Choosing my own path
“Education means everything to me.”
I understand that in the West, in the UK and the USA for example everybody gets a chance to go to School. One of the co-founders of People First told me one day that actually he hated his school and left early with little or no qualifications. When he was my age, about 22 he realized his mistake and went back to school, to university to study for his degree. And now he has started an educational charity and is working for so many children to have the right to an education. He once told me “education is not merely the gaining of qualifications; it is the right to choose your own path in life”. I mention this because without People First that choice would have been denied to me, I would have still been taking my family’s goats to the river, I would not have been able to read even the local newspaper, I would have had no chance of a fulfilling life. I would have been like so many in my village, like so many of my family, unable to even fill in the form for a railway ticket without help, unable to know about my rights, unable to know which bus to catch, kept in ignorance and poverty because nobody was there to teach me to read and write.
I know there are people who say, educating village children will kill the village. They will all leave for the lights and flyovers of the cities and metros, they will abandon their homes, they will never return. But I want to tell you, who are the dishwashers behind the scenes of the five star hotels, who are the rickshaw pullers, the labourers building luxury flats for the rich? They are mainly the uneducated poor from States like Bihar. The general coaches of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata bound trains are full of such people. All travelling in hope and in dirty overcrowded coaches for the chance to make a pittance under the skyscrapers and a polluted sky, far away from the clean green air of the village. Most will return with little to show for their efforts, mostly broken dreams and empty pockets.
The trafficking of people, particularly children from Bihar is well documented but the full extent is not really known, it is a huge problem. And yet people say providing education for the village poor will make the situation worse? I say to those who doubt the value of an education, I am sure you criticise from the position of being provided one.
I will never abandon my family. Nor will any other student that I know from People First. If anything we will be able to help break the so called cycle of poverty.
I want to help provide my family with a tiled roof to replace the straw one, I want never again to see them hungry, I want them to worry no longer about the future, about their children, I want them to live lives of dignity in reasonable comfort, to never again not have money to buy medicines for their children for, my dying brother, who passed away when he was five, for want of a bottle of pills costing about one US dollar. With my education I can do all these things and have a wonderful fulfilled life myself. That is all I ask.
I was born into a Dalit caste family in a poor village in Bihar. Of course we never had toys but we used you make our own, a brick tied to a piece of string would do, but I was soon helping with the household chores and tending the goats. I have two brothers one younger and one older, and one sister. We accepted our life, in our culture to be born into a lower caste is regarded as a punishment from God for transgressions in a former life.
We were often hungry. I always remember in my childhood how my mother would always do her best to look clean, even in her tattered Sari, how she would always try to do her best for us, even if there was only a little rice to cook. And my father who never drank, but would tell us tell us stories at night by the light of a simple lantern, and would try and find a piece of plastic to cover the roof above the place on the floor where we slept, when the rains came.
There was a government school, but there was nobody there except children waiting for teachers to come, or when they did to be actually taught by them.
And then People First started a school. They came to our village because many villagers got together and donated land to them so they could build a school.
It was of course, the beginning of a whole new life, it would transform everything.
I studied hard; I knew this was my way out. I won a People First Scholarship under the CAPS scheme (Children’s Academic Personal Scholarships) to a private residential school. I remember the day I told my mum and dad I was going to study full time, and they both beamed with pride. My mum, tears in her eyes, whispered “Dear God my son is going to be somebody, he will stand tall”
I passed my school leaving certificate and to be eligible for a college scholarship through People First I had to get a first division pass, I just scraped it to be honest.
First Division means the top 10%.
I was sponsored to go to college, and after studying computer engineering locally to Intermediate level, I am now completing my degree in software and computer engineering in a prestigious college in Bangalore, I am presently learning the C++language. I give thanks for the opportunities afforded to me every single day.
I walk the path with joy and hope. firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This story is based on a series of Interviews with Updendra describing his life.