Jan 2019 - Sept 2020
Today three of us from Oxford Saïd Business School EMBA J19, Alexey, Shawn and I went to see the BUDS school bringing with us our class’ donation. It turned out to be the most emotional experience of my whole India trip.
BUDS stands for the Hindi words, “Bal Umang Dryshya Sanstha.” Don’t ask me what they mean, since I don’t know as well, but the English acronym should give you an idea.
The BUDS school was located in an urban poor neighbourhood in Delhi, about a 45 minute drive from the tony diplomatic compound Taj Palace hotel, our Oxford program home base. The contrast is so drastic, I am short of words to describe it. Let’s just say it’s like going from a fairy tale to the reality. It was so bad that our taxi driver frowned upon going there.
After snaking through the bustling neighbourhood fighting for road space with cars, parts of cars that were moving, trucks, parts of trucks that were moving, rickshaws, stray dogs and holy cows, we arrived at a cluster of dilapidated buildings. There stood our host Yarwad and “It”. Yarwad is a middle-aged Indian man who founded the organization 19 years ago and “It” is what I could make of the name of his young assistant. “It” may be a butchering of his name, it’s quite appropriate since he runs the IT lab, which our fundraising was for.
They took us on a short walk through a small, and smelly alleyway lined with broken-down automobile parts to get to the school. It’s in a rather run-down three-story building squeezed in between two other rather run-down three-story buildings. The school occupies the second and third floor while the first floor is a mechanical shop of sorts.
As we climbed a narrow staircase to the second floor, two Indian girls, led by their teacher, a motherly figure, performed a welcome ritual by dotting our third eye chakras with red and a grain of rice and putting flower garlands around our necks.
Then we went to the third floor to see a roomful of street kids, some as tiny as two-year olds, some we thought could have been seven or eight. Later we were surprised to learn that they were as old as 13 . Malnutrition and the harshness of street living had gotten to them, making them look much smaller.
They swarmed us and grabbed our hands with an enthusiasm and happiness I’ve rarely seen among well-off kids. Then we sat down and Yarwad began to ask a few kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. There were future policemen, engineers, teachers, scientists and doctors among them. At that point, my eyes were wet. As poor as they were, they had dreams, just like the rest of us, in fact more audacious than the rest of us.
These kids were brought to Delhi by their desperate parents from the poorer parts of India to look for job opportunities. Since jobs are not plentiful, they became homeless street beggars. They became easy prey for the worst elements of society.
Some of the kids are orphaned, others have parents who are on the street begging or being hourly labourers doing odd jobs. When Yarwad told us most of the kids join their parents at night and sleep in train stations, under the bridge, or in any available nooks and crannies of urban roadways, I could barely hold back my tears. My heart went out to them just as if my own kids were suffering like them. And yet there was no suffering written across their faces, they were all like happy energizer bunnies.
Their teacher is a young woman. Yarwad told us she visited with all the kids’ parents in the street – tell that to elementary school teachers in America – and there are four others who look like older brothers and sisters, but are actually student volunteers from a nearby college.
The second floor houses the computer lab they are building to teach these street kids basic computer skills. Behind the computer lab is a little counseling room for traumatized and abused kids. Yarwad wanted to give us a full history of BUDS there. Shawn and I left Alexey behind to take it all in, while we moved next door to join a roomful of teenage girls sitting on the floor. The motherly teacher was teaching them health and hygiene. Shawn had so much fun being playful with them since she is a young girl at heart! I was much less playful, literally being the odd man out, but I was deeply touched. They have so little, but joy is on their faces and joy is infectious.
They presented each of us with a handwritten note card. Mine included a quote “The root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet.” I took a peek at Alexey’s card and it read “A child without education is like a bird without wings.” There was a card for the whole Oxford EMBA group as well that read “Thank you Oxford EMBA! Education is the movement from darkness to light. Thank you for visiting BUDS.”
We wrapped up our short visit with Shawn leading a dance with the boys and girls.
We went there with money we raised among our classmates, an initiative by Alexey, and we left with a grateful heart and a new appreciation of India. The joy, the dreams, the human spirit of those street kids; the love, the dedication of the educators. They collectively taught us the best lessons in life, and we were soaking it all in.
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