“My. Dad. Gone.” I didn’t know what Damayanthi was talking about. But, I knew something was off… her eyes were watery in class today.
Damayanthi is one of my biggest helpers. She always stays late after workshops to help me put everything away. She has a meticulous sense of organization and just enough bossiness to get everyone to help clean up and take care of things. She organizes the beads in the cupboard, neatly rearranging things I think are fine to make them even more organized. She loves helping to teach the other girls and every time I see her she looks at me and tells me I am her best friend. My heart melts when she says that. Her best friend. A photo of me, her, and her gorgeous chubby baby is framed next to her bed. Her baby is the bossy one. She’s also the one with a big smile that makes everyone else smile around her. Despite the fact that she is a bit younger than some of the other toddlers, she still pushes the older boys around.
Damayanthi always walks me to the gate before I leave, carrying her chubby daughter on her hip and calling “good luck!” over and over as I pass through. That seems to be her favorite saying in English– a cheerful phrase of optimism. Damayanthi is one of the lucky girls who will get to return to live with her mother, her mother happily taking her baby in as well. Her mother is one of the only mothers who visits Ma-Sevana.
After asking a matron what was wrong and hearing Damayanthi was “sick,” I took her sniffling and watery eyes to be the cold that several seem to have. I didn’t realize that more was going on in Damayanthi’s life. 30 minutes of beading and she was all smiles, showing off her necklace to the girls around her. That’s when she tried to tell me what was going on. But, I still couldn’t understand. Damni, a wonderful girl who helps with the workshops and translates for me wasn’t there today. Damayanthi first told me she was going home in a few weeks. She looked happy. Then she told me that her father was gone. I thought she meant that he had been put in jail which would allow her to go home. But, a few hours later when I met with the counselor, I found out that her father was not the man who raped her. I also found out some horrible news…Damayanthi’s father passed away last weekend. The funeral took place immediately. Sarvodaya tried to make accommodations for Damayanthi to go to the funeral but the probation office was closed for a holiday. They couldn’t get the approval to take her back to her home village. Damayanthi missed her own father’s funeral last weekend. Can you imagine? She hasn’t seen him in years and she missed the opportunity to say goodbye.
“My. Dad. Gone.” I wont forget her words. I know I say this over and over again, but I find it unbelievable what these girls go through. Life is so intense for them and therefore life is so intense at Ma-Sevana. We all feel each other’s joys and pains. The walls and gate around the home trap them in.
Damayanthi will likely return home in three weeks. She wants to continue beading and to teach others around her in her home community. I am working on building a system that will provide her with supplies monthly and am going to try to visit her before I return to the US. I met with the counselor today about follow up visits when the girls return home. There is no system in place right now and no funding to hire a vehicle to run the check-ups. Another thing to add to my list. It is essential that we follow up with these girls, that those individuals who take them into their home know that they are responsible for treating them respectfully, and for the girls to know that there are people out there who care about them and who they can turn to if need be.
It’s hot here now. I returned yesterday after a week in the US and found it unusually hot and humid. The trees are in full bloom, flowers dotting the roads. I can feel a shift in the seasons just in the last week. We have several new girls in Ma-Sevana. They were delighted to receive their own boxes of beads today and caught on quite quickly to making jewelry. It’s amazing how different it feels here having been gone just a week. We are changing seasons with a new intensity of heat and torrential downpours of rain at night. The seasons of Ma-Sevana are also changing faster than ever, especially for Damayanthi. But I know with her strength, courage, and optimistic outlook, she will pull through.