This story is an excerpt from Dream a Dream’s new book “When we Thrive, Our World Thrives: Stories of Young People Growing Up With Adversity” authored by Dr. Connie K Chung, EdD with Vishal Talreja, Dream a Dream staff and programme participants.
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At the age of 12, Ranjith first encountered Dream a Dream’s After School Life Skills Programme for rugby. Initially Ranjith was not interested in playing the sport. But the promise of having a sports uniform, snacks, and new shoes piqued his interest. His father was a fruit seller and his mother a domestic worker, so money was tight and affording new shoes and uniform was out of the picture. After the tryouts, Ranjith was selected to join the rugby team. Immediately, in the first week, he was celebrated as the “Best Player of the Week” and received a certificate of appreciation. This motivated Ranjith to continue playing the sport. He received the “Best Sportsman” award for three weeks in a row, and the “Best Tackler” award, distinguishing himself from 250 other young students. Ranjith recalls, “I was very weak academically and went through school unnoticed. Upon receiving the award, I was not only noticed but also highly appreciated and valued. I felt so happy to be recognised and cherished.”
Dream a Dream’s After School Life Skills Programme in rugby and its facilitators maintained a steady presence during what turned out to be a turbulent childhood for Ranjith. His father lost his source of livelihood due to an accident and resorted to comforting himself by consuming alcohol. This resulted in family fights and a limited source of income to sustain basic necessities like food and clothing. “My parents did not listen to us,” Ranjith recalls. “They only came home to cook, eat, and sleep; that is all.” Ranjith, too, only went home to sleep, as he spent his entire day at school, studying or playing. “No one was there to listen to my thoughts, my ideas, my feelings, or my hunger, at home,” he added.
When his rugby team placed fifth in Delhi, he came back home, excited to talk to his parents about his travel and his team’s success. Moreover, his photo was in the newspaper that day, with the rest of the team. But his mother was not happy, after fighting with his father, and did not respond to him as he would have liked. Ranjith remembers being angry with her to the point of being depressed and in tears.
In contrast, at school, Ranjith’s teacher put his newspaper photo on the school’s bulletin for everyone to see. He also invited Ranjith to speak about his experience with everyone at the school assembly. Ranjith said he felt happy and encouraged with that recognition. Not only did the positive reinforcement strengthen his confidence, but he also noticed that teachers’ attitudes toward him changed. Ranjith fondly remembers, “I felt supported by teachers who also encouraged me to put similar efforts into studying.”
Ranjith also knew that he could share his challenges with his Dream a Dream facilitator, Revanna Marilinga, a Dream a Dream graduate. When Ranjith entered the 10th standard, having Revanna as someone who could listen to him became very important as he faced bigger events in his life. Ranjith fell in love with a girl; finances became a bigger problem in his family with his father losing his job; and he faced the dilemma whether to continue with his education after the 10th standard or not.
As Ranjith was making this decision, Revanna made sure to support him with the choices and their consequences. Revanna shared that Ranjith could consider a part-time job which would allow him to continue his studies and also play sports. He shared what he thought would happen if Ranjith left his studies and what would happen if he didn’t. He also shared stories of different people who chose to continue their education and those who chose to stop their education. Revanna made it clear that the final decision was up to Ranjith. Ranjith felt that Revanna’s guidance helped him better understand the consequences that came with each choice, empowering him to make an informed decision.
Ranjith’s first choice for a job was to work for Dream a Dream as a part time facilitator, something he had shared with staff since he was in the ninth standard. But at the time, Dream a Dream did not have any vacancies. So, Ranjith applied for a part time job at McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Upon receiving a job at McDonald’s, he gave most of his first earnings to his parents and saved some for himself. He also applied to a government pre-university college, where he could continue to play sports.
While Ranjith was making important life choices about his career and future, he also wanted to support his community. He joined Vishnu Reji, another Dream a Dream graduate, and other rugby players from Dream a Dream to start a community initiative in their neighbourhood. They taught rugby to younger boys and girls in their free time, helping them get a chance to play a sport and learn life skills. Even though they had no money, they scraped together 10-20 rupees ($0.13 – $0.26 USD) among themselves every day to provide snacks for the young players, knowing how important these snacks were for them, when they were children. Ranjith had such a natural rapport with the children, that when Vishal Talreja, Dream a Dream’s co-founder, visited one of these community sessions at a public playground and interacted with a few children, one of them, not more than 10 or 11 years old, excitedly shared with him that when he grows up, he wanted to be like Ranjith.
Others noticed Ranjith’s ability to connect with children. When Ranjith burnt his hands while working at the night shift at McDonald’s, Revanna invited him to support him in the field during the After School Life Skills Programme in football. He noticed that Ranjith had a flair for facilitation. Children enjoyed his company and attentively listened to him. Because Ranjith came from a similar challenging background as the programme participants, he patiently empathised with them. Ranjith’s generosity in buying what he could to share with the young rugby participants had also caught the attention of the Dream a Dream’s staff. When an opening came up, they offered Ranjith the opportunity to go through the recruiting process to become a facilitator. When the staff formally asked Ranjith if he wanted to join Dream a Dream, Ranjith’s “biggest” dream – since he had been a programme participant – of joining and giving back to the organisation that had given him so much, finally came true. Currently Ranjith is 26 years old, working with the Direct Impact team at Dream a Dream and also has a tattoo studio.
Get immersed in Ranjith’s and 19 other young people’s stories, and get your copy of the book. When We Thrive, Our World Thrives: Stories of Young People Growing Up With Adversity by Dr. Connie K. Chung, EdD, Vishal Talreja, and Dream a Dream staff is available in all the biggest online bookstores.