It gives me great pleasure to share a few words with you on this wonderful occasion.
When I first entered Dr. Ambedkar slum colony where I began my work in 1988, I could hardly believe what I saw. Piles of rotting garbage, overflowing sewers and pigs wallowing in the muck. And amidst all this, small children were playing. They had nothing to do but rummage in the mud to find bits of plastic or metal to sell, or splash about together in pools of stagnant water. There was nothing to stimulate them. Nothing to give them any hope that their futures might look any different than what they saw around them.
We have spent the years since, conducting the massive rescue operation of delivering these children from child labour, and into primary and secondary education.
Now they stand before us as the first in their families, villages and communities to step into the world of higher education. Asha’s Higher Education programme is a pioneering effort. For the first time in our nation’s history, over 500 children from the city’s slums are receiving a higher education at one of India’s top ranking institutions of higher learning, Delhi University. Their courses range from those in engineering, to the sciences, and the arts. Others are gaining specialist skills at prestigious professional colleges, studying everything from nursing, to multimedia, to hospitality. Today, these children embody the hope of their communities, and the overwhelming pride I have in them cannot be sufficiently expressed.
Asha’s partnership with the country of New Zealand goes all the way back to 1991. Since then, the High Commission here in Delhi has offered us ongoing support in our educational initiatives. We have also been the recipient of New Zealand government funding through our longstanding partner, Tear Fund New Zealand.
I would like to offer our sincere thanks to the High Commission and the New Zealand government whose unwavering commitment to Asha’s many years of work has enabled us to see a day like this.
Finally, I would like to offer the utmost gratitude to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. John Key, for taking the time to be with us today. The aspirations of our children are so greatly encouraged through the marvellous opportunity of interacting with eminent figures such as yourself. It is my hope to be able to meet with you when I visit New Zealand in October, and ask that you will help us achieve our goals, by enabling a significant expansion of the partnership. This has the potential to result in thousands of such children finding their way into universities, to the point where it will become the norm rather than the exception. I am glad to let you know that the programme also has the support of India’s Education Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal, and Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram. It is my sincere belief that such an exciting initiative as this, can result in a revolutionary transformation for the young urban poor of this country. I look forward to working with you to make this a reality.