South Delhi to Faridabad is not a long distance. By bus, it would take about 90 minutes, give or take some. But for Ruby Kumari, it’s going to be the journey of a lifetime; one she never imagined she would have the good fortune to undertake.
She’s understandably nervous. She’s leaving the familiarity of her Khirki Village home, the comfort of her five siblings and the security of her school. In Faridabad, she will get off the bus and walk into the SOS Children’s Village where over the next 18 months she will learn how to be a nurse. It’s no small achievement and Ruby is aware of it. She calls herself lucky.
Khirki Village is south Delhi’s blind spot. The gates to it are, ironically, right across the road from Select Citywalk mall, an air-conditioned cocoon where Mango is not a fruit and Tommy does not refer to the ubiquitous name for the Indian pet dog. Entering the village is like taking a giant step back in time. The roads are narrow, a small car can barely squeeze through. The buildings on both sides are tired and saggy. And the rubbish dumps often come feebly alive with the sound of a baby girl, just born and soon forsaken. When Ruby counts her blessings, she begins here.
The teachers of Deepalaya School routinely visit Khirki to persuade poor families to send their daughters to school. Since Ruby was too young for housework at that time, her father allowed her to go, assuming that when she was 8 and old enough to cook and clean, she would stay home and do her duty. But Gitanjali Krishnan, the principal of Deepalaya School’s Panchsheel Vihar branch, would have none of it. She saw a spark in Ruby. “She was not the brightest child in the class, but she was the hardest worker,” says Krishnan. So Ruby struck a deal with her father. She would continue to study, but she would also do all the housework.
Step forward: Ruby Kumari juggled home and school, and is now enrolling in a nursing course. Photo: Madhu Kapparath
On a typical day she is up by 5am, finishes the chores at home, then works as a domestic helper, sweeping, swabbing and doing the dishes at a kothi (bungalow) in Chirag Dilli. She rushes back home, cooks, and gets her siblings and herself ready for school. She finishes school at 5.30pm, goes back to her employer’s bungalow to do the dishes, gets home, cleans, cooks, washes clothes, serves dinner, washes up and goes to bed to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
“Working as a domestic help is the worst option. But for the school, I would be cleaning utensils and others’ houses for the rest of my life. When I was in class VIII, my class teacher, Saroj sir, used to ask me what I want to be when I grow up, and I always used to tell him that I would end up as a kaamwali (domestic help). I was very, very lucky to get this opportunity and I want to make the most of it,” Ruby says.
Adding to her parents’ worry about sending her away and not having any help at home, is the scorn of the neighbours, she says. “They tell my father that he is foolish to permit me to study further. They say that if I work in someone’s house, at least I would be able to pay for my own wedding. But I don’t ever want to get married,” she says.
Ruby hopes to finish her course and come back to Khirki Village, where she can help treat ill children. And if she gets an opportunity to study further, she would like to be a doctor, she says.
Ruby gives the entire credit to Deepalaya and Krishnan for taking her off the path of domestic chores and abusive marriages. They even saved her life. When she was in class V, she had tuberculosis and because her family could not afford nutritious food, she had a relapse. Krishnan worked the phones and got sponsors who contributed money so she could have some milk, Horlicks and eggs every day. If she sent the money home, she knew Ruby would not get any of it. “I thought I must help this little girl who never complains. I was worried we would lose her otherwise,” Krishnan says.
When she passed her class X examination with 58%, Krishnan sat Ruby down and discussed options for her future. “Because she is very gentle and empathetic, I thought she would make either a good teacher or a good nurse. She chose nursing. We found this college, she passed the entrance tests and then I worked the phones again to find someone to help pay her fees there,” she says. The course and other expenses, such as hostel fees, books and clothes, will cost about Rs1.5 lakh. Some donors have been found and Deepalaya is trying various ways to raise funds for the rest. “Something will come up,” Krishnan says—“hopefully”.
Hope and luck are two crucial factors that led Ruby to the seat on that bus. And she’s grateful for that, for she knows there are scores of Ruby Kumaris who will never be fortunate enough to make that journey.
Deepalaya, New Delhi
For 30 years, Deepalaya has been working in the slums of New Delhi. It started with five children, two teachers and an investment of Rs17,500. Now, Deepalaya educates 50,000 children across 76 slums in Delhi and 84 villages in Mewat, Haryana. The NGO believes that “educating the girl is equivalent to educating the family”. “Four years ago we noticed that the admission requests for girls were dropping, so now we have mandated that if you bring a boy, you should also bring a girl for admission,” says Gitanjali Krishnan, principal, Deepalaya, Panchsheel Vihar, New Delhi.
Rs5,000 For This Charity Can
Help educate a child for one year. This includes
Books, etc.: Rs1,500
Extra-curricular activities: Rs1,000
Sponsorship administration: Rs500
(20% of the total of Rs6,000 is paid by the parents of the child)
If You Want To Volunteer
You can help out with anything from teaching to fund-raising. Deepalaya is in Delhi and some projects are in Haryana’s Mewat district, 20km from Gurgaon