FROM a very young age, Koteswara Nayak worked as a shepherd boy, helping his father in the fields of rural Andhra Pradesh.
Coming from a very poor tribal family, he was expected to help his parents and, like many children from such impoverished backgrounds, Koteswara Nayak and his sister did not attend school.
But when his parents found they could no longer afford to feed him, they reluctantly agreed to allow HEAL to place him at their Children’s Village in Guntur where he would receive not only shelter and health care, but an all-important education – the key to youngsters from such poor family backgrounds escaping India’s grim poverty trap.
Koteswara Nayak never looked back and when 13 HEAL children recently completed their Junior Inter Public Examinations, all passing with good marks, the former child labourer stood second in Guntur City with a stunning 98% pass mark.
Studying maths, physics and chemistry, the one-time shepherd boy achieved a remarkable 461 marks out of 470 and is being hailed as an inspiration for the other children under HEAL’s care.
“Mr Nayak’s success has become a great motivating factor for all the HEAL children,” said Children’s Village administrator Mrs Marudwathi. “When his parents were unable to feed him, HEAL took him under its wing and after that he gained a lot of confidence and did not look back for anything.
“This kind and timely support brought a wonderful change in his life and he has expressed his grateful thanks to HEAL and his generous sponsor from the UK. And it should not be forgotten that 13 more children from the Village appeared for Junior Inter and passed with good marks.”
In the case of Koteswara Nayak, and many others, it can be seen how the poorest children’s lives are being transformed by the teachers and carers of HEAL in India, and by the generosity of sponsors in the UK and elsewhere.
Economic deprivation and an inadequate education infrastructure mean sending a child out to work from a young as five or six is an all-too-acceptable option for rural families in particular. More than half the children in Andhra Pradesh drop out of school before finishing seventh grade.
Many stay at home to help their parents make ends meet by performing manual labour, while others are often exploited, lured away with promises of good pay, only to find themselves trapped in big-city sweatshops working 12 to 16 hours a day and living in filthy, cramped conditions.
Laws to protect children and ban the use of young workers are largely ineffective, but HEAL continues to offer help to hundreds of needy children and a new safe haven called Paradise Village is currently under construction near Vijayawada. The school there will open this summer and is designed with the aim of helping up to 10,000 children escape the crippling Indian poverty trap by 2020.
Even simple HEAL initiatives such as free books, bags and equipment for primary age children, a free mid-day meal and the provision of shoes are found to pay huge dividends in improving school attendance in underprivileged rural areas such as Guntur, Kanuru and Bhadrachalam, where parents often cannot afford to send their children to school.
And it is hoped that success stories like those of Koteswara Nayak and his friends will continue to inspire more sponsors to come forward and give these children the chance to reach their true potential in life for the benfit of them, their families and their communities.
To find out how you can sponsor a child from as little as £11 a month, please visit our website at: www.heal.co.uk/sponsor-a-child.html