Meet Sudarmathi

Sudarmathi Family life Working hard Taking action


Best friends Subashini (left) and Rajeshwari (right)
Best friends Subashini (left) and Rajeshwari (right)
Sudarmathi is 14 years old and hopes to become a doctor. She attends the local government girl's school. It takes 45 minutes to walk there – plenty of time to chat with her best friends, Subashini and Rajeshwari. It's quicker when Sudarmathi uses the family bicycle.

Sudarmathi studies hard. She's second in her class of 40 girls. Her favourite subject is English. She competes with Subashini, who is also a good student. They often study together. After school the friends enjoy playing games.

Family life
Sudarmathi has three brothers. Her eldest brother is completing a diploma course. She sees little of him. Younger brothers, Subash (12 years old) and Surinder (10 years old) rely on Sudarmathi's help to complete their homework.

Her mother, Kirubha, works long days as a housemaid in other people's homes. This means Sudarmathi is responsible for many of the chores, which inlude collecting water from the village tank each morning, cooking meals, cleaning and babysitting her younger brothers. Her father, Ravi, has a medical condition so he is unable to work.

Sudarmathi making beedis
Sudarmathi making beedis

Working hard
Sudarmathi's family works hard to make ends meet. A few years ago, when Ravi first fell sick, things became extra difficult. He needed treatment at the hospital. They borrowed 1,500 rupees to pay for this. It was agreed Sudarmathi would work making beedis (cigarettes) until the debt, plus interest, was paid. She was 9 years old.

Sudarmathi describes what it was like. "Doing the same thing for long hours, my fingers hurt, my legs got cramp and my back ached. If the daily target of 2,000 beedis was not reached, or I didn't do it right, the mudlalis (boss) would yell at me, or even worse, beat me with his stick."

Learn more about making beedis

Fortunately the family's situation came to the attention of Born to be Free project workers. They arranged to pay the debt and for Sudarmathi to begin transit school. She worked hard to catch up on missed schooling.

Sudarmathi's family still works hard to meet their needs. During the school holidays, Sudarmathi works at the shoe factory. The days are long, 7am to 7pm, and the work hard, cutting leather into shoe pieces. But it's worthwhile. Sudarmathi can pay for her school uniform and help contribute to the family finances.

Taking action
Sudarmarthi's mother joined a Self Help Group (SHG). Kiruba pays a small monthly members fee, to the SHG banking scheme. She explains how this helps during a family crisis. "Being a SHG member means I do not have to send my child to work. Instead I am able to get a loan from my savings for 1 per cent interest, which I can afford to repay." The SHG also provides Sudarmathi with school equipment.

Sudarmarthi has joined a group too – the Young Pillars children's club. She is the treasurer. All the members are ex-child labourers. Together they work to improve the lives of children in the area.

Find out more about Young Pillars

Sudarmathi can look back to a time when things were not good, but life is much better now and she looks forward to a brighter future.