Rajeshree and Nitin live in small rented house in Mumbai along with their two children Pranay and Anushka. As an REC volunteer, Rajeshree has previously been a part of several workshops and trainings through World Vision India’s Dharavi Area Program. However, the lessons she learnt at the celebrating families program that she attended with her husband Nitin, seemed to hit closer to home, than other workshops.
‘‘’We could see some of our life in those modules. The sessions took us back in time and to a place in the future where we hope we could reach along with our family,’’ says 39-year-old Rajeshree.
Through numerous interactive exercises and time for self-reflection, the Celebrating Families module helps parents to revisit their past and understand how their own childhood experiences aid or impede their approach to parenting. It also gives participants the opportunity to come up with wise choices as they seek to become aware and be respectful of the different roles, identities and realities of each of their family members.
When recollecting childhood memories at the workshop, Nitin and Rajeshree were visibly moved. While Nitin lost his father at the age of four, Rajeshree’s father had an alcohol dependence that affected the family’s savings. Both worked from a young age to support their families. The couple acknowledged these important milestones in their family’s journey that has made them what they are today.
Nitin recounts those moments emotionally, ‘’I have always felt the absence of my father. After he died, my mother worked hard to educate and feed my siblings and me. That’s why I started working from the 7th grade itself, to help mom in whatever way possible. I really wanted to study, but couldn’t because we had money problems. I recall working a month before my 12th grade exams, just so that I could pay the examination fees…’’
He continues, ‘’When I was 20 and Rajeshree was 17, our families decided to get us married. I thought that after marriage things would get better for my family, but we still had to face a lot of challenges and they continue to this day. But then again, I am grateful that God blessed me with a smart and supportive wife. She’s always interested in learning or doing something new, and that has helped our family in many ways,’’ says Nitin.
Rajeshree smiles and recognises the important role Nitin has played in her life as well. She tells us, ‘’since a young age I’ve had a working mind-set. As a child I too would find all kinds of odd jobs so that I could help my mother. At first my mother would shout at me, but then she would join me in the work. That’s how we saved some money… After getting married at 17, I wasn’t very happy, but didn’t have a choice. But I was lucky to have someone like Nitin. I learnt a lot of skills after getting married, like tailoring, jewellery making, soft toy making, and even a parlour course,’’ says Rajeshree with a smile.
Through thick and thin, over the years, Rajeshree and Nitin worked hard to make sure that their children didn’t have to go through the same troubles they faced growing up. However, a powerful realisation they had at the Celebrating Families workshop was the importance of recognising the lessons in these experiences and imparting that wisdom to their children. ‘’The one thing we have adopted after the workshop, is to share our struggles and thoughts with our children. Earlier we would try our best to shield them from our pain, but now we talk about these things regularly,’’ says Nitin earnestly.
The couple’s son Pranay is happy with the change in communication. He tells us, ‘’My sister and I learn a lot from our parents. I like that my parents are sharing things with us now. Earlier we knew there were difficulties, but we didn’t think we could help. But now, we discuss things and try to come up with solutions together,’’ says Pranay.
All these developments on the home front are a positive for what has otherwise been a very tough year for Nitin and Rajeshree. The Covid-19 pandemic upended their life, as Nitin lost his job of 25 years, as a machine operator and supervisor in the leather industry. When the lockdowns ensued last year, a number of businesses across the country had to shut shop and still haven’t found their grounding once the restrictions were lifted.
In Nitin’s case, his factory completely shut operations and now he is left having to start from scratch. Finding a job has not been easy, but what motivates him to plough through is the support of his 17-year-old son Pranay, who convinced him to brush up his skills.
Realising that Nitin and Rajeshree had not been able to complete their education, Pranay persuaded his parents to attempt the 12th grade examination through an open university. ‘’ Nowadays being a 12th grade pass is a minimum expectation, so I want my parents to achieve this. Don’t stop, even if life gets you down. This is what my parents taught me, I am just trying to remind them the same thing,’’ says Pranay with a smile.
For the first time all three members of the household would be attempting the 12th grade exam together. It’s an endearing moment to see them studying together, with Pranay taking the lead in explaining some concepts to his parents. In May 2021, both Nitin and Rajeshree passed their exam and are now thinking of enrolling themselves for a college degree.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Pranay was moved by the efforts of doctors and frontline workers, however, his love for animals made him realise the need for doctors for them. He thus wants to study to become a veterinarian.
