Haneli barediddu - "what is written on the forehead"
In Western culture we're born into a life of privilege regardless of our social and economic status. We have the right to food and water, we have the right to freedom, and most importantly, we have the right to an education. Education gives us the opportunity to make a difference in the world, even just the basic life, language, and math skills are enough for us to go on and shape our own future. Something we so often take for granted.
The quote at the beginning of this posts refers to India's caste system which dates back thousands of years. People were divided into four groups; the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Below these groups were the 'Dalits', otherwise known as the "untouchables". Considered inferior and impure, the Dalits are, at birth, considered less than human.
The Dalits are born into a society where education is not a right and they're deemed to a life of laborious work and unbearable suffering. Carrying and bashing rocks all day in the quarries, cleaning houses, living in a small hut with their families, and surviving on less than $2 per day. Dalits continue face discrimination and segregation throughout India, with many people not wanting to touch them, eat with them, or socialize with them. Our everyday complaints are nothing compared to those people we tend to block out of our minds.
One place that has made a tremendous difference on the futures of the "untouchables" is Shanti Bhavan.
Located on the outskirts of Bangalore, Shanti Bhavan is an Indian boarding institution for the poorest of the poor. A school unlike any other, Shanti Bhavan takes children away from their families at the age of 4 from villages in the three surrounding states. One child from each family is selected to attend the school with the hopes that they'll go on to make a difference for their entire family. These children come from the lowest caste in India and until Shanti Bhavan it was unheard of that they could be educated and go on to lead a more privileged life. Shanti Bhavan supports the children from their first day of school right through to their first day of work.
Founder Dr Abraham George believes that by helping one child, that one child will then go on to help one hundred more, one thousand more, or maybe even one million more if they go on to become a national leader.
He focuses on good and loving care, bringing up these children as if they're his own, teaching them good values, offering them excellent education, putting them through good colleges, and watching them succeed. The children at Shanti Bhavan look up to Dr George as if he were their father. An incredibly inspiring man who feeds, clothes and educates the children right through to their young adult years.
Students are sent home to see their families twice a year, which many of them express leaves them feeling as though they're living double lives; one in their villages surrounded by extreme poverty and one at Shanti Bhavan, the one that continues to give them hope and inspiration for the future.
Despite facing financial problems in the past, Founder Dr George and his son Ajit, who oversees operations between India and New York, have never given up hope for the school or the futures of these children.
I first heard of Shanti Bhavan in Madelaine Grant's documentary 'The Backward Class' which follows the 12th graders right before they undergo their ISC (India School Certificate). The ISC exam will determine whether or not the children will be accepted into college to further their education.
The teenagers, having lived at Shanti Bhavan for most of their young adult lives, feel an immense amount of pressure to succeed as Shanti Bhavan's first graduating class. Come the end of the documentary, we see them go on to be accepted into the top colleges in India, studying subjects like physics and engineering, and later going on to work at prestigious companies such as Mercedes Benz and Goldman Sachs. They continue to support their families by contributing between 10-50% of their salaries. To watch the 12th graders in this documentary is phenomenal, it's living proof of the forgotten potential of the rural poor and that being given the opportunity to succeed is priceless.
For more information on Shanti Bhavan, tune into Vanessa Roth's much anticipated NETFLIX documentary Daughters of Destiny, a four part series that premiered worldwide on Friday evening. Roth films the students of Shanti Bhavan over a period of seven years and perfectly captures the beauty of the school and the pure ambition and strength of its students. Watch the children as they grow, listen to their dreams, their worries, their hopes, and their obstacles.
Over the past 20 years, The Shanti Bhavan Children's Project has produced a generation of engineers, lawyers, scientists, and journalists. There are many ways to get involved either by donating or volunteering at the school. Shanti Bhavan are currently fundraising to open their second boarding school in India, one that will help hundreds more children break the poverty cycle and finally put an end to the caste system.
Visit the website here to stay up to date with the children of Shanti Bhavan.
Shanti Bhavan - "An Abode of Peace"