While cooking every evening, the fumes emanating from the smouldering coal accelerate Teejan’s tears flowing down her cheeks. Teejan is a grade 10 beneficiary of Girls Education Program of Room to Read from Tilda block of Raipur District in Chhattisgarh. The lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic bequeathed a strange landscape to her life.
Teejan’s life came to a standstill after the lockdown was announced on March 22, 2020. She was not able to contact her parents who had gone to Pune, Maharashtra for work. She frantically tried to contact them but as there was no news, her heart sank and she did not know how to handle this situation. Scarcity of food and responsibility of her sibling, along with that of an old grandmother, drained her out emotionally as well as physically.
One day, her younger sister developed cramps in her abdominal area and she was in extreme distress. In the beginning, Teejan panicked as it was the middle of the night and her sister was scared. She missed her mother most during a crisis like this. Teejan recollected her thoughts and remembered her life skills training given by Room to Read about menstrual health. She helped her younger sister understand the cause of the pain. Her younger sister calmed down and thanked her for her guidance.
Days passed by and it was almost a month with still no news of her parent. Hope started to deplete soon and so did the food and essential items. Teejan contacted her relatives and neighbours for some help for food and some financial support but they turned their backs on them.
Every day, Teejan got up with a hope to hear from parents but days turned into months and the hope of finding her parents became bleaker by the day. After two months, the relatives and neighbours started telling her that their parents won’t come back. They went a step ahead and started suggesting that being the eldest in her family, she should get married. They passed comments that they needed a male in the house to look after her and her younger sister along with the grandmother.
During this situation where Teejan was thinking of giving up hope of finding her parents, she received a phone call about her general wellbeing from her social mobilizer (mentor). The conversation boosted her confidence and rekindled hope to find her parents. Essential to Room to Read’s program are the social mobilizers who are local women hired as mentors to work with girls and their families.
They ensure that girls stay in school and navigate the challenges of adolescence with the ability to make their own life choices, both personally and professionally. Teejan confided in the SM and discussed the precarious situation her family was in. After the discussion, her anxiety subsided and she no longer wanted to cry every day. Instead, she got new courage.
She decided to show everyone that marriage was not the only option to support the family. She kept in touch with SM didi. The SM had suggested that she visit the village gram panchayat and share her immediate problems of getting food supplies. Teejan’s perseverance paid off and she managed to get regular food supplies for her family. She quietly celebrated her success.
Fortune took a new turn as the village local government finally traced Teejan’s parents. On hearing the news, shivers went down her spine and she cried inconsolably. Her eyes were longing to see her parents and she wanted the reassurance of their existence. Her parents reached the village after two and a half month. She wanted to hug her mother and cry her heart out. She had to wait for another 14 days as they were in quarantine.
But, Teejan’s perseverance paid off. She managed her home in the most difficult times and averted her early marriage.