Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 11:22 UK

University for Delhi slum kids

By Tinku Ray
BBC News, Delhi

Shashi Arya
I want to be a teacher and help others like myself realise their dreams
Shashi Arya

A dream has come true for 135 young people living in slums across the Indian capital, Delhi.

All have just started classes after successfully getting admission into Delhi University.

Coming from poor families, none of them ever imagined they would go to college. But it has happened with the help of a local non-governmental organisation.

They have helped them in everything from filling out forms, buying books and paying their tuition fees.

Myriad problems

Eighteen-year-old Shashi Arya is a bubbly girl, who loves to tell her story.

Kiran Martin
We knew we had to build their confidence and tell them that they are no less than anyone else
Asha founder Kiran Martin

Her family lives in one room in a slum in south Delhi. The lanes leading to her home are narrow and crowded.

Families live cheek by jowl and they face myriad problems including a lack of water and electricity.

There is also the fear of losing their home as the Delhi government is determined to demolish all slums within the city before the Commonwealth Games are held here next year.

Despite all this Shashi is one of the young women who has got into university this year, helped by the organisation Asha. This is something she never believed could happen.

"Of course I had dreams of going to college," Shashi says, "but because my family is so poor, all I could think of was getting a job to help them.

"I want to be a teacher and help others like myself realise their dreams."

When her father refused to pay for her to study anymore, Shashi did it herself by tutoring other children and making money.

She has just begun a BA programme at Maitreyi College with financial help from Asha.


Another grateful beneficiary of the scheme is 19-year-old Mahesh Sharma, from a family of six, who is doing his BA in geography.

Slums in Delhi
Opportunities are few and far between in Delhi's slums

Studying was a big problem for him with so many family members living in one room.

Such obstacles are numerous for students from poorer backgrounds, says Asha founder Kiran Martin.

"We have college preparation workshops, because we knew that there's going to be a problem of integration," she said.

"Since these children have always lived on the margins of society, they've in fact never in their lives mixed and mingled with children that are much wealthier than them.

"So what basically we did was try and prepare them because we knew we had to build their confidence and tell them that they are no less than anyone else - and at the end of the day the great equaliser will be how well they do in their exams."

Most of these students are the first in their families to go to college. Of the 135 students, more than 40% are women, who are usually the most neglected when it comes to education in poorer families.

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