Monday, July 30, 2012

Learning from Badshah

A new child, Badshah, who is around 11 years old, recently joined one of the literacy classrooms in the Kalwa slums. It was his first day at school. The dedicated teacher from the NGO, REAP (, had finished her classes in Hindi and Math and the Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) volunteers concluded the day with a fun lesson on the human body in English.

Two women from one of the local women’s groups who GPM works with in preparing food for the children in the slum arrived with the day’s food for the class. All the kids were sitting down while the volunteers started serving the chapattis and vegetables.

Badshah stayed standing, he refused to come forward, he declined the food being offered. I asked him if he had a tiffen (type of lunch box). He said ‘no’ so I asked him where he lived and if it was close. He did live close to the class, so we told him to go back home and bring his tiffen so that he can receive food like the other children.

Badshah was adamant, he refused to have the food. The teacher and I kept on pressing him to eat. We both knew that some children in the slums don’t get food to eat on a daily basis and that he was at school learning so he deserved to get some food like the others.

Badshah continued to shake his head and say ‘Nahe’, no. After pressing him further he blurted out that he knew that his mother had worked hard preparing some food and that his meal was waiting for him at home. ‘It is not ethical for me to take the food when I have food at home; it’s not right for me to eat a double portion just because it is free for all the students’.

This small child’s simple, honest answer impressed and stunned me. I went numb. Here is a child who lives in difficult economic conditions to say the least. As Fr Trevor from REAP had told us, the families of the slums are in a constant daily fight for survival. And with all this, Badshah showed incredible moral fortitude. I learned a lot from Badshah that day.

Sigalith Isaac is the Program Coordinator, Gabriel Project Mumbai. She lives in Thane, Mumbai

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