A girl turns her life around by not quitting
Preeti from Chhattisgarh fights against the odds
The blue beads strung around a black thread on her neck are a reminder of her new life, one filled with hope, love and the promise of a better future.
As she had deftly put together the beaded necklace and her black-beaded bracelets, Preeti (name changed), 14-years-old, from a remote village in Kondagaon district, now hopes to turn her life around by going to school and studying further.
After her father died last year, Preeti endured violence at the hands of her uncle. Her mother, who suffers from a mental ailment, mostly roams about in the village, leaving the 14-year-old to look after the household. The way the young girl was treated at home started affecting her mental health.
I had stopped meeting my friends and missed playing with them. I had even stopped laughing and taking care of myself. There were no good clothes to wear and the atmosphere at home wasn’t good. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give me food to eat.
When the physical violence and household work became constant, the young girl decided to quit school not knowing what else to do.
Almost every night, Preeti would become the target of her uncle’s rage, who would come home drunk. “My uncle and his wife would hit me and swear at me often. He used to say go die somewhere, get out of this house. I used to cry often and think what would happen to my life,” says Preeti, who would sometimes spend her nights in a neighbour’s house when the uncle was unrelenting.
The physical and mental torture at home was one of the many reasons Preeti did not want to go to school. “No one from the extended family was asking me to go to school. I had no money to buy books, or a pen and notebooks. All day, I used to do household chores and was often asked by my uncle to take out the goats to graze or work in the field,” she says.
However, her life took a turn for the better when one of the volunteers of Yuvodaya, a program started in October 2021 in collaboration with the state administration and UNICEF India, got in touch with Preeti. The program trains volunteers to work on several issues, including mental health, which affect members of the remote, rural community in Kondagaon.
As many as 1,200 volunteers are associated with the program, who work on mental health issues and share this information with the community.
Gupesh Kumar Markam, a Yuvodaya volunteer from Patla village in Kondagaon district, says when he got to know about her condition and that she had decided to quit school, he decided to help her.
I did not know what mental health is and how it can get affected. When I learnt about it during Yuvodaya training, I decided to help Namkumari. She did not want to study further and had become reticent. She had stopped taking care of herself.
“I met her and would also talk to her on the phone to understand her mental state and why she did not want to continue school. By talking to her, I got to know that she had no moral and economic support at home, and she wasn’t being treated well by her uncle. There was no one to look after her,” says Gupesh.
It did not, however, take Gupesh much time to get Preeti to agree to go back to school. Some counselling is all that was needed which did the job for him. “As she had left her uncle’s home in Peepra village, she was living with an aunt in Anwari village. She told me she wanted to study in Anwari only as she did not want to go home, and she did not like it there.”
Gupesh says Preeti has changed a lot since she started going to school again. “Earlier, she used to be aloof but now she loves her school and is making new friends. She looks a lot better and happy now.”
“Uncle (Gupesh) told me that I should study as it will help me in the future. That is when I decided to go to school again,” says Preeti.
Things have changed for her now. She is in a happy space and is being cared for. She loves to study and talk with her cousins. “People often tell me that I have changed for good and praise me for my looks and appearance. I look after myself now. I want to study further and wish to become a nurse,” she says with a smile.
Though Preeti now has a home to call her own where she lives freely and without any fear, life still is not easy for the 14-year-old as she lives away from her three siblings and mother. The siblings only talk to each other on the phone sometimes.
“I miss my siblings and my parents. I hope my mother gets well soon and someday we all are together again,” she says, trying to maintain her composure. The young girl says she aspires to become a nurse so that she can work with patients suffering from mental ailments like her mother.