CHENNAI: It says a lot when a significant number of roadside vendors on Allikulam Link Road, located behind Ripon Building, readily welcome enquiries regarding the daughter of a particular flower-seller. R Hepzibah,16, daughter of Arrayi, may well be a street child, but she has just returned from Brazil, where she represented India at the World Street Child Games a week or so ago, with three medals, including one gold, all in the field of athletics.
From the streets of Chennai to Brazil, Hepzibah’s journey is a source of inspiration to all children. Hepzibah lost her father in 2003 when she was a mere three-year-old. Her mother Arrayi was the sole breadwinner of the family, that included her four daughters. While the three elder sisters of Hepzibahare currently working, the youngest one realized she was athletic.
Hepzibah took up athletics in her sixth standard and participated in and winning several local and district-level competitions. Hepzibah got the opportunity of her lifetime when Karunalaya, an NGO for street children in Tondiarpet, held a screening test to select participants for the World Street Child Games.
“Two weeks before the start of the games, we held a contest and chose five children. Though from deprived backgrounds, every one of them showed strength and determination.None of them had an inkling that they would go to Brazil,” said N Paul Sunder Singh, secretary of Karunalaya, the NGO which is also the Indian partner for the World Street Child Games which funded the entire trip.
When news reached Hepzibah’s household of her stellar achievement, her elder sister R Jhansi wanted to put up a banner in the vicinity of her family’s residence, in Kannapar Thidal located just off the Sydenham Road in Choolai. However, with the family’s bare sustenance, Jhansi had to borrow money. “We wanted to happily share the news of Hepzibah’s accomplishment with others. But in order to do so, we had to borrow `10,000,” she says.
Meanwhile, the family continues to receive well-wishers, including Maniamma, also a flower vendor who has known Arrayi for the past 15 years. After conveying her heartfelt greetings, Muniamma handed over a copy of the Bible as a gift to Hepzibah.
“Having lived off the streets with inadequate shelter, Hepzibah has shown to the world that street children have their own talent and just require an opportunity to showcase it. I hope she, along with the other four kids, serve as an inspiration to others in society,” said her mother Arrayi.
Later in the evening on Saturday, DMK treasurer MK Stalin dropped in to convey his personal wishes to the children.