This girl is something else!
I first met Puja years ago in the market place in Calcutta. From the very first time I saw her, I was taken by her bright personality and how very street smart she was.
Behind a five-star hotel on a “footpath”, together with her sister and mother, was home, the place Puja had lived all her life. Where she lived is also where she was educated – on the streets. She never attended a traditional school. Her mother needed her to provide for their little family, there was no time for school.
Her home on that footpath that led to the expensive hotel was something she turned to her advantage. When I first encountered Puja she was 12 years’ old and already speaking five languages – yes five – it might seem like one for each of the stars of that hotel. One day, at a nearby KFC, she gave me a few lessons – in Italian, Spanish and Bengali! She confided that her tutors were “shopping guests” from the hotel towering over her home. A leader at heart, Puja found that speaking to people in their own language has its benefits. She was determined to learn as many languages as possible and to develop her own business. As a result of her finesse the market owners came to respect her and would listen to her suggestions. She partnered with local market-stall holders to generate a commission of sales from the customers she brought to them.
Puja stole my heart. Her tenacity and smarts really inspired me to think differently about reaching out and helping others like her trying to survive on the streets. How to help so many children who can’t go to school because they have to take care of their families instead? I knew in my heart that there had to be a solution. The answer was not to pluck them all out of their lives but to provide them with the tools and encouragement to help overcome poverty, to improve their situation.
If we plan it right we can be invited to walk alongside those in need, mentor them, supervise them for safety and provide a semblance of education. Helping them to help themselves. I make a point of visiting with Puja every time I am in Calcutta. Every visit is a sweet reunion.