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Sisters are doing it for themselves

Renee Schreurs

Kavitha (middle), with her two older sisters Anjali and Aruna. 

Kavitha (middle), with her two older sisters Anjali and Aruna. 

When you first meet Kavitha you instinctively know you’ve got to have your wits about you. Her bright, beady eyes glint at you above her mischievous smile –  a smile that spells trouble.

Kavitha first arrived at the My Name is Kumar home about 2 months ago during the hot school summer holidays. Her arrival was unexpected. When we set off on one of our routine visits to the Londor community we hadn’t anticipated returning with a small, boney five year old on our laps.

Kavitha has two sisters who already live with us, Anjali and Aruna. We found Anjali and Aruna in 2013 on the streets of the city, begging for money and scraps of food in order to survive. They were only 6 and 4 years old respectively, neither of them had ever stepped foot inside school in their lives. Their father had only recently died, after consuming too much alcohol he passed away in the street. Their mother, who married young as a child herself, was introduced to alcohol by her husband and drinks heavily. She was unable to look after her two young girls and they were largely left to fend for themselves or would wander the streets. When we took Anjali and Aruna in (with the consent of their mother), Kavitha was just a baby and still being cared for by her mum.

On our visit to the village that day in May this year Anjali and Aruna were back visiting their mother for the weekend. On our approach to the village we spotted their mother, Gengamma passed out in the sun and it was clear to us she had been drinking heavily. When we found the girls in their hut we asked them if they were okay and if they had eaten. They both sweetly tried to cover up for their mother but it was obvious that they hadn’t been looked after and needed to come back with us.

However, we knew it would be impossible to take only Anjali and Aruna and not their younger sister. We had already prepared to take Kavitha to school at the beginning of the academic year, so what was one more small mouth to feed as well? The sisters have such a strong bond and Gengamma was incapable of caring  for her at that moment, so we whisked all three of them back to our home for a hot meal (and ice cream).

The first few weeks at the My Name is Kumar home were tough on Kavitha. She was used to having no rules, no chores and no bedtime whereas we quickly imposed these new restrictions on her - of course, her older sisters clamped down on her naughtiness and quickly taught her how to behave! During the summer holidays she proved to be a natural skateboarder and despite some teething problems getting used to her new life, for us it was like she had always been there. After a few days her mother even visited her and it was good to see Gengamma sober and pleased that her three daughters happy.

Three weeks ago Kavitha started school in 1st standard and each day wears her mischievous smile to the classroom. She loves her uniform and all the news friends she has made.

Life in Londor is not easy, the repercussions of alcohol addiction affect 98% of the people living there – but it’s important not to pass judgement. Many residents tell us that the reason they drink is to forget their troubles; wives are sometimes forced to drink by their husbands (in the case of Gengamma this is true) and awareness of the damage alcohol can cause is extremely low.

Our ongoing alcohol awareness workshops aim to help solve this problem and prevent the younger generations being affected in the same ways as their parents. In the case of Gengamma and her three daughters we decided to offer her a little more help and for the last fortnight Gengamma has been one of our employees, during which time she has not drunk a drop of alcohol.

Because of our recent growth in numbers we were in desperately in need of extra care takers to help with the day to day care of the children. After serious talks about expectations we asked Gengamma to fill one of the positions. She is now responsible for helping prepare the children’s meals, getting the children ready for school and keeping the house tidy. She lives with us full time which gives her much needed safety and enables us to help her out when she needs us. And of course, the biggest positive to come out of her employment is that she gets to see her three beautiful daughters each day. We also pay Gengamma a salary which is put into a savings account, which she will be able to access in the future to provide for herself and her girls.

Realising that sometimes it’s not only children who need an understanding shoulder to lean on has meant we try to find small ways that we can help the adults of the Londor community too. We do this so that the children (still our top priority) will one day be able to live full time with their parents as a normal family.

For now Kavitha, her two elder sisters and their mother live together in an odd way. But most importantly for them they are together, learning and happy.