I was eleven years old when one day the housemother for my dorm at Shanti Bhavan Residential School approached me with a serious and sad look on her face. Her words were soft and pained, and her tone was unsure. I braced myself for what she was going to say. My father whom I loved so dearly was killed in an accident at a quarry where he worked. A large boulder hit him on his chest, crushing him in a blast.

In the months and years that followed, the circumstances of his death were narrated vividly and frequently by many in the family that I began to think I had witnessed the accident. Memories of my treasured moments with him seemed to blast away from me, just like the rocks that killed him. I can still hear my mother’s anguished wails and see her falling across his body.

For many months, unable to forget the empty space in me my father once filled, I remained in deep sorrow. Before long, I was put on academic probation because of my lack of interest in school.

It was during this period that the realization of my predicament struck me – the worsening financial situation at home, and the many new burdens my mother had to carry to look after her children. It was the beginning of an accelerated maturation process for me to take my life seriously. In a strange way, I found renewed strength from my personal tragedy, motivating me to put all my energies into my studies of science. Soon, my scores in examinations began to improve.

Math and science, once my weakest subjects, became more interesting and easy. I began to think of medicine as my career in the future. I knew that I had a long way to go, but was determined to pursue my dream of becoming a cardiologist one day. I was motivated by a desire to help those who are helpless.

I was born in a remote village called Begili in Tamil Nadu. My family and many others in the village worked in a quarry, and lived in huts around its border. During the day everyone worked in the hot sun breaking rocks with hammers and at night the sound of boulders being blasted kept us awake. My family’s livelihood stemmed from those rocks; those rocks that gave life and took life. Many like my father had succumbed to their injuries in perilous accidents. My family thought I would join work with them — a simple ignorant quarry woman worker.

But at the age of four I got selected to study in a school called Shanti Bhavan for children from underprivileged backgrounds. While my parents continued to work at the quarry, I moved on from learning alphabets to numbers, math calculations to chemistry derivations. Unlike them, I was not breaking but building their hopes and mine.

At school I enjoyed reading, listening to music, watching my peers perform dances on stage, spending time with my friends and tutoring my juniors in biology. Life became an everyday surprise. Meeting volunteers from around the world and taking part in many school activities have always interested me. Very soon I began to aspire for studying at one of the best colleges in America and elsewhere abroad.

Today I walk the halls of Shanti Bhavan with grace that I could have obtained only through my determination and the encouragement and support that everyone has given me. The values that I have learned at Shanti Bhavan like honesty, integrity, love and humility will always be the guiding principles for my actions and decisions. I have understood the importance of being humble and kind. When I return home during vacations, I am mentally prepared to face many hardships such as no running water, no toilets and little food.

I feel blessed to have grown up at Shanti Bhavan. By not allowing me to dwell only on my father’s death made me strong and persevering. This ‘Haven of Peace’ has inspired in me a yearning to make a difference in the lives of others.

As I journey through life, I uphold the values of dedication, steadfastness and perseverance close to my heart and dream of achieving success through education.