Frontline Stories

Father and Girl Sketching Hope on Life

45-year-old Prabhakar* lives with his daughter Swathi* in a single-room house in Andhra Pradesh, India. His wife passed away a few years ago and he has been living with HIV/AIDS for the last seven years. Not wanting Swathi to be left alone if something happened to him, he decided to marry her off when she was in the ninth grade.

“I did not want her to continue studies, not because I was a hard-hearted father, but our options were very limited. I wanted her to be married before I fell further ill,” says Prabhakar. “But, now my daughter has got a future she can look forward to.” Swathi now studies in the tenth grade, in a government girls’ high school nearby and aspires to become a fashion designer.

“I wanted to continue my studies and become a fashion designer one day. It was all shattered when dad arranged my marriage. But, I was lucky enough to have known World Vision staff,” says Swathi, a beneficiary of one of World Vision India’s area development programmes. Her family has been receiving economic and medical assistance since 2009. When they came to know about Prabhakar’s decision, World Vision staff members counselled him and told him of the importance of education to a girl. After realising that education can give a better life for Swathi, Prabhakar decided to revert his decision.

Now, Swathi is more enthusiastic to go to school than before. She does all the household work before going to school in the morning. She gets up early, cooks breakfast and lunch. “She prepares all my favourite curries,” says a content Prabhakar. She also cooks dinner as soon as she is back from school.

When asked how she found time to study after doing all the work, Swathi said, “I just have to cook for two of us and cleaning our house is not a tiring task at all.” Their house was small. All they had was an old television, on the top of it a mixer grinder, some vessels on a tray kept at the corner, a rusted stove, a mirror in which you could hardly see anything and a cot, above which were a few pieces of clothing hanging on a rope. A dying fan ran with a constant creaking noise. “A gift from dad,” said Swathi, showing a sewing machine kept next to the cot. Prabhakar bought it from a second-hand seller, after noticing Swathi’s interest in designing. Swathi has now got another activity for the weekends: she is learning to stitch clothes.

“She is good at making mehndi (henna) designs too,” says Prabhakar, asking Swathi to show us some of her designs. She starts drawing one on the spot. Within minutes, an exquisite pattern appears. Her drawing book contains several sketches that further prove her talent.

Prabhakar earns his living as a painter. In the past, he used to earn INR 200-300 (about HK$23-35) per day, which was never enough to provide for the family, and he was too weak to take up other jobs that involved tiring labour. A few years ago, World Vision India provided him with a rickshaw, on which he now sells salt and limestone to earn an additional income. With the profit from his rickshaw business, he could buy machines for drilling and spraying paint, as well as a ladder and some ropes needed for painting. He takes painting contracts and has almost ten men working with him now. In fact, he bought the sewing machine for Swathi with the profit from his painting contracts.

Prabhakar is now planning to start a shop selling cold drinks near their house. It will cost him around INR 15,000 (about HK$1,750) but he is determined to start by next summer. He has also decided to let Swathi study as much as she wants.

Swathi is very attached to her dad. “He would never have wanted to marry me off, but I know that was the only option he could think of back then. Thankfully that did not happen and I can still be with him. I want to earn a good income and take care of him,” she says.

She is studying very hard to prepare for the public exams later this year. Along with studies, designing has become her passion in life. “Once I finish high school, I will study fashion designing,” she says, with her eyes sparkling.

While we feel hopeful about Swathi’s future, the cruel reality is that not every girl is as fortunate as her. Worldwide, about 1 in 7 adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) is currently married or in union. More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. World Vision is actively working to combat the practice of child marriage through different means, such as advocacy, education and livelihood assistance, so that all girls will have a fair chance in life to pursue their aspirations.

*Name changed to protect identity

Published on 21 May 2018

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