Tears roll down Maya’s cheek as she brings her orange dupatta to her face and dabs at her eye. Her cheek quivers as she stares down at the tray of fruit sitting on her lap. When she looks up, our eyes connect. I place my hand on her knee and tell her that we don’t have to do this. A small smile crosses her face and she gestures for us to continue.
Since DWP opened the newest initiative called “Girls Can Be” we have been able to hire 8 full-time staff from the community. One of these women is Maya. I first met Maya two years ago in a chance encounter as I was leaving the community for the day. Since that day, I have watched as her two oldest children walked in to a school for the first time and was there for the birth of her youngest daughter, Nandini. Maya has packed a lot into her first 21 years on earth and for the first time in her life someone asked her to tell her story.
Maya was born in a small village in the far western reaches of Nepal in a district called Baitadi. Maya’s life was tough from the beginning; her first month marred by tragedy when her parents both died of TB. Maya’s older sister cared for her when the two sisters and brother moved into a relative’s home. During our talk we learned very little about her early childhood years except that she remembers spending two days in school and liking it, but it’s a fleeting memory. We picked up her story again when she turned 15. A beautiful young girl with no parents and a sister who was now dying from TB, Maya had few options so her sister did what she thought was right and arranged Maya’s marriage, hoping that it would ensure Maya’s safety and provide for Maya the possibilities she never had.
Living an equally tough life a few villages away was a young man named Pramad. Pramad’s father died when he was very young and a relative then sold him to someone else as a labourer. Pramad worked his childhood years until he saved up enough money to run away. As a young man he worked odd jobs before he began his search for a wife. Through family connections he met Maya’s older sister who was desperately looking for a husband for her. A deal was made and shortly after Maya turned 15 a small ceremony took place in her village; Maya’s beautiful face hidden under a veil looking towards an uncertain future with a man she had just met. A relative of Pramad’s urged him not marry Maya, stating that she was not good enough for him or pretty enough.
A few months after her marriage Maya became pregnant. Not quite 16 years old and nine months pregnant, she was out collecting cow dung for her cooking fire near her home when she felt severe pain and collapsed. She remained unconscious during the birth and woke to find local village women tending to her newborn daughter. Remarkably, both mother and child were happy and healthy and Maya and Pramad named their first daughter “Sumitra,” which means “good friend”.
A year after Sumitra’s (Suman) birth, Pramad’s relatives kicked the young family out of the shared home. Pramad (24 years old) and Maya (16 years old) packed their meagre possessions on their backs, including their curious one year old Suman, her head covered in a small Nepalese toque, and set out towards a new beginning. They walked for one full night and one full day before they reached a larger town where Pramad purchased two one-way train tickets to Mumbai, India.
A few days later the tired young family arrived in the “Mega City” seemingly worlds away from the tiny village where they had spent their young lives. Their only connection in Mumbai was a distant relative living in a slum community in Saki Naka, where they lived until they found a place of their own. Over the last few years they have moved several times, twice since I have met them. With a small tin shack to call their own, Pramad set off to find work leaving a newly pregnant wife and young daughter Suman at home. He found work in a factory and over the last few years learned the trade of powder coating and continues to work there today, earning around 5000 INR – $104.16 CDN per month.
Maya’s story continues with Part 2 coming soon…
All photos by Kane Ryan
Maya standing outside her home.
Her beautiful daughter, Sumitra known as Suman.