Greetings from Hyderabad! My family arrived in India in mid-October and we have been enjoying the people, culture and life here. We spent time getting to know natives and contacts both in our home town and from the areas we have been visiting even from before our trip, and plan on continuing to take more frequent and longer trips in the coming years. Our hearts have been so deeply touched by the beautiful people here, and will now forever belong to this land!
While here, we were able to step in for a couple that runs a “tuitions” business, which is what they call tutoring centers. They are taking in the children of beggars, off the streets, to give them an education. They currently have three girls they are working with, and are planning on opening a full school in the future. In no time, these girls became like our own family and have given and taught us more than we could ever return.
I would like to tell you a little about one of these girls. Her name is Rajeswari, and she is always full of joy and wears a smile on her face. She comes from the Lombadi tribe. Her tribe is believed to be the root of all of the world’s Gypsies, who tend to be the greatest outcasts no matter what geographical location. Only about 3% of the Lombadi females ever learn to read, let alone get a full education. Since she is already 15 years old, and had never received any education, she was turned down by all of the orphanages and schools in the surrounding region, being told she was a hopeless case. Yet, I have witnessed the remarkable spirit and intelligence of this beautiful young lady and can only imagine the incredible future God has planned for her.
Rajeswari is capable of things that I could never do. She has, from a very young age, hopped onto trains as a stowaway, and traveled from Hyderabad to Delhi alone. We were told it wouldn’t be safe for our family if we had paid tickets, yet she is able to find her way around the streets, the interactions with all variety of characters, and survive all of the elements in between. She loves to take things apart, figure them out, and put them together. She had an electric sewing machine completely figured out the day after she saw one for the first time in her life! When we took her out, we had a magician that was wandering around giving little shows perform for all of us. He did all kinds of tricks with coins, paper bills, cards, etc. After he was finished, she came over and whispered in my ear “Not real magic Auntie, only God has real magic!” Then she explained how he did all of the tricks he performed because she had figured them all out when she was watching him. All of this occurred about 2 months after she decided to leave the streets and begin her education, including starting to learn English.
In the 6 weeks we spent time with her daily, we watched her grow in every way, but also got a glimpse into her heart. The first day we met and spent time with her, we gave her some marshmallows, which she had never had before. Sweets are a huge treat for the poor here, and are rarely able to be enjoyed. She tried her first one, and her face lit up! Her first response afterward was to take the marshmallows and place one into each of our mouths, then she went around the group again giving another to everybody. She wanted to share all of them, but we stopped her. That act is a tradition here, usually done with birthday cake, as a celebration and a way of sharing and is only done with those that are like family. The beauty of her generosity and warmth out a life of such great hardship and lack is breathtaking. She is consistently demonstrating selflessness and kindness to others. She has a perseverance that is relentless. She wanted to learn the choreography to a song, and played it incessantly for hours every day until she got it all down. I love watching her face when in deep discussions when she wears her overwhelming awe and appreciation of truths that display love, honor, and beauty! She shares her thoughts and has incredible insight and wisdom in how she sees and understands the important things in life, that many highly educated people never get.
What can happen in the life of such a treasure, with a little help? What could she do with a hope of a future? Who could she impact, if given the equipping she needs? The possibilities are stunning.
This special young lady is only one among countless others here that need a good education. I have spoken to some educators and there is an interest in learning more about Charlotte Mason. The receptivity has been easier and greater than I anticipated. India is known as a “Mecca of memorization” where mindless drill makes up pretty much everything that is learned. Take for instance the English instruction. I observed classes, reviewed curriculum, and discussed the methods with a teacher. They write the word in English, repeatedly, until they have the written word memorized. They have lists of categories, such as types of housing, and then they just go through the lists and drill. The first project I would like to tackle when I get back home is to find a way to create a good English curriculum that can be given freely to people to use in teaching the poor. Since most of India’s education, and all of the education available after 8th grade is in English only, it is the doorway to education here (as is similar in other places as well).
There are many obstacles that need to be addressed as well. Many of the poor girls are married off at very young ages because they are too expensive to keep and because a bride’s family gets a dowry. Many of the women are in desperate conditions, facing the hunger of their children in addition to their own. It is nearly impossible for them to survive without a husband, and they are cultural outcasts without one. There is no cultural allowance for them to remarry, and there is great shame placed upon them if they don’t have a husband. This means they are happier to have an unfaithful, alcoholic husband, who regularly beats them and doesn’t give them any of his income for her or the children, than to have him leave. I prayed for a woman who had scars all over her body, I could see them up her neck, covering her arms and hands, and knew they covered most of her body, from when her husband doused her in oil, then set her on fire. She wants people to pray for her husband to come back to her. This is both a common occurrence, and a common response. Can you imagine what kind of life makes having a man like that returning be a better option?
This type of severe poverty creates problems for children getting an education. They are hungry for one. It is hard to think or care when everything is being eclipsed by your hunger pains, and worry about when your next meal will be. Many poor children aren’t allowed to go to school because they are sold daily to provide money for their families. When they can go, it is hard to do well when your parents are illiterate and uneducated. The poor sanitation and hygiene practices make sickness and disease prevalent. We worked with many locals while they were battling lice, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, tuberculosis brain meningitis, and various other high fevers, worms, etc. Additionally, the pressures of debt, which many get into with daily exorbitantly high interest rates, are widespread and tremendous.
In order to provide an education to the ones most needing it, there needs to be a comprehensive plan. When we get home we are planning on beginning some things to start addressing them. We will be training and supporting a team long-distance that will be working in four different slums. Miraculously, two of those slums have buildings that have already been provided for our teams to use. The plan is to have tutoring for the kids, nutritious snacks, Sunday meals, and mentoring available. We are also going to be bringing in education for the parents on sanitation, debt, vocational training, and mentoring for them. We want to bring in jobs so that part-time opportunities in healthy environments can be made available, and are looking into how that can be done.
We are also meeting people who want to be trained for the schools that they run or teach in. There are some that want curriculum developed and training so that they can start schools. I would love to form teams to start schools. The future looks exciting for bringing quality education, and educational reform to India. Realistically though, we have seen that everything here takes time. A lot of time. The pace is quite a bit slower than we are all used to, which can be frustrating, until you see it is part of what makes them so precious. It is also a part of what will make a Charlotte Mason education thrive here, in a cultural that is more relational than our own.
It is small, but it is a beginning! We know that this will be a long journey, but the most rewarding we have ever experienced. We had the pleasure of having those girls and an amazing woman who was sold into labor from the slums as a child spend Thanksgiving with us. The joy they bring us in relationships by being a part of our family has made us rich. As we went around the table and shared what we were all thankful for, we were undone by each one of them. They shared how grateful they were to have a spread of food in front of them, when they could remember searching to borrow a single cup of rice to feed the entire family, not knowing how they would ever pay it back. They shared how grateful they were that they were able to get an education, and that they never thought they would have a chance to stop living in struggle. But they said it so much more beautifully than I could ever retell, with their hearts pouring out in a way that writing could never capture. It is an honor to know them. It is a privilege to be able to serve people such as these.
© 2013 by Tara Schorr