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Saroj & Santosh's Story
Saroj Kumar and Santosh Paswan —
Two Former Child Laborers in Sitamarhi
Two Star Students Emerge
There is a season in India when the exam results come in. There are announcements in the newspapers celebrating the success stories from board exams from IIT and JEE entrance exams. States take pride in the excellent performance their children. It was on the perimeter of this scene that a different kind of success story unfolded not long ago.
Against all odds, two young boys and former child laborers in zari karkhanas had cracked the Navodaya entrance exams held earlier that year. Only two years earlier, the boys—Saroj Kumar and Santosh Paswan—had been living hopeless existences and working endless hours. They never had any hope of studying for the exam before they got their break and started living in the Pratham Gyanshala, a residential program for child laborers.
The Boys’ Stories
The boys lived similar lives. At the time, Saroj Kumar was 13. His parents were old. All his siblings either worked or were married off.
From the age of eight to the age of eleven, Saroj worked in zari karkhana in the infamous Dharavi slum in Mumbai. He was made to work from nine in the morning until 11 at night. In return, he got two meals a day.
Everything changed for Saroj the day he was rescued from the inhuman working conditions in Dharavi and brought to a Pratham Gyanshala in Sitamarhi. After two years of a normal childhood, Saroj is now excelling in several fields—and he’s become quite a kabaddi and kho kho player as well.
Santosh Kumar Paswan’s story is similar. He used to work in a zari factory in Ahmedabad. He worked from seven in the morning to twelve at night, for less than a dollar a week and two meals to eat per day. His whole family worked similar jobs. They had to. And for Santosh at the time, nothing seemed more out of the question than school—until the day he was rescued and came to live in the Pratham Gyanshala in Sitamarhi.
A Future of Unlimited Possibilities
The two children are very happy but they still may not realize the magnitude or significance of what they have achieved by passing the Navodaya entrance exam. They have shown us that with the right opportunity and support, a child can go very far. In just two years, they’ve gone from being child laborers with limited prospects to merit scholars with unlimited possibilities.