My Story by Helga Frech

Located on the outskirts of Varanasi is a small and simple school — Buddha’s Smile School. The space for the students is very restricted, and classrooms are of only 3 walls and a roof.

In a confined area. Less than 200 m2. 220 Untouchables carry of their daily studies. They sit on small benches, and share tables with at least 4 others. The classes are from the 1st grade to 5th grade. They share their classes with at least 20 other students, and as previously mentioned not a lot of space… to even stretch your legs.

When we arrived. The only knowledge we had of the place was: it was a school for beggar children and we expected to be consumed by the masses of children that would see their chance in getting some money, from a couple of tourists.

Fact was, we arrived there with no previous notice, the children were all seated in their classes, and the youngest seated on the outside, having time to play child games. Not a single child, rose from their position, and headed for us. Definitely on the spot you could see they were well behaved.

School passed and off they went home. Grade by grade was aligned, and all well organized they went into the rickshaw’s that would transport them back “Home”.

Not that all the other previous impressions were special, but one did really stand out. This was special. Never do I believe I will see such a thing again. Two children from one of the lower grades were crying. Not because they had fought. But because they did not want leave. I will not refer to the place where they came from as their home. To them it did not feel so. At the place where they live, they were the income generators. The ones that cook, clean care for their parents their brothers and sisters. These kids were the ones that had to serve for their parents. They had to go to streets and beg, they were the ones that were treated as animals. Not in the streets, but in their homes.

The headmaster had countless examples, and just to mention one.

A girl spent half the day at school. She finished her schooling, and went of to begging. Following that she had earned an income to the family. Not much. But enough to buy rice for the family. The day was not over by then. Of course there were the daily home choirs to be done. Cleaning, washing, and caring for the young. By evening she had to cook dinner. Here she boiled the rice she had worked for during the day. By mistake, while carrying the boiled rice, she accidentally dropped the food. This girl did not get a break for the following 2 minutes or more. She was beaten in every way possible, and fists flew from all angles. She was beaten so badly, she did not show for school for some days.This was of the countless examples they had.

What was worth mentioning about this small story is the background information.

In a poor family, life is not that easy. First of all, money comes first, and the parents are willing to do anything for money.

The headmaster told us. Children are not produced, because of love, they are money earners, and the more you have the better. The more people you have to earn the money the easier it becomes. A mother with a young child is very successful. Children at a young age are well off in the begging business. They can easily earn few rupees. Their daily income would be of an avg. of 25 rupees, after having eaten from it. That is what they bring back home.

But father in general is not willing to lift a finger. Life for him is too much. If nobody offers him something, then it is extremely rare for him to search for a job, not mention, if he finds one, there has to be a substantial income. He will be the one that will lie at home, and do zero.

After all who is willing to give a beggar a job, which is willing to give a beggar anything apart from a little money and food, which in Indian society would ever trust a beggar? To him this is reason enough to decide to do nothing at all. His wife will have the same problem; even if they were to look, and find a job they would work long quantities of hours, and get a small income.

It is much easier, to sit, and only lift your hand, and get money, maybe less, but much easier. A day’s of hard labor does not pay off.

So what a hard life! There is much to think about. Therefore the father results in drinking. He will set his need first, drinking and gambling before his children’s stomach. He can not cope with the daily life, and all the problems, and needs.

These were the words of a headmaster with 15 years experience, in dealing with these people.

To make it more understandable:

1st example:

A child beggar, their income can vary from 0-70 rupees a day. That is what I was presented by the few I asked. So to say, in average something like 25 rupees per day. This in a month would result in: 750 rupees, a month.

2nd example:

A skilled weaver in Varanasi will have an income of 50 rupees per day, this in a month is 1500 rupees. Twice as much as what a beggar earns. The not so skilled weavers would earn 800 rupees a month.

Definitely it is much easier to earn money begging. You work as long as you please, you do what you want. Whiles for a weaver he has working hours. People tell me it is only 8 hours daily. But I see many working more than that. It is very hard work for very little money. But then, the father does not have to work, because he has his kids to do it for him. So of course not, they can manage to survive, so no need to stress.

Another small example about how meaningful money is. Not long ago, a father of one of the children at the school, tried to sell his daughter. Only because he was an alcoholic, a gambler, a lazy person, not willing to work. So he saw the chance of earning some quick money, get rid of another mouth to feed, and thereby tried selling his daughter. He did not even care what she would be doing, prostitution, and slavery. Did not matter!

You can say what you want. Poverty of the mind, spiritual poverty. But the fact is. An uneducated person will rarely succeed in becoming wealthier. If the will is there, for a change, it will be a hundred times harder for an uneducated, poor, beggar to change his life for the better.

There is nothing he can contribute with, in society. He does not have the basic knowledge and potential, to make it in society. He can not get a job, at a counter. He can not give to the society something that is needed. That is why they are presented with these low jobs, where working hours are long, money is low and the physical demand level is high. Never will you see an educated person, who made it past 12th grade sweeping floors, or moving garbage on the streets.

That is why education is important.

These 220 kids are not the whole of India. But they will have a much better future than their parents. They are already smarter; they are already able to write their name, read and count. The ones in school now will make sure that their younger brothers and sisters also make it to school, because they know better. They understand it is important. The biggest task this school is faced with, is actually educating the parents, and making them understand that the kids are their responsibility, they can not deny them education, and they should care much more for them.

A small proof of the importance of education:

If you were left in the middle of any major city, village. Poor or rich country. There is no possible way for you ever to reach the level of a beggar.

Why? Because you would be educated. You would know what to do. You would be smart, and aware, and find your possibilities. You would have something somebody needed. You would find a job.

Why? Because of education.

Therefore the poor will always be poor unless educated. You can give work and what ever, for them to earn more money, but the amount is limited. With education they would not beg, they would not do low income generating jobs.

Then you can argue that there are not enough jobs, but the fact is they are capable of changing their life, if given the opportunity. And there are always jobs for educated people.

Now for the first time I do actually get the meaning of education, how important it is just to read write, talk, and count.

I take it for granted. But for these kids it can definitely change their life.

Thank you Buddha´s Smile School.

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