Empowering Delhi's underprivileged with education

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Mahendra, 21, lives in one of the countless slums in and around Delhi. His father is a gardener and his mother a housemaid. Though passionate about computers and technology, the young man could only fantasise about becoming a software engineer - till a Delhi NGO made him realise his dream. "I am a final year student of B. Tech in information technology...

I'll be a software engineer soon," an ecstatic Mahendra, dressed in a crisp business suit and speaking fluent English, told IANS. Oozing confidence, the resident of a shantytown in north Delhi's Ekta Vihar, talked about his dramatic journey from a rundown government school in his neighbourhood to interning in multinational companies. His audience was a group of diplomats and the capital's elite. "It has been a tough ride but now it's time to reap the benefits of all those years of hard work," he said.

Mahendra was part of a group of students from Delhi's slums who were hosted by British High Commissioner James Bevan at his residence Friday evening as part of an event organised by NGO Asha (which means 'hope' in Hindi) that helps bright students living in slums pursue higher education. Highlighting their achievements, the participants displayed their talents through classical song and dance, a fashion show and a photography exhibit.

Empowering Delhi's underprivileged with education

"There are over 900 children admitted to prestigious colleges in Delhi through this programme started in 2008, and the first graduates are finding work," Kiran Martin, founder and director of Asha, told IANS.

"For children in the slums, even finishing primary school is a challenge. Access to schools and books is difficult, and perhaps the biggest struggle is that of parents who can't see the benefits of education," she added. Agreed 22-year-old Babita, a resident of Dr. Ambedkar Nagar slum colony in south Delhi whose mother wanted her to get married after her schooling.

"My mother wanted me to get married after I completed my twelfth standard but I wanted to become a lecturer. It was a herculean task to convince her and the credit goes to her," said Babita pointing towards Martin. "I have completed my graduation in political science from Delhi University and will now pursue master of arts to achieve my goal of becoming a lecturer," she said.

According to Martin, her NGO has 55 centres in slums across the capital and students wanting to pursue higher education can contact them. Asha provides free counseling, education loans and scholarships. According to High Commissioner Bevan, despite dramatic progress in India, there is no space for complacency as the last 10 percent are always the hardest to reach.

"Fortunately we have groups such as Asha and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) that work tirelessly on this agenda," said Bevan.

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