Community Leaders: The Story of Selma (Helping Hands)

Salma and Manisha
Selma (left) and Manisha (right), both employed at CRHP’s Helping Hands Initiative

Selma was born into a very poor family with a young mother and a drunkard father in Indiranagar, a slum of Jamkhed. Her mother worked as a day laborer in neighboring farms while her father stayed at home and drank, providing no income for the family. Selma attended preschool at CRHP where she was provided with a safe place to play and learn as well as receive two nutritious meals a day. After graduating from preschool, Selma attended a Marathi medium school until 7th standard. While she was in primary school, her father died from liver failure and her mother was offered a more stable job working in CRHP’s kitchen. Selma’s mother, now a widow, was afraid of keeping Selma in Indiranagar alone and unmarried during the day while she worked from 9 am to 10 pm at CRHP. In 2007, when Selma was 14, Selma’s family was offered a place to stay with other staff members on CRHP’s main campus in Jamkhed.

While this housing was more secure, Selma’s mother felt pressured by family members to marry off her daughter as soon as possible. At the age of 15, Selma was married to a man from a city 4 hours from Jamkhed, and she moved in with him after the wedding. Not long after, Selma’s in-laws began berating her for her cooking, cleaning, and household work. Most of all, her in-laws were unhappy that she had not yet become pregnant; they began demanding a larger and larger dowry from her mother in Jamkhed. Selma’s mother visited the family 3-4 times in the city, however, the verbal abuse just increased. Her mother-in-law told Selma that she should burn herself. After hearing this, Selma’s mother and staff members at CRHP encouraged Selma to return to Jamkhed, to which she agreed.

After returning to Jamkhed and CRHP’s campus, Selma began to blame herself for the marriage; she stayed alone and depressed with her mother. It was then that CRHP offered Selma a job in Helping Hands, and she accepted readily. At Helping Hands, she learned how to sew, make jewelry, and create bangle coasters with other women. She received a monthly salary that she began to save in a bank account in town.

Selma making bangle coasters at Helping Hands.

At the age of 18, Selma began communicating with an eligible bachelor with her mother’s support. After two months and many conversations with both families, the two got married in a village outside of Jamkhed. They are now happily married with two healthy young children living in Jamkhed. With the skills she learned at Helping Hands, she was able to make clothing and blankets for her two babies out of recycled cloth.

Now, Selma has started her own business, a salon, outside of the CRHP campus. She also works part time at Helping Hands where she teaches adolescent girls and women from the slums and villages various skills in jewelry making, sewing, and candle making. She saves the money she makes for her children, to provide adequate nutrition to her family and to have money for healthcare in the future.

Selma with the members of the Helping Hands Initiative.

Selma explains about Helping Hands, “the program is so beneficial because it allows women and girls from all different backgrounds to learn skills and become independent. You don’t need to be well educated or able-bodied to learn the skills at Helping Hands and become a productive member of your family. The working environment here is very safe both physically and emotionally, and everyone is able to work to the best of their ability.” Selma is excited to have the opportunity to teach more women like her the skills that helped her become independent.

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