"Hello, My name is Divya and I am calling from Shishu Mandir."

I am a Shishu child and I say this with a lot of pride. I was six years old when my mother brought me to Shishu to join the school. I had been studying in a government school for a year and only remember that the teachers used to beat us if we were late. Besides that I have no recollection of that school. I remember my early days at Shishu very well. We had our classes in the rooms of the Home and I liked going there everyday. I was a day scholar and when I used to see some of the children living there, I too wanted to live at Shishu.

I didn't like living in my own house. Every day there were fights, between my father and his brothers or between my father and my mother. I remember my father being a kind man who took care of us. But that was long ago. I don't know when and why he changed. But he did. He became an alcoholic. I remember being scared whenever he was in a fight, which was very often. Once his brothers beat him with a cycle chain and I remember he bled from head to toe. I would often ask my teachers at Shishu if I could live at the Home. But for many years, I continued as a day scholar.

I did well in my studies, and really enjoyed studying. My mother who has never been to school would tell me, "My future is in your hands." I knew that I had to study well to help my mother. After my father started drinking, he stopped taking care of the family, and it was my mother who earned money by working as a domestic help. She worked at three to four houses and was always tired.

Although I had to stay at home and see my father causing us so much trouble, I was luckier than my older brother. I had Shishu, my teachers and at least one good meal a day. My brother had dropped out of school and had taken to drinking and drugs. He got into trouble often as a petty thief. When I started doing badly in my studies, the teachers took notice and must have felt that my home situation was worse than before. I was asked to come to live in Shishu Home. My mother and I were really happy although my father was not.

I liked living at Shishu very much. I could eat all the food I wanted and was never hungry. I had a bed, my own shelf and best of all, I didn't have to be scared day after day. My mother worked as a maid in the house adjoining Shishu and she came to see me everyday. She told me how things were at home and even though I was young, I understood what she was saying. It made me determined to help her as soon as I could. At Shishu, I could study in peace and I also learnt a lot from my teachers. One of my happiest memories was when I shifted to the "Big Girls' Room". We were five "big girls" and very close. As older children, we had more privileges than the younger ones, we slept when we wanted, bought snacks when we went out. Late in the night, we would eat and chat endlessly. Those were the only carefree days of my life.

During my 10th standard exams, I was told that my older brother had tried to set himself on fire and was in the hospital fighting for his life. We never knew what had really happened and a week later, he passed away. Less than a month later, his fiancé who was also staying with us, gave birth to his daughter. Soon, she walked out of the house leaving the baby with my mother.

I was not too close to my older brother but I was worried about my younger brother and my baby niece who were staying in the same house as my father. My younger brother too studied at Shishu but lived with my family. Now when I talk to him and listen to some of the things my father has done, I feel very bad for my brother. But it also makes me realise how lucky I have been that I had Shishu.

I finished my 10th standard with high marks and enrolled for Pre-University, in the Science stream. I continued to live in the Home and attend college. When I passed the Pre-university with a first class there was no doubt that I would continue my education. Since I found Science to be quite difficult, I chose Business Management for my Bachelor's degree. When I finished my PUC, I realised that my father's troublesome behaviour was worse than before. I found that he kept a knife with him, and I began to fear for my mother and niece. That's when I decided to leave the Home and returned to live with my family. My niece was three years old and there was no one to care for her. My mother did the best she could but between working as a domestic help and running the house, it was not at all easy. She needed support and I could offer it. After having lived at Shishu for so many years, I found it hard to adjust to my home. The food especially seemed different. Savithri aunty is such a good cook that everything she made at the Home was so tasty. I had become a fussy eater and it took me a while to get used to my mother's cooking. I was also used to the systematic way things were run at Shishu and tried to bring in those ideas at home. Everyone would protest but still, I tried.

It was Mama who once remarked that there is never a smile on my face. She must have discussed it with Anand Sir for during my college days, he offered me part-time work. I immediately agreed. I love Shishu and never wanted to leave. Now there was a reason for me to stay in touch even though I was not living there. Every evening after college, I would go to the Shishu Home to do some fundraising work. We get leads from Just Dial. Mostly they are individuals or organisations interested in charitable work. My job was to call and tell them about Shishu. I enjoyed the work. I also began to earn a salary. The first thing I did was to ask my mother to stop working.

By the time I completed my BBM with a first class, I knew I was not going to apply elsewhere for a job. I started doing the fundraising work fulltime.

As the only earning member in my family, I have to manage all expenses, and make sure my father did not cause any trouble. I tried sending my father for rehabilitation but a month later he returned. Finally, unable to stand the daily problems from living so close to my uncles and their families, we sold our share of the house to my father's family. We received Rs 50,000 towards it. Before my father could get his hands on the money, I rushed out with it. There was a house for rent not far from Shishu School. The advance was Rs 40,000. I paid the money and shifted my family.

My younger brother completed his schooling at Shishu, but did not qualify for pre-university admission. He went in for ITI training and is now working in a company. My relationship with my mother has always been close and I am happy that I can take care of her. When my father tries to hit her, I stand in the way and push him. He yells and abuses us but it doesn't bother me anymore. What I do feel bad about is that my niece has to witness his behaviour. I see the same fear in her eyes that I once felt and the only difference is that I am here to protect her. Living near Shishu School has also helped me admit my niece here. I would never have been able to afford private education for her and at Shishu I know that she has an opportunity to become anything she wants to be.

Among my colleagues at the school are other Shishu children, Geetha, Savitha, and Swami. Mama calls us the four pillars of Shishu Mandir. I feel proud of what we have achieved despite our family circumstances. My work is also picking up. I am really proud that between April and August this year, I was able to raise Rs 10 lakh. I see my work as a small way to repay Shishu Mandir for what it gave me. Every day I speak to some 30 to 35 people. I tell them that I am calling from Shishu Mandir and ask if they are interested to help us. And if they are, I proceed to give them more details. Most often, the response is encouraging and they ask me questions about the organisation and how we use the donations. Often, at the very end of the conversation I reveal that I too am a beneficiary of Shishu Mandir. When I say that, there is always a tone of surprise on the other side of the line. Surprise that someone who sounds educated and speaks well, and is confident could come from such circumstances. But that is precisely what Shishu Mandir is all about. And I am an example of what is possible if we are given a little opportunity and a lot of love.