FROM A LIFE ON THE STREETS TO UNIVERSITY
With this photo selection of Poonam, a former street child who is now going to university, we would like to thank our sponsors for many years of continued support. Her story illustrates how a formerly "untouchable" child could turn her fate around through proper care and basic education.
Poonam was born in 1994 and grew up without a home together with her seven siblings. They spend most of their time at the Dasaswamedh Ghat dump in Benares. Her family belonged to the caste of the "untouchables", owned literally nothing, and fought hard for daily survival. The children had to go begging to feed themselves. No help could be expected from their alcoholic father, who also regularly abused the mother and children. Poonam’s little sister Monicka was suffering the most. Once again drunk, her father forcibly put the little ones' hand into boiling oil, deliberately burning her to trigger more alms when the three-year old went begging.
When I met Poonam and her siblings during our leprosy support in Dasaswamedh, she was bound to the same fate as many other street children: an undignified life marked by illnesses, mental and physical violence, and lifelong dependence, from either alms or a husband. She would have never had the chance to learn reading and writing, let alone graduate. Also Poonam remembers this vividly, “ when I first met Tara, this was perhaps the most important moment in my life. I remember her bathing me and my siblings in the Ganges every day to wash away the dirt - and how much fun we had together. Back to Life later enabled me to go to school for the first time in my life."
When Back to Life opened its first Children's Home in 2003, Poonam and her siblings were among the first children to move in. Here they could enjoying running water, regular meals, and their own beds for the first time in their lives. Over the years, we were able to admit more and more children to our homes. Poonam quickly became a "big sister" to all younger kids. With her caring and social attitude and her growing confidence she was a role model for them. Once Poonam was beaten by her teacher at school. She rushed back to the Children's Home and printed out the children's rights charter, about which she had learned in the Children's Home. She presented this to her teacher, who was seemingly astonished by her courage. From that moment on he refrained from physical discipline.
In fall 2012 Poonam started studying Indian History and Literature at the Benares-Hindu University. She has already made new friends and enjoys life as a student, especially since she no longer has to wear a school uniform. She also enjoys the respectful, friendly relationship between professors and students. Nevertheless, she misses her "old life" at the Children’s Home very much, "this was full of beautiful memories. I spent all day with all my brothers and sisters. It is my home where I have experienced so much love and affection.”
Thanks to the support of her longtime sponsors, Poonam has been given a chance to develop her potential, create a future for herself, and live a life in dignity.