World Vision Sri Lanka blogger Allison Olfelt shares about her remarkable encounter with a young women who was forced into marriage at the age of 13 -- and became pregnant shortly thereafter. The girl's story is a heart-wrenching one -- but thanks to World Vision sponsorship, her daughters can avoid becoming trapped in a similar situation.
This post originally appeared on Allison's blog, O My Family.
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The first thing I notice is that the English words on her shirt don’t make sense.
“Color Goob,” it says, like an unwitting jab at the reader of which the wearer is oblivious. Laying over her shirt is a large, strong braid of black, wavy hair, falling down from the wisps around her face, which catch in the wind and graze her face until she tucks them behind her simple, gold-studded ears.
Her hands extend into bony fingers that twist and untwist the ties on her polka-dotted skirt. Twist, untwist. She also has polka-dots painted on her toenails.
She is quick to smile and lighten the mood. When her mother-in-law calls over a few choppy syllables, she all but jumps up, running playfully over mounds of dirt. She returns with her 5-year-old daughter wrapped around her middle, clinging to her and burying her head in her mother’s strong wavy braid.
Behind us, a 2-year-old girl squats, lowers her underwear, and pees in front of the house.
When she sits to talk with us, she tells us of a father who abandoned, a mother who went abroad to work, and an aunt and uncle charged with taking care of her, who were irresponsible with the wages sent to be used for her care.
A scandalous (albeit innocent) relationship with a 20-year-old boy when she was 12. Twelve. I’ll say it again. Twelve.
After a complete falling-out with her aunt and uncle, at the age of 13, she was given the ultimatum of marriage to her then-boyfriend -- or homelessness.
Because the legal marriage age is 18 in Sri Lanka, her boyfriend and his family took them to the courthouse of a village several miles away so that she could falsify her age. The registrar in the village seemed satisfied with the parental affirmation and asked no further questions.
At 13, she got in a car and rode to a distant village with her in-laws-to-be, lied about her age, and became the wife of a man eight years her senior.
At thirteen, I snuck into Titanic at the movie theater.
There was a scuffle when the married couple, who had stayed away from their home village to let the news settle, returned home. The aunt and uncle involved the police. This girl is not legally old enough to be married, they said. The police chief then paraded her down to the school and brought her in front of her principal to verify her age.
It is clear on her face as she describes it that this was the most horrifying moment of her life.
Only made harder by the fact that she was pregnant.
She stopped attending school, as one does when they are a wife and are with child. She says that she had dreams, but that without this marriage, she would have been without anything -- a house, a family, a livelihood.
To dream, you have to be first and foremost, alive.
At 13, she got pregnant.
At 13, I passed notes in pre-algebra.
The beginning of their marriage was especially difficult. “The biggest surprise was raising kids when I was a kid myself,” she says, as boney fingers twist and untwist her skirt tie.
I think back to the tears I shed as a brand-new mother, rocking in our suede glider, holding this mystery child -- this foreign, frustrating enigma that I was simply baffled by. I picture shedding those tears sitting on a dirt floor at 13 years old.
But today, that baby daughter is 7 years old and has a younger sister who is 5. And her husband is still her husband and a hard worker. He does odd masonry jobs when there is work.
She beams with a smile that reveals a flawless row of white teeth from behind her full, toffee-brown lips. It’s the biggest smile she has had the whole time, and she nods "yes!" We had asked her if she loves him.
“He has a good heart,” she says, “especially toward other people.”
I get the sense that she is very lucky to have "gotten a good one," as we say in the states (with much, much different implications). Together, they work to raise their daughters.
The husband and wife have gone without meals so that the girls have enough to eat. In the past, they have had a tough time buying food after they use some of their wages to buy school books for their eldest.
At 20, she and her husband of seven years went to bed hungry in order to buy school books for their daughter.
At 20, I used to take my laptop down to the Starbucks near campus to get a Frappuccino® and write up some assignments.
She says that they make sure to get their daughters to school every single day. Her only dream is that their children would continue their education like she didn’t get a chance to.
Both of her daughers are now sponsored through the World Vision child sponsorship program in their village, which is new -- only 6 months old. That means that a World Vision worker has been out to visit their home; has discussed the needs of the children with the parents; has made a goal for their girls, and, subsequently, a plan of reaching that goal.
It means that they have access to one-on-one counseling that is local, community-based, and culturally sensitive. It means that there will be development programs in their village, such as the Home Garden Initiative, which will teach them how to collect rainwater, tend a garden, and grow food for themselves. It means that the local, community-based organizations will work with World Vision, much like this family did, to create a target and a plan to hit it, and World Vision will allocate funds and resources to do so.
It means her daughters will not be forced to become child brides.
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Read additional posts from the eight bloggers who traveled with World Vision over the past week to see firsthand the transformational impacts of our sponsorship programs on children, families, and communities in need.