Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You made a difference: Dust to Dreams

Every evening as soon as Sangeetha returns from the school she begins cleaning the open-shelter and then feeds the lambs. It would be late evening when her father returns with the flocks of sheep. But this doesn’t signal the end of day for the family. After eating the dry wheat rotis along with spicy green chilies, the family goes to sleep but a slight bleat of a lamb or the bark of a dog wakes them up. They say, “Wild animals attack the sheep very often and since we don’t have proper enclosures to protect our sheep we are forced to safeguard them ourselves.” 
The sheep are their only source of livelihood. Her father Tejoram says, “I get Rs. 10 for shearing the wool for every sheep.” His flock of 132 sheep has been reduced to hundred. He says, “A few days ago the sheep were infected by some deadly sheep pox. I couldn’t afford the actual medicines as they were highly expensive. As suggested by a local chemist, I administered some de-worming syrup which was Rs. 500 a bottle.” Once in 3-4 months, Tejoram earns about Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 2,000 for shearing, he adds, “Since the income is too low, I am forced to sell the sheep once a year and it’s only that time I make enough money sustain the family expenses for a whole year.”
Sangeetha has two older sisters, but only one of them stays along with her. Her mother, Phumadevi says, “Our family cannot afford to raise three children. I have left the oldest one with her grandmother. She will be of some help to her and in turn her clothing and food requirements are taken care of.”  There are neither tears nor harsh words, as the reality that she lives with every single day, ebbs from her mouth.  Showing a packet of green chilies and chilly powder she says, “This is all the nutrition I can afford for my two children. We make spicy rotis because it kills the hunger and we eat less.” Her worry as a mother today is all about meeting the second meal for the family. She then adds, “Sangeetha and her sister get good nutritious food at the school which is a great relief for us as parents. She is able to concentrate on her studies because she gets good food.” 
A fourth grade student that she is Sangeetha enjoys studying.  Her teachers say that she is good at studies and never misses school unless she is forced to take the sheep out for grazing when her father or mother is sick. Her previous year’s report card shows that she scored a commendable 72%. This is a an achievement considering that she studies only in school and doesn’t get much time to study at home unless it’s a Sunday. Her teacher at the Government School in the remote suburb of Sanganer in Jaipur, Ramesh Chandra Sharma, says, “The mid day has helped students from poor economical background have access to both nutrition and education. If you would have visited the village a few years earlier you wouldn’t see parents who would willingly send the children to school. It’s the magic of the mid-day meal that has brought about a change.”
While it’s an accepted reality that most parents send the children to school because of the access to free food, in the course of time, parent’s including Sangeetha’s want their children to study further and secure a stable employment which will transform their lives. “I want to study and get a good job. Now I am not sure what I want to become.” says the shy-yet-determined nine-year-old.  The principal of the school says, “She is one of the few kids whose enthusiasm to study brightens up our lives. At time when we are engrossed in a little paper work and meetings, she comes and asks if we wouldn’t be taking classes.”  
Mid day meal is a miracle for many girls like Sangeetha which is giving them a two fold opportunity of a full nutritious meal and education who would have otherwise been deprived if either.

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