I came in contact with a Hungarian guy, Attila, who is a computer engineer in Hungary and volunteers for a Hungarian NGO (www.afroaid.hu). This NGO runs a child sponsorship program in Africa. Attila wanted to volunteer in Varanasi. He wanted to come to India next year with his wife for a year and was interested in the NGOs working with children. He was mostly interested in education programs for children. I took him to different NGOs and he was interested in working with few of them. I was already interested in working on the same kind of program so I just asked Attila if we could start our own program in Varanasi.
Attila liked this idea a lot. He said that he had very good experience of working with kids in Africa and would love to use his experience to establish the same kind of program in Varanasi. We talked about how we can start this program in Varanasi and decided to do some research first. We went to a few schools nearby to get an idea of estimated cost of the education fee for one child. Attila was interested in providing one meal everyday to the children so that they don’t have to waste time preparing their meal at home. We decided to start the program with 30 kids, 10 from the city area and 20 from the village area.
We visited Mehndiganj once because Lok Samiti has an education program and Attila wanted to see it. We visited Lok Samiti’s school and training centers. We talked with the kids and a few of them had terrible stories. Lok Samiti has a evening time classes for the day time child workers. I love this program, it is my favorite amongst all of their programs. Mehndiganj has a lot of child laborers and most of them are bonded laborers. It was really interesting to see the kids work for 12 hours a day but they still come for evening classes. I think there were more than 30 kids at the evening center.
The kids at the evening center were so innocent. They just did not know anything except what they had. They asked Attila if he had any goat at his home in Hungary, what did he grow up at his farms, how did he come to India, how much money does he make. The kids make about Rs. 1000 per month so it was very hard for Attila to answer this question. We visited a few of the training centers of Lok Samiti which is for the girls above 14 years of age. They get sewing, embroidery, dance and basic education training like reading and writing. The idea behind running such program is to make the girls self dependent.
We asked Nandlal Master, the president of Lok Samiti, to choose 20 kids from his education program who are poor but interested in continuing their education and whose parents are also supportive. We did the same thing in the city also. I knew of a few families who are really poor and want to send their kids to the school but they cannot afford it. We met twelve families and chose 10 kids who seemed interested in learning. We met a 12 year old girl who used to go a English medium private school but had to stop because of the financial problems.
I think she is the most impressive girl in our program. Her name is Rashmi and she went to the school up to 6th standard. My niece who also goes to the same school where Rashmi was going, told me about her. My niece told me that her teachers still talk about how smart Rashmi was and how she had to stop her education. We met her and I found her to be a really smart girl. She was the only girl who really knew what she wanted to become and she answered all the questions Attila asked her. Other kids also knew what they wanted to become but this girl was something different. Her mother was also very concerned about Rashmi’s education.
Attila asked her what she wanted to become and she said “engineer”. Attila asked what kind of engineer and Rashmi said “computer engineer”. Attila asked why and Rashmi said she wanted to develop some computer program that could help poor people. Neither Attila nor I were expecting that kind of answer from a 12 year old girl. All the kids whom we met were super interested in going to the schools but they were having problems. A few of them had already stopped going to school only because their parents could not afford it or there were a few kids who were smart enough to go to a good school but they were going to a government school which is just like passing time.
Finally we have chosen a few schools and we will send our kids to the nearest good school to their residence starting from March 2010. A few of the kids need basic English language training so that they don’t have any problem at English medium schools. We are working on organizing two hours of evening classes for the kids whom we have chosen for the program. Now thirty families have a hope from me because I was the local guy and I am completely dependent on Attila. Attila is back to Hungary now. He has already found few supporters and hopes to find supporters for all the kids.
We have decided to not have any office expenses until we have 50 kids. Attila will be living in Varanasi with his wife for one year and he will be managing the office work for the program. We have decided to not have an office so that all the money goes for the program. I feel so happy to be involved in this program and I am looking forward to work with Attila.