Raja celebrated his birthday a few days back. He is settled in Bangalore, working at a culinary chain called RASA. When Raja wears his uniform, the whiteness of the attire complimenting its gleaming pink border, his face shines. It has been a long journey for him, and so much has happened in these few months, between Bhopal and Bangalore, between the established man he is today and the uncannily quiet boy that lived in one of the shelters in Bhopal. It was here during his days at the shelter that Shilpi met him.
The first thing anyone would notice about Raja was how he would stay silent for hours. Unlike his friends at the shelter, Raja avoided going outside. His world was his shelter and with each passing day, he put more and more barriers between himself and the world outside. A strange fear loomed large over his head. A fear of being thrust beyond the boundaries of his shelter home, a feeling of being unprotected and alone in the world.
When Shilpi, one of our volunteers and his Propel Wingman, met him, the first thing she struggled with was helping him break the inhibitions he had internalized all these years. If this boy wouldn’t speak, how was she to empower him? To help him not cower away, but conquer the world? He was her child, her responsibility and she had to do something about it.
As luck would have it, it was around this time that Mariott conducted an activity for the children and were impressed by their enthusiasm and willingness to learn. They agreed to conduct interviews for the older kids to admit them to their program in Hotel Management, along with a stipend and a guaranteed job offer. While these were joyful tidings, for Shilpi and the rest of the volunteers this meant a red alert. How would Raja, a boy who could not even make eye contact, go through the selection process? Their hearts raced and a little panic ensued. However, the most incredulous thing about human beings is that they are creatures of faith. They believe they can raze the mountains, win battles and discover new planets. They believe in themselves and they believe in each other. In their hearts, they have a fire burning. The fire ignited with some hope, some belief-a belief perhaps, to change the world.
The first thing the volunteers did was work on Raja’s eye contact. He would hardly budge, avert eyes and almost shake with fear. It seemed like an indomitable task but the volunteers were a stubborn lot. The children too started responding and put in their efforts. The D-day arrived. Raja, along with his friend Lalit, was summoned for the interview. Lalit got through. His friend wasn’t so lucky. Of course hopes were ground to dust and some dreams were shattered. But we, human beings, are resilient creatures. We can bear the biggest onslaught with a smile on our faces. Our volunteers too chose not to give up. “Don’t stop believing”-this is what they told themselves and to Raja that day.
They say that the best chances are granted to you by life at the most unexpected hour. Failures you will face galore but the good things, when they come, will fill you with renewed vigour. One such chance came in the form of Rasa-a London based Indian restaurant. One of RASA’s officials was in town and the Propel team had worked towards arranging a meeting between him and Raja in Bangalore. If there was an opportunity out there to change Raja’s life, it was this one. There was only one hindrance-Raja’s own fear of stepping out of his shelter. However, when Shilpi asked Raja his thoughts on the matter, to her great surprise, he agreed in an instant. The last thing Shilpi recalls saying to Raja in Bhopal before he got on that train was, “You do know you are leaving for the good?” Raja had solemnly nodded and said, “Yes, I know.”
Months have passed since then. Raja impressed the RASA team and got through. He judiciously saved his stipend and got his first Android phone. He went online and booked train tickets on his phone. From that boy who shook with fear on looking someone in the eye, he broke free from his shackles and embraced change. Recently when we celebrated Raja’s birthday with him at Bangalore, we noticed some things that moved something within us. We realised that Raja has become free. He has become an achiever, a dreamer. Raja too, like his mentors back in Bhopal, has become a believer.
People often ask us, “So how much difference have you made? Do you think this will change? It’s impossible!” Make A Difference-the name itself accrues a huge responsibility on us. We have the responsibility of empowering children, of creating safe ecosystems for them to grow up in and the larger responsibility of enabling the sector. When we teach a class for a year or two and we still see a child languish with articles, we feel frustrated. We feel our efforts to be squashed, our huge dreams and expectations being stomped on. We do indeed feel shattered. But an important thing to remember is that change doesn’t just happen-we must make it happen. We must pick up bits and pieces of ourselves every time we fall apart and rebuild ourselves. We must put in faith, we must put in a lot of hard work and we must never stop believing. Believe that change is possible. Believe that there is a brighter future for you and me, and for those tens and thousands of children out there. Believe that when we come together, nothing can remain unachievable.
Our lives have been shaped and moulded by people who came into our lives and started a conversation at the right time- people like our parents, mentors, siblings, friends. Each one of them carried in their words a spark.
A spark that lit the fire of possibilities, of dreams, of hopes and ambitions within us. A fire that did not let us sleep at night. A fire that still burns within us today. Strong.
Most of the children we work with at MAD are talented. They are caring, with a lot of love to give. But the reason why 95% children in street shelters drop out even before they finish tenth standard is because of the lack of what we have. That parent. That sibling. That guide.
Currently, there are 177 million children without a support system. They are children with immense untapped potential. That untapped potential is lying isolated, somewhere. Some place where only someone with that spark can reach into and turn it into a blazing fire.
We at MAD realize that every time we walk into a shelter to meet our children, we kindle that spark in over 5000 children over 77 Shelter homes in 23 cities.
To fan it.
To make a roaring fire that burns bright.
Are you that spark?
MAD is recruiting. Register yourself at www.makeadiff.in/join!