“Education for All” in India has intensified since the 1990s. It is not a preparation for a better life; education is itself a life. I was born in 1997. I am sharing my story so that a strong voice resonates for children wandering in the streets; so that they are taken care of and are equipped to lead better lives. It’s also a story of a past filled with suffering, a present full of hope and endurance, and a future that promises to be brighter than ever before. Like most of the children from slum areas work at an early age, I too started earning when I was a child.
From the age of five, I used to travel along with my father to perform street magic shows, dances and used to play with snakes, even late at night. I also picked up rags during that time. When my father met with an untimely death, I became responsible for my family and its survival. At that time, I had to work under someone else. I used to earn Rs. 30 in a day. I was a homeless child.
The struggles continued. At the age of seven, I shifted to rag-picking. Verbal abuses and dog bites became a part of my daily routine. I ended up in jail over false accusations of stealing. I kept changing my job, from selling flowers to corns, I was doing everything that would yeild me a good sum of money.
During one of these monotonous days, I got lucky and met a few NGO volunteers who were educating children from the slums. It was then I discovered my purpose and enrolled myself with Badhte Kadam. At that time, I did not even know how to hold a pencil. I persevered and, after a month enrolled in an open school program through which I received the education. Hence, I began my education at the age of 10. I used to participate in as many events as possible, encouraged community members to do so, and even parents to let their kids study. When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change.
At such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not offer many chances to change one’s conditions. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.
It was not long before when I met my first challenge, a couple of children were imprisoned after being accused of stealing. I remembered the horror of the day I was in the same condition. I went to the police station to get those children released. It was a proud moment and it was then my life took a turn towards a better future. I continued working for Badhte Kadam, helped them open new education centers, and connected more children to these centers. Soon, I was appointed as the District Secretary and later promoted as the National Secretary. It also opened up an opportunity for me to work with a newspaper by and for slum kids – Balaknama, which now has a circulation of 5,000 copies.
My eagerness to learn encouraged me to become a reporter for Balaknama, documenting., and spreading the stories of slum children. Eventually, we were able to start its English edition and my work was widely appreciated. This led me to the position of editor at Balaknama. I oversaw the complete structure and edit meetings for the newspaper. This is a part of my life which will always remain memorable.
We have covered a wide range of stories on the lives of street children, issues of sexual abuse, child labor, police brutality, as well as stories of hope and positive changes. I have worked for the welfare and rights of homeless children of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. I co-founded Voice of Slum in 2015 with my friend Dev Pratap Singh. He has also grown up in slums. The organization, along with other things, runs a school in Noida for children living in low-income neighborhoods. VOICE OF SLUM is a youth-driven, non-profit organization working to transform the lives of slum kids via granting education from the pre-school till graduation. India has an estimated one hundred thousand or more street children.
Mainly because of family conflicts, they come to live on the streets and take on the full responsibilities of caring for themselves, including working to provide food and protecting themselves. So to resolve this problem, I have taken the first step forward. I am that extraordinary soul who has taken the responsibility to change the lives of kids around me and I can proudly say this now.
Started with a pencil in my hand at the age of 10 and now I am helping the slum children to rewrite their future. I have appeared at different TEDx events, Josh Talks and the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP). I always wanted to do something for slum children. Some problems appear beyond explanation. Poverty, or low incomes, adversely affect the quality and quantity of education.
My mission continues and the future is full of optimistic plans. In the future, we would like to include computers in our education program and also teach children how digital gadgets are impacting our lives. We want to mainstream them, make them aware of their rights, and provide them with equal opportunities.
From being on the streets to helping those on the streets now, My journey has been an incredible one. I am 23 years old now. To become ‘unique,’ the challenge is to fight the hardest battle which no one can imagine until you reach your destination.
*The views expressed in the above article are of the writer and not Winged Club.