While his parents worry about the expenses, they don’t want to stop him from pursuing his dreams. Pranay calmly reassures them that he’ll work hard to get a scholarship, do an internship or even take up a part time job to ease this burden for them.
For Rajeshree, seeing her son take charge of his life in this manner, makes her both proud and regretful of her past actions. The celebrating families workshop was filled with numerous insights that helped her understand her own limitations and at the same time helped her recognise the strengths of her family.
‘’The workshop changed my mentality. I learned to love my family a lot more. Parents and children need to learn to solve problems together. That way there will be lesser fights. Earlier I was pushing my family, but now my son is pushing me. My son guides me about problems and it is comforting,’’ says Rajeshree.
In another breakthrough, Rajeshree understood the difference between punishment and positive parenting when it comes to correcting children. She tells us, ‘’Earlier I would get very angry and take out all my frustration on my son.
In retaliation he would hide his books, pencils and do things that would irritate me. After these sessions I apologised to him, for my past behaviours. I learnt that it is not right to hit children to correct their behaviour, instead, we must try to make them understand with love,’’ says Rajeshree reflectively.
At the end of the two day workshop, like most parents, Nitin and Rajeshree reflected on their hopes and dreams for their family. Through the visualisation activity and drawing this in a picture frame they were reminded of their commitment towards their family.
Nitin tells us, ‘’I want to own a house someday, so that we don’t have any tension to pay the rent. I want to make sure my family is well provided for and that their dreams should be fulfilled. I want to be a good husband, father and son. My happiness is in them,’’ says Nitin hopefully.
Adding to Nitin’s dream Rajeshree says, ‘’I just want our kids to be independent and knowledgeable. I want them to make their own decisions and I don’t want them to be afraid. But above all, I want them to be happy.’’
Since Rajeshree is an REC volunteer for World Vision India, she loves working with children and endeavours to bring out the talents in every child. For her community she tells us, ‘’I feel very bad when I see single parents struggling so hard to make ends meet. I want to help parents so that they are able to take care of their children,’’ says Rajeshree.
During the pandemic, Rajeshree was able to support many families in her community by identifying the most vulnerable groups and informing the World Vision India staff. She says, ‘’People had tears in their eyes when we were distributing the ration. When children got stationery and books they were also happy because their parents could not afford to buy those things at that time. Even today, parents thank us for this support. So I am really very grateful to World Vision for taking care of the small needs of our people.’’
Ever since Nitin was laid off, he too has been lending a hand to people in his community. He tells us, ‘’There was so much negativity because of covid, and people were very scared to help. We tried to network with our friends to help whoever we could with food or ration distribution. From World Vision, I have realised though, that there are so many people who are doing far worse than me. So I feel happy when I can help people,’’ says Nitin.
As a final parting message for those going through a stressful time during the pandemic Nitin shares what has worked for them as a couple. ‘’Just keep the bond between you and your partner strong. You must communicate and try to understand each other. There will be challenges, but you must work together to overcome them,’’ says Nitin emphatically.
He continues, ‘’The pandemic has taught us so much, and I am grateful that I could spend so much time with my family. But not having a job, really impacted us. However, we learnt to cut down our expenses and make do with the little that we had,’’ says Nitin thoughtfully.
Rajeshree adds how the advice of her parents helped her stay afloat during this time. She tells us, ‘’From my mother I learnt about money management and how to stay strong in the midst of challenges. My father on the other hand, would always tell me to learn something every day. Birds, animals, people, situations, everyone is your teacher. One must keep the hunger to learn alive. I hope we can look at this pandemic as a learning experience, it has taught us a lot of tough lessons,’’ says Rajeshree earnestly.
It’s inspiring to find couples like Nitin and Rajeshree, who are not only labouring to sustain their family, but are also finding opportunities to expand their knowledge in the midst of a pandemic. By making Celebrating families a way of life in their household they are creating a nurturing environment wherein their children feel cared for, provided for, protected and safe. We hope that many other families in their community are motivated by their story and able to follow their example.