Anyone who has visited the Hyderabad field office will never forget Bala, the office boy. At the age of 22 he already has two young sons and has been working hard to support them and give them a bright future. He’s one of the smartest young people I know and if only he had had the chances I had, I’m sure he would have been my boss today and not the other way around.
His elder son started school last year and Bala’s dream was to put him in Delhi Public School. He firmly believes that giving his child a good education will set him free and give him the opportunities that he could only dream of. This is a very noble thought, unfortunately the annual fees at DPS for Kindergarten is approximately Rs. 40,000, which is 5 times his monthly salary. He settled for a cheaper English-medium school close to the office, which is still much better than any Government school close to where he lives, but also more expense than he can afford.
Every day he works at the office from 10am-6pm. Before 10am and after 6pm he washes cars, sweeps floors, cleans windows and fans, and does many other things to earn as much as he can to have enough for his son’s fees. He still wants to do more and earn more because he knows things are just going to get more and more expensive in the future and he has a second child who will need to go to school soon too.
His story is not uncommon and there are many people out there who are worse off, but if you look deeper there are so many aspects of it which will make you wonder.
If only he had had the chances I had! When will we reach that stage of development at which all children have access to the same educational opportunities irrespective of their parents’ income? When will children educated in government run public schools be able to compete in the job market? When will life become more about living rather than surviving?
I know I’m going back to some of the most basic questions of social and economic development here. As an RA, I can assure myself that at least I’m contributing in some way to poverty alleviation. But I always still wonder, how is my work and my life affecting/impacting Bala’s work and his life?
Our work is based on the idea that we can't alleviate poverty with one sweep and we don't know the answer to the huge question of how to alleviate poverty. Step by step we’re going forward, and answering one small question at a time. But every once in a while we need to look up and check whether we’re still on the yellow brick lane.