My mom was widowed at twenty. As she went from place to place searching for somewhere to live, I tagged along beside her. It was difficult to find a safe shelter to stay in since we were part of the “lower society.” After a long search, an ashram that offered shelter to homeless people decided to take us in. Despite the peace and safety it provided us, we were in turmoil. My mother agreed to run small errands on behalf of others to make money, as well as do odd jobs to earn a living. Life was not easy and there was little dignity. We would both pray for a miracle each day. My mother had said that if you wanted something – really wanted something – the whole universe would conspire to make sure you received it. So I would close my eyes and pray for a better life.
I was three when it happened. I was playing with my friends when I saw some people who looked like they did not belong to our community entering the Ashram compound. They looked strange – like people from another planet – wearing shirts and pants that were crisp from ironing, held together by real belts with silver buckles. They fascinated me. I wondered what business they had here when they turned and started walking towards me. They asked me a few questions, which I answered hesitantly. They smiled warmly before going to talk to my mother. They were people from Shanti Bhavan, a home and school for some of India’s most deprived children. They handed me the opportunity to a good education.
Every day after that, right before I could close my eyes and fall asleep, my mother would whisper to me silently that a miracle was coming to fruition. She told me that I would be in a safe place and that I would grow to be a clever girl. She spoke to me of being a great leader and living a comfortable life. As she spoke, her dreams became part of mine; I imagined myself in a college, then a job, and lastly, in a big house with her. All too soon, the day came for me to leave behind the Ashram and move on to the next chapter of my life. Shanti Bhavan was a new beginning.
The long road ahead rose in dust as we creaked to our destination. The area around us was sparse in vegetation, but crowded with desert-like features. The graveled road under me was bump; the turbulent ride tossed us around in the cramped jeep. I held onto my mother’s hand, my palms sweating profusely while my fingers twitched nervously. This was something unknown. I waited anxiously for Shanti Bhavan to appear, desperate to believe that something new was actually happening. The jeep turned the bend on the road, and it was then that I saw it – the “miracle” my mother told me about. It was not at all what I had expected. It was different, yet somehow very familiar. I rubbed my eyes, feeling that I was living in a dream, unwilling to accept that this could actually be happening.
Even after opening my eyes, however, I could still see a beautiful place in front of me. We entered a large building, faintly smelling of fresh paint, surrounded by lush trees. I looked around me, trying to take in everything in one breath. I wanted to go and explore my new surroundings. My mother then called out to me, so I ran to her. She bent down and pulled me into a hug and said goodbye. I knew leaving me here was killing her. I felt sad about her going away, but put on a brave face, smiled broadly and said, “Bye mummy. I will be a good girl.” Then, I slipped out of the hug and ran away before she could see my tears.
As a small child, I would sometimes miss my mother and longed to be back with her. But then, I had many beautiful people taking care of me as if I were their own child. I felt very special. I had an insatiable passion for learning and expanding my knowledge of the world. Wonderful teachers, administrators and volunteers taught me not only what was in the books, but also virtues like honesty, integrity and kindness.
This learning was not contained simply within the walls of our school building. On the playground, I learned to play soccer, basketball, tennis and baseball. As a young adult, I also started learning how to play the guitar. From the diversely talented volunteers who would come to Shanti Bhavan, I have learned many different types of dancing, from ballet to break dancing. People have volunteered from all around the world at Shanti Bhavan, and each one has left us more enriched.
Now I am a girl of seventeen, in the twelfth grade, studying the science track. I am fascinated by the origin of life and the intricate working of organisms. For this reason, I want to be a genetic engineer and find cures to lethal diseases. I want to grow up quick and change the lives of others, the way mine was changed. At this stage in my life, I am ready to believe that my life was lived in a “miracle” – the one that my mother had told me about when I was still a little girl.
In so many ways, because of Shanti Bhavan, I have become a changed person – from a poor, uneducated girl living in atarpaulin-covered house, I have become an intelligent, articulate young woman living in a ‘haven of peace.’ From my time at Shanti Bhavan, I have learned tolerance and respect for all who I encounter. From my experiences back at home, I have learned persistence and determination. I am now a confident, optimistic girl who enjoys challenges.
From overcoming adversities at home and winning basketball games at school, I constantly try to succeed in everything I do. I want to change this world for the better and bring peace and prosperity to my friends, family, and community. I want others to be happy; I want to make my mother proud. Shanti Bhavan has provided me the stepping stones to success; as I look forward to high school graduation and the future, I know I still have a great deal to accomplish. As Robert Frost once said, I have “miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”