We continue our Women of Valor series this morning with a special contribution from Joy Bennett, who sent this story to us this morning from Sri Lanka, where she and a fantastic team of bloggers are reporting for World Vision.
"The Fire in Her Gut"
Mala – A Woman of Valor
by Joy Bennett
I met Mala, Woman of Valor, in her small palm-branch-thatched home in a rural village in Sri Lanka. As we sat in the plastic chairs stamped with flowers in the front room of her two-room house, she stood in the elbow between a handmade standing table and the woven palm branch wall of her home. Her curly black hair was pulled back from her face, and she shifted nervously as her daughter, Sewwandi, took a seat in the circle with us.
The house had no windows, though the woven branches let in slivers of light. The air was still, heavy, and hot. We perspired through every layer we had on as we listened to their story.
Sewwandi recently took a scholarship exam. If her marks are high enough, she will earn a scholarship that would partially cover the cost of her education. Mala explained that while the education itself is free in Sri Lanka, they must pay for books, supplies, and other fees. Sewwandi lives 3-4 km from school (over 2 miles), so they also pay for a tuk-tuk to carry her to and from. Despite the fact that they share with 7 other children, it still costs 1450 rupees per month. They have to purchase safe drinking water at 40 rupees per 40-liter container (they need at least one container per day). And their home, made of sticks and branches, isn’t water-tight during rainy season.
Mala spoke quietly but firmly as she explained that she and her husband often went hungry in order to feed their children or pay for Sewwandi’s education. She had to leave her boys with a sister so she could work in a coconut estate as a day laborer, while her husband, who is completely illiterate, works in a chili grinding mill.
Our interpreter asked Mala why education was so important that she would work so hard and sacrifice so much. Her eyes filled as she said simply, “I had a difficult childhood.”We leaned forward a little as she began to tell her story.
Mala never had a childhood. Starting at age 4, she worked as a domestic servant alongside her mother. At age 7, her parents pulled her out of school to live and work as a maid with a family an hour from home. She referred to that job as “domestic service,” but she earned just 7 cents a day (300 rupees per month). She cried as she described her father’s monthly visit to collect her pay. Each time he came, she cried and begged him to take her home. But they were so poor even this tiny amount helped. So she stayed until her mother got a better opportunity in the Middle East.
Mala returned home to raise her siblings when her mother left the country. Her efforts enabled her siblings to remain in school through level 7 (6th grade).The merciless grind of those years bred in Mala a passion for bettering the people she loved, starting with her siblings. The four additional years of education they received made a huge difference in the trajectory of their lives compared to Mala’s. For example, Mala’s twin sister is married to a government worker, lives in Colombo, and stays home with her children.
We grew frustrated and angry for her as she shared all the things she had tried to make a better life for them. We asked, “Is moving an option?” since so many of their challenges derive from their remote location. She explained that they had tried to rent a home in Colombo (Sri Lanka’s largest city), but it was too hard. Then she scraped together enough money to purchase a small piece of land much closer to the main road. But the land owner took advantage of her, also selling the property to someone else. When she began to build a house there, the other owner tore it down. When she went to the police, she discovered that the other owner had already bribed them. She lost every rupee.
In spite of it all, the fire in her gut burned fierce as she told us her one dream was for at least one of her children to finish school, no matter what it took.
Before we left, we told Mala that we were so proud of her. We said that we could see that her daughter had inherited her spunk and intelligence. I told her she inspired all of us with her problem-solving and indomitable spirit, despite overwhelming odds.
World Vision is working on infrastructure improvements in Mala’s area that will help change her life. They just completed a new road (the old path became impassable during rainy season), and the improvement plan for this year includes addressing water, electricity, and education. When you sponsor a child through World Vision, your money goes directly to her community, supporting their development work in partnership with World Vision.
Sponsor a child, and you will also be sponsoring many women of valor, women like Mala.
Joy Bennett has been writing since the second grade and blogging since 2005. She grew up in a Christian home, and says she should know the answers to all the usual faith questions...but doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home.
Joy is right. Sponsoring a child with World Vision changes not only one life, but many. I saw this firsthand when I traveled with World Vision to Bolivia. (If, like me, you’re a skeptic by nature, check out “Confessions of a Child Sponsorship Skeptic.”)
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.
The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now. I enourage you to read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work.
Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C.
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen
I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)
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