From Kolkata slumdog to university graduate and entrepreneur - one young man's story

Jane' and his mother, who still lives in Kolkata.

Janealam Sheik grew up in the slums of Kolkata, often going hungry and witnessing the tragic deaths of many friends. Now with a Master's degree from Manchester University, he is setting up his own business to help those trapped in poverty.

Known as Jane' to his friends, 23-year-old Sheik lived in a slum community of 10,000 people. Open garbage dumps and sewers littered his surroundings, and an open drain was the only toilet. When the rains came, the make-shift shacks, home to thousands of India's poorest people, would fill with waste and human excrement. Unsurprisingly, disease was rife.

"Diarrhoea was common, as well as dengue [fever] and malaria. Many people died of these diseases," he told Christian Today.

"I actually lost my father at age 16 to malaria, which caused multiple organ failure. And it's not just diseases that kill people – in the summer it's 40 degrees [Celsius], and there's no electricity, so people die of heat."

Jane's family lived in an eight by 10 foot house, though many other homes in the community were much smaller. They all slept on the floor – there were no beds – and Jane' recalls waiting for his father to come home every evening from his irregular job carrying bricks on a construction site.

The slum community in Kolkata.

"If there was work, then we would eat. If not, then we'd go to bed with just water," he says. "Many nights you would hear babies crying because there were no jobs so they went hungry. As a young boy, I saw people all around me suffering, dying, going hungry and fighting. I grew up very scared and hopeless, and thought I would die soon, and if not, then I would struggle each day to live."

However, Jane's life changed when his father heard about a local Compassion International project for children. He enrolled his son in the project, and Jane' became the first child out of all those in his slum community to go to school. He calls it a "God-intervention".

"I remember the first time that I taught my father and mother to write their names," he says. "It was amazing."

Not only did he get an education, healthcare and a meal every day, but he was also taught about the Christian faith.

"One of the most delicious blessings is that I came from a non-Christian family in a community where you look around and much of what you see is evil...Then I started going to this project where I heard about Jesus, about God loving us, and him promising to take care of us, and it gave me hope.

"I would come home and tell my father: 'Don't worry if there is no work, God will provide for us – he provides for the birds.' That intrigued my parents, and so they started going to church and my entire family became Christians. The faith I have now is the best thing that has happened to me – it's made me content, positive and optimistic. Everything did not change dramatically for my family, but we knew that God would take care of us."

After finishing school, Jane' says he wanted to "multiply the blessings" he had received, and so started volunteering with a church project to help women in prostitution start businesses to support their families. He then studied Business Management and university, and applied to do a Masters in the UK. A couple from Australia heard about his story through Compassion, and offered to pay for his studies.

A photograph from Jane's first year at the Compassion project.

"I am deeply humbled, because what I have been able to do, even though it's not very much, hasn't been just my effort," Jane' says, adding that his local church and its people have played a significant role in the transformation of his family's life.

"So many people have been part of this journey, and it's given me immense hope that what has happened to me could happen to all the children in my community. If they have the opportunities I did...they could do so much more. It gives me a lot of hope to go back and do something. I feel very motivated and encouraged."

Jane' now runs Pursuit, an organisation which partners with small, local Christian organisations in India and helps them to raise funds, while also providing management help.

"Local development organisations usually struggle with raising resources, but they are very good at addressing local issues because they are natives, they understand [the problems]," he explains.

"What I bring to the table is experience of growing up in the culture, so I can identify projects which are impactful, and help maintain relationships between people who support and those that are supported."

Three projects Pursuit is currently partnering with are a microfinance project for women, a home for abandoned children from railway platforms in Kolkata, and a rehab centre in Bangalore for young people with drug and alcohol addictions.

Jane' has never met the man who sponsored him through Compassion, but knows he's from Ohio in the US.

"I pray that someday I will be able to meet the person who changed my life forever," he says.

If you'd like to find out more about Pursuit, email