When we lived in the City, our next door neighbour was a lady who taught in a primary school run by the Municipal Corporation. One year she was assigned to teach the 4th standard class.
Now there are exams for scholarships for students studying in the 4th standard. Almost the whole 4th standard class in the school that she taught, sat for these exams every year.
Not many students from the Municipal schools could obtain marks comparable to those of students from ‘private’ schools. So the authorities had decided upon a certain number of scholarships to be given to students from Municipal schools regardless of their rank in the combined merit list (of govt. as well as private schools).
My neighbour knew that this made the students feel inferior, even if they did receive the scholarship. So that year she decided to coach the students so well that some would make it to the general merit list.
For six months before the exams, she went one hour early to school every day, and made her students come early, too. The school was held in two shifts, so there was no classroom available for them to use. She bullied the school authorities until they designated a classroom for her scholarship class.
The hard work paid off and that year a few of her students actually did make it to the list of meritorious students in the general category. I still remember the look of joy on her face as she told me how proud her students and their parents were.
I am sure that the sense of self-worth that she gave her students, helped them later in their lives also. She realized exactly what the children needed to give them confidence, and guided them to achieve it.
She taught them that it was possible to realize their dreams.
These were small dreams, as dreams go. These were not dreams about going to the moon or winning an Oscar. But all the same they were important to the lives of these children.
All children have the right to dream and to feel that there is a chance of their dreams being transformed into reality.
I remember a workshop that we organised in Dharavi a few years ago for fifteen or sixteen year old underprivileged girls. A young friend of mine was doing a post-graduate course in Journalism at the time, and I asked her to take a session on ‘Choosing a Career’.
She discussed several different career options and then talked at length about her own career choice- Journalism.
I remember that the girls listened to her as though mesmerised. There was pin-drop silence in the room. This was something that they had never experienced. Someone was actually telling them that they had a choice!
You see, these girls very seldom ventured out of their area.The ‘outside world’ they saw mostly on television through serials or movies- and they were old enough to know that that was not their world.
If any of them had ever thought of a career, it was to become a teacher. A teacher could get a job in a government school. She could also takes tuitions at home. If they were really on a flight of fancy, they thought of becoming doctors.
That day they learnt, from a girl not much older than themselves, that there were other choices. And these were choices which could possibly turn into reality with diligent studying and a bit of luck.
These were the kind of dreams that these girls needed, not dreams to become millionaires overnight.
Slumdog Millionaire dreams are just what children living in Dharavi do not need. What they do need are dreams that will make them work just that little bit harder, study just that bit more, in the hope that they will transform into reality.
There is a need for people more fortunate than these children to connect with them, to teach them to dream, to lend them a helping hand for just a little while, so they can start on the path to making their dreams come true.
There are some things that can be achieved with money, teaching children to dream is not one of them.