I was on a 90-minute drive through the congested streets of Hyderabad with my Hindi-speaking driver unsure of where we were going. With a hodgepodge collaboration of phone calls, WhatsApp messages, directions from a rickshaw driver, a kind woman in full burka, and a fruit vender, we found our coffee shop meeting spot. There were joyous hugs all around between me and the Plus2 graduates I was there to meet. These girls had graduated from Wings School and completed junior college thanks to Plus2 Scholarships from the Kiran Anjali Project. All are now attending university. I was relieved to see them after the twists and turns of the journey and excited to hear about their lives as college students.
My first meeting was with Shauna, Varsha, and Lopa*. Shauna moved in with her cousin Varsha after she lost both parents. Varsha is very bubbly while Shauna is more serious, with a shy smile. They are attending Begumput Woman’s College in Hyderabad, a government college. Both are pursuing Business and Commerce degrees with hopes of getting their MBA. Shauna timidly said, ‘Ma’am, I want to study my MBA abroad. It is my dream ma’am.” Both would like to land jobs at major corporations like Microsoft or Dell. They are determined to succeed, but it isn’t easy. They spend 90 minutes on crowded buses to reach their college each day.
Varsha and Shauna’s family struggles with many of the challenges of the urban poor. The family’s small, cinder-block home sustained severe damage in the heavy monsoon rains and there isn’t money for repairs. Varsha’s mother works as a day laborer, digging up plants to be sold in garden nurseries, while the father drives a delivery auto rickshaw. Both girls said they are actively looking for part time jobs to help out. In spite of the hardship, the parents are very supportive of their girls’ education. Seeing their progress gives them hope that life will be better for their children.
Lopa, the third girl I met, is attending RGR Siddhanthi College of Pharmacy. Lopa had always wanted to be a doctor but she wisely adjusted her career course to be a pharmacist. She needs to earn money for her family and an MD would take too long. It is heartwarming is that her extended family have pooled resources to finance her private college education. Her father is an electrician (a poorly paid job in India) and her mother works as a cook at Wings. After our meeting, Lopa messaged me that she had been selected to participate in a polio vaccination clinic – quite an opportunity for a first year student.
A few days later I was able to chat with Meena, Rohini, and Anumati*, the final three girls from the first Wings graduating class. Like Shauna, Meena is also rather reserved and serious. She is studying Information Technology with the hopes of being employed in the banking industry. Just like Lopa, her extended family has been able to pool resources to finance private university. Meena had to convince her mother that attending university was the right choice. Her mother thought she should get married, but her father intervened and said that Meena should continue her education! They are strict with her; she doesn’t have the freedom of some of her peers but she is grateful she able to pursue her dreams.
Rohini is studying computer science with hopes of going into law enforcement as an Indian Administrative Officer. Her passion is to combat the corruption that is so prevalent in India.
Anumati is studying chemistry with plans to become a chemical engineer. Her journey to be educated was fraught with fighting with her parents to stay at Wings, Loyola Junior College, and now university. Her parents had a hard time adjusting to their daughter’s independence and assertive behavior as she became more confident. But Anumati has prevailed. Both Rohini and Anumati are attending private university and have moved in with grandparents to be closer to their schools.
The success of these young women is truly remarkable. Over and over they expressed their gratitude to our donors. “Thank you for making our life colorful,” said Varsha. You are the Wizard of Oz for these girls: you’ve turned their lives from bleak black and white to rich Technicolor. They are on their very own yellow brick road to a life of possibilities.
*We have changed the students’ names to protect their privacy.