Girls in India prepare for graduation.
In early 2015, we met Anshul at a boarding school in Delhi, India. At this school, girls from impoverished communities who are also facing crisis or hardship can find safety and temporary or semi-permanent refuge.
Eighty girls between 5-18 years old live at Shishu Sangopan Griha (SSG), a long-time partner of Holt, and each of them has a sponsor whose monthly support provides everything they need to succeed. Each girl is there for a different reason — sometimes after the loss of one or both parents, sometimes because they are fleeing abuse, sometimes because they have endured unspeakable pain or have nowhere else to go.
With big, brown eyes and a charming, sweet disposition, Anshul spoke softly but passionately about her dream to become a social worker.
“Thank you for supporting us,” Anshul said, intending the message for her sponsor. “You give us so many things we need.”
At 14 years old, she was smart, mature and maternal to the younger children. Dressed in a bright pink and white outfit, she showed us to her second-story room.
“I sleep here,” she said, gesturing with her whole hand to one of the iron-framed bunk beds in a concrete-floored, dimly lit space. “I keep my stuff in this trunk, and a locker outside.” She walked outside to an open-air hallway that wrapped the internal, square perimeter of the building and looked down into an open, brick courtyard. She stopped at an old vanity with a mirror and a row of small, square lockers. “I keep my toothbrush and things in here.” Without stopping, she added politely, “Please excuse me, I have some studying to do,” and disappeared down a stairwell to the study room on the ground floor.
Some girls live at the hostel Monday through Friday for school, some girls stay temporarily while their parents work to get their feet on the ground, and some live here permanently.
Anshul began living at the hostel during the school week after a tiger killed her father on their rural farm.
Anshul and her mother moved to Delhi so her mom could take a job as a domestic servant for a wealthy family. Without her husband’s income, she struggled to pay for Anshul’s school fees, uniforms and supplies, but as a woman who never learned to read, Anshul’s mom wanted wholeheartedly to keep her only daughter in school. Anshul was welcomed to the hostel so she could receive school support, but she still visits her mother whenever possible on the weekend.
At the hostel, she soon made four close friends — natural leader Niharika, kind and loving Preeti, talkative and outgoing Sagarika and hard-working, independent Toshiba — and the tightknit group spent most of their waking moments together. All close in age, they bunked in the same room, went to the same school, worked on homework together, supported each other in their studies and all helped to care for and mentor the younger girls in the hostel.
In 2015, as 14 and 15 year olds, they dreamed of being a singer, a police officer, a college professor and a fashion designer.
Smart, polite and beyond conversational in English, each young woman left a lasting impression.
But, we also had to accept the truth.
For a girl from a poor family to stay in school through graduation, it takes tremendous perseverance, support and consistency — things that kids in crisis don’t always have.
Now, as 12th graders, they are reaching an important landmark — high school graduation.
For a group of five girls, all of whom have battled the hurdles of poverty and additional hardships, this is an incredible accomplishment, and the fact that they’ve all made it is a strong testament to the power of sponsorship and the power of their friendship and support for each other.
They are reaching adulthood. And, with the challenges of adulthood looming, they’ve come to savor and deeply appreciate the support they’ve received from their sponsors — support that allowed them to study and play and grow up without fear.
“My dreams are changing,” Sagarika says. “I used to want to be a fashion designer, but then when I researched programs for fashion design, I realized how expensive it was. Now, I want to be a police officer.”
Anshul still has the same kind eyes and warm smile. She is thinner now, and looks older. She still clings to her dream, but wonders how she will go to college.
“I want to work in social work in the future, but I think it might not be possible,” Anshul says. “I think after I graduate, I will need to help my mother. After 12th grade, I want to do some courses to become a social worker, but my mother has no money for classes.”
However, with a high school degree, Anshul will have already attained a level of education beyond what most girls growing up in poverty in India achieve. And with the confidence she’s gained overcoming many challenges, she’s looking to her future with great hope.
“I say thank you to my sponsor,” Anshul says. “You are supporting me and my needs, and I am forever grateful to you.”
Billie Loewen | Creative Lead