But Cain Gomes and Asif Ahmed, both 21, are looking forward to a bright future after being awarded scholarships to study at Edinburgh Napier University.
Cain was left an orphan after his parents died in a car accident when he was eight. Along with fellow student Asif, he has been supported through school by St Mary’s Day School and Orphanage in Kolkata, which has helped hundreds of impoverished youngsters access education since 1848.
Now both will start BA Hospitality Management courses in January thanks to a link-up with Napier and generous sponsorship schemes.
Businesswoman and honorary Napier graduate Vin Murria has pledged £10,000 to pay for one of the students’ education, while a paid place – worth £10,000 – is being donated by Professor George Stonehouse, dean of Edinburgh Napier’s Business School.
Cain, who works on behalf of St Mary’s with abandoned children in Kolkata’s red light district, hopes to find work as a chef after the course.
He said: “For a student like me brought up by an economically challenged family, when I found out I was getting a scholarship I couldn’t sleep for one week. I’m feeling very happy and looking forward to it.”
Asif, who currently spends a full day at college before coming home to help on his father’s street stall selling toys, added: “I’m from a very difficult background so I’m very grateful to be given this opportunity.”
Napier lecturer Pauline Gordon, who is the programme leader for the course, said: “St Mary’s were completely speechless when I broke the news about the scholarships to them. They were overwhelmed that so many kind and generous people had wanted to help.
“I met Asif and Cain, who are living in quite desperate conditions compared to those young people here are used to. Both of them are really looking forward to starting their courses and are excited about joining in with further fundraising ventures to help others like themselves.”
The university already has strong links with St Mary’s – last year former pupil Badar Azim graduated from Napier with a BA in Hospitality Management.
Ms Murria, who is the CEO of Advanced Computer Software, said: “I am delighted to support the progression of young individuals as they step forward in their careers and lives, particularly where I know that the education of one individual is such a huge eco-system of support for their family and wider community. It is a privilege to be part of the process.”