“Jungle people,” an unmistakably startling description, were the exact words used to describe the children at the Grace Charitable Trust after-school tutoring center. Seated within a patch of open canopy and surrounded by wild Bengal tigers, elephants, and black bears, this small building is the only light on the hill. Many of the homes in this area have no access to electricity, and if they do, it is inadequate for children to complete their studies after school.
Rajeshwari and Sandhyea were hard to overlook in the fluorescent room. Sandhyea, an electric 5th grader in a cheerful yellow dress, was the first to gleefully run and welcome me with a tight hug around my leg. Her sister, Rajeshwari, was an equally warm and giddy 6th grader. Two years ago, they received backpacks with school supplies from The Hope Venture. They were eager to show their family and all their relatives, and sprinted home, bursting with joy. I witnessed a similar joy when they proudly trotted their backpacks over to me, as if they were waving victory flags.
You see, for these sisters the backpacks are worth much more than a bag with straps. The education they are now able to receive is a priceless opportunity that erodes the chains of poverty shackled around their family. They are the first generation in their family to ever go to school. Because of a simple backpack, they will no longer be known simply as “jungle people.” Being given a backpack gives Rajeshwari and Sandhyea dignity to their name. A $10 backpack gives courage. It gives a chance. It gives hope.
Rajeshwari’s favorite animal is a tiger (which is amazing considering tigers have killed people near her village). I know she will face the future with the same boldness. One of Sandhyea’s favorite things to do is skip; my step agrees and follows her lead.
Backpacks are helping this little light on the hill to shine brilliantly brighter because the light of their future overpowers any bulb.
written by Ezra Bram, March 2018, India