing clothes and vessels and cleaning floors in other people’s homes since her childhood. I no longer relate to my father’s red, alcoholic eyes which reflect the failure he has been to his wife and his children. I see a different life for myself from my siblings who study in our village’s poorly run government school and who have never known what it means to be one’s own master.
I see the future differently than everyone else in my family. I need not fear getting married off to someone I don’t approve of or being sent to work as a housemaid, because I hold the seeds of a bright future in my palms.
As I prepare to leave for college in a few months, I dare to question the voices of prejudice. I dare to ask, “Is it really true that children from the social underclass cannot succeed?”
My life and the lives of two hundred other children who study at Shanti Bhavan are a living testimony to Dr. George’s belief that much of what we achieve in life boils down to opportunity and hard work. I question those who believe that poverty is a genetic consequence.
Shanti Bhavan has given me a voice that I use to speak through my writing. If Shanti Bhavan had not reached out to me, I would have been just another neglected child of poverty, roaming the pockets of rural India.
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Meet the rest of the Shanti Bhavan Class of 2011.