Juliet Rowan is a reporter for Bay of Plenty Times Weekend

India blog: Slum dweller lands job with NZ Government

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Jeetu Chawla, 22, lives in a slum but works at the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi. Photo/Chris Chang
Jeetu Chawla, 22, lives in a slum but works at the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi. Photo/Chris Chang

When Jeetu Chawla got into the prestigious University of Delhi , he kept two secrets from his classmates.

The first is that he comes from a slum; the second, that he needed to work every night at Kentucky Fried Chicken to afford to study.

Jeetu, 22, has now graduated with honours in political science but still lives in the Kusumpur Pahari slum. It is where he was born and has always lived with his father, mother and brother.

Two months ago, Jeetu gained a full-time job at the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi after being an intern there on a programme run in conjunction with the charity Asha.

Among other projects, Asha identifies talented youngsters from the city's slums to work in embassies, the New Zealand High Commission providing the initial pilot for the programme.

"Jeetu worked with us as an intern and that experience helped him to build a stronger CV and compete and succeed on merit against other applicants from higher social classes," High Commissioner Grahame Morton tells Bay of Plenty Times.

"Jeetu wasn't employed because he was from the Asha programme but the Asha programme undoubtedly gave him the tools to succeed in a very competitive labour market."

Read more: India blog: Inspirational kids defying odds of Delhi slum life

Speaking in an interview at the High Commission, Jeetu says his time at Delhi University was marred by shame he felt at his background.

Poor English marked him out as different, he says, and he did not tell any of his upper-class classmates he lives in a slum. And if any of them came into KFC when he was working his daily 5pm to 11pm shift, he would hide out in the back.

Jeetu is emotional as he speaks and says at times, he cried at the effort of balancing the two worlds but focused on studying to the best of his ability. He is aiming to sit the Indian Government's notorious civil service exams which, if he passed, would lead to a career in Indian diplomacy.

His inspirations include American president Abraham Lincoln, who began life as a farmer, and Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan. "If you work hard, anything is possible," Jeetu says.

For now, the 22-year-old is delighted with his job at the New Zealand High Commission and says he is learning a great deal doing tasks for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Immigration NZ, and Education NZ. He says he would have taken any role at the commission, including sweeping the floor.

"It's a totally different world for me. I'm feeling proud to work here."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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