Asha is tall, charismatic, and according to her teachers at the Ashramshala, very stubborn. A conversation with her is impressive, but lacks the innocence or candor you’d expect from a 13-year old girl. She has a film star-esque quality to her smile – bright and beautiful, plastered on her face as she searches for the “right” thing to say.
Yet, someone with Asha’s background cannot be expected to have much girlish innocence. Asha’s family lives in Shankar Bhuvan, a slum area in Ahmedabad known for its tough crowd, and rough living conditions. The narrow alleys that weave through the community are dotted with men exchanging cigarettes and liquor, spitting at the feet of passersby as crude language rolls off their tongues.
Two years ago, Asha’s parents eagerly took the chance to put Asha and her younger sister in the children’s hostel at Gandhi Ashram.
“I wanted to get a good education so I can move ahead in life,” Asha says, a response almost too wise for her years. Despite her prodigious claim, the transition to hostel life was not easy for Asha. As she describes the loneliness she felt when other girls did not include her in their games, and as her sister found new friends to join, her smiling and charming veneer shows a crack of candid unease.
Her troubles were not limited to making friends. The contrast between the disciplined environment at the Ashramshala and the abrasive life in the slums became apparent in Asha’s schoolwork. Her teachers hassle her to pay more focus on her studies, but she is not used to being around those who value education.
“My friends at Shankar Bhuvan used to always trouble our teachers,” Asha explains. “With them, I never took my studies seriously. Now everyone says I’m not making an effort in the Ashramshala, but I am trying. It’s just that I’m not used to studying. Even a little effort seems like a big one.”
While effort is relative, Asha’s poor grades and negligent attitude toward her lessons cannot be overlooked. After failing her mid-year Ashramshala exams in February, Asha was warned that her spot in EKATVA was at risk unless she improved her study habits. But she was not left to tackle her schoolwork on her own. Her mentors at Manav Sadhna took out time for extra tutoring, and her friends at the Ashramshala would sit with her late at night after dance rehearsal, to help her practice her lessons.
But when results for the end-of-year exams were tallied, Asha’s performance was disappointing. Her failing marks in every subject left no doubt that her focus in her schoolwork had not been sincere.
Until she demonstrates a sincere effort and improvement in her studies, Asha is no longer a part of EKATVA.
Asha’s mentors explained to her that the purpose of this production is not as simple as taking 16 children from the slums on a tour around the world. EKATVA is an experiment in uplifting children from poverty to self-sustainability, by supporting them holistically and showing them the fruits of hard work. To include Asha in this journey while she continues her bad study habits would be a disservice to her and the person she has the potential to become. She has been given one more chance to apply herself and add value to the message EKATVA seeks to send to the world.