As a 15-year-old girl living in a slum community in India, Aasha felt unsure about herself and her future. But now, with educational support from sponsorship, her life is being transformed from the inside out.
Every day, 15-year-old Aasha* dreaded one part of her school day. As many girls her age in India had already dropped out — either because of early marriage or to help support their family — Aasha felt fortunate to even attend school in the first place. But there was still something that made her stomach drop and her cheeks redden… When her teacher asked her to read from her textbook in class.
Not because she forgot her textbook. And not because she couldn’t read from it. But because, you see, Aasha could not afford textbooks.
It seems like such a small problem. A textbook. But for Aasha and her siblings, Naisha and Suraj*, not having this fundamental resource can keep them from achieving their goals in life — and it stems from a much more complex problem: poverty.
At young ages, Aasha and her siblings lost their parents — their father to alcoholism, their mother to domestic violence. In fleeing their father’s abuse, their mother left their home and never returned. For this reason, the children went to live with their elderly grandmother who, though she didn’t have much beyond her old age pension from the government, gladly welcomed them in and did her best to care for them.
They live together in a multilingual slum neighborhood of about 100 houses near the bustling city of Pune, India. Until recently, they entered their home, a one-room house with a thin tin roof, through a small door that served as their only ventilation. They had a washbasin inside their house, but shared a toilet with their many neighbors, one that drained through a partially opened sewage line. Without electricity, they lit a candle at night to brighten their small home. They built a fire, fueled with wood, once a day to cook grain that was oftentimes given to them by kind neighbors or friends.
With such living conditions, all funds went to necessities — food, clothing and fuel — and nothing else. Survival was their first priority. But their grandmother had big dreams for her grandchildren, and did all she could to keep them in school. While their grandmother usually had enough to cover tuition fees for Aasha and her siblings to go to school, they could not afford school supplies or textbooks — causing not just embarrassment for Aasha, but a struggle to keep up.
But then they enrolled in Holt’s sponsorship program through our legacy partner, Bharatiya Semaj Seva Kendra (BSSK). At BSSK in Pune, over 630 children like Aasha receive support from Holt sponsors. The majority of these children are girls, as Holt and BSSK understand the roadblocks each girl faces and is dedicated to empowering her through education.
“For a child to have a better future, it is essential for her or him to have an education,” says Vaishali Vahikar, the director of sponsorship at BSSK. Through Holt sponsorship, they receive tuition, uniforms and educational materials as well as the support and guidance of a social worker who is dedicated to the child and their whole family.
This can make all the difference.
“Aasha was never a talkative girl,” says Vaishali. “But the expressions on her face could say whatever was going on in her mind and heart.” Once Aasha enrolled at BSSK, she began to open up to her social worker. “She shared her happiness, sorrow and even demands,” says Vaishali. She began to work through some of the instability and pain that she experienced at such a young age. Her self-confidence began to grow.
Now, without the financial burden of educating Aasha and her siblings, Aasha’s family is able to make lasting positive change. Aasha’s grandmother secured a loan, and with it she built a proper, well-ventilated home for their family — complete with their own bathroom and a gas stove. With these improvements, the entire family can now live more comfortably, without the risk of burns from the fire, or contracting illness from poor sanitation and ventilation.
Their grandmother’s sister has also become more involved in the children’s lives, offering them family support in addition to that of their grandmother. Both of these women are especially dedicated to ensuring that Aasha and Naisha get an education — and are fully grown and independent before they marry.
And now, this dream is more attainable. With a more stable home and educational support, the girls attend school regularly and have all of the school supplies they need to reach for their dreams!
One day, Aasha hopes to become a teacher. “She wants each and every child in her community to be educated,” says Vaishali. “She feels only education can eradicate social problems and bring in mutual understanding among the people.”
From the inside out, Aasha is now empowered to transform her life and her future. “Aasha’s personality, internally as well as externally, is blooming,” says Vaishali.
And now, as Aasha leaves for school each day, she walks proudly — her textbooks in hand.
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer