Neha slowly pulled the little rickshaw down the street as Prema walked behind her, tossing in the garbage she collected. While most girls their age spent their free time playing and hanging out with friends, these sisters were working hard to help provide for their family of nine. But they were just two young girls not more than 10 years old. What difference could they make?
Growing Up in Poverty
Born into a Dalit ("Untouchable") family, Neha and Prema shared a six by eight foot hut with their parents and five other siblings. Despite the shame they felt, they had to go to the railroad track to use the toilet—they had no alternatives to escape the prying eyes around them.
Their parents worked as garbage collectors, digging through people's trash every day to look for anything they could sell or recycle. Prema and Neha often ended up going with their parents, hoping they could help provide that little bit extra their family always needed.
When classmates came into school showing off the new clothes they received for their birthdays, the girls knew they would never get the chance to do the same. They were too poor for parties or celebrations of any kind. Birthdays were just another day to work and try to survive.
Neha resented it all. She was looked down on because she was a girl and a Dalit. Her family never even had enough money for food, yet her father always managed to buy alcohol. She couldn't understand why she was always a victim. Neha wanted to fight back, but she didn't know how. Would no one give them a chance?
Prema and Neha barely scraped by as the daughters of garbage collectors.
A Chance to Fight
The girls finally received an opportunity when they were invited to attend the local Bridge of Hope center. But when they arrived at the center, they sat alone in the corner and wouldn't talk to anyone. They were embarrassed over their ragged clothes, especially when their classmates made mean comments about them.
At first, the girls didn't know how to accept the love the staff offered. They were used to rejection, not acceptance. But gradually, they learned how to accept love and to love others.
The sisters learned about proper hygiene and how they could take better care of themselves. And they even got the chance to have their first birthday celebration.
The staff taught the girls that all people are equal. Prema and Neha grabbed hold of this idea and decided to change their lives.
Working for Their Dreams
Prema dreamed of building her family a nice, new house to live in—one with three rooms and a private bathroom. With their teachers' motivating words, she and her sister decided to do more than just dream about it.
They began working extra hours after school collecting garbage and taking jobs as assistants at weddings and parties. While their friends enjoyed their school holidays, Prema and Neha worked in the fields as laborers.
In between their school and work hours, they began teaching their illiterate mother how to read. When others heard about the lessons, they were also eager to learn, so the girls began literacy classes for five more students.
Neha also taught her father about the negative effects of alcohol and fought with people who offered him drinks. Neha's father eventually stopped drinking alcohol due to her persistence.
Through it all, the girls continued working toward their main goal. Finally, after four years of working and saving, they were able to build their family a three-room, mud-baked brick house with an indoor bathroom—exactly what they had been dreaming of for so long.
Staff Impacted the Girls for Good
Now Prema and Neha are making new goals. They want to become teachers in the future so they can impact others the same way their teachers impacted them. They are very thankful for Bridge of Hope and the staff members who poured so much love and encouragement into their lives.
*Names of people and places may have been changed for privacy and security reasons. Images are GFA stock photos used for representation purposes and are not the actual person/location, unless otherwise noted.