On a balmy Thursday afternoon, I spoke with Grade 12′s Lily Mary Thomas, one of the school’s most coveted soccer players, about her family, life at Shanti Bhavan, and her ambitions for the future. What she revealed to me was nothing short of emotional and inspirational. Her story is a testament to the hope and positivity that Shanti Bhavan instills in all its children.
Lily, aged 16, is one of 4 children, born to impoverished parents in Maryapura, a village near Bangalore. Maryapura’s villagers, like many others in rural India, have been plagued by severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. And like in several other villages across the country, nuns administer education, healthcare, sanitation, and other essentials in the village, dedicating their lives to improving living conditions in these regions.
It was one such nun who had suggested Lily as a potential candidate to Shanti Bhavan’s recruitment team when she was four years old. “I was doing really well in the school run by the nuns,” she explains.
Here are some snippets of our conversation:
Tell me a little bit about your parents.
My parents sell alcohol in our village. Earlier, they were farmers. My family used to live in a shack made of coconut leaves, and we used to grow vegetables on a small area of land that we owned. But a fire destroyed our cattle and shack, and my parents couldn’t do anything to save them. The Congress (one of India’s major political parties) helped us and gave us a little amount of money, but it wasn’t enough to improve our situation. So my parents began selling alcohol to the villagers to make money. My mother also works on other people’s farms for Rs. 100 a day (roughly $2 a day).
What about your siblings? Are they in school?
My elder sister studied till 9th grade, and then started working in a factory. My brother failed his 12th grade exams and is now working in the same factory. We didn’t have enough money to let him sit for the exams again.
What do you think your life would be like if you were not at Shanti Bhavan?
I would probably be washing vessels, and maybe going to a government school if I could afford it.
What do you enjoy most about being at Shanti Bhavan?
Being able to play sports, especially soccer. I love playing sports, and at home, I wouldn’t be allowed to do that.
What are some words your friends use to describe you?
They say I am friendly, and active.
What are your dreams for the future?
Ideally, I want to play soccer for India. But I wont be able to support my family if I depend on sports. So realistically, I want to study biochemistry. I am interested in learning how medicine works on people.
Are you nervous about what the future holds in store for you?
Not really, because I know that if I work hard, I will succeed.
Lily’s life story, and her positive outlook on life, is far from unusual at Shanti Bhavan. Hers is one of many inspirational journeys in which the children blaze through many obstacles to come out stronger, so they represent the best and brightest of tomorrow’s world.
[Editor's Note: To learn more details about Shreya's volunteer experience in India this summer, read her blog!]