Asha is a little girl of four. When I first met her and her mother Gita they were living on the verandah of Gita’s mother’s house. Inside the one room house (5 by 5mtr) lived Gita’s mother, brother and his wife and child. Gita had no toilet and was making her house out of packing crates. Asha’s eyes were big with fear and she wouldn’t go to anyone else to be held. She had already seen too much. Asha’s father had been an abusive alcoholic. Asha’s mother had had the courage to escape a man who had physically and mentally abused her. Asha was covered in heat rash because her mother lived under a tin roof in 47c degree heat.
It was very lucky that Asha’s grandmother allowed Gita and Asha to live on her verandah, otherwise Gita may have had to become a prostitute or search through the garbage for recyclables to make ends meet. Being uneducated and without money, she had few options. Now Gita sells chillies on the side of the road. Asha would play in the dirt next to her. I wondered what kind of future Asha would have, I was moved by her plight.
Fortunately some generous Australians had gotten in touch with me and said they wished to sponsor a child. This family is not wealthy, the family consists of a single mother, a pensioner and her daughter. It moved me that living on so little in country town Australia, they were still able to set something aside to change the live of a little girl in desperate circumstances.
I enrolled Asha in a posh grammar school. This was only approx $50/mth. Only an excellent education will allow a child to overcome the intense competition that exists in India for good jobs. Asha’s Grandmother was very supportive of enrolling her in school and the whole family was willing to do the extra work to give her a good future.
Children go to school quite young in India. Asha was already considered old at 4! The morning I went to take Asha to school, she had already been awake from 5am because of excitement. Asha was beautifully dressed in her school uniform and ready for a new life. Her mother was also dressed nicely. It was very exciting for all of us. I have to say that if I died tomorrow, I would feel my life was meaningful just because of seeing this day, a little girl going towards hope.
We walked up the stairs of the school, which was like a huge office building. There’s something very satisfying about walking up the stairs of a bastion of power and elitism and demanding entry for a small child from the slum. Ironically, the school was surrounded by slums. It became clear to me that there are many more children in the world who need our help. In fact, according to UNICEF, 22000 children die each day, because of poverty related illnesses such as diarrhoea.
More girls have been killed in the last 50 years precisely because they were girls (100 million) than people slaughtered in all the atrocities of the 20th Century. More women died in child birth because of lack of maternal health care during the periods of the first and second world wars than men died in fighting these wars (from the book – Half the Sky – 2010).
After we enrolled Asha in school, we took her out for coffee and ice cream at a coffee shop with her mum and our other social worker. They had never been into an air conditioned place filled with mirrors and polite staff before. Asha is now very happy and has completed one year of school. We offer a bit of extra food to her family and books, school fees, uniforms and bus fare. She now has a future and can live life to her full potential. She has been given the gift of hope.