When I was in elementary school, I knew that I would be an astronaut when I grew up. After tasting the spotlight in my fourth grade play, I decided that I could be an actor too. My father was a doctor, so maybe practicing medicine was in my blood? Or I could just live the simple life as an animal trainer at Sea World.
They were haphazard and scattered, but these wild ideas that I formed about the future – these dreams of the person I would become and the career I would undertake – were vital my childhood and teenage years. I reveled in the fact that I had choices and, even more significantly, I believed that I had the means to make some of my crazy dreams come true. I had supportive parents, a good education system to rely on, and the simple ability to imagine and hope for success.
Last week, I met a Dalit girl named Ahuti in a tiny village in the Doti District of Western Nepal. Ahuti was studying in the 4th standard (the same year in school that I decided to become an actor), but you wouldn’t have guessed it. She was 14 years old. The inability to attend school regularly had impeded her educational advancement. “But at least she is learning…”, I thought.
Before actually speaking with Ahuti, our little group (Devin, Prakash, and I) had the chance to spend some time with Ahuti’s grandfather. Devin and Prakash asked a few questions here and there, but I didn’t contribute much to the dialogue. The whole time I was listening to them while observing our surroundings. I noticed the claustrophobia-inducing mud house where Ahuti and her entire family lived. I watched her younger sister take care of an infant (perhaps another sibling?) as dozens of gnat like insects swarmed around their eyes and gathered in their tear ducts. I listened to her grandfather speak to Prakash about the death of his son, Ahuti’s father, due to lack of medical care. These circumstances seemed overwhelming to me, a well off Indian-American dreamer. But to Ahuti, her siblings, and grandfather, it was the only reality they have known.
Speaking with Ahuti helped draw me out of my distanced state of mind. We only spoke with her for few brief minutes, but that conversation revealed more to me than any book, magazine article, or “Save the Children” commercial. It wasn’t even the words that came out of her mouth that struck me. I asked her, now that she is currently enrolled in school, what path she hopes her education will lead her down. I was hoping to get an encouraging answer, one that would just let me get a glimpse of this young girl’s dreams. Ahuti looked down at her feet and sighed. It was barely audible, but that little puff of air that came out of her mouth was an indication of the hopelessness (and “dreamlessness”) that she lives every day.
We later found out from Ahuti’s mother that her daughter’s schooling was temporary. Ahuti was the oldest of four and her family could not afford to educate everyone. Ahuti will, more than likely, work alongside her mother one day, breaking larger stones into gravel for about 15 cents a day. We can only hope that she does not have to resort to selling her body in the future, like many of her mother’s peers who are forced to do so in order to make enough money for survival.
I am not sure if this is all that Ahuti has to look forward to. Being the optimist that I am, I hope that she will find some amazing opportunity, allowing her to one day become an astronaut, actress, doctor, teacher – whatever her heart desires. But then again, I can only hope and dream.
Posted By Ted Samuel
Posted Jul 4th, 2007