Only 30 percent of Delhi's slum children make it to school beyond
the age of 14. But defying the statistics and the odds, a clutch
of bright-eyed youngsters is now studying humanities and even
engineering in well known colleges - with a little help from an
Eighteen-year-old Babita looks frail, but she recently joined
Maitreyi College of Delhi University as a political science
"After my Class 12 result, I thought I will be married off as my
mother could not afford my higher studies. My father died eight
years ago. My mother toils hard as a maid to make ends meet," said
"I remember times when my two brothers and I did not have anything
to eat and slept empty stomach," she said sitting in her one-room
cramped house in a narrow lane of Ambedkar Nagar slum in south
"On the last day to pay the college fee, I did not have a penny.
My mother asked me to drop the idea of joining college. I cried. I
did not know what to do," Babita told IANS.
But an NGO named Asha came to her rescue by paying her college
The same is the case of Radheswari, 18, who is a history honours
student. According to her, she is much more confident now.
"I used to look at a crowded bus and wonder whether I will ever be
able to travel in it. I was scared to go out of my slum as my
school was nearby. I never really went out of my comfort zone,"
said an excited Radheswari.
"Now I travel to Maitreyi College every day in a bus without any
hesitation. I feel liberated," she added.
Mahesh, 19, is a reserved boy with an innocent smile. This student
of Delhi College of Engineering said he has seen many twists and
turns in life.
"Though I got 83 percent in Class 10, there was a mixed feeling of
wanting to earn and study too. As I don't have a father, I felt
the need to take on some of the financial burden from my mother,"
He stays in a one-room house with his two siblings and mother. A
look inside reveals a corner full of books with his bag lying on
top of them.
Mahesh took an education loan of around Rs.1.5 lakh and the NGO
helped him in all the formalities , besides guiding him and
providing study materials.
Mahesh's friend Mahendra who lives in Ekta Vihar slum in south
Delhi had it a little easy. Now a first-year student of Greater
Noida's Galgotia College of Engineering and Technology, he had his
family's support to continue his studies.
"But my family couldn't help me financially. Occasionally, my
father asked me to drop the idea of engineering," said Mahendra.
He has taken a Rs.4 lakh education loan.
"I have to start working once this course is over and pay my loan.
Then I want to study more," he added confidently.
According to a report by Asha, every third Delhi resident lives in
a slum colony and around 86 percent of the urban poor in Delhi is
illiterate. By the age of 14, only 30 percent of children in Delhi
slums attend school. Delhi has some 1,500 slums.
"Slum children are denied opportunities and very few aspire for
higher education even if they manage to complete schooling. Even
the brightest children, particularly girls, are not sent to
college due to lack of money," Asha's founder Kiran Martin said.
"Social pressures, the obvious barriers of tuition fees and other
expenses, and lack of confidence keep young people from slums out
of higher education," she added.
One of the problems all these children face is difficulty in
concentrating on studies in a one-room house with their families
carrying out their daily activities.
"The outside noise, TV blaring nearby, cooking and people outside
talking loudly makes it difficult to study. I used to study at
night, but that was a problem too since the light used to disturb
my family members," Mahendra said.
Asha has also opened up a study centre so the slum kids have a
quiet time to study. The NGO is a community health and development
society that works with over 400,000 people in nearly 50 slum
colonies of Delhi.
Pathak can be contacted at email@example.com)
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