Thick wooden pillars are wrapped in stray red cloth. Soon they’ll be covered entirely in a red tent in the hard-packed dirt courtyard of Prabhouti’s childhood home. Ducking under the doorway decorated with shining ribbons, Prabhouti enters the swirl of activity that always attends preparations for a wedding. Her wedding.
Traditionally, Prabhouti should’ve been married years ago. Girls in her village are married early – sometimes as young as twelve years old – just like their mothers were before them. The best Prabhouti could have expected was a second-or-third grade education before leaving school to learn house work in preparation for a lifetime spent caring for her husband’s household.
Prabhouti is nineteen now and just finished her first year of college. The people responsible for her marrying at this ripe old age will be at her wedding. She’s just handed them a invitation. She met them a decade ago and since then the team of Chetna have helped transform her vision of what to expect out of life.
Chetna is a community health and development ministry run by the Emmanuel Hospital Association, a partner project of SIM. Each of its three-year project cycles focuse on solving one of the dozens of systemic problems in the villages it has chosen to serve. A decade ago, they were mobilizing community volunteers to run “adolescent groups” – gender separated groups for teenage girls or boys. The groups were places teenagers could get teaching and discuss issues no one else would talk to them about. Taboo issues like early marriage, pornography, and childbirth along with more common topics like hand-washing and education were introduced through a book designed by Chetna. It was there that Prabhouti learned that getting married before she turned eighteen isn’t only harmful to her future and that of her future family, it’s illegal in India!
Prabhouti’s parents were already talking about arranging her marriage when she came home with this new knowledge. She enlisted the help of her group leader to convince her family to delay arranging the marriage so she could continue to study. At first they were nervous to break from established tradition – and some of the neighbors did talk. But now Prabhouti’s mom couldn’t be prouder that her daughter has made it so much further in her studies than anyone ever dreamed.
Prabhouti is about to enter marriage with a wider experience and a better chance at helping to support her family economically. Encountering Chetna has not only changed her life, but the course of her entire future family.