Finding Love and Encouragement in a Hard Place

By Deborah M., Content and Communications Specialist

The love and care that a girl living in poverty in India receives from her sponsors, Child Champions, and mother help her move toward her dream of becoming a software engineer.

Priyatharshini studies at her Hope Center.

Ten-year-old Priyatharshini lives in a 12-foot-by-12-foot mud house with her mother Kalaiyarasi and three other siblings, Priya, Pravin Kumar, and Sumithra in southern India, not far from the bustling city of Chennai.

Their home is a temporary shelter built on vacant land by the side of the main road. It has mud walls with dried coconut leaves and hay stacked on the roof. A temporary makeshift outdoor bathing area is conspicuous with old, faded sarees used as a covering. A few banana plants provide a little shade.

Lacking an outdoor private toilet, Priyatharshini, her mother, and siblings have to walk into the crop fields nearby to go to the bathroom.

Furnishings are sparse inside their house. In one corner is a gas bottle used for cooking. Next to it lies an iron-frame cot with a pile of clothes on it. The children keep their schoolbooks next to the cot. Underneath the cot are earthen and metal vessels where water is stored from the community taps nearby, their only source of water.

Electricity is supplied to their home, with one bulb inside the house and another outside. A small table fan provides respite during the hot summer months. The girls sleep on the only bed, while their mother and brother sleep on mats on the floor. Often times, her brother goes to their uncle’s house to sleep for the night.

Priyatharshini’s mother, Kalaiyarasi, is a new widow. She lost her husband when he was hit by a motorcyclist just a few meters away from their house. She is now the sole breadwinner of the family and works as a helper to a mason on construction sites.

She begins her day early, cooking and washing dishes before leaving for work, at times on foot, and other times by bus. She returns home by 6 p.m. The necessity of earning money for food means she has no choice but to leave her children by themselves for the day. With monthly earnings of the equivalent of $80, on average, her daily earning is just $2. With five mouths to feed, every penny counts, so Kalaiyarasi works six days a week.

Priyatharshini with her family outside their mud-walled house.

Life may seem distraught and hopeless but hope steps in at Priyatharshini’s Hope Center.

Finding Joy and Dignity at the Hope Center

Priyatharshini goes to the Hope Center at 8 a.m. for breakfast before heading off to school. She returns to the Hope Center at 5 p.m., where she and other children enjoy activities and have some light refreshments. Child Champions tutor the children to help them in various subjects. Saturdays are special for Priyatharshini as she looks forward to the hot lunch provided.

Priyatharshini’s favorite toy is a blue stuffed monkey that can be seen inside the family’s home.

Games, songs, and storytelling make the Hope Center a fun place that Priyatharshini can call her second home, and it is perhaps the only time she has the privacy of using the washrooms there.

Back at her home, Priyatharshini fondly remembers when her father would take the family each year to a local festival and treat her to her favorite snack, sundal, made of boiled chickpeas. Priyatharshini’s favorite toy is a blue monkey that she lovingly calls Kuragu (monkey in Tamil), that her father gave her just prior to his passing.

Kuragu reminds Priyatharshini of her father’s advice when he was alive: “Study well and help others.” Although she loves her blue monkey, it is not her most prized possession. “My mom is my most prized possession,” says Priyatharshini. “She loves me so much.”

Priyatharshini does her fair bit of household chores by fetching water from the community taps, carrying five liters of water in a pot-shaped plastic container, twice every day. She makes 10 trips each time, sometimes walking in ankle-deep water to get to the taps. In addition, she has the task of sweeping in and around the house.

Encouraged to Study and Dream

Over the years, the Child Champions at the Hope Center have noticed that Priyatharshini has evolved from shy to outspoken, and that she has many friends and shows much interest in her studies. They adore her qualities of helping others, being respectful to elders, and generally being a friendly person.

Priyatharshini has fun playing at her Hope Center.

Priyatharshini attributes a lot of the qualities she developed to her Child Champion, Ms. Sudha, from whom she learned to speak gently and to respect elders. Child Champions Ms. Arulmozhi, Kamalavalli, and Jeba have also helped her with her studies.

As part of the OneChild sponsorship program, Priyatharshini looks forward to receiving letters from her sponsors and writing back to them. She is motivated by their encouragement to study well – the same advice her father gave – and she looks forward to the day when she can realize her dream of becoming a software engineer. Even though Priyatharshini has not met her sponsors in person, she feels their love and concern.

“My sponsors are very kind and good,” she says.

While nothing can replace the loss of a father at such a young age, the words of encouragement from her sponsors, the support of her Child Champions, and the love of her mother give Priyatharshini hope in the face of that hard place.

Give a child living in poverty, like Priyatharshini, love, encouragement, and vital care through sponsorship.

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