“The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
– Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
She was standing near the flag pole, dressed in her gray salwar kameez uniform. Her eyes, shining with the pride of achievement, visible even from a distance, constantly flitted in a particular direction, as if seeking some sort of reassurance. I followed her gaze and saw a middle aged couple – her parents, I guessed. She was Suman, a 13-year old student of the AIC Education Outreach Program and the Chief Guest of our Republic Day function at Ashraya. She had been given this honour for her consistently good academic performance at her school for the past 3 years; a feat even more laudable due to the fact that her parents would rather she did things “women are supposed to do.” Despite these hurdles, this 6th standard student staunchly ploughed on, determined to show her parents what sheer willpower and dedication can achieve.
After the function I had a tête-à-tête with Suman, where she talked about her life, hobbies and what motivates her. A student of Agarkar Girls’ High School, Suman’s day usually starts with a steaming hot breakfast at the AIC Education Outreach Centre, after which she and her friends are dropped at the school by one of the AIC drivers. She returns to the Education Centre, has her lunch and then starts with her tuition classes which go on till 3, sometimes 4 in the afternoon. After that, she heads home to help her mother with various household chores. With a flair for singing and oration, she also enjoys sketching and dancing, and takes classical dancing lessons at the AIC Education Centre. A girl with a lot of energy and passion indeed! Her zeal was visible in the multiple performances she gave at the Republic Day function that day. Even at school she radiates the same enthusiasm, as the monitor of the class and every teacher’s favourite student (nothing surprising there!). Her favourite teachers at AIC include Ms. Vaishali, the dance and drama coordinator, and Ms. Shweta, an engaging, young teacher who helps her with her academics.
Apart from her parents, Suman has 5 sisters and 2 brothers in her family. Her parents sell old clothes for a living and have a difficult time making ends meet. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising for parents to discourage their daughters from going to school, as the sons are given preference. Even when parents like Suman’s do want their children to be educated, there’s the question of funds. AIC, in such situations, acts like a last beacon of hope.
Talking about Ashraya, she said that it has really changed her life, “I enrolled here in the 1st standard and I absolutely love it! Everyone is very supportive, especially MK Didi. My life is so much easier thanks to Ashraya. We get a lot of facilities which earlier we could only dream of,” she said. Talking about her school performance, she said, “I was ranked 1st in class I, II, III, V & VI & stood 2nd in Class IV. But what makes me really happy is that a lot of parents in our slum have enrolled their children in school after seeing me do it. I like that.” She finishes with a genuine note of happiness in her voice. When asked about her plans for the future, Suman is surprisingly clear headed, “Right now, I want to finish schooling and go to college. Someday, I want to work in the finance sector.” A very appropriate goal, considering that the young accountant is already helping her parents keep stock of their tradeable goods!
When asked about where her parents stand on her education, she says her mother has been supportive throughout and even takes pride in the fact that her daughter is doing so well. It’s her father who is opposed to it. That was the reason behind inviting both her parents to watch their daughter hoist the flag as the Chief Guest. “Maybe that would get my papa to realize how important this is to me, when he sees it with his own eyes,” she says smilingly with hope in her eyes. Interestingly, it wasn’t her parents who enrolled her, but her bua (father’s sister). “She was enrolling her daughter and wanted someone to be there to look after her. My parents came to know when the entire deed was done. She (bua) took me to the school during the daytime when my parents were out selling. And that’s how it all started.”
Suman’s parents were there on Republic Day when she received the special prize from AIC Director of Education Development, Mary Kay Hazel, for her academic performance. Her father at this point stood up and came to where Suman was to stand beside her in front of the audience. Looking at the pride in the eyes of a visibly touched father, I felt hope that Suman would be successful in breaking through this brick wall and all the others that will attempt to stand in her path as she works to achieve her dreams.
(Written by Angelique Thakur, Education Outreach Program intern)