At the age of 10, Subera in India was a child laborer, crushing stones by hand into construction material. It was her mother's same life: early marriage, no education, hard labor and poverty.
Today, Subera is 14 and in school, and on her way to a better future! See what broke her cycle of poverty and is helping make her big dreams come true.
Clang, clang – stone against stone rhythmically resounds through the vast graveyard of rocks and silt that dominate the scenery, adding to the enigma of the Balason River region in India.
"This is how big river pebbles are broken into small stones," says 14-year-old Subera, pointing to an 11-year-old, who conscientiously stomps handpicked river-crafted stones into dust with a 1.5 kg iron cylindrical apparatus. Clasping the tip of the stone with her bare hand and badgering it with the other, the girl demonstrates skill and stamina, essential for stone breaking.
"The iron rod is heavy,” Subera says. “The first day I accompanied my mother here I had to break stones with this very rod. My hand hurt.”
Known as stone breakers, the residents of Matigara derive their livelihood from the remnants left by the river. For Subera’s lineage, rustling through heaps of silt to find distinctive pebbles and painstakingly smash them into material for construction work was a generational occupation.
"Working was a normal daily activity for children. I was around 10 years old when I started working,” says 30-year-old Misarun Khatun, Subera’s mother. “But the income was never steady. We struggled. There were times when there was nothing cooked in the house.”
Like gleaming fireflies, dreams of acquiring an education evaded Misarun, relentlessly reinforcing the reality of a bleak future. At the age of 15, the announcement of her betrothal to a partner four times her age sealed her fate, smothering her kindled spirit and leaving behind a shadowy phantom filled with bitterness.
With the arrival of Subera, the horrors of child marriage gradually waned. But poverty remained a stiflingly fate for Subera.
At the age of 7, Subera – despite her congenital heart defect – waddled her way into the death trap of child labor that had once swallowed her mother’s childhood.
Like the raging waters of the Balason leaving its signature on every river stone, Subera’s profession imprinted her frail body with ghastly marks.
"My chest hurt. My whole body hurt. I couldn’t sleep at night. My hands were red with blisters from continuously using the iron rod," says Subera.
According to India’s 2001 Census, 12.6 million children from 5-14 are working; approximately 1.2 million of them work in hazardous occupations.
A deadly cocktail of food deprivation mixed with hostile drudgery guaranteed Subera's frequent visits to the hospital. Illness had become her unswerving companion, denting the already battered family finances.
Education seemed an unattractive and dispensable proposition.
Today, that’s changed.
"Subera!" Misarun yells. "It’s time for school, hurry!"
Subera leaves the stone field and makes her way back home. Barging into her room, she pulls back the translucent door curtains, illuminating the dingy space. Packing her bag swiftly, she centers all her attention on getting ready for school.
"My Miss at the center is very nice,” says Subera. “She helped us understand the importance of education. I was 10 when I entered the center for the first time. Children were learning ABCD that day. I got to make friends here. I am a shy person, but here I learned the art of talking and being more social. I don’t fear people anymore, except when it’s dark.”
Subera acclimatized to a new, safe and child-friendly environment of a classroom, trading in her make-shift stone breaking tool for a pencil.
"The first word that I ever wrote was my name. Now I write well. I moved to learning ABCD, now I can read," she says.
After a year of coaching at World Vision’s non-formal education center, Subera was finally ready; formal school beckoned her. Her mother’s dreams of getting an education had finally manifested itself in Subera’s enrollment in grade one.
Subera says, "There is a difference in my mother’s and my life. I am literate, she is not literate. If there would have been no center then I would end up just like my mother, married at an early age and unable to get an education. I felt happy because education will help me become somebody when I grow up."
Learning from her mother’s mistakes, Subera makes an intentional effort not to repeat them.
"The age of a girl to get married in our country is 18 and I will not get married before that," she says.
Envisioning a better future for her daughter than her own, Misarun carefully inspects Subera’s school attire before she leaves.
"I am glad that my daughter got the opportunity. But now it is all up to her to utilize the opportunity presented, all I can do is support her through this journey," says Misarun as she watches Subera head toward school.
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World Vision’s malls program has kiosks in 13 shopping malls across the United States! Bright, colorful imagery and passionate staff tell World Vision’s story – and right now, these kiosks are featuring Subera. Since the program began in 2012, these kiosks have matched more than 20,000 children in need around the world with loving sponsors!
Child sponsorship is one of the best ways to help fight child labor, to support families, and to help children stay in school. Sponsor a child in India today!