Who gets to decide for her?
She doesn’t know how old she is, she doesn’t have a birth certificate, but she looked all of 10. I asked what she would like to do if she didn’t have to look after her younger siblings. After a short silence, she answered gently, she’d like to go to school. Her polite reply was met with the dejecting scoffing of her colony. Her mother scornfully told her not to trouble us with her silly requests and village elders reminded her that she is too old for such aspirations. According to them, according to her world, her future was already decided, she too would collect and sell rubbish like her mother, earning enough to eat only every second day.
Shamilla’s father died from alcoholism, leaving her mother to care for 6 children. It’s her job to look after the younger siblings whilst her mum and older brother work. She’s never been to school, that opportunity has been stolen from her. They have a small slum-like shelter about the size of a toilet cubicle that they cram into if it’s raining, otherwise they sleep on the road. She belongs to a low caste of ‘untouchables’, many of the kids here don’t have ID cards and have never gone to school. Few of them had dared to imagine any different. Except for Shamilla, who in this moment stood amid the opposition, looking desperately into my eyes as is if to ask, is it realy true? Are they correct, is there no hope for me? Is this my future? I finally interjected the crowd’s mockery and, talking only to her, explained that she would have to start school with kids as young as 5. Having warned of the difficulties, I ask again if she is willing. She cautiously smiled and bravely nodded.
I still wasn’t sure that I made the right call, maybe I was being too optimistic or setting her up for failure? I shouldn't even get to make that call. All I knew was that I could not be another voice in this girl’s world telling her she has nothing to give to this world, I would not be another force that robbed from her of what should have always been hers.
How I wish I could share with the world the way she looked at me. I wish she could look at all of us the same way, asking you and I if this is all there is for her, hopeful that we might be her one ‘yes’ amid a sea of ‘no’s’. Then, I doubt anyone could help but say yes, yes to her, her future and the millions just like her.