On Tuesday morning, a group of ten students looked expectantly at every car that passed by. Gingerly holding flower bouquets, they took up posts alongside the men in khaki outside the gates of a health centre in Jeevan Nagar of Southeast Delhi, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The political significance of her visit was lost on these children. They cared little about international relations and nuclear policies. Their excitement had everything to do with coming face to face with Australia’s premier citizen.
Till a few years ago, entering a college was a distant dream for these children from Sunlight Colony in Jeevan Nagar.
But all that changed five years ago, thanks to the helping hand extended by an NGO and the Australian government.
Like many in the crowd, which greeted Gillard on her arrival at the venue, 22-year-old Bharti, a student of Maitreyi College, is the only person in her family to go to college.
“Looking at me, most parents now want to send their children to college,” she said.
The excitement is palpable on her face. “I’m very excited that the Australian Prime Minister has,” Bharti said.
Another student, Rohit, apart from being the first graduate in his family, was one of the first slum children in the group to get a bank loan for pursuing his studies.
“I have always been creatively inclined and I was able to do a course in animation with the help of the loan,” he said.
According to these youngsters, it was through Asha, an NGO, which worked with slum children , that they were able to attend university.
Students also got the opportunity to intern at the High Commissions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as in corporate houses like Macquarie Group, Rio Tinto and Pepsi.
Most students felt that the highlight of their internship was the fact that their command on English improved tremendously by the end of their training programme.
“Although I have studied English in school, I would hesitate while conversing in the language. However, after completing my internship, I have become much more confident,” Divakar Thakur, a graduate from Ram Lal Anand College, said.
The son of a construction worker, Divakar will soon join the PR and advertising section of a multinational company.
During their interaction with Gillard, the students were also asked about the difficulties they faced in studying while living in