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Papa's Right Hand Man

*** Written by production manager Jane Mellema ***

Have you met a fifty year old who still seems to think and act like a teenager? Or a fifteen year old who is wise beyond her years? What defines adulthood? 

If we look at the life of one of our sewing ladies, we may get a clue.

She never once played and never went to school. She lived in the village.

Her first memory is cutting grass by hand with a small hatchet in the field with her father.

Before the age of thirteen, she had planted seeds of wheat, millet, mustard, gram (a legume), and other green vegetables and helped harvest each of these. She had learned to make fuel out of buffalo waste. She had been trained in how to make beautiful wool carpets and had developed an art of fine hand-stitch work on womens’ sarees. She had learned the discipline of milking buffaloes twice daily and regularly transported bundles of grass on her head to neighbors’ homes for a small fee. 

The oldest in a poor family of seven children, she quickly took on responsibility and worked all day by her father’s side. “Shoulder to shoulder” they would work. In her father’s eyes, she worked so intensely, it was as if she were a son. Her favorite memory is being with her father in the field as her papa’s “right hand man”.

Her father was primarily a farmer but also occasionally pedaled a cycle rickshaw to provide extra funds for the family (a bicycle with a seat on the back for passengers). Like most women in the culture, her mother stayed inside and worked in the home. However, after her tasks were finished, her mother would sometimes leave to spend time with her brothers and their families. As a result, our friend did not learn what most young ladies learned from their mothers. After finishing her work with her father, she would take off for her aunt’s house. This auntie had no husband or children of her own, and she would teach our sweet lady about life.

Unlike most young ladies who are taught to cook and are prepared for marriage in their childhood, our lady learned very little cooking or housekeeping from her mother. When her mother was gone, she would cook from time to time, but this was rare. 

On her wedding day, our friend was thirteen years old. She may have felt unprepared to be a wife and mother, but it wasn't her decision. She trusted her parents' decision and wisdom. Her husband was ten years older and a relative. What was ahead? What would these in-laws be like? Often for new brides, the mother-in-law can be an intimidating and cruel presence. 

Thankfully, she had in-laws who were patient. It was after her wedding day that she learned to cook and sew clothes. Her repertoire of skills continued to expand! She had her first child, a girl, at the age of fifteen. She continued to have children until there were eight, six girls and two boys. 

In a culture where girls often are seen as a burden, it was a challenge. She and her children were constantly sick and needing medication.  However, little money could be found for medication. 

Six years ago, they decided to move to the big city, in search of better opportunity. At this time, our friend shared that their good fortune increased, and they found peace. They began to earn more money, and the children began to have stable health. Shortly after this move is when we came in contact with this family and started giving them dignified work. What amazing changes we have seen in their quality of life, health, and happiness!

Our friend has a huge heart. She brings friends or relatives to the hospital and listens to the woes of others. She manages her home well, and she informed me adamantly that she teaches her children everything. 

It's been a long road for our friend, from those dusty fields to the big city. She started out as her Papa's "Right hand man". Now she has become one of our "Right-hand ladies". Was her childhood stolen from her? It's hard to say, but we can't imagine life without her. 

When she smiles, you'll see a thirteen-year old's twinkle in her eye ;) 

Photo credit: Sylvia King

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