CHARAN KADD, India
In 2003, Jamyang asked himself a simple question, but one that most of us dare not ask, “Do they really deserve to change their life?”
The answer is obvious but necessitates action.
So Jamyang began to tackle the cloud of despair in Charan.
He began with shiny magazines full of happy people and photos of homes. He’d visit, drink tea and then pull out the magazine.
Of course, such an item is exciting so everyone crowded around and Jamyang would proclaim that they, too, could have a home and not just live under plastic.
He insisted that their children had every potential.
He explained that education was the key.
They thought he was insane.
The slum dwellers had never had anyone in their family educated and could not imagine they were able to have children who went to school.
It took a year of talking and encouragement and insisting they had the ability before three families agreed to allow three children to go to school.
Considering the hundreds of children in Charan, it was just a small victory.
But still, it was a victory and began breaking the cycle.
School acceptance was another challenge.
A school would agree to accept the children.
But when they arrived and it became evident they were slum dwellers, the school was suddenly full.
Finally, a kind-hearted principal agreed to accept the three children into her school on the condition that Jamyang take personal responsibility for them.
So Jamyang woke up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to walk the hour and a half to Charan (no buses at that time) and play mother, ensuring they were neat and washed and fed.
Often he had to do it himself.
Then he walked them to school and afterwards walked them home.
He found volunteers to help with homework.
The first 15 days were incredible.
Suddenly these kids were clean and neat, had shoes, bags and nice clothes for school.
Within days, five more parents asked for five more children to go to school.
After four months, problems developed.
There were scabies outbreaks from the Charan kids and they hadn’t broken habits of stealing or of selling every valuable thing they’d been given for school.
The school sent a letter explaining that other parents were withdrawing their children due to disease and atmosphere.
Something needed to change.
Jamyang knew that if he failed the slum now, he would lose their trust, and them their hope.
So Jamyang gathered donations and opened a hostel for the eight kids to live in.
There was an immediate improvement.
Here he could ensure hygiene, nourishment and could begin to educate them in positive living such as not stealing or drinking.
With adequate material objects, they felt no need to sell their shoes or school clothing.
When the hostel kids visited Charan and their families (within easy walking distance), the positive changes were obvious for everyone to see.
These kids were healthy, clean, and beautiful, behaved well toward others, and had educated ideas.
Parents were proud of their children.
When conflicts erupted in the community near hostel children, they often played a role in peacemaking.
Within a year parents were clamoring to have their children accepted to the hostel.
Twelve more children were accepted, with the male-female ratio exactly equal.
Now the hostel is full, but parents are always asking for spots for their children.
Today the hostel children mix with the local community and more educated people, something unthinkable a couple years ago.
They are very respected in Charan.
The children have only been going to school for two to three years, yet these 20 children now rank top in all Dharamsala private schools.
In the state of Himachael Pradesh, five of the 20 are ranked in the first division.
The kids await exams, but scores suggest three of the kids will inevitably be ranked as having the top three grades in the entire state.
These 20 kids are dreaming big.
Though real change is occurring in Charan, there is still a long way to go.
Of more than 300 children, only a handful go to school.
Most families still can’t conceive of change and can’t afford to give up an income earner.
The students include the 20 hostel students and about 20 more who attend school and return to the slum at night.
Another initiative is tutorial school in the late afternoon so Charan students can have school support and working kids can get a little education.
Math, Hindi, English, art and environmental studies (science/socials) are taught.
And a local was hired as teacher.
Part two of three. The third will be published on Monday.