My dear friends,
It gives me great joy to write to you on the eve of my 58th birthday, particularly because I am delighted that the High School students from Asha slum communities have received outstanding results that have surpassed all my expectations. An 18 year old young boy called Prince who lives in Mayapuri slum colony has topped the Asha batch with 93% and scored 100% marks in History. He tells me that he crosses the railway line that runs outside his shack to go to the toilet in the open, everyday. He studies all night because he just can’t concentrate with trains passing by his shack every few minutes during the day. He tells me he uses ear plugs to try and drown out the deafening sound. His father is an illiterate manual labourer who has been carrying bricks to construction sites all his life. And then there’s Hari Om from Tigri, whose father is a roadside cobbler and an alcoholic. He has endured so much financial hardship that the family has been living on rent in a slum shack for the past 13 years. He has scored a stunning 90.7% overall with 92% in Economics. Devinder’s mother sells lemons and green chilis from street to street in her slum, in a basket she carries over her head. With hope in his eyes he tells me that he has scored 90.7% with 95% in Geography, and it is his passion to read Geography in an Honours Programme at Delhi University. Pinky’s story brought tears to my eyes because its so similar to my own. Her mother died when she was just 7 years old, after which her father remarried. He and her step mother have abandoned her, and she lives with her old grandmother. She told me she couldn’t count the number of times she has gone to bed after just a cup of tea or a glass of lemon water for dinner. She has scored 84.5% and she was sobbing uncontrollably when I put my arms around her and promised her that her dream of going to university would certainly come true. These are but a few examples among hundreds of young people who have done brilliantly inspite of living in the kind of hardship that you and I might find difficult to comprehend.
As the children were encouraged and inspired at every step of their journey by the Asha team and Ambassadors, I shared with them that it was important to be ambitious. I reminded them that ambition, the desire to achieve something, requires both energy and goals to succeed. We may have plenty of energy but no goals. We may pursue one opportunity after another without success, and wonder what it is that we want out of life. On the other hand, we may have goals, but not enough energy, and we may find ourselves wanting to achieve success, but quit when the work becomes too hard or too much. I shared some stories of great people who had failed so many times but embraced their failures and saw them as learning experiences. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, attempted to create many light bulbs before he developed one that actually worked. And he said: “ I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. “
At this stage of my life, as Asha will soon enter its 30th year, I believe every slum child needs a champion, someone who will never give up on them, and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Someone who will affirm them and praise them for their inner qualities, so that they will strive to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. Someone who will protect and defend them, be proud of them, and love them unconditionally. May we connect with every child in ways that help them to flourish in all the dimensions of their lives and to be the very best versions of themselves.
As hundreds of students are seeking to get into university at the end of this month, it is my hope that not one of them will be disappointed or turned away from financial support. I look to the global Asha family once again at this time, believing that we are all in this vision together, and that each one of us will play our part in transforming the lives of our slum children. You will shortly receive an appeal from the Asha Team that describes the details. I am deeply grateful to you for the many ways in which you have supported and encouraged me as I am about to enter the 59th year of my life.
With all my good wishes!