It was a rainy summer day in Kandaghat, a small town nestled deep in the Himalayas, when I sat down on a park bench outside of the resort at which I was staying.
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I had just arrived at the resort, tired after a long journey from Chandigarh where I was volunteering to teach slum children. The rain sloshed relentlessly against the umbrella I held above my head as I sat patiently on the bench, pondering life. The past two weeks spent seeing the happy faces of children who led such difficult lives had put my thoughts in a tizzy. I had grown close to the children at the school which made it more difficult for me to realize that their futures may not be as bright as I would wish for them because of their poor backgrounds. It was then that an elderly man came and plopped down onto the bench next to mine. He turned and smiled at me saying, “ Lovely weather isn’t it miss?”.
I returned the smile and said with only slight sarcasm, “ Couldn’t have asked for better”. He laughed and asked me from where I had come. As I told him about my volunteer experience in Chandigarh, his expression slowly changed to a small knowing smile. “ Have you heard the story of the man who came to own this resort?” he said once I had finished telling him my worries about the fates of the slum children. I quickly said no, wondering how that was at all relevant to the topic at hand. “ It all began with a rickshaw…” he started.
Without further encouragement he began to tell me the tale. As it turned out, the owner of the resort had not been born into a life of affluence and riches, but rather he had been born into a life of struggle and strife. His first business was not a multimillion dollar enterprise, but rather it was a small auto-rickshaw which he operated himself. However with hard work and persistence he was able to make something of himself regardless of his background. After many years of working in construction he worked his way into the real estate business. Soon after that he became involved in the movie industry from which he earned the money to buy the land that would later become the resort at which I was staying.
As the man started to finish telling the story, I began to think of the slum children once again. However this time instead of thinking of their futures with a twinge of sadness, I instead thought of their futures with hope. I had been worrying about what lies ahead for them without giving them credit for their capability to achieve. I had come to India with the hope that I could help make a difference, no matter how small, in the lives of underprivileged children. Hearing this story only made me want to help make the dream of success a reality for more people of similar backgrounds.
My hope is not to cure poverty or to feed every undernourished man, woman, and child. Rather it is simply to have success stories such as this one become more common. To achieve this goal, I believe that it is important to encourage such street children to reach for higher goals than shoe shining or other menial jobs. They should not be allowed to feel as though they do not have the ability to prosper. Coming from a family where I have always received support when I was in need of it, I cannot imagine what it must be like to believe that you are incapable of thriving simply because of your socioeconomic status. I cannot imagine what it must be like to feel as though you are doomed to remain in that situation.
However, I can imagine a time where one’s future is not determined by how much money one’s family earns. Broken out of my thoughts by a sudden clap of thunder, I looked over at the man seated next to me. He sat with his hands in his lap, a look of happy nostalgia etched across his face. The rain continued to pour onto the pavement as the man and I remained seated in silence, staring aimlessly at the beautiful yet daunting landscape before us.