Yesterday was Day #2 of admissions at AIC. It was also probably one of the most exhausting days we’ve had in a while.
We had (foolishly) assumed that upper standard (non-nursery) admissions wouldn’t take too long, and had planned to set up camp in the Health and Community Centre from 1-3pm to take down information about children seeking admission into our program for all standards higher than nursery. [Ha. Hahahaha…]
By the time we arrived at 12:30 to set up our computers and meet with Rashmi to review the procedure, the entire 2-story stairwell was completely packed with parents and children, many of whom had been waiting since early morning for their spot in the line. By the time we started calling the parents and children in at 1, the line was out the door and filling the alley next to our building.
Needless to say, we quickly realized that there was no way that we were going to be finished by 3, and we were right – we said goodbye to the last sets of parents at 7pm. Over the course of our nonstop-six-hour-long admissions marathon, we talked with and took down information about a dizzying assortment of children and their parents. Sadly, there will not be space in our program for most of them, so we will soon begin reviewing the list and paring it down to the neediest and the most likely to benefit from our programs, with preference given to girls.
One girl whose situation truly broke my heart yesterday was that of 11-year-old Naseeb, the oldest of her parents’ five children.
Naseeb is not enrolled in school (nor are her 9-, 8-, 5-, or 3-year old siblings) and spends her days helping her mother with roadside metalwork. In the Sikligar community, it is exceptionally rare for women to work outside of the house due to strict cultural taboos, but Naseeb’s mother explained (through tears) that her husband is an abusive alcoholic who stopped providing for the family years ago, and she has had to take over the traditionally male-oriented occupation of metalwork to support her children. She earns, at best, Rs 1,500 ($35) per month, which her husband also dips into to pay for his alcohol habit.
Going through the typical admissions questions for Naseeb and her younger siblings, it became apparent just how heavy the burden that Naseeb carries truly is, as her mother detailed Naseeb’s role working alongside her in a dangerous, often injurious trade, taking care of the younger children and helping with the housework. When we asked who would pick up and drop off the four younger children from the AIC Education Centre each day, Naseeb’s mother said that Naseeb would do it, as she (the mother) cannot take time away from working, and her husband cannot be trusted with the children. When we asked about medical problems, Naseeb’s mother mentioned that Naseeb often suffers from dizziness and faints. When we asked how many meals the family eats per day, the mother confided quietly that there had been no food in the house all week, and the last time any of them had eaten was two days earlier. When we offered the children food, Naseeb’s younger siblings ate the chapatis and bhaji hungrily, but Naseeb hung her head in shame and wiped back tears, while insisting that she wasn’t hungry and gave her portion to her baby sister.
We see poverty and desperation on a daily basis in this line of work – heartbreaking stories, inconsolable tears, medical conditions could have been prevented – you name it, chances are good we’ve been confronted by it. And yet somehow, this girl and the weary, downtrodden look in her eyes struck a unique chord with me. While we haven’t narrowed down the admissions list yet, I will certainly be advocating for Naseeb’s spot on the list, because I see so much potential in her uncomplaining selflessness, hard work, self-discipline and sacrifice. And although she’ll be getting a late start to her education, I believe that, with our support, she will go far.