Taking full advantage of every opportunity offered by Holt’s legacy partner in Pune, India, one hard-working mother pursues a better life for herself and her children.
Ms. Mangel Mhaske knew she had to do something. She had three children in elementary school and no way would she allow for any one of them to drop out. Although her husband earned some money taking cooking orders and driving a rickshaw, he was a regular drinker — and irregular at work. And besides, the income he earned was never enough to ensure they could pay their children’s school fees. It was hard enough just to keep them fed.
So Ms. Mhaske got resourceful. She knew how to sew, and she could afford to invest a few rupees in some new quilting fabric. For stuffing, she collected used clothing from friends and neighbors, and she began to hand-stitch quilts to sell for a small profit. This small business earned the family a little extra income.
But still, it was never enough.
Although fiercely independent and hard working, Ms. Mhaske was not above accepting help. So when, twelve years ago, she had an opportunity to enroll her three children in educational sponsorship, she did not hesitate. Through Holt’s legacy partner in Pune, India — Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra (BSSK) — her three children could continue to go to school while she and her husband worked to regain stability and, ultimately, self-reliance.
This small, simple intervention made all the difference in the lives and futures of her family.
BSSK’s and Holt’s interventions did not stop with her children, though. As part of our mission to strengthen families and ensure they can stay together, BSSK found work for Ms. Mhaske. It was a humble, non-skilled, low-paying job as a janitor at their care center. This job, however, was exactly what she needed to break out of the bonds of poverty and take control of her life. Overcome with gratitude and eager to prove that BSSK made a wise investment, she worked very hard in this position. Over time, the staff at BSSK saw her potential and drive, and encouraged her to reach higher.
In 1991, BSSK obtained a community center near a major slum in Pune. They used the building to provide parent trainings and preschool classes for young children living with their families in the community. Their community program has always been strong. Currently, they bring families into the center on a monthly basis to hold trainings on a wide range of topics from nutrition to family planning, hygiene to parenting practices.
At the community center, Ms. Mhaske saw an opportunity to build on her skills and joined a sewing class designed to help struggling families generate income. Very soon, she learned to sew a variety of different clothing items and began taking orders from her neighbors. She then graduated to cotton bags and purses, and it wasn’t long before she was promoted from a janitor to a position overseeing the sewing program.
But Ms. Mhaske had bigger ambitions still.
At the community center, she became involved in educational activities for children — teaching them basic reading, writing and math skills. Recognizing her interest, BSSK provided her with formal training in child development and education.
Fast forward to present day. Ms. Mhaske’s children are growing up to be wildly successful. Two of her children are now enrolled in university and have part-time jobs to help pay for their own education. One of them is studying commerce and the other is still exploring his options while interning at a bank. Her third child is currently in 11th grade and on track to graduate next year. “Because of this program, they got direction,” she says of the educational sponsorship through BSSK and Holt. Without sponsorship, her children may not have finished high school, let alone gone on to college. Now, all three have the chance to be self-sustaining and self-reliant.
This is wonderful, but even more was in store for Ms. Mhaske.
Over the years, BSSK learned more about Montessori styles of education. Last year, in partnership with a Dublin, Ireland-based non-profit called the Protobello Institute, BSSK established a Montessori preschool for children from impoverished families in the community. Children in the Montessori program receive education, health checkups, develop life skills and receive nutritious snacks. Their families receive trainings, counseling, health advice and assistance planning for their and their children’s futures.
To enable Ms. Mhaske to participate in the Montessori training, the staff at BSSK translated the lectures from English to her native Marathi.
Today, 45 children, ages 2-6, attend the program six days a week. Children are broken into groups of about 7-8 children based on age and ability, each with their own instructor. Ms. Mhaske is one of those instructors. She now — by her own determination and with the aid of BSSK — has become a full-time preschool educator. She works side-by-side with social workers who have post-graduate degrees.
Although her husband continued to struggle with alcoholism and eventually passed away three years ago, Ms. Mhaske and her children have persevered and overcome incredible challenges.
For her part, Ms. Mhaske is so happy to be giving back to her community, other families in need and children at risk of dropping out of school due to economic hardships. She has been in their position before; she understands the importance of giving people the opportunity to succeed.
When asked the most important thing that Holt and BSSK have provided her family, she responded with one word: knowledge. By educating one woman and her children in a slum in Pune, a whole family is now thriving.
But the power of knowledge goes well beyond one family.
When women and girls are educated, they have the capacity to create unprecedented economic and social change in their communities. Girls who are educated are more likely to delay marriage until adulthood. They have fewer children. And the children they do have are healthier and stronger. An educated mother like Ms. Mhaske will have increased job opportunities and higher wages, giving her the resources to buy food and medicine for her children. She will likely know more about nutrition and hygiene, and will make better use of health clinics. When women are educated, the chance of their children dying before the age of 5 is cut in half.
Educated women are also five times more likely to send their own children to school — increasing literacy rates in their communities, and breaking the cycle of poverty. They have the potential to reduce violence against women, increase both family and national income, and even temper political extremism.
Today, in a country with one of the largest populations of out-of-school children in the world — most of them girls — one strong, educated woman is sharing her knowledge with another generation of children. She is helping to increase literacy rates, break the cycle of poverty and lift up her entire community.
Ms. Mhaske knew she had to do something. And so she did.
Aloura DiGiallonardo | Africa & Haiti Programs Coordinator
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