“I sold salt on the streets to support the education of street children.” – Meena Nijhawan, an advocate for promoting education and enabler of the education of girl children.
“Since I come from an army background, I have always had a great urge to serve society, an urge that would often make me restless. When my husband retired from the army and we were able to finally settle down in one place, I began teaching Padma, my domestic help,” recalls the now 71-year-old Meena. Meena Nijhawan, a resident of Noida, began with teaching her own maid, Padma. In 1995, Meena and Padma came across four underprivileged children wandering the streets near their home. They decided to bring the kids home with them, bathed them, fed them and even got them to promise to pursue their studies. To Meena’s surprise, the four children kept their word and started making their way to her house regularly, to learn.
Before long, word spread and Meena’s small garage and house became a place of learning for children of rag pickers, rickshaw pullers and domestic workers. Moved by the passion of the children, she began to dedicate all her time to teaching them, naming her humble effort ‘Sankalp Saksharta Samiti.’ In addition to teaching the children, she also began to bear the cost of their books, stationery, and meals too. But the mammoth task required a lot of support, monetary and other support.
In her pursuit to raise money, she ran from pillar to post. Her father used to run a salt factory and had some spare salt bores. She decided to sell them to raise money. Every morning she used to pack her car with salt packets & visit restaurants/hotels and request them to buy salt even at a lower price so that she could gather some money to fund the education of the street children – until she came to know about Smile Foundation.
She used to give daily baths and food to the kids before the classes began. With her consistent passion to transform these innocent lives, she eventually enrolled more than 2000 children.
Some of her pass-out students are all over the globe now and volunteer with her by either teaching or funding the books for the kids. Sankalp Centre Noida continues to transform lives in association with Smile Foundation.
We salute her spirit and offer heartfelt gratitude for her amazing contribution towards empowering underprivileged children!
“Today, no child in our community is illiterate” – thanks to Suhani, the crusader for education, who braved child marriage, poverty and extreme health conditions to continue her journey on the path of education.
Suhani could have been like any other name in the locality, like most other girls who succumb to age-old traditions followed in the patriarchal setups, along with their economic conditions. Suhani was four when her father had expired. Poor family conditions and lack of knowledge and understanding compelled her to either get married or become a sweeper like her mother. Her elder sister was already given away in marriage after class 7.
But, Suhani resisted the forces of fate. She literally fought with fate and achieved her due. From resisting her early marriage and going against family to continue her education, Suhani was also diagnosed with tuberculosis and yet, in that condition, she continued her studies under the open sky, sometimes in the nearby parks as there was no electricity in her house. She passed her examinations with flying colours. During a mobilization session in her community, Smile Foundation’s mobilizers spotted the spark in her and counselled her family for her education. It was not an easy task for them to accept.
Today Suhani is pursuing undergraduate study in Hindi literature from University of Delhi and also teaching other children in Smile Foundation’s Mission Education centre, where she had first started off with her journey. With the initiation of centre in her locality 12 years back, over 50 children every year begin their journey towards empowerment. She made it a point that no child in her locality would be illiterate.
“My father used to clean drains for livelihood.” – Pratiksha, a strong-willed woman who made her family come out of the vicious cycle of poverty, and is currently helping thousands like hers.
Says Pratiksha, “My father used to clean drains for a livelihood. I cannot explain how hard he struggled all his life. People looked at us like they look at dirt. My father used to hide us when people came to enquire about him for work, so that we don’t get humiliated. No matter how deep in poverty we were, he ensured that we get an education. I and my sister studied till class 10. My father was the happiest person on my sister’s marriage day. He began working harder after that, as he had to return the money he took from money lenders for the marriage.
My sister gave birth to a boy who was diagnosed autistic. Her in-laws didn’t want to keep the child. As they kept forcing my sister to get rid of the baby, my father brought the child to our home. That day, looking at the innocent soul smiling in my father’s arms, I realised what it means to be alive. I felt proud of my father that day and hugged him for being the man he is. He never deserved to be looked down upon or be humiliated for no reason. I made him promise me that he would leave his drain-cleaning job the day I get a decent job and start earning. Today, I am happy that my father doesn’t work anymore!”
Pratiksha was trained on computers and employability skills for six months under Smile Foundation’s livelihood programme (STeP). She joined an NGO in Mumbai as a computer teacher.