If you knew Hari or Phulmaya when they were three or six years old, you would probably have put them in a mental compartment of pity, blaming the system, blaming the parents, or wishing things were different for them.
These days, I still blame the parents and the system, but I have evolved to not pitying anyone. I have often been pleasantly surprised that my subconscious is now trained to see hope and potential in every child. Despite their circumstances, despite what my eyes see and my brain demands.
Cancer claimed Hari’s mother when he was three. His father was an alcoholic, and often landed in jail, sometimes with his youngest son because he would beat the little one black and blue. Hari would have become a street child along with his siblings if it wasn’t for a few people who saw him outside the long shadow cast by his father.
He went to a free school and stayed at a free hostel. He now has a 3.7 on his SEE, plays excellent cricket, despite the mental naggings of his father and the inner need to belong to someone biological who would also love him back the same way.
Phulmaya grew up in a family in which the parents took loans and made the daughters work in their food stall, while the son was sent to a private school. The seven members of the family grew up in a single room (not one bed-room, but one room) with daughters sleeping on the floor while the bed was given to the son. Despite having to work from 5:30AM, commute three hours each day to go to school, and work till 10PM, Phulmaya struggled for an education.
These two children are now adolescents. They are miracles given all the emotions they have had to overcome, or live with. I had to fight back my tears while they practiced interviews for IB scholarships at a prestigious high school. We rehearsed, corrected grammar, body postures. All they needed was an opportunity, and another miracle: they both got spots for the program.
They will now be in class with students from the wealthiest segments of society. But I also worried: what if they couldn’t fit in, or their insecurities get better of them? So far they have been in a free school where everyone shared the same story — alcoholic parents, children abandoned because they were girls, children born of rapes and abandoned even by their mothers, or extreme poverty that drove them to Kathmandu’s streets.
Perhaps I need to take them to a coffee place and teach them restaurant etiquette, or the basics of how to get the movie tickets. As I thought of how to make the transition easier, I realised that I was seeing their strength as their weakness. Surely, they will figure it out like they have done so far, and we will always be there to provide a helping hand?
Instead, I told them that it will get difficult only if they give those passing judgement the permission to inflict pain, and to be strong like they have always been, to see and learn, to hear and learn, and remember they already are miracles, and they don’t need anyone’s validation to believe that.
So, when you see street children lying on the sidewalk, sniffing glue, or a child worker, instead of judging them try to imagine the circumstances that put them there, and see if you can create an opportunity for them. What they need is just an opportunity.
If we look back in our own lives, hasn’t it been a series of chances of being born to certain set of parents, of someone deciding to give us a break, take a chance on our ideas, or being at the right place at the right time that has made all the difference?
So why not give it to others in whatever form we can? Our one intervention on behalf of a child might be the right place and right time for that person. You never know. It surely was for Phulmaya and Hari — their neighbour and teacher had heard of a free school and mentioned it to them. And that has made all the difference to their lives.
Names have been changed.
Read also: A day in the life of Patan’s street children, Kashish Das Shrestha