My game, my rules…and it’s a goal!

A proud Gulafsha

A proud Gulafsha – lovely photo taken by Mansi Midha

In action - lets play ball

In action – lets play ball

In a one room slum in the degenerating settlements of Bhalswa, one of the Indian national capital’s largest dumping grounds, lives a source of true inspiration. Despite living in extreme poverty (her entire family comprising seven members lives huddled together in a single small room) Gulafsha Khan, all of 19 years old, has not only secured herself a college education but is also working as a Community Youth Leader in a non-government organization (NGO) with a single-minded purpose of uplifting the lives of children who cohabit the slum with her.

And she knows just how to motivate them! She builds skill and awareness in them through sports and games sessions conducted a few times every week (using the NGOs researched curriculum of ‘Development through Sports’).  So, in each session, she organizes her little friends in a circle and briefs them, initiates a rigorous game of football or cricket right after, and ends with a debriefing of all the lessons learnt in personal hygiene, environment preservation, regular schooling etc!

In the face of extreme financial constraints, Gulafsha’s parents did the best they could to provide a semblance of education to their five children.  But when she managed to clear high school and expressed a desire to join college, her parents were very reluctant. They did not have the means to support her education, and could not justify it set against a context where marriage is the natural step for a girl her age.

But Gulafsha is no ordinary girl and she believes in carving her own path where there is none!  In order to raise money to pay for her education she began running tuition classes for younger children who needed extra help with their school work. She charged a small amount for assisting them and soon began to earn modestly enough to join college. Simultaneously she also joined the cadres of an NGO working in the area who gave her access to free courses in computer literacy and functional English. Now she could take on the world.

She continues to work relentlessly to break barriers within her community where dropping out, early child marriage and domestic violence are a norm. Often she faces challenges, having to repeatedly cajole parents to allow their children, specially girls, to participate in community sports and to stay in school, but she knows that it is only through continued effort that she can influence the community children and make their lives better. For Gulafsha, no mountain is too high to climb.

Being a Man…literally!

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“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
― Nora Ephron

When we least expect it, life sends our way the most challenging obstacles. At age 17, Nisha was anything but ready for what was coming her way. This is her story.

Nisha is a resident of Rathora village in Uttar Pradesh, India. She is the third amongst five siblings. One afternoon when Nisha was in her senior year at school, she was faced with the sudden death of her father, the sole bread earner of the family. In a matter of days, Nisha’s shattered family was driven to the streets. At this trying time of her life, Nisha found herself deserted by relatives and extended family.

Nisha realized she had to take charge of the situation. She could not bear to see her younger siblings forced out of school, and readily gave up her own schooling to earn enough to afford them an education.

Before his demise, Nisha’s father was running a small tea stall outside the police station (chowki) at Chaprolli village. Nisha now resolved to take over this stall. But this was not an easy task. No girl had run a shop around the village before, and she faced stiff opposition from relatives and fellow villagers. In their opinion, a woman’s place was in the home, and the most she could to outside the four walls of the house was attend to the fields. As a result, Nisha was subject to boycott, and whoever she asked refused to grant her the loan she required to reopen the tea stall. Fortunately, an old acquaintance of her father agreed to lend her the 2000 rupees she so desperately required. With this money, Nisha was finally able to start business.

However one problem still lingered – nobody would buy from a stall run by a girl. But Nisha was not one to back down. The solution in her mind was simple: if the villagers wanted a boy to run the stall, they would get one. She cut her hair short and styled it like a man’s. She then borrowed a few of her brother’s clothes. In a matter of hours, Nisha had transformed herself into a rugged young man.

Nisha began running her stall in her newly acquired disguise. Though it didn’t take long for the villagers to recognize her, Nisha had already acquired a reasonable clientele by the time they did. Besides, the villagers gradually began to accept her and were quite impressed by her pursuit. There were instances when she was threatened and harassed by men, but she boldly persisted. Soon enough Nisha could afford to educate her siblings and get her elder sister married into a respectable family. A while later, she even bought herself a motorbike to facilitate the commute from the stall to her home.

Today, Nisha is not only successfully running her little stall, but is also running a parallel business of dealing in gas cylinders. She is a role model to the girls of her village, who aspire to be like her. Her family insists she gets married soon, but she has no such plans.

Nisha’s story is one of admirable bravery and of determinedly seeking solutions. It is not easy to to challenge deep-rooted social conditioning and cultural taboos . Moreover, to sacrifice one’s own dreams so that others can live theirs is a choice of compassion. Nisha is a living example of what one can do with just a little courage, by rising to the occasion and being a man – literally!

A Little Courage is All it Takes

 “You can build walls all the way to the sky and they will find a way to fly above them.

You can try to pin them down with a hundred thousand arms, but they will find a way to resist.

And there are many of them out there, more than you think.

People who refuse to stop believing. People who refuse to come to earth.

People who love in a world without walls,

people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear.”
― Lauren OliverDelirium

Candour. Courage. Compassion. Words, which in today’s world, have gained weight but lost hearts to live within. These words were once the strongholds of success. Today, however, the meaning of success has altered radically. In a world where monetary assets govern every action, these words are slowly drifting into oblivion. People of our generation are the first to recognize the heir to a multibillion empire but would cringe when asked to identify a person of real purpose – someone who did his or her own bit to make the world a better place.

My effort is directed towards these people. Young people who have worked tirelessly for a cause – who have fought innumerable odds – to achieve, to grow and often, simply to survive. These remarkable individuals have exhibited the virtues of Deliberate Leadership in their everyday lives, incorporating values like courage, candour and compassion in their daily lives. Through this attempt, I hope to acknowledge a few extraordinary youngsters who have braved society, friends and even family to stand up for what they believe in. These are colleagues and friends who you and I meet everyday. Their courage inspires us, and we wonder why no one has ever acknowledged them. Well, now we will acknowledge them.

It is important for humankind to realize that courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is in gritting your teeth through pain, in resisting pressure. Sometimes, it is in the slow walk towards achieving a better life. I invite you to join me in my  “100 Hidden Heroes Hunt” – an initiative that seeks to unearth hundred everyday trailblazers. A journey that hopes to inspire, overwhelm and, in its very own way, reward.