Through JOYN, Malti is single-handedly breaking the cycle of poverty in her family. Her job has given her dignity.
From the first time Melody Murray met Malti, she knew this girl was different. From the outside it was hard to tell. She was ragged, beaten and abused- a result of living on the streets while being forced to beg to survive. While that lifestyle had taken it's toll on her dignity and her health, it had not touched her ability to dream and her determination to seek out opportunity at every turn.
"Malti was a little different from the other kids," says Melody, founder of JOYN. "She has dreams. She's always had dreams. She's thought about her future in a way that most kids in her circumstances wouldn't."
Melody and Malti met on the very first day of Street Smart, a program started by a local woman, Shaila, and Melody, that gives kids living on the streets an opportunity to receive education, vocational training, a hot shower and food.
"I was overwhelmed by how dirty, smelly, and wild all the children were. Malti was by far one of the worst. No one had cared for her, " Melody says. "Yet, she was always the first one there when there was opportunity. In the parks when we would have them come do art, she was the first in line. When we brought lunch, she'd be the first to sit down next to you and start talking. She so desires an opportunity- if you give it to her she will run with it."
Opportunity is what first drew Malti and her siblings to Dehradun. She grew up in Bihar, India with her mother, and four siblings where they worked as farmers. Bihar is known to house the lowest caste in India, the "Untouchables", and provides little opportunity to earn a sustainable living. Wanting a chance to earn money for a better life, Malti left Bihar for Kolkata when she was 10 years old with her older brother, sister and two younger brothers, but soon after traveled on to Dehradun after hearing about opportunity for work.
When they arrived in Dehradun, Malti found work as a rag picker, collecting trash from the street. It's difficult work, earns little respect from others and does not provide sustainable pay. Child rag pickers are often vulnerable to abuse, and soon Malti found herself being forced to beg.
It was at this point, when she was ragged, beaten and abused, that she met Shaila.
"Shaila told me to stop doing this work. She told me about Street Smart, and that she could give me food and good work there," Malti said.
Malti began attending Street Smart, starting with that first day she met Melody and Shaila in the park, and received education, vocational training and a hot meal every day. After about two years at Street Smart, Malti was offered a full-time position as a stitcher at JOYN, where she has now been working for a year.
Since starting work at JOYN, Malti has grabbed hold of her dreams. Goals that felt unreachable just three years ago, now feel possible through the resources that JOYN provides. As an 18-year-old, she lives with her two younger brothers and supports them as well as herself. She purchased a piece of land for them to live on and is planning on building a house. Most importantly to her, she is able to provide a good education for her younger brothers.
"When we were younger, we couldn't read or write because our financial situation didn't allow for us to have education," Malti said. "But now, I have learned to read and have the ability to provide that for my brothers. Education is a need for everyone. It's really important so you can get a good job and have good opportunities."
By providing education to her younger brothers, Malti is single-handedly breaking the cycle of poverty in her family.
Her drive doesn't stop with changing the story of her family history. She has dreams of becoming a business owner one day, and plans to start her own grocery store to provide people in her community with food.
But don't let her fool you- Malti is not all-business. Working in a healthy, loving environment has allowed her fun-loving, joyful, joke-playing personality to shine through. As she works stitching scarves, she laughs and sings with the women working next to her. Her giggle resonates through the JOYN headquarters, as anyone who walks by is subject to teasing.
The way Malti has transformed in three years goes beyond simply her job. She was exploited, and now she is valued. She was living on the streets, and now she has a community where she belongs. She was begging, and now is able to provide for her family with a sustainable income working a decent job. When Melody met her, she couldn't read or write, and now she is providing education for her brothers.
JOYN has given her more than a job. It's given her dignity.
JOYN is growing fast and has the perfect piece of land to expand but they need your help to construct a building. Donate now to help them grow and continue to restore many more lives like Malti's.
Photos: Haley George
Written by: Lindsay Bixby
Light the World : Joyn India Campaign