Name: Arushi Atraya Oberoi
From: Gilroy, CA
School: Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy
I go to India on almost a yearly basis, and each time I go, I see poverty. I would sit in my uncle’s car, waiting to pass through traffic, seeing children peering through the windows of his Ford Fiesta, dirt in their hair, nails, and every crevice of their skin, and deep brown eyes that knew hardship at an age younger than should have been. They were hungry, tired, struggling to survive, and they wanted food as soon as possible. After seeing hundreds of faces over the years, one stood out: The girl with the bright blue eyes that showed anguish and despondency. This was the face that made me want to get up and do something about her plight and that of so many others just like her.
It became my mission to help these people. The problem seemed simple enough at the time: raise enough money to give those in need the resources to learn so they could grow up to get jobs with higher income. I worked with my family and we thought that all they needed was an education, since basic literacy, a job requirement, is a major problem in India. But upon traveling there and interviewing everyone including the parents of slum children, teachers of shoddy public schools, the principals of highly regarded private schools, and even public officials in education committees, we realized that the root of the problem wasn’t a lack of resources. We set up a library and lectured on internet usage and education. We gave computers to schools to help with their resources.
But we realized that it was paltry compared to the resources the government was putting into the issue. Schools were required to provide midday meals and other incentives to go to school. For convenience, it is mandated that there be a school every three kilometers.
If we wanted to tackle the problem, we would have to tackle an entire mentality of instant gratification, and we would have to pull a
deeply ingrained system from its roots. So we set out to do more research and found that children who labor in India make roughly $11
per month. If we could provide them with this money instead, they could focus on their education. But here arose another problem.
How could we ensure that they were not collecting the money we would be sending them and also working, thereby earning more money, but still not getting an education? We decided to make sure that teachers were taking attendance and sending it to us, so we could send money based on attendance. Another solution would be to find children who actually want to learn, and to sponsor their schooling. It’s impossible to get everyone to go to school, but if we could at least get the minds who crave education, then we could make a difference in individual lives.
The solution became not for just one problem of poverty, but rather for several more problems: child labor, illiteracy, resources, and even a mentality of instant gratification. I know that as a human being, I am obligated to help the less fortunate. I do not see it as a noble
act; I see it as something that needs to be done if the world can ever improve.