Almost all mentioned prayer among the important things they'd learned.
"What I learned at Deepam..."
They sat knee to knee with legs crossed on the thin brightly striped mat that covered the cement floor, all facing the front of the room in anticipation.
In one of the back corners, a white standing fan oscillated over the crowd of about 15-20 women.
The women had gathered for the graduation of their children from Deepam Primary School, operated by ITMI's David and Taru Kumar as a ministry reaching and blessing families living in the Muslim slum in Bangalore.
The mothers and the small children nestled in their laps watched with great curiosity as the Deepam students performed. Most had never witnessed their children doing something like this.
There were several songs choreographed with movements, including "Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes" in English, and a song entitled, "I love my India" for which the performers wore all white and waved Indian flags. Skits depicting David and Goliath and David as a shepherd boy were performed.
One by one, the students stood in front of the group and shared what they'd learned at Deepam. Almost all mentioned prayer among the important things they'd learned.
"I learned to pray, and writing, drawing, stories, Abc's, 123's."
Children learn ABCs during a Deepam school day.
Deepam students absorb Bible stories as Taru teaches them.
Some of the mothers were also given the opportunity to share their thoughts about their children's time at Deepam Primary. Some were very emotional and filled with tears, citing the changes they've seen in their children since joining Deepam.
As part of the program, David spoke, encouraging and honoring the students. He emphasized the importance of education and the teachings of Jesus in the life of every child, encouraging the mothers to seek Him.
For the first time in Deepam history, the students presented gifts of appreciation for their teachers.
Overcoming Pandemic Setbacks
The students at Deepam Primary School are not typically over 6, however, many of these children were. Their time to attend primary school, while they were 3-6 years old, was interrupted by the pandemic.
As soon as it was possible to re-open the school, Taru gathered the 22 students who missed out on their final two precious years of primary school while the school was closed by the government due to the pandemic.
Many had forgotten much of what they had already learned. Taru and her staff worked furiously to get them caught up in time to have a chance at getting admitted into school at the next level.
Each outgoing student was presented with a certificate and all students received a bag filled with some basic school supplies such as pencils, crayons, and sharpeners.
Taru with gifts for the Deepam students.
One of the dedicated Deepam staff members.
Deepam students proudly hold their gifts.
Why Graduation Matters
For families living in slums in India, poverty overshadows every part of life. From the cramped living quarters - sometimes up to 10 in a tiny room - to the daily struggle to afford even one meal, and everything in between.
Earning income is a gargantuan challenge. In the Modi Road slum, where Deepam Primary is located, most women aren't allowed to leave the slum to work, limiting their opportunities even more.
A woman in Modi Road slum peels garlic, earning less than a dollar for a day's work.
If the men do somehow find work, only a low percentage of them believe it is their responsibility to use that income to provide for their families, and often use it on their own desires - alcohol for example.
During the pandemic lockdowns, when no one was allowed to leave their homes, families instantly struggled to eat and were enormously blessed by ITMI's Project Joseph outreaches where they received food parcels crucial to their well-being.
On top of the physical struggles they face, as members of a lower caste, they bear a lifetime of devaluation and social insignificance in their spirits.
This situation affects how they think about and do everything - family relationships and the decisions that face them every day.
Students from Modi Road face extra obstacles to their academic success. If they didn't have the opportunity to attend preschool, they would enter elementary school far behind their peers, maybe never having held a pen or pencil in their hand.
Admission can be challenging, too, as many families don't have a copy of the children's birth certificates on hand or know how to obtain one.
Finding a quiet place to concentrate on homework in the tiny one or two-room lean-tos where they live with their families is another obstacle. Noises from other nearby families easily penetrate the thin, makeshift walls of the dwellings.
Modi Road dwellings.
Transport, uniforms, and supplies can all pose additional hurdles for students from these income-challenged families.
But graduation and a certificate from primary school give these students from Modi Road a fighting chance at future education.
How Deepam is More Than a Primary School
Deepam means simply "the lamp" and David and Taru, along with their staff, shine brightly for Jesus in this place filled with the shadows of poverty and heartache.
After the children go home and the small facility is cleaned and prepared for the next day, Taru and her staff visit the families of the students, seeking opportunities to read the Bible, share Biblical wisdom, and counsel or pray for them.
While at Deepam, the children are the recipients of love and kindness.
David and Taru lavish care and kindness on the Deepam students.
They learn Bible stories, which are reinforced through fun, meaningful activities. They are taught to pray and practice calling on Jesus every day. These are lessons that stick with them long after they move on to their next school.
Deepam students are taught to pray.
While reflecting on the close of this school year, David writes,
Please pray for each child that they would find a school where they will grow, be educated, and apply Biblical principles in their lives. Pray that the seeds we've planted will lead them to give their hearts to Jesus.
Please pray that we will continue to pour the love of Jesus into the life of every child that comes to us, every mother and father we encounter.
This is a ministry that demands our dedication absolute dedication irrespective of fruit or no fruit for our labor, please pray we will continue to do what the Lord has called us to with utmost obedience.
The Kumars are planning to host a VBS-type weeklong summer camp during the first week of May.
The Kumar's camp is highly anticipated among the children of the slum, who rarely if ever have the opportunity to participate in educational and stimulating programs designed for them.
Children line up outside the gate to attend VBS.
They have not been able to hold a summer camp for three years due to the pandemic, but historically, children line up outside the center hoping to be the ones blessed to attend.
Due to the small size of the Kumar's facility, in past years they have been heartbreakingly forced to turn some children away, once the rooms were filled wall-to-wall.
Please pray for a favorable climate, usually it will be hot during the month of May. Because our center is not big and the roof is made of asbestos sheets it will be very hot.
Please pray for the staff and children not to fall sick during this time, pray also for the Spirit of God will use all of us and the children will be able to grasp whatever will be taught from the Bible.
Our message for you is said best by David himself,
"We are extremely humble at your unwavering partnership, prayer, and support, without your valuable partnership we will not be able to do much."
Thank you for your partnership with us in reaching children living in Modi Road slum.
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