In Taj Mahal’s shadow families overcome obstacles
July 29, 2013
Bright-eyed, smiling and smartly dressed in her plaid school jumper worn over a blue blouse and matching slacks, 8-year-old Khushi sits on the ground outside her family's house doing homework.
Khushi does her homework.
She wants to be a teacher someday, and her CFCA sponsorship is helping her parents send her to a good school.
Khushi is proud to live in Agra, home to the magnificent Taj Mahal, often cited as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. She went to the Taj Mahal once when she was small.
"I invite my sponsors to visit the Taj Mahal. If they come to Agra, I will take them to the Taj Mahal," Khushi said proudly.
CFCA sponsors are helping families break the cycle of illiteracy, said Vinod Kumar Dass, coordinator of CFCA's Delhi project.
"Agra has a unique history of having one of the wonders of the world on one side, and on the other side it can't even see a girl student who is from the slums of Agra graduate," he said. "CFCA is playing a very crucial role by supporting the families to educate their children, which they never thought possible before."
Khushi is one of six children, and her parents work in the leather industry, manufacturing shoes.
Khushi and Meena with a sewing machine purchased through a self-help
loan from CFCA.
Most industry workers are daily contract laborers and get little pay.
"I never went to school, so I don't have any option other than working as a laborer," Khushi's father, Muhammad, said. "We do the stitching work on the shoes and receive payment based on the number of shoes we make.
"It is the main source of income for my family. Though it is not sufficient to look after my family's needs, we are trying to manage it."
CFCA sponsorship helps by covering Khushi's school costs and connecting her mother, Meena, to the CFCA mothers group. Meena took out a loan from the group and bought a sewing machine. She makes and sells garments to earn extra money for the school fees of Khushi's siblings.
"As we are educating our children, we are looking forward to seeing a better future, at least for them," Meena said.
Hope where there was none
Like Khushi, 16-year-old Pushpendra has a sense of pride about this home in the shadow of the Taj Mahal. With his arm wrapped around his mother, Geeta, he shares his dream of being an army officer.
Pushpendra walks to school.
"For that I need to study well and participate in extra-curricular activities," he said. "I am confident I can achieve my dream with the support of my sponsor and CFCA."
Pushpendra's parents struggled to pay school fees and buy supplies before he was sponsored.
Geeta makes and sells wood-handle brushes used for polishing jewelry to supplement her husband's income as a construction laborer. She worries about the children of Agra who have no hope for a better future.
"People come to Agra from all over the world to see the Taj Mahal," Geeta said. "But in the streets of Agra there are many children who don't have any hope to get an education.
"Only CFCA came forward to help us through the sponsorship program. … We are happy with the support.
"I wish that CFCA could support more children from the streets of Agra so that the living conditions of our people can improve."
Families avoid middlemen
On the main road to the Taj Mahal, a sign outside a small shop says: "CFCA Mothers Enterprises (A Unit Run by Underprivileged Families)." The small shop sells jewelry, shoes and other handmade items crafted by the mothers of CFCA sponsored children.
"We opened a shop on the main road to the Taj Mahal, where tourists can purchase the products of our families directly," said Shashi Kant Parishar, CFCA social worker in Agra.
Guddi, mother of a sponsored child, stands in front of a shop run by
CFCA mothers in Agra, India.
Tourism holds a lot of economic potential for families living in three Agra slums where CFCA works, Parishar said.
"But due to the illiteracy in the families they are not able to benefit from the tourism," he said.
Many families from the slums, including children, work in leather industries making shoes, or they make items such as jewelry and clothing.
"The families don't have enough money to buy the raw materials, so they depend on the middlemen to procure the material," Parishar said.
By eliminating the middleman with self-financing through mothers groups, CFCA helps the mothers invest and borrow to finance small businesses. The store provides an additional outlet for those business ventures.
The model is leading to economic growth in the CFCA families, providing opportunities they never had before.
An ageless wonder
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
The Taj Mahal is a symbol of love built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a resting place for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
The white marble mausoleum located on the banks of the Yamuna River is a magnificent example of Mughal architecture, combining influences from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian styles. It was built in the years 1632 to 1653.
Rekha, whose son, Dushyant, is sponsored through CFCA, supports her family singing songs at events in the tourist hotels. She feels a special connection to the Taj Mahal.
"It never becomes old," Rekha said. "As the life in our body does not become old, there is something that is protecting the Taj Mahal not to become old and damaged."