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Celia Jackmauh and Lavanya Kumar
Celia Jackmauh lives on a dairy farm in Vermont with her husband Gregory, her cat Max, and 65 milk cows.
Lavanya Kumar lives with her family in Athiendal village, Tamil Nadu, India. She is in her last year of pharmacy school and hopes to graduate this fall.
Lavanya has been our sponsor child since she was in the 5th grade. She is now 22 and doing her BA in pharmacy. We have continued to support her studies for the past 12 years.
We met her this year on a Saturday at the Sri Ramana Maharshi Matriculation School (SRM) – and what a surprise! There she was laughing and waving with an adorable baby and a husband in tow. A few years ago she was a giggling school girl. Now, here she is a mother and a wife in her last year of pharmacy college. She was calm and warm, and as always we were delighted to see each other.
Photos: Lavanya in 5th grade; Lavanya now with her husband Sandhan and baby Harshita
We talked for a while and then made a plan for me to visit her at her home in Athiendal village which is about 10 minutes from the school.
Photos: Outside the house; Sandhan and Lavanya; Athiendal village; A curious neighbor
Lavanya’s family greeted me in their home and sat me on the one chair, a place of honor, while they sat comfortably on the floor. (My hips thanked them!) Lavanya’s father came forward brandishing an orange soda which he opened in front of me and poured into a disposable plastic cup. They also offered store bought cookies and scalding sweet tea, all delicious.
Present were Lavanya’s father Kumar, her mother Parimala, her husband Sandhan and her sister Meera. I interviewed them through Lavanya while she wrote their answers for me in English. Meera, who also speaks some English, sat next to her mother and translated.
Photos: Lavanya and her father welcome me to their home; Lavanya’s mom makes sweet Indian chai for me; Parimala with Harshita, Lavanya’s daughter
Lavanya’s father works as a security guard at the local hospital; her mother works in the weaving section of Premalaya Handicrafts Society. Her sister Meera, who is in 7th standard, loves to draw and be outside. She wants to study agriculture and become a farmer. She has been inspired by the Environmental Studies class she takes at school, where they go out and plant saplings. Her small vegetable garden at their house provides produce for the family. Sandhan, Lavanya’s husband, also has a BA and is working as an Amazon delivery person. “He is a very good husband and father to my child,” Lavanya says. Last, but not least, is baby Harshitha who is two months old and the joy of the family.
“Who will take care of Harshita when you go back to college next month?” I asked.
“My mom will stop work and stay home.”
“What will you do when you graduate?”
(This was the only time I felt a little anxiety come into her voice).
“I will hope to get a job at a company nearby or in Bangalore. Or, if I don’t, I will make my own pharmacy! Sandhan will go where I get a job, but baby Harshita may have to stay with my mother.”
Photos: Meera translates our conversation for her mother; Sandhan looks on while Lavanya writes the answers to my question and Harshita naps
I asked Lavanya what she had liked most about her time at SRM secondary school (she calls it “our school”). She replied that the teachers were “good hearted” and she still goes back to visit them. She also really enjoyed her classmates and friends. She said that the school was very strict, which was probably a good thing but not always easy.
I cannot convey how bright, zesty, and strong Lavanya is. Her family is clearly immensely proud of her and their love and closeness was evident. Her husband seems to adore their daughter. He played with her as we spoke, and he also clearly has great regard for Lavanya.
I cannot convey how bright, zesty, and strong Lavanya is.
Her family is clearly immensely proud of her.
Nowhere else in the world have I experienced people at such perfect ease in silence together. We talked for a while, and were silent for a while. Here we were, from different continents, different cultures, and different economic backgrounds, comfortable in silence, and it was lovely.
Before I left their home, Lavanya’s mother came over to me and took my hands. Lavanya said that her mother wanted me to know how grateful their family was for our financial support. It has opened the door to a life that she, Lavanya, would never otherwise have been able to have. It is one thing to read about what a difference this program makes in a letter or to hear it from a program director; it is quite another to hear it from a mother while looking into her eyes. It is powerful. It is humbling.
We walked around the village for a while and then said our goodbyes. We both asked the sacred mountain Arunachala to bring us together again the following year. I look forward to the next chapter in the life of this remarkable young woman.
Lavanya’s mother took my hands. She wanted me to know that our financial support has opened the door to a life that would otherwise have been closed to her daughter.
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