Dear Ajbanu

Ajbanu, you are the one who changed everything. I met you what feels like a lifetime ago even though it was only 17 months back. There was something in your eyes that day, a passion burning. You were different from most of the other children I had met in the street up to the point. You were the literal answer to a prayer I had been meditating on for weeks. You were the push. Sometimes I feel like I don't know if I chose you or if you chose me or if something beyond our comprehension chose us. But we, we were meant to meet.

Ajbanu, you were the first child to offer up help. You sat down beside us one Sunday out of the blue and began to pass meals to your fellow children. You were our first hope which came true. I cried so many beautiful tears that night for you, for your heart.

Ajbanu, you were the first to give me a hug, to make us feel welcomed. That hug was overflowing with the purest form of love I have ever felt. I will never forget all of the senses I experienced that day and how many hours I spent on my knees that night, humbled by you.

Ajbanu, when you're gone, when I don't see you for weeks on end, I lose sleep like a mother longing to hear from her child. When we are reunited, when I see you walking down those railway tracks, that smile you give me melts me to a puddle and for a bit my worry is lessened.

Ajbanu, I want the world for you. I imagine that starting school would be hard after nine years of 'freedom' to do what you want in the day. The 'freedom' to work and earn money, to wander the markets, the 'freedom' of having no one guiding you in your daily path. But my sweet girl, I need you to know that is not freedom. It is an endless cycle, and you could so easily get lost in it. Oh sweet girl, I lose my breath, I often can't see through my tears when I think about how much there is out there for you because I know you can break through.

Ajbanu, it is not just me. I can see the world in your eyes; its possibilites truly burn deep in you. I know it's not just me, you want it too.


Where do we have to go, but here?

It all started with a meeting months ago... and since then it has been a string of being turned away or being asked to wait for x,y,z. We were advised to go here, try there but every school was an apparent dead end. Then we were led to one private Catholic school that holds evening school for 'disadvantaged' children. But hurdles abounded. The principal was changing, exam break is coming, there were holidays, the office is only open three hours per day, the program manager is away, it went on like this for sometime until finally a break through!

Hannah and I met with the principal and then Hannah met with the program manager the following week. We explained the background of our kids, how many we planned to start bringing. We asked if there were any clothing/uniform requirements to which the answer was no; they can come in what they have. We explained that our kids have never attended school. The evening school is designed to teach basics in Hindi, Assamese and English. Basic math, writing and if the child excels they will help them prepare to sit for entrance exams into regular school. Yes, all of the waiting and running really had led us to the right place!

Sunday came and we reached out to some of the girls to explain that on Monday at 3 we would meet them to take them to school! There was a lot os squealing and excitement and sure enough the following day a couple of the girls were waiting for us when we came. We gathered them, then walked to find more children. Eventually 8 of the kids caught on and off we went walking to the evening school. They were yelling at everyone as we walked past, explaining where they were going and the looks on their faces were priceless. We arrived and walked up five flights of stairs and were met with surprise and shock.

Our kids were... different... then the others at the program. The manager gathered us and explained that our girls were too dirty, they didn't have proper manners and that they shouldn't come to school until they learn basic hygiene and discipline. Hannah reminded her that we clearly explained the background of our kids and that were told to bring as many as we could! The manager remained resistent and uncomfortable. The kids clung to us, their protectors looking up with huge eyes of disappointment  Despite us speaking in English, they could feel that they were out of place.

Fighting tears, I asked the manager a simple question

Where do we have to go, but here?

We have searched the area high and low. This program, this was designed for our kids, wasn't it? We need your help, I told her. We need you to help us give them the opportunity to learn even these basic things. It has to start somewhere, I explained and I believe that that place is here. I looked down at the girls standing so close to me and Hannah that we were practically one and thought:

"We believe in you, no matter what anyone else says. You have endless potential and I will stand here beside you until we see that potential realized."

I looked back up and asked her if they could at least attend today and from tomorrow we would find a way to clean their clothes and bodies. She hesitantly said yes and off our girls went to join in the assembly line. Proudly they stood there, peeking around to give Hannah and I huge grins. When the assembly was over, it still wasn't clear if they were welcomed to join class. We walked together to the room and at the door the girls clung to us again, man it is hard dropping your kids off on the first day! We spoke to the manager again and she apologized for making us feel, well, bad. She said the girls could go into class so we shooed them in and told them we would be back in two hours to walk them home. 

In the rickshaw ride back to the slum to drop off one boy that was too young and a baby sibling one of the girls brought, Hannah broke down. It hurts so much sometimes, to be witnessing the unimaginable struggles of these kids. It is hard to fight, it is hard to change reality. But it is not impossible. It is a huge task to demand basic rights for all children. To stand strong, but it is not just their lives we were changing it is a community. It is a slum, it is an area, it is a school. It is adults, children, men, women. It is hard, but it is not impossible. 

As we picked up the girls, it was apparent that despite of the rocky beginning  they had a good experience. So every day this week, they have been walking with Hannah to and from school. The program manager told Hannah yesterday that our sweetest little girl Avita learned how to hold a pencil yesterday. Avita was so excited she started shaking and then proceeded to color and draw for the first time. 

Avita learned how to hold a pencil, the program manager found this so significant that she shared it with Hannah. Avita learned how to hold a pencil, a dandelion seed in the wind. A flower that is starting to bloom.