It was an early Monday morning and I excitedly, yet nervously, stepped into Harmony House. Harmony House consists of two villas that have been converted into centres for the children of the Gurgaon slums. As I pushed through the black steel gates of Harmony House, I could hear the children singing their morning prayer.
Once I stepped into Harmony House, I was introduced to house manager Harpriya and was taken on a tour of the first house. She walked me through each room, and to my surprise each room was completely filled with children.
As I entered the first room I was greeted with bright smiles, curiosity and then they all arose and unanimously said “Good morning, ma’am.”
I responded with a huge smile and said “Good morning.”
There were a number of rooms over the two floors, which were set-up as classrooms for learning, medical attention and eating. We then passed by the kitchen, where there were three women who were preparing breakfast and planning lunch for the children. We made our way to the makeshift assembly hall where children were making crafts, which is also where the children eat during mealtime.
Within about an hour, I was taken to the second Harmony House, which caters to the older children. We did a similar walk through of the house. I was then pointed to a room and was told I could start with the kids in the reading room. I timidly entered the classroom, in which children ranging from 13-17 years of age were reading. As I entered they all smiled and stood up, I waved my hands for them to stay seated and I then nervously broke the ice with “Hi, my name is Sunny. Is it ok if we go around the room and introduce ourselves?” I was nervous all morning and a thousand questions ran through my mind, until I spoke these two sentences. Would they understand my broken Hindi? Will they understand English? Are they going to like me? What if they don’t? I find it funny now at how intimidated I was of these kids, especially reflecting on this in hindsight, and that no matter what age or what our background is – we all want to be liked and to fit in.
One by one, they began standing up and telling me their names and which class they were in – some were very shy with their English and some were very bold. From that moment on and the many days after that, I don’t think my smile has left my face. After they introduced themselves I gave a brief introduction about myself and explained why I was there. I was there to help them with their English and also to do some research on some of the Delhi communities. As we spoke and got to know each other, we decided to make an agreement for the next two days: today they were only to speak in English and tomorrow I would only speak in Hindi with them. You see, my Hindi was about as good as their English – so we all agreed, that was a fair arrangement. I thought it would put us on an equal platform; that I was to learn from them, as much as they were to learn from me.
We started the lesson with me asking them to each write a poem or a short story (topic of their choice) and once complete they were to read aloud their story – in English. The children jumped to the idea and believe me when I say these children are brave, as I was already nervous about having to speak my broken Hindi the next day.
Poonam is a 16-year-old girl who wants to become a singer and a writer. She is one of the older girls at Harmony House, and many of the younger children look to her for guidance. And to be fair, so did I – she is a natural leader. She is also a talented singer, in which she indulged me and the children by singing a song by the band One Direction. She also brought over her journal to show off her work, which was filled with beautiful poetry, colorful drawings and stickers. Her dream is to have one of them published in a magazine or newspaper. So I thought I would have one of her poems included in this article. Her younger brother was also in attendance; he wants to become a computer engineer. Although, after seeing his beautiful drawings and paintings; I think his passion is in Art.
Then there was Saima who is 14 years old, a very poised and gracious young woman. Saima wants to become a news journalist and was very brave in openly asking me questions and also shared her writings with me as well.
As we were writing, a young boisterous boy by the name of Rahul joined our group. He has the biggest smile I have ever seen, and he loves to talk; so much so that I constantly have to remind him to slow down. He quickly stole my heart. In addition to his love of talking, he also enjoys playing chess and is very determined to beat me yet. Rahul wants to become a police officer.
Then of course there is 11 year old Priya, a young girl that could win you over with her mischievous grin. Priya wants to become a fighter pilot – she was my kind of girl! We instantly clicked. She is a very smart girl and she is well aware of it. I love her mischievous behavior and the sly grin she gives when she knows she is pushing her limits. She reminds me a lot of myself.
One thing I immediately noticed about all the children was how happy they are. These children did not have very much, but I admire their ability in being happy with so little. Perhaps, it was because this was all they knew, or perhaps it is a reminder that very little is needed to be happy. These children come from backgrounds that most of us could never imagine. Yet, their determination and resilience was overwhelming. I found myself in absolute awe of them. Reflecting back, I find it interesting that I chose to volunteer my time with these children in order to try and attempt to give back to humanity. However, the reality is I have been given so much more from these children – more than I could have ever imagined. These children come with pure hearts and have given me so much love. From the moment I stepped through the Harmony House doors; I was given unconditional love. I don’t think I could ever repay them in this lifetime, for the kindness and generosity they have extended to me.
Over this past month, these children have taught me the power of resiliency. We each have the power and ability to recover from difficulties in life. Moreover, we all need to be willing to put hard work in and understand that change does not occur overnight. As young Priya states, the moral of her short story is “hard work is a key to success.” These children work extremely hard every single day, in order to change their course in life. They attend school all day and then go home after and help their parents with work.
Moreover, these children have also reminded me of the value of a smile. And despite being such a simple gesture, it goes a long way. A smile is the perfect way to bridge two people, no matter how different they may seem to be.
These children have aspirations of becoming journalists, fashion designers, lawyers and doctors and I will pray each and every day that they are able to make their dreams come true.
Harmony House is more than just a school; it essentially acts as a day shelter for the women and children of the Gurgaon streets. It is a non-profit organisation in Gurgaon, just on the outskirts of Delhi, India. The centre provides free food, hygiene services, education, medical attention and social services to the women and children in the nearby slums. According to Save the Children India, there are approximately 50,000 children who live on the streets of Delhi, India. Harmony House provides vulnerable, underprivileged and marginalized children the opportunity to change their path in life. In addition to providing basic rights, the centre provides vocational classes; yoga, stitching and beauty courses in order to help women and children find jobs for their future. Between the two centres, on average they take in about 400-450 children per day. These children are fed and educated, but most importantly loved on a daily basis.
Harmony House was founded by husband and wife team, Lucy Bruce and Gaurav Sinha. Gaurav, an Indian national, married British born Lucy and they now reside in Dubai. The house has a number of staff, ranging from teachers, doctors and cooks etc. both paid and volunteer. The Harmony House staff work tremendously hard for these children, to ensure they are fed, educated and provided every opportunity to succeed in life. Most importantly, each and every member of staff is very welcoming and engaging, and there is no doubt in my mind that they are the reason why these children are so incredibly happy.
I want to thank Harmony House and the staff for allowing me the privilege to spend time with the children over the last month. I also want to thank each and every child at Harmony House for allowing me to be a part of their life. However small a part I may have played in their life, I trust them to know that each of them have left an imprint on mine.
If you are interested in making a small contribution to the future success of these undeniably brilliant children, please visit the Harmony House website for more details.
Human Rights Activist, and a PhD student
Sunny Mangat is a Human Rights Activist, and a PhD student researching sexual violence against women in India.