Finding Hope in the DarknessBy Neola D'Souza
Geeta, a sponsored girl from a hilly community in Rajasthan, India, was involved in an accident four years ago that could have changed her life. Having received the emergency medical assistance for treatment from World Vision, Geeta was able to recover from her burn injuries. She is eager to study as much as she can, and wants to become a teacher someday.
It was a hot summer evening when Geeta, then 13 years old, was sitting on the roof of a bus along with other family members. They were off to a wedding in another town and were enjoying the cool breeze on top of the vehicle. All of a sudden, an electric wire came into contact with the bus, and within a matter of seconds, all the passengers riding on the roof were electrocuted. Geeta suffered almost 80 percent burns and lost consciousness. Her uncle not only had to figure out how to bear the mounting costs of her treatment, but also had to fight with other family members to save Geeta from becoming a victim of a traditional practice called ‘Mautana’.
‘Mautana’ is like a monetary compensation for death to provide justice to the victim’s family or community, by the family of the one considered responsible for the death. It doesn’t matter if the other side can pay the amount or not. One would have to either sell or mortgage land or borrow money to pay the sum that is demanded.
Geeta lost her mother when she was only two months old. Since then, her uncle Kanyalal has been taking care of her. However, Geeta’s father, who had not cared for her for almost 15 years, was now trying to claim the compensation. In addition to not seeing her in the hospital, he even discouraged Kanyalal (his younger brother) from taking medical assistance for the treatment, as he wanted to claim money from the opposite party in case anything untoward happened to Geeta.
It broke Kanyalal’s heart to see Geeta’s life being viewed in terms of just a monetary settlement. “If I had agreed at that time to accept money, then today Geeta would not have been here. All I knew is that I had to protect Geeta no matter what. But I was very worried. I didn’t know where to get the money for her treatment, as no family member was willing to help us financially. It was at that time that World Vision stepped in and took this burden. That for me not only saved Geeta, but also our community and village as in these situations violence could also break out,” says Kanyalal.
World Vision staff also got involved personally to help Geeta. One of them not only donated blood, but also helped convince two youths to donate for Geeta, as nobody apart from Kanyalal was willing to do so because of other traditional beliefs.
Geeta was discharged after spending a month and a half in the hospital, but there was still a long way to go. “I couldn’t even walk around, because my clothes would get stuck to my skin. It was a very painful and sad time as I had to be in bed most days. The doctors gave me medicines for the pain, but I couldn’t do much. I felt bad that I missed school and couldn’t meet my friends. But I am happy now that I am back in school,” she says with a faint smile.
While many girls in Geeta’s community would be forced to drop out of secondary school and coaxed into marriage or work after the age of 15 years, Geeta has her own plans. “I only want to study, not get married,” she says resolutely. Her favourite subject is science, and she dreams of becoming a teacher someday. Thanks to the children’s club in her village, she was able to divert her mind to other fun activities. She also is part of a child protection unit and attends the life school for transformation development programs conducted by World Vision India in her community.
After World Vision’s engagement in these communities, parents and children have understood the importance of education. Parents even enrol small kids in pre-schools, while early marriage, which was common in the community, is slowly reducing. Training by child protection committees on the rights of children, along with increased monitoring, has also helped tackle child marriage.
Through World Vision’s efforts, the community is coming together to give children access to a life of abundance. “I love to receive my sponsor’s letters. I am always motivated to study and I get many gifts also like clothes and even a purse. I feel that my sponsor really cares about me, because he always sends nice gifts and letters for me. I just want to say thank you to the people who sponsor. World Vision really helps the children in my community. It is doing very good work here,” says Geeta.