I met Asha graduate Junaid from Anna Nagar Slum Colony yesterday and he shared some wonderful news with me that I was thrilled to hear about. He has just got a job as Executive Camera Assistant at one of India’s leading Broadcasting Networks called TV 18 Broadcasting Ltd! TV 18 owns numerous TV channels such as CNBC, CNN news India, and so on.
Junaid was born and raised in some of the toughest conditions imaginable due to extreme poverty all through his childhood and most of his adult life. He father is a tailor and gets Rs 50/- (75p/ 90cents) for stitching one Indian ladies suit at a local tailor’s shop. And that too only when he has work. Days would go by when there was no work and no money. Junaid mostly went to the local government school without breakfast every morning. He told me how he once went without food for two entire days. And going to bed hungry was nothing new.
His family lived on rent in a slum hut of 8feet by 10feet. Junaid remembers that one morning when he was 8 years old, the landlord came to their hut and demanded that they vacate because they had not paid rent for two months. They begged him for some more time, but he mercilessly began to throw out all the kitchen utensils, the bedding, Junaid’s books, and all of the family’s meagre belongings. Junaid remembers how he and his family spent the entire night in the slum lane not knowing where to go.
Soon Junaid began to come to the Asha centre and gradually got involved in the Asha activities. He was a wonderful Bal Mandal member, full of life and big dreams. He says that when he would meet volunteers from all over the world who would come and spend time with him, he would experience passionate desires welling up from within, and want to become something in life. He remembers the wonderful words of encouragement from Ian Farr and David Briggs from the U.K. Those words were imprinted on his memory forever.
His journey with Asha brought about an amazing turn around in his life. He was encouraged by the Asha family to study hard. He would study at the Asha Centre during the day, and underneath the street lamps outside the WHO building across the road at night. He just spread out a small sheet under the street lamp, sat on it, and studied until the early hours of the morning.
In his words: ‘Ma’am, because of you and Asha, I was able to go to college. Without your help, I would have been a boy lost to poverty, and on the streets.’ Asha encouraged him, helped him with lots of books, and paid every rupee of his college fees. He proudly graduated from the University of Delhi with a BA, something unthinkable for him. While at college, he would work as a waiter at wedding parties, earning Rs 180/- ( 2pounds/ 3 usd) at each party that went on until the early hours of the morning. He used this money to pay for his travel and other college expenses. He would carry his waiter’s uniform with him in his college backpack. One day, he saw one of his classmates at a party and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him to avoid embarrassment!
He had no money to buy a phone even, and while all his classmates would communicate on Whatsapp all the time, he would be deeply ashamed because he had no phone.
Junaid became a wonderful Asha Ambassador, coaching and mentoring many younger students in Anna Nagar. One day when he came to my home for an Ambassador’s meeting, he shared with me that he wanted to become a professional cameraman and cinematographer. I urged him to pursue his passion and promised him all help.
I helped him enrol in one of India’s finest institutions for a course in Photography and cinematography, and by the grace of God, was able to help him pay most of his fees. What joy on his countenance when he was finally enrolled! I could see his passion and felt sure that even though the field was competitive, his passion would help him flourish. Once he completed his course, I was able to help him in his desire to go to Bangalore and work with a production house, gaining practical and technical experience. His parents begged him not to go, not to ‘waste’ time, to do some kind of work, any work, and bring money into the house. But Junaid knew better. He forgave his parents for not understanding him. After all, how could they? They were illiterate and had no comprehension of his degree or career prospects.
Junaid also remembers with great respect his Asha mentor Bhibhu who never failed to encourage him and guide him on his job prospects once he completed his course.
The boy who has known hunger and destitution all his life, has today begun his career in one of India’s best-known Broadcasting networks. Let us all wish him every blessing as he begins his new life. Let us pay tribute to his courage, his resilience, his determination, his optimism. May we together help thousands of Junaids like him to fulfill the hopes and dreams we see in their eyes, as we encounter their desires and their passions while walking through the slums.