I am no stranger to adversity. I was three years old when I lost my father. With limited resources, my brave mother became the breadwinner. She tried her best to cultivate although the Sundarbans region, where we lived, was subversive to agriculture.
Despite my mom’s best efforts, she was struggling to earn money. There were times when we only ate maize once a day. In desperation, my mother had to send my brother to another state, Uttar Pradesh, in search for work. Worse, she had to force me to get married to someone. I felt that it was a penalty for being poor.
The deed was done.
"I got married when I was 15. They said that getting married is every girl’s destiny."
I left home and moved to my husband’s. I was crying every day. Eventually, my father in-law sent me home. It took me time to accept my fate as a wife then eventually moved back to my husband again.
My husband, Raipati, was a casual labourer. He spent most of his time outside Bengal and sent monthly financial support. My father-in-law kept the money to support nine household members. But every day was a struggle. The small patch of land we had didn’t produce much, so we were forced to buy rice from outside. I considered the thought to work but my kids were very small then.
While my kids were growing up, I started harvesting and selling prawns and crab. Things seemed promising but a tragedy dawned on me. At 44, my husband died from heart attack. It was hard to accept the reality. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I grieved.
While undergoing the healing process, my kids took the responsibility to earn money. My older daughter went fishing while balancing studies at the same time. They realised they couldn’t do justice to both. Unfortunately, they had to give up their education to earn.
The two older girls worked as maids in another town for nearly three years. As a mother it’s painful to see the sacrifices of my children because I wanted them to have a better life. I also worried about their safety. There were times when their employers didn’t treat them well. But they had fight to survive.
When I started working again, day and night I went fishing. Catching fish became a difficult task plus there was always the eminent danger of confronting tigers in the Sundarbans mangroves.
Gradually I moved on until another tragedy came. A cyclone struck our place and destroyed everything we owned. Thankfully, I managed to save my children. I didn’t know what to do.
"We lost everything but luckily, World Vision gave us sheep to move forward."
The sheep became our main source of income. We earn an average of $ 150 USD to $ 250 USD in each sheep. The first year we sold 6 sheep, the next year, 11. Now I still have 22 sheep. Through this livelihood, my youngest daughter didn’t have to work anymore. The money we got from selling the sheep is invested in Protima's education.
Protima is now she is attending extra classes, which will help her perform better in school. My daughter has lots of aspirations and she desires to be a nurse someday. To encourage Protima’s educational path, World Vision also provided a solar light so that she can study at night too. Until now, electricity has not reached our place but the solar light has been helpful in keeping us safe at night.
Through my life experiences I realised that education is important for my children. My thought process has changed completely from my parent’s generation. My marriage at a young age was a wrong decision and I won’t make that mistake with Protima. It is my sincere prayer that she will achieve life’s her ambitions.
I’m also thankful for the support around me. I felt that I was never alone.
Probati, 37, a mother of six, lives in West Bengal, East India. Probati Bauri’s resilient spirit underpins the common Bangla saying, "Meyerder aachhe maner jor" meaning women have the strength of the mind.