There’s something special about in Shubhum’s smile that strikes you straight away and it’s hard to imagine that the budding artist was once a fist-fighting trouble-maker.
A transformation begins
Laltaki slum is akin to any other slum you can see in Ahmednagar or India. Narrow lanes, tightly-packed rows of houses, a hubbub of activities enclosed within a grey, smoky atmosphere and heady scent of mixed cultures, customs and religions. Through the haze, groups of children, who should be in school, are playing; both they and their parents oblivious to the power of education in a community where abject poverty is taking its toll on the future of its children.
That’s where our balbhavan teacher, Shabana found Shubhum. “I was surprised at the level of violence among young children. Even the smallest fights saw them hurling abuse and indulging in fist fights. And Shubhum was no exception. I would see him sitting on his doorstep, along with a group of children or alone, staring into thin air,” says Shabana. The youngest in a family of three brothers, Shubhum was mischievous and often invited trouble, posing difficulties for his parents who earn their living by selling clothes – door to door.
Translating actions into results
Determined to bring a positive change, Shabana persuaded Shubhum’s parents to send him to Snehalaya’s Utakarsha balbhavan. When he walked in he wasn’t enthusiastic, but it was a start. He joined in with games, but wouldn’t finish them, he interacted with others but insisted on having his own way, everything was very black and white to Shubhum and settling into an environment where his demands were not met, was not what he wanted.
Having got him through the door and unwilling to give up on him, Shabana showered Shubhum with love and spent quality time sweet-talking and coaxing him to take an interest in his work and channel his energy in the right direction. “Gradually, I could see a change. He began to complete his tasks and mingle with others and he learnt to control his emotions. Importantly, Shubhum began to understand the importance of boundaries,” says his proud teacher.
Reward at the end of a rainbow
While there were restrictions when it came to his behavior, our balbhavans impose no limits when it comes to our children’s imagination and potential. Seeing the reflection of a rainbow in a slum puddle on his way home from class one day, Shubhum was inspired to draw what he had seen. The vibrancy of the colors jumped off the page, kick-starting a previously undiscovered passion and talent for art. “Shubhum now looks forward to coming to school and is excited to appear for the Government Elementary Grade exam for drawing,” says his relieved mother, between tears of joy.
The pot of gold at the end of Shubhum’s rainbow is that study and games with his friends are now an integral part of his life. He smiles and talks more and, most importantly, eagerly bounds through the doors of our balbhavan realising his future is brighter through education.
Snehalaya’s Utakarsha balbhavan pledges to transform the lives of the children of Laltaki slums where education is the least spoken word. It’s just one of seven balbhavans we run in Ahmednagar, bringing education and social change to over 700 children each day. Activities such as playgroup education, tuition for older children and health camps also help improve communal harmony, health and hygiene while reducing addictions and child labour and marriage.
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