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Salman Sayyed's journey from a Mumbai footpath to a Texas college

Reading passion leads to Houston Community College, in Texas for Salman Sayyed, who lived on streets and worked as a tour guide to fund college.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   12-01-2018
Salman Sayyed is studying entrepreneurship at the Houston Community College, in Houston, Texas.
Salman Sayyed is studying entrepreneurship at the Houston Community College, in Houston, Texas.
Picture credit: "My Journey, My Dream."

Salman Sayyed, 24, was on a continuous journey of survival. Born on a footpath in Haji Ali, in Mumbai, Sayyed spent his childhood working as a rag picker alongside his mother. As he grew older he started hawking second hand books at traffic signals. Intrigued by his wares, Sayyed got his father to teach him the alphabet and over time taught himself how to read English and speak in broken sentences. He asked some of his regular customers to demystify larger words he stumbled across in the books he sold.

“Don't let your circumstances define you. I believe that one can change one's life with hard work and determination. It’s our life and we are the creator and destroyer,” says Sayyed in his popular blog “My Journey, My Dreams.”  

When Sayyed turned 12, a teacher from Akanksha Foundation, which provides high-quality education to children from low-income families in Pune and Mumbai, ran into him. The teacher then visited him every day at the traffic signal till Sayyed relented and agreed to attend the after-school program at the Akanksha Foundation.

Sayyed had to re-take the Class X board examinations after he failed the first time, but his hard work soon paid off. In Class XI, he scored 91 percent, following it up with an 89 percent grade in Class XII. He toggled his job as a busy tour guide with Magic Tours while studying sociology at K.C College in Mumbai.

Last year, Sayyed relocated to Houston, Texas on an exchange program run by the US Department of State as part of its Community College Initiative Program (CCI). The CCI program provides scholarships to international students from countries like India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey to spend up to one academic year at US community colleges to build technical skills. All applicants have to be at least 18 years at the start of the program.

Sayyed is currently studying entrepreneurship at the Houston Community College (HCC), in Houston, Texas which is notable for actively recruiting internationally. It has over 5,700 international students enrolled.

American artist and photographer Jeremy Eaton, who volunteered with the Akanksha Foundation on his travels to India, describes Sayyed as an “inspiration” and “a reminder to the world to not give up on your dreams.”

“He had many odds against him. Before starting the after school program at the Akanksha Foundation, he sold books at various intersections, lost a cousin and his brother at a young age. Despite this, his unbreakable will has lead him thousands of miles away to his dream of living in the US and advancing his education,” blogged Eaton.

Eaton who did a city tour with the Akanksha graduate said Sayyed has the chutzpah to start his own company one day. 

“Salman dreams of returning to Mumbai to start his own touring company. With the resources he has and the knowledge he presents to tourists, I have no doubt he will be a huge success. His tours range from Mumbai city tours to the Dharavi slums,” added Eaton, who graduated from the Academy of Art University, in San Francisco.

Former adman and filmmaker Ram Subramanian made a short film chronicling Sayyed’s life which immediately went viral on his Facebook page.

 
Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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