By Annie Fraser:
You’re walking. You see a child. From only a single glance, you can tell that the child is poor. You allow yourself a few moments to look at the child, to really observe her, and to feel for her. And you keep on walking.
No nation or society is without its problems, least of all India. We look at India’s problems, we think about India’s problems, and sometimes we contemplate about the solutions. But the action, or lack thereof, stops there. We simply think. Thinking is good and necessary. Thinking, contemplating and considering, these are all strong words, but they lead to immeasurable results. India cannot afford immeasurable.
With support from the LEaders Accelerating Development Program, Alisha Shiledar, an engineering student from Belgaum, Karnataka, is an example of one such girl who thought, contemplated, considered and then, acted. Alisha’s journey began with one little girl named Fatima. Fatima, around 8 years old, desperately wanted to go to school. Her family being poor, Fatima had to help her mother every day, who worked as a maid. Alisha would see Fatima and seriously worried about the girl’s condition. Alisha says, “[Fatima] was innocent, but I could see her innocence diminishing”. Alisha soon understood that Fatima was not alone, and that there were many other girls in Fatima’s situation, or even worse.
Alisha went to the government school near Fatima’s home in a Belgaum slum area and learned that most of the children were only attending school two weeks every month, at the most. Alisha decided to take action. At first she approached the parents of the children and tried to explain to them the importance of education, but she was greeted with opposition. Many of the parents shouted at her and slammed the door in her face.
Not wanting to give up, Alisha went to the school. On Saturdays and Sundays for three months, Alisha volunteered at the school and devised fun ways to teach the children the basic skills that they were lacking, which also helped generate an interest for school within the children.
But Alisha knew that helping the children wasn’t enough. She realized that ultimately, she had to convince the parents to let their children come to school. For this, the parents themselves needed to learn and appreciate the value of education. For one month, Alisha taught the parents, mostly the mothers, basic literacy skills. In time, the parents started sending their children back to school. Now, 50 children, including Fatima, are attending school regularly.
We might feel overwhelmed and powerless when India’s problems stare directly into our eyes. We may just don’t know where to start. But Alisha’s story makes us realize that we do, in fact, possess the power to do something. The reality of the situation is that Alisha is just a normal girl. What sets her apart, though, is that she realized her potential to be part of the solution.
You’re walking. You’re thinking about Alisha and the impact she created. You’re thinking about that poor child that you saw earlier, and how you could help her.
The time for thinking is up. It’s time to act.