I didn’t know how I would get here or when it would happen but I knew I would come to Parijat Academy again. There is just something magical about this school. And even on my second visit, I’m as fascinated as ever. I’ve been most mesmerized by the girls of ParijatAcademy. ParijatAcademy provides 9 girls with a home so they can attend school. Most of these girls are from a village called Garbangha. Garbangha is located in the mountains of Northeastern India and it takes about 4-5 hours to walk there. Many of these girls previously walked daily to attend ParijatAcademy because in Garbangha there is no school. I could not understand why they would walk several hours a day just to go to school, but after talking with these girls I have come to understand that they once walked for change. These brave girls took a chance and are now paving a new way for their village. These girls are the greatest example of how one can carve out a new path of hope.
When Uttam Teron (the principal of ParijatAcademy) saw how determined these girls were to get an education he decided to build a dormitory to allow them to live at the school. The girls have expressed that attending school is of primary importance because school opens up doors of opportunity that they otherwise would not be able to access. In fact one of the girls explained to me that in Garbangha children have only one choice: and that is to work hard. Children are required to engage in labor with their parents which is not necessarily bad; as it is cultural practice. But one of the girls said to me that she dreams of a future when children in Garbangha will have more than one choice. She dreams up a time when the children of Garbangha can go to school and re-imagine their future as doctors, teachers, lawyers, travelers or anything they choose.
These girls have big smiles and even bigger dreams. Dreams that not even poverty can hold back. Dreams strengthened by the obstacles they have faced. Dreams that seem to have been stitched into their souls. These girls understand that they have come from a place of abject poverty; but what I find to be more fascinating is that they also understand that poverty is not their destiny. These girls are using their dreams to rewrite their history. They are redefining what it means to be “poor.” In fact, one of the girls said to me, “How am I poor? Sure I don’t always have a lot of money but I have love and the sun and everything I need. And now I even have school. I don’t think I’m poor, I think I’m the luckiest girl in the world.” I could see the seriousness in her eyes as she said these words and then a huge smile spread across her face. Her words touched my heart. I find it magical how these girls have learned to transform education into freedom. And not just any kind of freedom; they have found the freedom of laughter, gratitude and peace.
These girls have the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen and they have even bigger dreams. Seuti (14 years old) once told me that before she came to ParijatAcademy she never knew what it mean to dream. She would go to sleep every night and her mind was like a blank sheet of paper. But now since she has been able to attend school, her mind is filled with the color of new things. She told me in a voice barely above a whisper, that now when she goes to sleep she dreams of everything. Her dreams paint a colorful new world of hope and opportunity. A world she would not have known without education. Oh yes, these girls have big hearts and even bigger dreams. And the most beautiful thing is that I believe one day their dreams will become a reality. Seuti also said she will not rest until her dreams and her future become one.