A few months back one of our regular and committed donors came to visit. We of course discussed future funding and in the course of conversation he quite candidly admitted that it was easier for him to market individual stories. Finding funds for larger projects like primary classes was more difficult. He wanted me to ‘find’ more possible candidates for boarding school as he felt that was something donors ‘liked’. I must admit I was a little vexed but did not let my feelings show as beggars cannot be choosers! And though I told him that it was not easy to find parents who would hand over their kids and even if they did then it would open flood gates we would be unable to handle, I also promised to look into the matter and find him a suitable candidate.
The one child that came to mind was little Mehajabi. Would it not be wonderful to give this little girl a good education. It would transform her life. So sure were we of this possibility that we wrote to our funder friend and he was all set to send Mehajabi to boarding school. But that was not to be. Her mother who at first accepted came back a few days later telling us that she would not send her child away. And when mothers decree one cannot but follow. We did try to gently tell her that this was a one in a lifetime chance for the little girl but the battle was uneven: the mother won. Nothing we would say could change her decision. We had to let it go.
I must admit we all felt sad and even a little unnerved. More so because we knew that mommy’s was jeopardizing the little girl’s morrows. But we did not have the arguments to bat for her. The mother’s logic was simple: she stated that after the heart surgery she could not bear to be parted from her child. Never mind if food was scant, if the roof leaked, if there was no money to pay the few rupees needed to send her to school. She was adamant and we were helpless. No logic could counter the almost irrational love of this mother. We knew what awaited Mehajabi: a few years in a third rate school and then perhaps she would join her mom in cleaning other people’s home just like her young aunt did, till a suitable match was found. Then her life would simply mirror the one her mother was living. On the other hand Babli who also had an open heart surgery was busy making up for lost time and excelling in school. Her mom’s love had not stood in her way.
We wrote to our funder and told him that in spite of our best efforts we were unable to convince the family and thus Mehajabi would not be joining the other pwhy kids at boarding school. He wrote back telling us to find someone else as he really wanted to. We promised him we would do so. A few days later, Vinita our early education coordinator suggested Manisha’s name.
Manisha is a quaint child. She is spirited, vivacious and her little puckered face and uneven teeth makes her look like a little endearing ET. Her teachers fondly call her ‘alien’. But this child’s story is heart wrenching and her future as it stands today very bleak. Manisha comes from an extremely poor family of migrants from Bihar. She has 2 brothers. Her father is a drunk. He is abusive and violent and does not give a single penny towards the running of the household. All they get is blows. Her mom has learnt to survive. She is a rag picker. Every morning she sets out with a big bag and ferrets through garbage heaps trying to salvage anything that can be sold. What she earns from her effort determines what the family will eat.They live in a sunken, dark, dingy hole with a tin roof which is their home.
Manisha six though she looks four. She has been in our creche for 2 years but soon it will be time for her togo to school. Given her circumstances we know that she will never make it to school as school though free requires some resources. Today it is because we go and fetch her that she comes to pwhy. If that did not happen she would turn into mother’s little helper be it with home chores or rag picking. No one invests time let alone money in a girl child. Her life will simply clone her mother’s. Yet Manisha is bright and intelligent and had a hunger for learning, a hunger we see in many children like her.
We have asked her mom whether she would be willing to send Manisha to boarding school. Unlike Mehjabi’s mom, Manisha’s mom was quick to see that this was a one in a life time chance for her daughter, one that would free her from the invisble bonds she was fettered in and maybe give her better morrows. We hope that this will happen though we know that we will need to be with her each step of the way.