Urmilla's courtyard is one of the happiest places I have ever visited. She laughs like a woman who knows deeply the value of joy and talks in awe about how God has directed her own story. We spend so much time longing to see more of God's kingdom on earth, sometimes I'm startled when I find a place it seems to have already broken through.
For over twenty years, Urmilla had sat alone at home every day while her husband went off to work. The shame of being childless had isolated Urmilla from her extended family. Her husband was supportive – an unexpected blessing in a culture where she might’ve easily been returned to her birth family as “defective." However, once he left for the morning’s field work, Urmilla was left to face her silent house.
When the local government official offered Urmilla the position of “anganwadi teacher," she saw a way to ease her loneliness. She wasn’t particularly qualified - but she was one of the only women in the village who could read and write. An “anganwadi” serves as a local preschool for a village – getting children ages 3-6 years ready to attend school. It is also a hub for other motherhood and early childhood intervention measures like extra food distribution, prenatal care help, and vaccinations.
For the past ten years, the village’s youngest members have arrived to the detached room in Urmilla’s courtyard, occasionally delivered by a relative, but most often arriving alone. They duck under the hanging pumpkin vines that drop from over the doorway, settling onto bamboo mats on the packed dirt floor. Urmilla looks to make sure everyone has washed up that morning before leading the students in a recital of a children’s rhyme. On the wall, next to the alphabet charts, hangs a menu of what food will be provided each day for lunch. It’s perhaps the only meal some of the kids will get all day.
Urmilla began teaching at the anganwadi to relieve her own loneliness. She got much more than she expected. Her hard work has resulted in dozens of students going on to study in school further than they might otherwise have. Chetna works to support the work of anganwadis and ensure the teachers know how to fulfill the vital role they’ve been given. Urmilla’s anganwadi, they say, is the best one they work with.
Urmilla has also become a trusted confidant for mothers, helping them plan for their babies, giving breastfeeding support, and teaching their toddlers. She has received more than she ever expected – she’s received love.
“Until you welcome another person’s child into your home,” she says, “until you love another person’s child, until you care for another person’s child - until then your home is not a place of God.”
Once the school day ends after lunch, Urmilla will spend another two or three hours visiting expectant mothers and delivering extra rations of rice and lentils to ensure their babies are born at a proper weight. She’ll also take the opportunity to encourage better habits in students who arrive without bathing or having forgotten their slate and chalk at home.
It was during one of those home visits, two years ago, that Urmilla received a phone call from her sister.
“Urmilla?” her sister said. “There’s a baby boy here in [our village] who needs to be adopted. Will you take him?”
Urmilla couldn’t believe the gift being offered to her. She and her husband willingly adopted the little boy, naming him Aman.
“I’m so thankful God gave me this job first,” Urmilla says, “to teach me how to love other people’s children. He was preparing me to get my son.”
Consider donating money you save through Lenten fasting to support the community-building work of Chetna. Learn how to donate here.