...After church, we returned to the slum school where the selected children and their families were gathering for our first big meeting. While waiting for all of the families to arrive, we started a chart to keep track of which families have what documents. In order to be admitted to the Carmel Convent School, students need to have a birth certificate, ration card, caste certificate, and multiple individual and family photos. We know that these documents are some of the biggest hurdles we face.
To our amazement, only 4 of the 16 students present have birth certificates. They were born at home with the help of uneducated midwives who probably do more harm than good. Unconcerned and illiterate, these parents never went to a government office or hospital to register their children's births. Legally, all but four of these kids still do not exist.
Aware of the challenges ahead, we pressed on to discuss what we were really gathered for. With Mitlesh or Shri translating after every sentence, I told the group what was happening. I told them that, through the generosity of Sisters Pushpa, Prasanna, Asha, and Sweta, benevolent faculty, caring locals, and support from sponsors and donors from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and India, their children were being given the opportunity to attend the Carmel Convent School.
I emphasized that the Carmel Convent School is one of the top 5 ranked schools in Faridabad. More than 600 students apply for only 150 seats...in kindergarten! Shri even added that his own daughter could not get into the Carmel Convent School! I talked about the school and what opportunities that it could lead to. I told them that, in ten years, their children would be fluent in English, versed in science, skilled in mathematics, and be on the path to becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, or whatever they desired to become. I told them that students paying full price for this education would expend more than Rs 250000 ($5000). That statement opened some eyes. That is more money than many of the families will make over the next ten years!
I then talked about the enormous responsibilities and obstacles that are attached to this opportunity. This is a massive and long term commitment for everyone involved. The families must be prepared to face and overcome many challenges. First, jealousy from the community will introduce hardships for the families and their children. Second, although we will try to assimilate the students as much as possible, they will likely face discrimination from other students. Furthermore, even at only 6-10 years old, our students are already years behind their new classmates. I explained that the separate class will be accelerated and that, in time, our goal is to have them even surpassing the other students.
After going into much more detail about the responsibilities involved, I asked, "Who is certain that they want to accept this commitment?" The men's hands shot toward the ceiling! They showed more emotion and excitement than I have ever seen from them.
Many of the women still had to report back to their husbands for verification. Only some of the women seemed to have the authority to make such a decision. Guyatri, Gudiya and Neha's mother, however, has been ready all week. Gudiya and Neha will be placed into our evening class first until they can keep up with the regular students.
I then told the group how excited we are for them and that this is a partnership and relationship that will grow for many years to come. I told them what Sister Pushpa said, "I'll make them leaders here--not great leaders, the greatest!"
The group clapped and smiled with fervor. I took the kids outside for a group picture. Only 16 of the 18 students had shown up (only 15 are in the photo, however). Lata did not come because both of her parents were working and did not want to participate. Madhu did not come because her family also seems uninterested. As we pointed out, this is a two-way street. We need the commitment and dedication of families more than anyone else. This is why we padded our list with extra children.
I am thrilled with the amazing response received from readers about what we are doing. It is truly an honor to be part of something so significant in the lives of others. Thank you for the wonderful feedback and continued support for the Squalor to Scholar Program.