POSTED September 16, 2021
What it took for one vulnerable mom to educate her five daughters
Find out how Mariyammal broke the cycle of poverty
By Pamela Vijay, program officer, sponsorship, India
I meet a lot of people in my work in Children Believe’s India programs, and Mariyammal is just one who stands out in my mind.
This amazing women’s journey was difficult from the start.
Mariyammal was 11 when she began working on a salt pan (or salt flat); then, at 19, she was married. Her husband struggled to make a living and overcome debt as a clothing street vendor. But, Mariyammal felt convicted about getting out of poverty, and the couple tried hard for a boy to ease the load and appease elders in their male-dominated society. Instead, they had five girls. The busy mom didn’t give up, she was determined to provide them with a better life.
She started by sending her girls to a government-supported rural childcare centre, or anganwadi, so they would be assured at least one meal a day. But, then, when her eldest completed Grade 8, Mariyammal’s relatives pressured her to send the girl to work in a mill. The child worked five years, which was just enough to buy a small piece of gold jewelry, the bare minimum for a bride.
Mariyammal was disappointed, but she was committed to break the life pattern for her other daughters and make sure they would each get a full education.
She knew she had to do something different, so she secured a loan at five percent interest from money lenders — a risky decision — and borrowed from good friends and neighbours.
The young mom used the money to buy two cows, which provided income and a path to a better life for her girls who were equally committed to getting to school and asked for little so their mom could eventually repay her loan.
It took a lot of perseverance. Mariyammal worked long hours: she started her day cutting firewood, then cared for her livestock and tended to her fields before doing household chores late into the night. Her husband cut firewood with her, but they still needed more help, so she secured more loans with low interest through livelihood and parent groups formed with support from Children Believe and our local partner, PAD. Then, there was good news: her third daughter’s education was covered through PAD, and the youngest was sponsored through Children Believe.
In the end, all her children were educated, with the final four completing university. The eldest finished Grade 8, the second child got a bachelor of commerce degree and works in the accounting sector. The next daughter received a post-graduate degree in sociology and works with the government in integrated child development. The fourth child achieved a bachelor of engineering and works in Chennai. The youngest recently earned her bachelor of engineering. She’s completing another course and expects to be working soon.
Mariyammal wasn’t rich, but she gave her kids the greatest wealth: an education. Now, those whom once judged this strong woman harshly look to her as a role model. They say, “If Mariyammal, who had no resources, could give her children education, why not I?” She’s changed mindsets in her community, and is proud of what she accomplished.
Her kids are proud, too. “Our mother went through great hardship and sacrificed everything for us,” they told me. “She had sleepless nights thinking how to pay college fees for us. She cut thorny woods throughout the day in the scorching sun, returning home with pain she hid from all of us. She paid the price for us. Today my mother need not worry about anything; we girls will take care of her.”
ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):
Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.
About ChildFund Alliance:
A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.