Karuna, in her own words, was "messy" when her Alongsider mentor came into her life.
Her father had died when she was eight. Her mother went to work in a factory for ten hours a day, six days a week.
So Karuna and her five sisters lived with her grandmother in a small house along a narrow alley in an urban slum.
With no money for them to attend school, Karuna and her sisters sold cakes to make money for their basic needs.
She had friends, but they were all struggling with similar circumstances. “I used to talk with my friends for hours about nothing," she says. "We didn't want to think about the future.”
"Before my Alongsider mentor came into my life, no one had ever related with me that way before."
Somaly, Karuna's mentor, talked with her about real life issues. She helped her with hygiene, cleaned her up, prayed with her, and brought her to the Alongsiders annual camp.
Social impact on young lives
When we evaluated the impact of the Alongsiders movement in 2013, we found that 74 percent of Alongsider little brothers and sisters report they "have someone they can talk to about their problems" compared to just 48 percent of their peers.
And a striking 99 percent of little brothers and sisters say they have hope for the future, compared with 60 percent among their peers.
Karuna sensed her lack of life skills as a young girl, but she didn't know what to do about it. Encouraging little brothers and sisters to grow in their ability to deal with others is another crucial part of what Alongsider mentors do.
The following chart shows some ways little brothers and sisters grow in life skills and social awareness (based on self-assessments).
Becoming more capable socially may not seem like a big deal, but knowing how to speak politely or how to handle anger will have a significant impact on a young person's confidence and ability to succeed in work and life. Being more aware of sexual issues, drugs, and domestic violence make vulnerable children safer and more likely to avoid falling into destructive relationships.
Today, Karuna still lives with her grandmother and her sisters in the same home in the slum. The doorway to their house is small but welcoming. Her grandmother is often sitting at the entrance next to a sewing machine with a background of colorful family pictures on the wall behind her. The family members squeeze into small rooms and sleep on beds made of rough-hewn planks. An outsider looking in might declare that they are poor and even question what has really changed.
But something fundamental has shifted.
Karuna is a confident and dignified young woman. She is working and hopeful about the future. Her family attends a church at the end of the alley that serves the community, and they are a source of strength for others.
And Karuna is an Alongsider mentor herself now.
Her little sister is an eight year-old girl whose parents are divorced. She lives in the slum with her grandmother. Lately, she has been missing school to stay home and look after her younger brother. Her grandmother is out working hard every day so they can eat.
Karuna has the confidence to talk with the girl's grandmother about her little sister's school attendance. For now there is no simple solution, but Karuna stands by her little sister as one who has been down this road before. Her little sister won't have to walk it alone either.