Rishikesh, India: Computer Learning Center

The community of Shisham Jhari is a slum area that lies along the bank of the Ganges River in Rishikesh, India.  Rishikesh is a Hindu holy city in north central India, resting at the foothills of the Himalayas.  It is an area that attracts tourists from within India and around the world, so it is growing fast, but still there are many people here who live in extreme poverty without modern facilities or conveniences.  The families of Shisham Jhari endure poor housing and sanitation conditions, daily power cuts, extremely hot and humid summer weather (often surpassing 110 degrees Fahrenheit), chilly winters without heating in their homes, and annual monsoon flooding from the nearby river.  Most of these families are Hindu, though a few are also Sikh and Muslim.

The families of Shisham Jhari come from a variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds.  The most predominant local languages are Hindi, the common language of all North India, and Garhwali, the language of the Tehri Garhwal District.  Most of the people living in Shisham Jhari are not locals but come from one of two regions:  Garhwal (the nearby mountain region) or Bihar (another state in north central India).  These people move away from their ancestral villages, which are primarily agricultural, in search of two things:  better jobs and better education for their children.  In many cases, especially among the Garhwali families, parents from the villages send their children to live with aunts, uncles, or other relatives in Rishikesh because there are no schools in their villages.  Education is extremely valuable to these people, as they are aware that it is their only chance of lifting their families out of poverty.

The average child in this community either does not go to school or pays fees to attend a government-operated Hindi medium school.  These schools are generally overcrowded, low-quality facilities without sufficient electricity and with poor teacher attendance.  Most children drop out before completing 12th grade, the girls getting married early (many as early as 13 years old) and the boys starting low-wage jobs like their fathers.  Without sufficient education, resources, or connections, they continue to live in a cycle of extreme hardship and poverty.

Computer skills are vital to students in Rishikesh as they will open doors for children and young people in India who would otherwise have no opportunity to pursue good careers and improve their lives.  A good computer education is one of the few things, which can break through the barriers of class and caste.  However, since computers are not common household items in this part of India and are totally out of reach for poor families, most children do not have the opportunity to gain even basic computer literacy.  By educating our very poor but gifted children in computer technology, we offer them a key advantage over other students in India.  In a cultural and financial situation where the odds are stacked against them, this single advantage allows our children to overcome their backgrounds and their situations of poverty to build successful lives for themselves and their families.

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