From Indian Slum to Trinity College

Mahinder Shrivas (TC 2016) shared this inspiring story at the Asha Society fundraising morning tea at Trinity College on 24 October 2019.

Above: Mahinder with Trinity alumnus and Chair of the Australian Friends of Asha, Robert Johanson

I grew up in a slum colony.

My mother tells me that is was much worse when I was born than it is now. My family lived in a small shack made of cardboard and old pieces of cloth. Dr Kiran Martin, the Founder and Director of the Asha Foundation, did a land rights program there in 1990. We were able to get a small plot of land and a loan to build our own house. But it was still a slum.

My house was next to an open drain. I remember I would jump across the drain and go through a hole in the wall of my school. My uniform and shoes would always get dirty. Once I remember a small child from my school was swept away in this drain and died.

Even now, my one room house is right opposite the public toilet that always remains dirty, and there is a constant smell. In fact when I went home last year, I always used the toilet in the Asha office throughout my stay.

As a child, I was always malnourished and was raised by my sister, as my mother was forced to work. There was never enough food for the family. The left over parts of the chicken were cooked in my home once in two weeks. I never ate breakfast as a school child. I didn’t know what breakfast was. My first meal was lunch at 2pm, when I reached home from school.

We never had a fridge and I would be desperate to drink cold water in the summer when the temperature was around 44 degrees Celsius.

I slept on a bed for the first time when I was 12 years old. Before that it was always on the floor. I always studied, ate and slept on the floor.

My association with Asha was before I was born. I still keep the laminated record of all the vaccinations I received from Asha. There is a record of the treatment I got from Dr Kiran when she treated me for acute bronchitis when I was 6 months old.

At the age of 12 I started to learn English at Asha. I was taught by many volunteers with great dedication. Being in the Asha Children’s Association in Bal Mandal were some of my best years. I would come running to the centre after school. We would take meetings, discuss community affairs, clean our slum, learn computers, participate in plays and debates, celebrate festivals and most importantly, learn to practice the Asha values.

Dr Kiran decided to transfer me to a private school when I was 16 years old. Asha took care of all of my needs and helped me to dream that I would become an engineer one day.

I am happy to tell you that I got into one of India’s top engineering colleges, and I was the first Asha engineering student there. I was so proud when the finance minister of India gave me a loan (Dr Kiran was the loan guarantor) for my education in the presence of the premier of Delhi. I completed my electrical engineering studies in Galgotia, and was immediately placed at a large multinational company called Cognisant. I was thrilled. I had to clear four sets of difficult exams during my training period. I was finally appointed as a programmer analyst.

I still remember the day when I got my offer for a Master of Computer Science from the University of Melbourne. It was the 3 February 2016. I was literally screaming on the phone when I shared the news with Dr Kiran. This could never have happened without the support of [Trinity alumnus] Robert Johanson and words are not enough to thank him.

I laugh about it now, but before I came here, I thought Trinity College was a hostel. Little did I know that it was one of the finest institutions in the world! I had the most amazing two years here. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. Trinity was my first home in Australia. I cannot thank former Dean Campbell [Bairstow] and Warden Ken [Hinchcliff] for the way in which they have supported me at every step.

When I first came here I would drink unlimited amounts of cordial and eat unlimited amounts of dessert. I began to gain weight! I then started going to the gym. My deep gratitude goes out to the kitchen staff, whom I grew to love.

I cherish my first time experiences … from sitting in a plane for the very first time, to studying at Australia’s number one university and living in such a prestigious college, seeing the ocean and a beach for the first time, having my own room with an attached bathroom for the first time, eating with a knife and fork, wearing my first bow-tie, borrowed from my friend James. Attending formal dinners, my first birthday celebration ever, my first ball, my first ferry trip, my first swimming lesson. Memories that I shall cherish forever.

Dr Kiran’s vision and dream is to reach out to every slum child in the city of Delhi. As an Asha ambassador, I have been mentoring Asha children as much as possible, including when I have gone home during vacation. It is a great privilege to be a part of this vision and I am fully committed to doing everything that I can, all my life.

Trinity has a close relationship with Asha, which supports kids living in the slums in Delhi. Students Harriet Hewitson and Eleni Vrodos organised a fundraising morning tea on 24 October 2019 to celebrate and launch a ‘giving circle’ to support the foundation.


08 Nov 2019
Category: People