Driving through the marshlands on the way to the first Rainbow School, you forget that you are in one of the most populated cities in the world. The car turns a corner and the traffic, noise, and congestion of city life fade into a backdrop of tents, greenery, and livestock. The environment, though seemingly more peaceful, is by no means more pleasant. Here families pack into loosely tarped huts with no running water, and multiple children sleep in heaps of folded rags as a stand-in for beds. This community is victim to the quintessential cycle of government bureaucracy: receiving funding from one agency, and then having what little property they possess ripped away by another. The state wants them gone, as they occupy land alongside the polluted Yamuna River that could be turned into valuable real estate.
Here is the setting for a group of hundreds of children with barely a hope of having a roof over their head, or clean water, let alone the grandest of pipe dreams: an education. However, deep in the farmland, there is a hope: the first Rainbow School (one of three schools operated by World Faith in India). There are two classrooms—one with an aluminum edifice, which serves as a homeless shelter at night until the children arrive in the morning. The other used to have a tarp that has since been destroyed, and is now simply a series of mats lying out in a dusty clearing surrounded by various tents, stray puppies, a cow, and a blessed water tower. Over 180 children of all ages are educated in this small space by only two dedicated teachers, who are barely paid enough to be able to feed themselves—and yet the classrooms function, and they function well.
The children are listening, despite sitting outside amongst more than 80 of their peers; dust and flies surround their faces as they are led in repetition of multiplication by one little boy at the front. They stare as I walk by and they smile, but they do not lose their focus. When it comes time for them to play outside, they don’t fight over the too few jump ropes they have, but instead wait patiently for their turn and encourage each other. At snack time, there is only enough for a small cookie and one piece of chocolate (a special treat that we have brought from a neighborhood nearby). They wait in line, without pushing, their hands cupped, and their heads down in appreciation. They do what their teachers say with little hesitation, and are curious about their visitors, but do not come to interact unless invited.
I’ve never seen such well-behaved children in my life, let alone in such conditions. These children were born without futures, and somehow, because of World Faith, a path is possible for them. They are born in tents without running water, but when they are at school and a little older, they have a roof over their heads and a water tower. There is a chance for them to break free of the vicious cycle so many are forced to take part in their whole lives. I entered their little clearing with nervous anticipation, preparing myself for what I might see, and although the level of poverty what I saw was perhaps worse than I imagined, I left feeling a sense of hope that there might be an end to it somewhere. What an anomalous slum experience in the heart of New Delhi!
The first Rainbow School opened in 2009 with only 17 students, and eventually grew to a graduating class of 25 in 2012. The second started that same year and doubled from its original roster of 100. The third school opened in 2014, and the three schools now have over 300 students combined. World Faith also operates schools in three other countries, giving over 1,000 forgotten children a chance at an education. You can learn more about these schools, and contribute to their success, and more, at worldfaith.org.
Alexandra Karasavva, New York 2015