Catching up with a community trailblazer: all three children in higher education

Awakening at 5 AM is not easy for anyone. But, doing so gets Anchal Yadav, 23, and her brother Aaditya, 18, up in time to catch a 6 o’clock bus. They take a 20km ride from their small town in Delwara (population 4,500) to Udaipur, the capital of their Indian state of Rajasthan to begin higher education studies at 8 AM. Their older sister Anjali, 25, lives on her own in a flat in the city, works and is obtaining her master’s.

These youths pursue studies today due to the entrepreneurial and leadership savvy of their mother, Durga Yadav. While Durga has a success story that is not the norm for women in rural India, it gives a peek into the life of one of the 333,400 rural Indian women that Women on Wings has co-created jobs for with its business partners and women entrepreneurship programs since 2007.

Marrying young
In 1988, at the age of six, Durga’s parents promised her hand in marriage. Officially child marriage is illegal in India, yet marriage before the 18th birthday was an age-old practice for girls in all of India. India has made remarkable progress toward ending child marriage. In a forward-looking sign of change, the number of girls marrying before their 18th birthday has considerably decreased from 65.2% in 2005-06 to a rate of 24.5% in 2019-21, according to the National Family Health Survey.

A reason for this hopeful news for girls, states a UNICEF report, is a change in the rate of secondary school completion. The more education a girl attains, the longer she prolongs marrying and when/if she does, with a job and an income, she has a more equal say in a household.

A job started Durga’s remarkable trajectory
Durga married and was moved to her in-laws at age 15. She became a mother for the first time at 16 – with no option to complete her studies. Her young husband did masonry work. In her in-law’s home women were allowed to work.

Her mother-in-law’s deft mastery of stitching and patchwork inspired her. Later, she joined her sister-in-law and got a job with Women on Wings’ first business partner, Sadhna – A Woman’s Handicraft Enterprise (Sadhna), a cooperative that provides alternative incomes for women in Udaipur’s rural, tribal and urban slum areas. Together, Women on Wings and Sadhna have co-created business solutions to support its growth from 100 to 700 artisans.

Starting as an applique artisan at Sadhna, Durga’s natural organizational skills surfaced, and she soon advanced to become a group leader for 17 years. At age 34, Durga followed her passion for silver jewelry and started a handicraft enterprise that influenced the livelihoods of 70 women in her surrounding area.

Boosting the success of her community
Recently a Women on Wings team member caught up with Durga. Her daughter Anchal (picture, right) graciously interpreted for her mother. Durga now 41, has recovered from her business setbacks from COVID-19 when India was under a strong lockdown measure and selling at exhibits was not an option.

Alongside reviving her artisan silver jewelry trade with 70 women, she now runs an appliqué and cutwork fabric business with 30 women from indigenous communities from around Delwara. Durga supplies her employees with embroidery and jewelry training, materials and designs. Some women work from home, and some do embroidery or machine stitching for kurtas, pants, shirts and tops daily in her workspace.

A three-story home and all three children in higher education
Her husband still works in masonry along with helping her business. “He mainly supports me mentally and appreciates that I create my own identity,” says Durga. “Physically he helps me in collecting the finished work from artisans’ homes and in selling at exhibits.”

Durga’s drive and income moved her family from a two-room dwelling without a toilet to a three-story home. Her children are pursuing the studies of their dreams. Durga did not have much education; she wanted a different story for her children than hers. She told them not to worry about school costs, that she would take care of things as long as they focused on their studies. They do and are so grateful!

Durga’s daughter Anjali, lives alone in a flat in Udaipur, works in a hospital and is proud to be concluding her master’s in physiotherapy. Living alone in a city is quite unusual for a girl from rural India and quite progressive.

Anjali loves that her parents gave permission for her to live alone in the city of 600,000 people, where she can enjoy her spare time between studies and work. Anjali has no plans to marry at this point. Thanks to her mother’s income, she can make different choices than marrying young and ending her education.

Durga’s income permits Anjali’s siblings, who live at home, to travel each day to school and to study. Anchal is following her childhood dream of studying pathology to become a doctor. Their brother Aaditya is doing civil work studies.

A trailblazer for women
Women on Wings co-founders Maria van der Heijden and Ellen Tacoma first met a 28-year-old Durga in 2010 and kept in touch, following her remarkable story over the years. They invited Durga in 2017 to give a talk on her life’s inspiring journey at Women on Wings’ 10th-anniversary event with over 120 guests in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, that got a standing ovation. Due to this experience, Durga was the first person in her village to obtain a passport, let alone travel outside the country.

Durga encourages other families to let their female members work and earn an additional income. Durga now dreams of education being available for all women in her community who want to learn but cannot get an education themselves due to time and money.

In a single generation, a lot can change. Luck can happen, in Durga’s case, she has in-laws and a husband who are supportive. Mostly, it is a job, diligent hard work, resilience and ingenuity that push children and a community to sunnier heights.