The steam escaped from the top of the thermos with equal velocity of the hot masala chai splashing into my cup. Anusha’s mother smiled widely as she filled my second cup of tea (possibly my eighth this afternoon), before returning it to the dirt stove fueled by a roaring wood fire. The three other volunteers and I sat interspersed around the L-shaped benches that made up the small two room home which housed the family of five. A second adjoining room, accommodated the bed for Anusha’s parents, and another bed for Anusha. Her ENG backpack from this year (as well as a slightly more faded backpack from last year) adorned the wall as did a few pictures of her family, and what appeared to be a poster of a perfectly coiffed, brightly wardrobed Hindi film star caught between a photo pose and a elaborate dance maneuver. Pens and several well sharpened pencils rested on top of a stack of several blue-lined school notebooks. It could have been any teenage girl’s bedroom in America, except for the dimly lit and freezing conditions, dark walls, and the compact rooms. Sitting on the bench, sipping my tea, surveying the room, I recalled what one volunteer had mentioned, that poverty does not equal squalor. I was struck by the dignity in their home, the pride of having received guests, and it shone through in their environment and actions. My words fail to describe how a dirt floor could at the same time be spotless.
In every village ENG travels to, home visits comprise a critical component of the overall program. Family and parents play a significant role in their children’s scholastic success, and interviewing the parents prior to granting a scholarship is part of the criteria for inclusion in the program. Beyond providing a stable studying environment, parents are forced to contend with other obstacles which could include early marriage proposals, help in working the fields or day labor, or even the money from selling their child in sex slavery. Despite how unpalatable those options may seem, desperate parents may feel they have to resort to these short-term measures, foregoing the lifetime benefits and familial equality education confers to their daughters.
Home visits serve to reinforce with the parents, family, and surrounding community, the responsibility and privilege these young girls have earned with their scholarships, and recurring home visits are an annual reminder that many individuals, beyond the parents, are invested and devoted to the long term success of these young women. Sitting here, among these families, you understand the importance the scholarships play in the role of the girls and their family. By providing financial assistance and school supplies for these girls, ENG helps these families in navigating the difficult decision of educating their daughters and impacting the welfare of their family. For me, it’s powerful to understand that the scholarships ENG provide benefit not only the girls, but have an effect now, and in the future, in the well-being of their home life and families!