25-year-old Priyanka works as a nurse at Allahabad but she was born and raised in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh. Once in few months, she takes an overnight train and then sits on a local bus for a couple of hours through a bumpy road to reach her village. As the road leads deeper, the landscape drastically changes from green wheat fields to sparse forest. Here rain is scant and during the dry season, wells dry up and the earth cracks open in the sun. Her village is part of the Bundelkhand region and is no stranger to severe droughts and abject poverty. Priyanka’s family have tilled and farmed a patch of parched land for generations. As a child she and her four siblings helped out her parents in the fields where they plant wheat, chickpea, pea and lentils.
Life in the village was difficult and without any prospect especially for girls like Priyanka. There was just one Upper Primary School (up to 8th standard) in the village of 146 households. Unable to move to bigger town or commute daily to school, most children dropped out of school after 8th standard and began working fulltime in the fields. But a bigger issue loomed over the village: one born of tradition, beliefs, superstitions and taboos.
Before World Vision India’s intervention in 1999, children were victims of child marriage. Priyanka’s elder sister was married off when she was 15 years old and Priyanka was to follow suit. Sitting on a Charpai (traditional wooden cot) under a neem tree at the family’s courtyard, Priyanka recalled her childhood and can’t thank World Vision India enough for the positive transformation.
Priyanka’s father dropped out in the 5th standard and her mother never attended school. It was easier to drop out of school than stay in it. Only a few boys have gone to college in Lalitpur. But for girls, 8th standard was the end of the road. No parents would send their daughters out of the village for schooling or college. Priyanka became World Vision India’s sponsor child when she was 8 years old, and that changed everything for her.
“Girls are barred from pursuing studies because there are no schools nearby and parents don’t like to send them to other town because of safety issues. Instead parents get their children married as soon as they reach puberty. Once they are married, all hope of staying in school ends there,” said Priyanka.
After completing her 12th standard, Priyanka wanted to attend college, but her parents wanted different things for her. College was a taboo, no parents wanted to talk about. “The more educated a girl is the more difficult it is for her to get a groom. The dowry is much higher for educated grooms,” said Priyanka’s father Ratan Singh.
Her parents began looking for a groom when she was 15. No girl from her village had attended college and it was a big ask even for Priyanka who was studious and had her eyes set on college.
World Vision India’s staff talked to her parents and convinced them to send Priyanka for an Auxiliary Nursing Midwife (ANM) course. World Vision India paid all her tuition fees. It took two years for Priyanka to complete her ANM from Nav Jivan Hospital run by Immanuel Hospital Associate in Jharkhand. She worked another two years in the same hospital. She would travel for three days through the remote countryside, a stretch of around 900km from Lalitpur to Tumagura, Jharkhand. But that couldn’t dampen her spirit.
“Education saved my life,” said Priyanka elated. Attending college was a big win for her and the girls from her village. She was raised in a village where opportunities were hard to come by. Firstly, their lives were tied to the land and they lived on their hard earned bread. Her parents didn’t know any other way of life and didn’t believe education could change that. Secondly, she was raised in a village where boys naturally get more opportunities than girls. Girls were married off at 14-15 years. Thirdly, there were no facilities for education. The Inter College was more than 3km from her village. During peak summer when the temperature reaches 50°C, it becomes almost impossible to walk through that stretch of road to school. Fortunately for Priyanka she got all the support she needed in all the stages of her life from World Vision India. This was an opportunity her elder sister never got. She received school bags, study materials, and even a bicycle which made it possible for her to stay in school.
Priyanka now works as a nurse in a Community Health Centre (CHC) at Manda Block in Allahabad. CHC’s are first referral units especially for obstetric care and new born/childcare. Her job is highly demanding but the thrill of being able to make a difference makes it worthwhile. She recalled an incident where a patient was brought in with uterus rupture. Chance of the patient surviving was minimal but she recovered and Priyanka received a written letter of gratitude from the patient. Incident like this keeps her motivated.
Priyanka is first girl from the village to attend college and the first nurse and female government employee from her village. Out of 35 youths sponsored by World Vision India for nursing course, six are now government employees. The rest are working in private hospitals and preparing for exams.
“Today the village has changed so much. Every child in the village stays in school now. Parents and children alike are inspired to send their children to school. This is because of the success of girls and boys who have gone to college and are now employed,” said Priyanka’s mother Bhuri Bhai.
Children in the village are drawing inspiration from Priyanka’s success. Her younger sister Nitu, 18 is pursuing 1st Year Bachelor of Arts. She has her mind set on completing B.Ed. and becoming a teacher. She also benefited from many career-guidance sessions World Vision India gave.
“If not for World Vision India, I would have married by now and become a mother of five children. I would be labouring in the paddy field like my parents,” said Priyanka. Her imagination is not far-fetched. She would have ended a child bride but instead she is an independent woman and takes care of her sibling’s financial needs.
Since 1999, World Vision India has been working in 61 villages in Lalitpur. Through various interventions World Vision India is working among 24,276 children from 11461 families.