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Recollecting the night of August 2008 when houses were destroyed and burnt. The marginalized community of Kandhamal district, the eastern Indian state of Odisha, faced widespread violence against Christians.

Rajesh, age 17, lives with his mother after losing everything in the violence. Mother has been raising her son alone. There are days when her limited money is not enough for two of them to have a decent life. Sending Rajesh to school was out of the question. Mother is illiterate and works two shifts to provide for both. From morning till evening, she works at a construction site, and in the evening, she works as domestic help.

Rajesh recalls the days he loved spending time with his family. His father worked as a daily-wage earner, and every day he will keep five rupees  ( 70 cents) to buy a laddoo (a sweet made from milk and sugar in the Indian subcontinent) for his son. During summer, Rajesh and his friends would enjoy plucking mangos and enjoy eating them. Since his parents were illiterate, they enrolled Rajesh in a school near their village. He loved going to school and learn about new things. Rajesh would say to his father – “I will study hard and get a job so that you don’t have to work so hard. I will make you feel proud.”

A beautiful dream of a five years old beloved son turned grey in August 2008. One night while the family was fast asleep, suddenly they heard a loud voice Bhago Bhago, Bachawo Bachwo (Run run, Help help ). That night marginalized communities faced persecution for their faith. Rajesh’s family fled from their village into the forest area, and during the run, the father got separated from the family. Their house was under attack, and in the blink of an eye, families became homeless and prone to dangers in the forest.

Little Rajesh, along with his mother, was forced to hide in the nearby forest. They slept in the wild with the constant fear of snakebite, mosquito, hunger, and sleepless nights. Rajesh lost his father that night and never to be found; no one knows what happened to him, whether he is dead or alive. In the turn of events, he misses going to school, spending time with his father, and climbing mango trees with his friends. Mother and son both stayed in the jungle for over three months, but could not move to a safer location. They lost everything during the violence as their house was looted and destroyed.

Rajesh and his mother thought life is over for them with no positive hope. Mother worried after losing her husband; as it was hard to rebuild a life again without him, she was concerned about her son’s life and future. Positively both of them survived over three months in the forest. There’s always hope after dark days. They heard the ruling government has stepped up to aid the families who lost everything and provided funds for food and to rebuild houses.

Rajesh was brought to Elim Home in 2009 at Hyderabad, in India, to keep him in a safe environment and grow academically. He then received education sponsorship, and with this help, he can attend school and live his dream of being literate.

Currently, he is in 12th grade. When you see him in the school campus or at home, he is ever smiling, happy, and athletic. He loves playing volleyball and enjoys delicious spinach curry. Every year during the summer holiday, he would go back home to be with his mother and help her at work. He will take up a summer job to support his mother. Rajesh says – “Sponsorship has supported me for my education, like how my father would have supported me.”

Thank you, sponsors, for your generous help. Rajesh is in 12th grade, and like every child in the world, he has a dream too. He aims to be a police officer and serve justice. Subsequently, with sponsors/donors help, Rajesh is living his desire to be in a school. Little Rajesh is now a teen with a brave heart, surviving an episode of mindless violence.

Through the Helping Hand Welfare Society’s education sponsorship program, we can help children from vulnerable circumstances by supporting their education and help them to reach their highest potential. The sponsorship program ensures children to have access to the fundamental right to education and protection.

*Name has been changed, and the photo is for representation purposes only.

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