Overcoming personal tragedies, women prove there is more to life than brooding

There is a common thread connecting the lives of S.Latha and S.Valliammai. Both hail from very poor families and lost their husbands while their children were very young.

What is also common to both of them is they did not let their personal tragedies take over their lives. Instead, they gathered all the courage they could and are now on the path towards self-reliance and remain steadfast in their commitment to provide the best of education to their children.

The narrow by-lanes along MES Road near the entrance of Indian Air Force Station in Irumbuliyur leads to S. Latha's pushcart. At 4 p.m., she prepares deep fried snacks and they sell swiftly, with children and workers taking home raw banana and green chilli bajjis, sold at Rs. 3 each.

Ms. Latha's husband Shankar, a carpenter, died due to chest and throat pain more than 10 years ago, leaving behind the young widow with her two young children S.Soundarya and S.Pradeepraj. “The first few years after my husband passed away were too harsh. I slept on the portico outside many a house along with my children many nights,” Ms. Latha recalls.

She did many errand jobs, but kept herself busy throughout the day to ensure that her children went to school and were well-fed. She worked as a maid and her employees would be generous in sharing breakfast with her, which she would pass on to her children. Apart from stitching flower garlands, she also started selling bajjis from a road-side earthen stove.

In 2010, she came into contact with coordinators of SOS Chatnath Homes Children’s Village, East Tambaram and in the past three years, with financial and resource support from SOS through the Family Strengthening Programme, there has been a marked improvement in Ms. Latha’s life.

She now has a pushcart and has sent her daughter to a private college in Pallavaram where she is doing the first year of her B.Com course, while her son is pursuing a diploma course after class X. “I am very happy that my children are studying well and that is all I want,” she says. Ms. Valliammai, mother of three daughters, lost her husband more than six years ago.

She was then working as an assistant in a private company and after SOS’ intervention through FSP, she managed to study through correspondence and is now in her second year in a post graduate programme.

She has also climbed up the ladder in her organisation. While her eldest daughter has completed teacher training, two others are in school. FSP, according to volunteers at SOS, was launched in 2007 to help children of widows or destitute women struggling to make ends meet, especially after the death of their husbands or being abandoned by their elder relatives.

They provide financial assistance to ensure that children get a nutritious meal at home and also encourage women to take up income generation vocations to ensure their self-reliance.

The first Children’s Village in South India, SOS Chatnath Homes in East Tambaram was established in 1979 and currently there are 14 family homes, each under the care of a mother.

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