At the time of this photo, in January 2009, Meher was three years old and lived in Khader, near the outskirts of New Delhi. Her father was a migrant worker who came to New Delhi to work part of the year, and her family spent the rest of the year in their village in Nepal.
When Meher was eight or nine months old, a mosquito net over her bed caught on fire. Miraculously, she survived the terrible burns, but the experience left her face and scalp badly scarred and her left hand permanently closed and deformed. Meher’s father is a daily wage labourer. Her family could not afford to seek additional treatment for her, although they were concerned about her future prospects in Indian society.
Meher had been enrolled in Project WHY from a young age. She is extremely bright, verbal, and social and had picked up a little English from her time at Khader. She interacts confidently with visitors from all over the world. When an American elementary school teacher, Nina Sethi, came to give our staff some training, she took an immediate liking to Meher. We explained to her the social issues that plague a girl with such burns in Indian society and Nina was keen to help. Whenever Nina would arrive to work with the teachers, Meher would greet her and help to oversee her English class. Nina describes an “immediate connection and a special bond,” and notes that she “recognised something in Meher: a great capacity for leadership and an amazing spirit.”
In January of 2009, Nina asked her friends and family and a non-profit organisation in the United States, Chess Without Borders, to help her raise enough money to cover the cost of reconstructive plastic surgery on Meher’s hand and face. This would have to include staying in the hospital, multiple operations, medicine, physical therapy, and much more. She was also keen to extend the fund to raise money for Meher’s education, as she is very intelligent and had had limited opportunities in her past.
The response that Nina received was overwhelming. Through her dedication and commitment, she was able to raise over $45,000 (USD), which was more than enough money for Meher’s surgeries and education, and is likely to last her until her higher education. Thankfully, her surgeries were completed successfully at a private hospital near her home.
Meher now attends Shanti Gyam International School in New Delhi with some other children she knows from Project WHY. She is flourishing and is consistently the top student in her class. Nina often visits her in New Delhi and enjoys speaking to Meher in English. Meher is now outgoing, confident and intelligent and loves Nina like family!