New Delhi: If Mumbai's slum children could walk the red carpet at the prestigious Academy Awards ceremony in 2009 for Danny Boyle's 'Slumdog Millionaire', Delhi's urban poor youth would have a chance to go all the way to Australia for studying.

Under an exchange programme between Delhi-based NGO Asha and the University of Melbourne, selected students from around 400 slum youths currently studying in Delhi University will get this golden opportunity.

"Education is the only way for these children to break the shackles of poverty and take part in the economic progress of this country. They are as talented and intelligent as other students. They lack opportunity and we are providing them with
that," says Dr Kiran Martin, a paediatrician and founder of the NGO that works for welfare of slum dwellers.

"Delhi has some 1,500 slums. Every third Delhi resident lives in a slum colony and around 86 per cent of the urban poor in Delhi are illiterate. By the age of 14, only 30 per cent of slum children attend school," she adds.

Coming from a background of neglect and poverty, these students have fought against all odds to get into Delhi University through merit.

20-year-old Rohit, a BA final year student in Aurobindo College lost his father when he was in 10th standard. He was thinking to give up his studies and work to earn for his family. But, Asha counselled him and facilitated his further studies.

These youngsters needed some counselling and personality development programme before joining the college, as they had not mingled with students who were wealthy and from good public schools.

"We had to build their confidence and tell them that they are no less than anyone else - and at the end of the day the great equaliser will be how well they do in their exams," says Dr Martin.

Apart from that, the NGO had to convince their parents to allow them to study further. "Nobody in our family has studied so much before us. Our parents are proud of us now and are supportive of us now. Sometimes, it looks like a dream,"
says first year B Tech Engineering student, Mahesh, who lives in Dr Ambedkar Basti slum colony.

These programmes helped us a lot, say Ekta Vihar slum colony residents Usha and Nandini, who are first year students from Maitreyi College.

"I was very hesitant on first day of the college. I even thought of running back to home but slowly my confidence grew and now I have friends from wealthy background," says Usha, who wants to be a journalist.

"They are proud of us. They say that you have reached here despite lack of so many facilities. It feels good," says Nandini.

The rise in the confidence level has been the biggest gain, they say. "Our ability to think and communicate has improved a lot. I used to fear traveling alone earlier, but now I can reach any corner of the country on my own," says Anna Nagar slum colony resident Shivalika, studying Hindi (H) final year from Aurobindo college.

Still facing problems like noisy neighbourhood, lack of electricity and family problems, these students study in college libraries and study centres set up by the NGO for better concentration.

Other children in their localities look upto them as role models and many of them want to study further.

"We have divided different subjects among ourselves and we teach children from our neighbourhood," says Rohit, who lives in Kusumpur Pahadi slum colony.

"We also keep meeting police and sanitary inspectors in our respective areas to keep things better and clean there," he adds.

Banks have helped many of these students and provided them with educational loans.

Dr Martin says that she wants to make it a movement and more and more slum children should get education.

"We have set an example. Now, the government should come forward and help others. These children have proved that they get a chance, they are no less than others," she says.