Pratham 4:40:00 PM
|Kavya at the Balwadi with her teacher|
It is rare for someone like me, living in a privileged suburb of New York, to have the opportunity to experience life outside my bubble. On my first day volunteering at Pratham Mumbai, I was to go to the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. When I got there everything was as it would be in a five star hotel - clean and polished with the scent of aromatic candles in the air. Outside the gates of the Hotel, I met with Annapurna Beldor and Sylvia Correia of Pratham who walked me across the street to a community. What I did not know at the time was that the community on other side of the street is known across Mumbai as the Worli Slum area. There was nothing shining, nothing clean and only interesting smells filled the air. As I walked through the slum I noticed that the people made the most of what they have and they seemed content. In the Balwadi, a pre-primary school, I was amazed to see the children always smiling, playful, happy to be in class, and not let their living conditions bother them or dampen their spirit.
I decided to volunteer at Pratham to learn and see first hand how the organization reaches out to underprivileged children and more importantly how it gets the children interested in attending school and getting an education. Not only did I learn the answers to my questions but I experienced much more than I had bargained for. I was educated by little children, one third my age, to be so very thankful for everything I have (and at times take for granted), and to stop and always think about what I need versus what I want when I ask for more. Spending just a few hours each day with the children in the Balwadi has taught me an invaluable life lesson, one that I could have never learnt living in my bubble.
In the process of my visit I met many children. Here are two stories that moved me and made my journey memorable:
Aniket Anant Ruke- Coming from a dysfunctional family, Aniket has faced problems that no five year old should have to endure. Aniket is the youngest of three brothers and has suffered the most. His father is an alcoholic and suffers from T.B. He uses his illness as an excuse to not work. The responsibility of supporting their family falls entirely on Aniket’s mother. She works all day as a maid but is unable to provide for her three sons. She sent her two elder sons to Ratnagiri Boarding School. Aniket suffered from severe malnutrition and stayed home with her. He was very weak and found it hard focus during class. During his first year in a Pratham Balwadi he would sleep through the entire class. Now, his nutrition has improved and as a result, he is able to increasingly participate in the program’s activities.