Success Stories


When I think of my past I get very energized and my mind gets filled with thoughts and it all becomes a blur. I have been through a lot.

I come from a village in a backward area, named Soong, in District Chamoli of Uttaranchal. People there wore clothes different from those I wear today. Because of the climate, Women wore blankets, men wore big tila pants and thick dress shirts. I usually wore clothes that family members or any village person would hand down to me.

I don't know much about my family because my father died when I was three and my mother died a year later. My memory of them is vague. I don't remember their faces nor much about their personalities. The little I do know comes from the few stories my older sister had shared with me. When they passed away, I was four, my sister Maheshwari nine and my eldest sister, Vimala eleven. My parents had left us a home and good fields, so my oldest sister had no choice but to take on the many responsibilities of the household.

Because I was so young, my chacha (dads brother) who lived in another village decided it would be best for me to go live with him and his family. This turned out to be an awful experience. I remember my uncle and his wife being very harsh and unkind to me. They would beat me and would make me do physically demanding chores that required long hikes in the forests to collect firewood and carry water and animal food. They would also get me to do household chores, like the dishes and field work. I recall always being frustrated, so I frequently ran away. Sometimes for three to four days at a time. The forests there are very thick and many said they were haunted by ghosts from all the burial ceremonies held there, but I don't recall ever being afraid. It seems nothing scared me then because, I am told, that I would often hide in a cave near the babies' cemetery. I used to do all sorts of crazy things and, as a result, I got punished a lot. I remember they would tie my hands up with a long rope that they used to tie up the cows. I was very unhappy. Because of this, I ended up running away to my mothers' house after eight months.

Shortly after I had returned, my middle sister went to live with my uncle. He had gotten a women from a neighboring village to convince her it was the best thing to do. She would ask her questions like, "Who will arrange your marriage?" Her questions frightened my sister and she left my mothers' home. At my uncle's she had to work very hard. She picked up cow dung, cut the grass, did field work, and a whole lot more. My sister was a very obedient child and a hard worker, therefore my uncle and aunt were happy.

So, it ended up just being Vimala and me. My sister was like a mother to me, she was quite incredible. She would wake up at 4:00 o'clock in the morning and go very far to collect the oak grass, then she would return to cook for me and then continue her day in the fields. She had to work very long and tiring days but she really had no choice, no other alternative. She had to take on this role in order for us to survive.

I too would do things in the house such as collecting the water and anything else I could handle. By the age of seven I was cooking dal and chavel for my sister and I. I do not know how we afforded it, but my sister made sure I went to school. I remember that on my first day of school I had refused to go because I had heard all the other boys and girls talking about how the school teacher would hit them and beat them with sticks. So I entered my first day of class with my sister holding legs and my teacher pulling at my arms. During primary school, to keep costs down, I would use a piece of wood as my chalkboard, finished with a black liquid that came out of an old battery when I would bang it hard. At times I would use the charred deposit that would collect on the bottom of the tahwa (roti pan). For chalk I would use a stick and dip it in kamera (a white dow like soil) which I would get from digging in the ground. In some villages, kamera mixed with water is sometimes used to paint walls. Once I graduated to fifth class, books and school cost a lot more and to cope with this my sister got another job gathering and breaking stones for construction. We had to rent out a piece of our grasslands, as well.
Village mountain life was very isolated. In school when I learned about Delhi, America, and trains it all seemed like a dream. I did not believe that there was a world outside of Soong. All I could see or imagine were the forests that surrounded it. I was sure the teacher was sharing her dreams with us.

One story I will never forget was when I had become very ill with a stomach problems. I had been at home for three days and had become very pale and weak. My sister was crying and no one in our village could help. Finally my sister, who was tiny but strong, decided I needed to get to a hospital, and so she proceeded to carry me. She carried me on her back for about five kilometers and was reaching the point of exhaustion. She knew she had to continue but there was nine more kilometers to go. Fortunately, for us the gods came through and a pony approached. The pony to carried me the rest of the way. Her efforts worked because after proper treatment, I slowly recovered.

When I was in grade five our fortune began to change. SBMA had started to do work in our village with balwadis and other types of development work. Through their work and various village meetings the SBMA workers became aware of our situation and began to help us. First my sister was given a job at one of the balwadis as a cook and teachers assistant paying her about 250 Rs. When they could, they would provide us with extra money and other things. Eventually they found a spot for me in SBMA where I went to live and attend school. My sister joined us about a month later.

At first, SBMA was strange and unfamiliar but quickly it became home. It felt like suddenly we had inherited a large family where there were parents to take care of meals and clothing. It was nice for my sister not to have to worry about where our next meal would come from, although she continued to work the fields and cut the grass. She was happy to do it there because it was like home to her. Eventually, within the Ashram she learned how to weave and proceeded to work with that.

Life there was much better for us, but for the first three years, I had a hard time adjusting. I would attend school and do the agricultural chores all the kids did, like fetching the water and carrying the cow dung. But, I was a very naughty and mischievous, I always managed to get punished for one thing or another. The other children in the ashram would make fun of me sometimes, and I began to suffer from some emotional problems. I recall various times when I would walk into the forests for one of my daily chores and would just stop and cry because I felt very confused and unhappy. But gradually things changed, slowly I began to feel more comfortable there. I grew to understand the objectives of the ashram and slowly began to see fun and exciting things about it.

I feel that Uncle ji played a major role in allowing me to become comfortable with the ashram and my life. He realized I needed love and attention and worked towards providing that for me and the other children. I feel that his love, wisdom and guidance have shaped who I am today.

I have completed my B.A. now, and am living and working at the ashram. I've gotten a chance to travel around India and even to Europe with various programs associated with SBMA. I am happy now and have began to dream of my future. I feel that everything I have been through, everything I have learned, everything I have seen will give me the tools to work in the developmental field. I feel that my story of my past is not about me as an individual but about many other Mohan's in the Himalayan Mountains. Every child will have his own version, yet I know they are all very similar. For this reason, I hope to work for children who live as I have lived and give them a chance for a better life.

Written by Cindy Escobar

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