“Panah’s” origin has been embedded in my childhood journey. Contrary to my name “Naresh”, which means King, my childhood has been anything but king size. I was born in 1994 to a family who had migrated from Nepal and worked as labour in Ahmedabad. My mother is my father’s second wife and I have one elder brother and five sisters. I spent the first five years of my life in Nepal with my mother whilst my father was in India. Then my mother also shifted to Ahmedabad deserting me behind with my stepmother and later with my aunt. At the age of 6, I also shifted to Ahmedabad to be with my parents. My trip to India was a series of firsts for me – first bus ride lasted for 4 days to reach Ahmedabad, first visit to a city, the first time having food outside the home. I was very happy for the first 15 days. And then I got a reality check. My mother worked as a maid in other people’s houses earning Rs 1200 each month and my father was a daily wager with a salary of Rs 4000. My father was a drunkard and used to beat up my mother after getting drunk. The earnings were not enough as we had to pay the house rent, my sister’s schooling fee, and a lot was spent by my father on his alcohol. In the given scenario, money was the primary need of the hour and values were secondary. My parents enrolled me in a government school. A few days later I needed some money for school projects. I knew I could not ask my parents. So I decided to do something myself without informing my parents. I started rag picking that day and so began my journey of earning money at 6 years of age. Two weeks later my parents found out and my father gave me a good beating as he thought it was not appropriate work for me. But whenever I needed money I would do rag picking without informing my parents.
The Story of Naresh Sijapati
Once a migrant laborer, now helping others like him ..
Next year with the efforts of my mother, she enrolled me in a private school with a fee of Rs 70. Soon I joined a biscuit factory where we had to pack biscuits. I worked there for half a year and then moved to work in a tea stall. After some time my mother got a job in a school as a peon cum cleaner. She got permission to start a food stall in the school. I started working with my mother at the stall after school. One of the teachers, Jyotsna Ben, was a great support in helping us and teaching my mother about the management of money and saving money. During this time we managed to own a small house in a chal and I cleared my tenth class with 51%. By the time I cleared my matric, I would take up any odd jobs of being a waiter or selling fruit waste in the fruit market and then as a skilled labor in an industry. As an industrial worker, this was the first time that I had earned Rs 2380 in 18 days. However, what troubled me was the fact that we laborers worked so hard but had NO FIXED SALARY, NO PERKS OF PF OR ESI, AND NO JOB SECURITY. As I joined school back for my 11th and 12th, I could work part-time as a waiter in a restaurant. So I joined Hotel Navjivan and started my hospitality career. I was quick to learn managing and serving tables. My boss appreciated my work. During these school years, many times I would end up fighting with my father as he would drink and beat my mother. There are many instances when I left home and spent nights at the railway station for days after fighting with my father. After one such fight before class 12 exams, I stayed for 10 days in the hotel I was working in. My boss was supportive and gave me time to study to appear for the exams. After 12th Class, I joined the bachelor program in college. In college, I joined NCC. I kept working in hotels in the evening. I changed hotels as and when I got more salary and with experience, I got senior positions in the restaurants where I worked. My work gave me the opportunity to meet new people and learn from them. Soon I started my own small restaurant. In my first year of college, I felt the need to do more, and I started the Nepali Helpline to provide support to Nepali migrant labor. At work I met some people from “Ajeevika Bureau” and joined them as a volunteer. This was my very first contribution to the social sector.
I had this deep desire to learn English as I felt it was important for me to progress in life. I met Mr. Anil Raina who was a manager in Hotel Kalki where I was working. He was a trained professional in hospitality and with him, I started learning English. Luckily for me, a group of people from Teach for India visited the restaurant. I happened to talk to them and expressed my desire to work with them. A few days later I got a call from them asking me to appear for an interview. I joined Teach for India in October 2014. This was a life-transforming experience. I met incredible people at work who changed the way I viewed and perceived life. Their passion to work, teach, and help others had a great impact on me. Few months of working in a great environment with Teach for India, I realized that I am lucky to have reached here. And all this has been possible because of the education and the right exposure I got in spite of my hardships. This ignited the desire in me to share what I have received and create opportunities for others like me. So I borrowed money and opened a center at Memco for teaching children of migrants and other social services for the laborers.