Madhabi Naru was married off when she was 13 and studying in the ninth grade.
That was only the beginning of her long battle with life and destiny.
However, 43 years later, the mother of three has found new meaning in life as a volunteer of SAHAY, a Kolkata based NGO working with over 26,000 children in several districts of West Bengal.
She lives in Boral village, some 40 km southeast of Kolkata, in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal state.
Her salvation was through the Economic Rural Development Society, Boral, one of the rural partner projects of SAHAY that works through various partners, mostly grassroots level NGOs of West Bengal.
How did she come to know about SAHAY? Her child was one of the sponsored children under SAHAY. Hence her long association with the organization and over a period of time she became one of our 450 volunteers. She helps distribute appointment slips to families, undertakes home visits, motivates youth at their planning meetings, assists in distribution of gifts, letter-writing among other such activities. She gives off her time- at least two hours a day.
But she cannot forget the path she has traveled so far.
“After marriage I found out that my husband was physically handicapped. It was the first time I had ever seen him,” she recalls.
Youngest among three siblings, Madhabi hails from a poor farmer’s family. A year and half after marriage the small grocery store her husband owned in the village was lost to a family feud – looming an air of uncertainty once again in her life.
“The situation I found myself in at that point of time is indescribable. It was hard to procure two square meals a day. My husband was too broken both physically and mentally to lift himself up and do something for us,” recollects Madhabi.
She further says, “My husband’s parents and family had a very strict rule against women working outside, so the idea of me working, to earn money for the family was absolutely out of the question.”
They were dark days and the situation did not seem to get better. Her parents were in no position to help her too and Madhabi was certainly not going to belittle her husband’s dignity by asking them for financial assistance.
It was then she decided that it was time she took matters into her hands. She proclaims, “I started talking to my husband, trying to convince him of the fact that it was better to work than to die of hunger. I urged him to let me do something, so I could fulfill our basic needs with pride and dignity. Gradually I executed my first effort at earning by giving tuitions to the school goers of my neighborhood and selling candies and biscuits in my courtyard.”
In the mean-time her father had come to visit her at her husband’s house and it did not go unnoticed by him that Madhabi was struggling. After several rounds of discussion Madhabi’s father was able to convince her husband and his parents and family to allow her to do business in the local fish market. With her father’s help and assistance from her brother’s acquaintances she began to sell fish.
“Gradually our financial conditions started to improve,” declares the mother of three. Their eldest son is married, the younger son and daughter are still studying.
Summing up the lessons of life, Madhabi says, “I have learnt many things through my miseries. I have understood that breaking down and stopping is not an option. We have to try to solve the problem ourselves. If the effort is right, one would always receive help.”
Her mornings are occupied with her fish business. Being a committee member of a self-help group she also volunteers with Pulse Polio vaccination and helping raise funds for needy families and actively takes part in various events that can bring positive changes in her village.
Madhabi signs off by saying, “The SAHAY-Children International sponsorship program has helped me understand the true value of things, especially when it comes to understanding what children’s needs are.”