Venkat was by far and away the hardest working boy in class and with the biggest dreams. When I visited him in 2010, he was in grade two but he had the maths brains of someone at a high school level and his language skills were absolutely incredible.
“I want to be a police officer when I grow up so that people here are safe and that everyone can live together peacefully.”
He spoke with such conviction about his aspirations to be a police officer and held really strong motivations behind why he wanted to take up this path, a lot of which was informed by things he had seen in his own community.
Some of the stories he told me were shocking – many of us couldn’t even imagine the challenges that this small community faced, especially by those experienced by girls and young women. And although a little perplexing that somebody as young as Venkat were positioned to face these issues or anyone for that matter, it was equally moving that he felt he could change this circumstance and make his village a safer, happier place.
Here was a young boy with so much potential to better the world.
But a question as to whether he’ll be provided with the opportunity and freedom to realise his dreams, is one that I find really difficult to answer and one that I often reflect upon when thinking about why we must work unfailingly to end extreme poverty.
Both of Venkat’s parents were labourers and had spent every rupee of their earnings to only just be able to provide Venkat and his younger brother with a set of school uniforms and textbooks. This is all they could literally afford. Venkat’s two older brothers and older sister couldn’t go to school but instead had to stay home and work to support their family so that they could survive day to day. The school that Venkat went to was government run which meant school fees were covered only up to grade five.
What would happen then for Venkat?
Where would his parents find money?
How would this community advance without the contributions of Venkat – someone who was motivated by justice and fairness, and in improving the quality of life for his fellow people?
There were many other barriers facing Venkat in receiving the support and opportunity that he so rightfully deserved in life – a situation that should not at all exist.
Eradicating poverty can often feel unattainable. When we see pictures of masses upon masses of people living in slums, or dire statistics about infant and child mortality, it all seems so much, and we can feel that the development efforts that are directed overseas make a tiny dent on what seems to be this enormous, impossible to address, mammoth level issue.
But I want to challenge this perception.
If we work together through collaboration and walk beside those who we support (rather than walking in front of them telling them what to do, how they need to do it), and realise that for example, providing educational opportunities for young children like Venkat not only improves his life but through the actions that he and others have, this can have sustained, positive change in the life experiences for a whole community, for a whole country, for our whole world.
And so, every dollar raised through Live Below the Line will have a very purposeful impact in improving the quality of life for those most disadvantaged within the Asia-Pacific region. By living on $2 a day for 5 days and experiencing for a brief moment the harsh nature of poverty – an unfortunate reality that experienced by 1.4 billion people around the world, we are working to create a life-transforming impact on the lives of individuals and communitiies.
I am no expert on poverty but I do know that it can be ended. I know that it can be ended because when I last spoke with Venkat, he told me that most of his classmates, including himself would be able to continue their schooling well past grade five and into a nearby high school with the educational scholarships that they had received.
He told me that while his circumstance is still challenging at times, many things have improved and he believes it can only continue to do so…