From Kolkata I took a train fifteen hours west to Varanasi (India’s most holy city) where Rajani Kaur and her husband, Sukhdev, met me at the train station and took me to their apartment above her Amistad International funded school for 200 children from the slums. I awoke the next morning to witness Rajan’s students, lined up in single-file lines by age, chanting their morning prayer, ‘Oh God, Enlighten my mind and beautify my heart, that I may do my work in a manner pleasing to you.’ That prayer is the epitome of Rajan’s work.
Being in Rajani’s presence has a calming and encouraging effect. She is such a loving, golden-hearted, hard working and sacrificing woman. She takes children who have no hope, and gives them her heart and teaches them.
Often the children who Rajan receives into her classroom can only sit blank-faced at first, because they cannot read their lessons. Through encouragement, patience and little goodies tucked into their tiny hands as rewards, before long she has her classroom full of children who can read at a level two grades higher than they did upon entering her school earlier in the year. Many of these children are taught at home that begging on the street provides a better opportunity for them than learning in a classroom, but Rajani strongly believes she has an obligation to change that way of thinking. ‘We don’t know which child will be a diamond in the future; but it is our responsibility to send them to school to find out.’
I saw firsthand how Amistad’s donors make a difference for these children. Amistad provides the money for four auto-rickshaws to bring children from their slums to her school five days a week. It provides salaries for seven teachers including Rajan herself (who pays herself only two-thirds of what she pays the others, and probably works twice as hard). Occasionally there is enough money to buy new shoes and warm sweaters. Once a week, a meal is provided for the children. Unfortunately, Rajani does not have funds to provide daily meals but nonetheless she opens so many other doors for children who have no one else to care for them.
I offered what insights I could to Rajan, but mainly encouraged her to carefully budget the small amount of funds she receives, explained to her what donors’ expectations are, and encouraged her to devote herself to the children rather than spreading herself too thin trying to reach all the children her generous heart aches to teach.
I am in Denver now practising law again. While my venue has changed to a more serene environment, my attitude toward life has also changed. I am now fully aware of how blessed I am to have benefited from education and career possibilities that most women in the world can’t even fathom.
My biggest struggle is rationalizing our nation’s material wealth compared to much of the rest of the world. It is nearly impossible for me to have dinner out, see the endless variety of stuff we sell in our malls, or flip through a glossy catalogue without being reminded of the number of children who could be educated, fed and kept from a life of prostitution with the money we so frivolously spend daily.
Special Note: Amistad especially want to thank Ann Down and the Good Works Institute, Donna Peters, Dr. Sundeep Rathore and Dr. Lawrence Chizen for their life-giving help to Rajani’s school.