Varanasi is a colorful but impoverished metropolis overflowing with cultural significance yet haunted by the many hundreds of thousands of untouchable children. Children who are forced to beg, living their lives in poverty, ignorance and abuse.
Buddha’s Smile School (BSS), founded and directed by teacher Rajan Kaur, feeds, educates and nurtures 350 of Varanasi’s untouchable children, providing them with a chance to break away from their poverty-stricken lives and merge into Indian society as vital, confident participants.
BSS takes children as young as six years old and looks after their day to day medical, food and educational needs. It encourages them toward attaining a higher education. Currently more than 60 children have moved through the BSS program. Some find work and others are able to extend their education via additional sponsorship. Currently there are several dozen children attending middle school and high school.
Leaky make-shift lean-tos, flooded for a large part of the year due to the monsoon is home to these children and their families. Malaria, rats, rabid dogs, lack of food and basic hygiene are their constant companions. They are spurned by others as unclean and untouchable yet loved, hugged and nurtured by Rajan and her teachers. BSS is their oasis, their lifeline. They arrive eager to learn because they understand knowledge is their way out. It’s their path to a life without begging and abuse. A better life. A healthier more independent and rewarding life.
Buddha’s Smile School feeds these children with more than food. It heals them with more than medicine and it enthuses them with more than dreams. Rajan’s husband Sukhdev runs the family restaurant attached to BSS. He cooks for the children, provides fatherly help and advice and his small business adds to the school’s significant funding needs.
Some parents paint circles of soot and oil around their children’s eyes to ward off evil. For BSS warding off the evil is a never ending financial and emotional battle. An increase in malaria this month, a raft of broken bone or a desperate parent trying to sell a daughter for food or save a son from a rabid dog-bite. Through all this Rajan and her teachers teach maths and English, dance and painting. They fight superstition, discrimination and hate and very month they visit the Dalit communities spending time with each family and ensuring the children are being cared for.
BSS always need financial help. The problems are massive and Rajan is constantly trying to juggle the medical, food and educational need of BSS to ensure the best outcome. Sometimes, like now, her juggling act becomes desperate as a major increase in malaria strikes her BSS children.