…With a deadline of ASAP, we have set out on a mission to determine who will be among the chosen 15. This is a crucial step and one that we are giving great care. We are not just choosing individual children at this point but their families as well. Everyone involved needs to be highly motivated, committed, and persevering. This is the time to evaluate risk and determine potential problems before they arise. The last thing we want is for a student to drop out due to reasons beyond our control. We have expanded our selection pool to include another school affiliated with our volunteer program. There is so much potential here that will never be realized without our combined intervention and donations.
Although we have a few set criteria, we are taking into account a myriad of factors and learning as we go.
First, we are looking for students primarily in the 6-8 year-old range. Some are older, some are younger, but 6-8 is our target. The older the students are, especially for female students, the higher risk they face of marrying before completing 10th standard. Gudiya, for instance, is 9 years old. She will be 19 when she graduates from 10th standard and 21 when she graduates from 12th standard. If she doesn’t go to school now, she never will. We determined that her potential for greatness outweighed the risk that she will marry early. Our hope is that she, Neha, and their family will learn to understand the benefits of education and chose to put off marriage or labor until their educations are complete.
Second, we are looking for students who are intelligent, outgoing, and industrious. I have been keeping records of each student’s reading, writing, and math capabilities as well as notes on their demeanor, attitude, leadership, participation, and eagerness to learn. We don’t just want intelligence, drive, or personality, we want the whole package.
Third, we are trying to evaluate the educational risk faced by each student. In other words, what are a student’s chances of never going to school? What are his or her chances of going to a public school, low-end private school, or high-end private school? These questions are best answered in interviews with the families, especially through histories of elder siblings. Now that I think of it, the interviews we conduct are very similar to medical histories and evaluations.
We begin the parental interviews by saying how proud we are of their child’s work in school, that we recognize exceptional potential, and that we want to make sure that their child receives the best education possible. We then introduce ourselves and gather names, number of children, ages of children, etc. If there are older siblings, I like to find out if they attend or have ever attended school. If they have, I like to find out where they go or went.
Next, I figure out who works in the family, where they work, approximately how much they earn per month (this is, apparently, not an offensive question), their expenses, their highest levels of education, and their educational goals for their children. My motive, through all of these questions, it to find out what will happen to these students without our intervention.
Over the past 11 days, I have comprehensively evaluated approximately 80 students and interviewed 37 families at their homes. It has been an exhausting and emotionally draining process even though I try to stay as impartial as possible. The entire process reminds me of serving as jury foreman signing verdicts before I left home. We have the power now to radically alter or essentially neglect the lives and futures of these children. Needless to say, this is an enormous amount of responsibility.
Our interviews and evaluations have taken us through narrow alleys, up ladders to rooftops, and far down the canal. Wherever we go, we command enormous attention. While interviewing Rani and Rekha’s parents in their tiny rooftop enclosure, dozens of children and adults watched from the surrounding buildings even as far away as 75 meters. Even if we aren’t directly impacting many of the children here, our presence and message about the importance of education are indirectly affecting many.
The highlight of my day was going to interview a beautiful, proper, and respectful 8-year-old girl named Manisha. Before visiting her home, I had found out that she was one of five children. She has two illiterate sisters who are married and two brothers who live with her grandparents in a different sector. Her parents, Moni and Ramesh, are also illiterate.
Manisha led us from Rani and Rekha’s rooftop, down the ladder, and around the corner to her tiny, dark, poorly-ventilated home. Although it was 6 pm, both of her parents were still in the factory. Manisha immediately went to work moving around items in her bare feet on the dirt floor of her home.
The flash from my camera was the only light source in the room. All of her family’s possessions were strung up to the walls or ceiling, leaving just enough room on the floor for the three of them to sleep or cook.
After a few moments of wondering what Manisha was doing, she began to light a small portable burner in the corner of the room. It became apparent that she was trying to make us chai tea. It was probably one of the most adorable and humbling events I have ever watched. I shook my head in sheer amazement of her maturity and generosity at only 8 years old.
As the sun began to set today, we walked out of the slum incredibly excited by the changes and opportunities we are bringing. I am receiving great feedback from readers and some donations are already starting to flow. I will acknowledge these generous contributions properly in later posts. To everyone who has donated or considered it, thank you. Please stay tuned.