The Reach Education Action Program (REAP) is a Jesuit institution. Its main aim is to provide basic primary level education to girls and boys living in slums, and to promote women in Indian Society.
To educate someone involves more than teaching them how to read and write, it is teaching them how to communicate, how to live in society. To educate someone opens windows full of opportunities and social transformations. The mission of REAP is to impart education upon those who are excluded from society. During two summers I have been able to work in this institution with children who live in the most absolute poverty.
To work with REAP has been an honor for me. The way in which this institution is trying to enhance the dignity of the lives of these children who live in slum conditions, and the way it gives them opportunities to live instead of merely surviving is marvelous. The children need attention, education, and more importantly, they need to be recognized.
I have been able to learn about the way they work, the way they live and the culture in their society in Dolkhamb, a small village with beautiful views and gentle people. The telephone network didn’t cover the village. I was totally out of touch with the world.
Over the course of two summers I lived with 45 children between 8 and 16 years old, along with their teacher. All of them are in the program because in their villages they don’t have access to education and their families don’t have the capacity to care for them. I was sent to this program to teach them English, to learn how to work with the women who live around Dolkhamb and to experience the most humble schools in this country.
The girls I lived with haven’t ever known anything outside of this village and the surrounding towns. They have never seen a big city or got to know different people. Therefore the first thing that I had to do was to adapt myself to their way of life, to appear as much like them as possible, although with just skin color and language the differences were obvious. The first few days were complicated because they spoke no English and I didn’t speak any Marathi or Hindi. But as I settled in over the next few days, the difficulties disappeared and everything became much easier.
In these few months that I have been in Dolkham, the children have learnt basic English for certain situations in a dynamic teaching environment with songs and dances, and I have learnt how to live with only what is necessary, and sometimes with less. What these 45 girls have taught me can only be described in this way; they’ve taught me how to live, how to be happy with what I have and how to smile in the hardest moments. I consider this tiny village that I’ve told you about to be my home and all the kids I’ve lived with to be part of my family.
It’s always difficult to relate in writing what has been lived or felt, and even more difficult now that I am here and they are there. I only hope that these children and the women with whom I shared these moments with will continue fighting for their rights and to change the inequalities that are still present in the world.