Let the River flow!

This is the story of Yamuna.

Yamuna was a fairly typical girl from the not so privileged section of society. She had completed her 10th standard and passed with a second class. With a father who had deserted the family and a very sick mother, ailing from T.B, her uncle in Bangalore provided the food and shelter to the girl and her mother. With the uncle also facing financial pressures, it was fairly obvious that the pressure on Yamuna to stop her education and get to work as a maid in houses was very high. This story is very typical and is played out every day in multiple families. Not so typical was the fact that Yamuna wanted to study further and make something more of herself. And even less typical was the fact that she had a stubborn streak within her to resist the pressures of society!

Yamuna showed up at a local community center library run by an NGO and very diffidently presented her story. The NGO validated her narrative and agreed to fund her further education. They convinced the uncle that Yamuna’s education would not burden his finances more. They then decided to do more than that. The Community Center coordinator noticed the extreme diffidence of the girl and tasked her with various activities which forced her to interact with other people and acquire more confidence -teach children to read, organize the books in the library, acquire new books etc. This started to broaden the horizons of the child and to make her more confident.

But there was more hardship around the corner, Yamuna’s mother died and the uncle started to increase the pressure on Yamuna to stop her education. He also started pressurizing the now 18 year old Yamuna to get married. After much to-and-fro, he finally refused to provide the orphan shelter any longer- unless she stopped studying and started working OR agreed to get married and thereby moved away to another house. But by now, a much more confident Yamuna was also that much more determined. After facing sustained pressure at her uncle’s place, she packed her bags one evening and proceeded to the house of the shocked Community Center coordinator. The lady accommodated her for the night and through her contacts, managed to get her temporary rent free accommodation in a Women’s hostel.

The pragmatic Yamuna had consultations with workers and counsellors at the community center and

understood that she might need to figure out a way of postponing her education and starting to pay for her food and accommodation. She agreed to enroll for a 3 months skills training program in Retail. As a determined young lady, she put in the effort to upgrade her skills considerably across multiple areas- spoken English, handling computers, communication, basic money management etc. The community center and the NGO behind it, provided her some financial support for the duration.

Cut to the present: Yamuna is now a confident young woman, working with a Retail chain. She is financially independent and lives and pays for her food and shelter at a Working Woman’s hostel. She has made peace with her Uncle’s family again as she has the maturity to understand and appreciate that her uncle was probably hard-pressed to accommodate her. She visits them at festivals and carries gifts for her family and accepts that they probably did take care of her when she was most in need.

Her mother always wanted her to be a teacher, she says. To fulfill this wish, she has enrolled into an Open University program and continues to study alongside her work. She knows that she owes the Community Center a fair bit for helping her tide over her most difficult days. She freely volunteers her time and her experience to counsel and help others like herself and she tutors children in her neighborhood on her off-days. She is paying it forward!

There are many Yamuna’s in this country. Their ambitions and desires are the rivers which are dammed (and hence damned) by the pressures of society. Sometimes, what is required are the channels to direct this flow around the obstacles that are put in the way. It is not easy. The Community Center and the people around it helped create those channels of opportunity so that Yamuna could continue to dream and her ambitions could continue to flow. Bangalore or Bhavnagar, the youth need such spaces which give them hope and opportunity to take charge of their lives and become caring, sensitive members of the community.

It worked for Yamuna. Let us do our bit to help other rivers flow!

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