The love and encouragement of her sponsors and Child Champions fuel a girl’s determination to get an education in India.
Just before the year 2000, a young farmer and his wife left the place they called home in Bihar, India, to head to India’s capital, New Delhi, for a better future for themselves and the family they hoped to build.
Culturally, most of rural Bihar is a patriarchal society, where predefined gender roles are set. The women stay at home while the men work. Little prominence is given to the female child, who is often considered a burden for the hefty dowry the family must give during marriage. Education takes a back seat for girls and is mostly prioritized for boys.
With just a few belongings, Umesh and his wife, Shiv Kumari, settled in a two-room accommodation — a kitchen and a bedroom — at a camp slum, sharing the community bath and toilet with other residents living in poverty.
Soon, they were a family of four with the births of Manissha and Anmol.
As with any new parent, Umesh and his wife had much hope for their children and wanted to give them a better life than theirs.
Being the only income-earning member and with basic literacy skills, Umesh worked as an apprentice to a plumber and picked up plumbing skills over the years with no formal training.
Life was challenging with a young family, but that did not deter Umesh from celebrating happy memories, whether it was getting Manissha a new dress or celebrating a birthday.
When it was time for Manissha to begin school, Umesh and his wife were perplexed as his earnings were only enough to pay the rent and have two square meals a day. Education for Manissha seemed like a distant luxury. However, Shiv Kumari Devi had noticed children from the neighborhood walking excitedly in their bright-colored school uniforms to a school nearby.
OneChild has been working in the community since 1996 to help children with their health and educational opportunities at their Hope Center.
Shiv Kumari wondered if Manissha would one day have a school uniform of her own. When they approached the Hope Center, much to their surprise and disbelief, Manissha was accepted into the program in 2006 as a kindergarten student.
The Power of God’s Love
Manissha has been a very outgoing, talkative girl since childhood. She recalls her childhood as being “full of fun.” Action songs in kindergarten class got her interested in singing and dancing, and at every given opportunity Manissha loved to be on stage. As she grew older, her personal interest in dancing and singing gave her the confidence to be the host at different events in school.
The Christmas carnival was one major event at the Hope Center that impacted Manissha deeply.
“Christmas Carnival was the best! We would get gifts, the special Christmas cake – all of that was very nice. We would wait all year for Christmas and hope that something new will happen.”
It wasn’t merely the winter nip in the air, the smell of cakes, and the anticipation of the gifts; this is where Manissha experienced the power of God’s love for her.
“I heard the stories of God’s love and how much He cares for me,” she says. “The statement that ‘God loves me’ had a very positive impact on me. The biggest example are my sponsors. Though I only know them through letters, I was very happy that someone was there for me, someone so far away, who has not met me, but had hope that my future will be bright.”
Sponsors’ Love Is Motivational
Over the years that Manissha and her sponsors have been corresponding through letters, she developed a very strong bond with them. Despite having never met them in person, she felt their love and encouragement. She recalls the time just before she had to appear for her grade 10 exams.
“I was so nervous; I didn’t know how much I would score. I was doubtful if I would even pass. I wrote to my sponsors that my exams were approaching and they [reassured] me. When the results were declared, my grades were more than I expected, and I was able to choose the subjects I wanted in grade 11.”
Even during the pandemic, Manissha’s sponsors continued to uplift her.
“Our family’s financial situation was very bad,” she says. “There was no work for my father. We didn’t have food in our house.” When she communicated her family’s ordeal to her sponsors, they wrote back encouraging her and saying that this difficult time will go away.
With no regular source of income, Manissha’s family faced uncertain days Then her Hope Center stepped in to help by providing food and medicine with the generous support from OneChild partners whose donations are used in crisis and emergency situations.
Child Champion More Than a Teacher
Hope Centers are an integral part of the One Child program that allowed Manissha’s sponsors to support her education from kindergarten through high school, something her parents couldn’t afford. Child Champions helped Manissha with her studies after school, clearing all her doubts and providing sample test papers to prepare her for the school board exams. They taught her moral values, encouraged her to make right decisions in life, and gave guidance on what subjects to pursue for higher education.
“Child Champion Ms. Preeti counseled me on what to do after I completed my grade 10,” Manissha says. “She encouraged me to take up commerce as my major in grade 12. My parents were skeptical and were worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the course successfully, as some students in my neighborhood didn’t pass the commerce exams. They discouraged me from studying commerce, fearing I would fail. But Ms. Preeti supported me and kept reminding me that I had scope, and if I work hard, I will succeed. So, I took it up in grade 11, cleared my exams in both grades 11 and 12, and today I have enrolled in B. Com (bachelor’s degree in commerce) at the university.”
Child Champion Ms. Preeti was more than just a teacher.
Whenever Manissha faced any problem or was confused, she sought her advice, and Ms. Preeti was always there for her. Manissha learned the values that make her a good human being, of being a trustworthy person, and to have the hope that there is always something better ahead.
“Anything related to my studies, whatever help I needed, I received from my Child Champion. If I couldn’t understand, she would clear all doubts.”
“I never needed to take private tuitions. Sample papers and guidebooks were provided at the Hope Center. I never felt the need to purchase additional books to prepare for my grade 10 exams. Everything was provided through the Child Champions. Together with studies, we were also taught moral values.”
Manissha scored 84% in the grade 12 board exams and has been accepted at Delhi University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in commerce.
The Importance of Educating Girls
Manissha has big ambitions after graduation. She is very interested in business and has plans to be an entrepreneur and “not work in a regular 9-to-5 job.”
According to the Government of India Census 2011, in the part of the country that Manissha’s parents are originally from, the average literacy rate for females is 79% compared to 86% for males.
Manissha is now 19 years old, fresh out of high school, and yet in her usual bubbly confident self, says, “I have moved ahead in life.” She says that without the support of her sponsors, the Child Champions, and the Hope Center, she would not have been able to complete her schooling. She attributes the change in her parents’ mindset on the importance of educating a girl to her Child Champion.
“The Child Champions explained to my parents on the importance of educating children, and they have seen the change in me,” Manissha says. “The grades I scored in my exams have made my parents very supportive. In fact, they told me to study more. My mom told me that I am very blessed, that my sponsors support me, even more than my parents themselves.”
Manissha felt loved by the way her sponsors spoke to her through their letters. Even in the very first letter her sponsors wrote, they reminded her of God’s love for her.
They inquired about her health, studies, and faith. Each letter brought them closer as a family, strengthening their connections, and undoubtedly, the letters from her sponsors are Manissha’s most prized possessions.
“I am overjoyed that there is such a person who has sponsored me, someone who has not even seen me [in person], but has sponsored me in faith, that maybe this girl’s future will be bright. Otherwise in India, in backward families, they stop sending their children to school after grade 12, especially their daughters.”
New Hope for the Future
Manissha is looking forward to starting college and hopes to be a successful entrepreneur. Her sponsor’s love and support through the years has enabled her to confidently say, “I see a bright future for myself and for other sponsored children.”
While it should come as no surprise to see how confident Manissha is about her future, she does come from a region that is culturally traditional. Typically, girls her age are not encouraged to pursue higher education and are usually destined to be “married off” after high school, often without their consent.
OneChild’s sponsorship program has not only enabled Manissha to complete her school education, but also to be the first girl in her family to pursue a college degree.
“I want to thank my sponsors for everything they have done for me,” Manissha says. “It is because of them that I have been able to complete grade 12 successfully. The time and love they have given me has brought new hope. They are caring, loving, and supportive. If I ever get to meet them in person, I will hug them and thank them for choosing me. I am happy, and I feel privileged and blessed because there are many who do not get such opportunities.”
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