I was an orphan – I struggled like an animal since I was a child. I begged for food, I carried bricks at construction sites – I did all kind of odd and small jobs to survive in this world. I was no one for anybody. I suffered from lack of food, lack of love, and lack of a home. I grew up vulnerably, with emptiness killing me from inside. I stopped smiling, dreaming and hoping. For everyone, I was just a homeless labourer – until I met Salma – another orphan who worked at the same construction site. She used to forcefully talk to me. I started talking to her too; it was different for both of us as no one talked to any of us before with respect. We got married after two years and were blessed with three beautiful daughters.
I have no regrets even though we are very poor. We have almost nothing except each other. Together we earn a very little amount of money but we are never hopeless about our earning and our life. We understand each other completely. The most valued part is that we love each other unconditionally. We help each other in our tasks. I help her with her household work, and she helps me in every possible way. Other workers in the construction site are surely jealous of us. I am certainly blessed with her.
We still don’t have a house of our own, but we have found shelter for ourselves in the roof of a public toilet. Most often
my eyes get wet when my children complain that people laugh at them for making a toilet their shelter. I tell them – this shelter is temporary, their permanent home is in my heart, which is the most beautiful of all the heavens.
I always wanted to send my daughters to school, to educate them. I wanted them to stand in front of people with dignity. I never wanted anyone to look down upon them like the way everyone did to me. My children are my world. I am really grateful to all the people who are educating our children for free. Today, all my girls go to school. When I go home they always show me their class work copy, I don’t understand anything, but I use to kiss in their hand writing. I want them to be educated. I have never been to school, neither did their mother – but I know – Education changes lives.”
“For my girl students, I’m not just a teacher – but a mother too! Hailing from poor backgrounds, their parents are involved in multiple jobs to earn daily bread. Their parents get very less time to spend with them. From discussing their studies to health matters, they look up to me for guidance. At times, I wonder whether I am able to meet their expectations with perfection, as I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
Mahesh, Father of Tulsi, Versha and Radha. His three daughters have begun schooling at Smile Foundation’s Mission Education centre in Uttan, Maharashtra
More than 700 children like Tulsi, Versha and Radha are currently studying at the centre in Uttan village. Uttan, a quiet rural settlement in Thane district of Maharashtra, is being gradually transformed with the power of education. Majority of the children coming to the centre belong to poor Koli families who earn their livelihood through fishing.
It took months of counselling of the parents, door to door visits to their homes and continuous awareness sessions in
the community to bring every child in the school. At the Mission Education centre (Amcha Ghar), these children not only receive education, but also healthy food and essential healthcare. They are also being taught basic hygienic practices, good values and different activities, to ensure their holistic development. Recently, the centre has also initiated self-defence training by a professional trainers for all girl children.
Today, it is not just the children who are being impacted by this change, but also their parents, for whom life has become a lot brighter with the hope for a better future!