Vanessa Turner

Rajan, 35, originally came from Calcutta. As a young child, she had always been very sensitive to the suffering around her, so much so that she used to wake up before her mother did and prepare food and clothes to give to the beggars in her area. Rajan’s gentleness and love is what won the heart of her husband, Sukhdev Singh, but this created a huge rift in her family, as her parents had been planning an arranged marriage for her with a wealthy Indian man living in Australia.

Sukhdev was a pure and honest man, but his family’s religious background differed slightly from Rajan’s, so both sets of parents ardently forbade the relationship. Nonetheless, Rajan chose her true love for Sukhdev over the economic and social pressures inflicted upon her by her family.

After completing her B.A. in Education and English from Calcutta University in 1993, she and Sukhdev married and moved to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Rajan immediately got a job teaching at a prestigious public school in Varanasi. But after her teaching day ended she would return to their small flat in Ashapur, the poorest and most troubled part of Varanasi. There Rajan would open up her front yard to the nearby beggars’ children, who were not attending school, and teach them reading, writing, and mathematics.

Thanks to donors like Amistad International, Rajan has been able to increase the size of her free school for underprivileged children. Two hundred children are now receiving their education in a warm, loving, and nurturing environment. Rajan is also able to provide snacks and occasional meals for the hungry children. Thanks to Amistad some of the students even have uniforms so that they do not have to attend school in rags and bare feet, giving them pride in themselves and their education.

The students’ parents are rickshaw drivers, sweepers, cow dung collectors, or weavers who are paid well below the minimum daily requirement to live and survive. Many children still beg at the brutal command of their desperate parents, who threaten to beat and even kill them if they do not return with money for dinner.

Many students have come to school with horror stories of dead relatives, brothers, sisters, mothers, who either fell sick from hunger and disease or simply died from cold in the winter or from heat in the sweltering summers. The poorest children have learned to catch rats and snakes and cook them in a fire without even spices or other flavouring, just so that they do not die of starvation.

Vanessa Turner