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  • I was eight years old.

  • I remember that day clearly

  • like it happened just yesterday.

  • My mother is a bidi roller.

  • She hand-rolls country cigarettes to sustain our family.

  • She is a hard worker

  • and spent 10 to 12 hours every day rolling bidis.

  • That particular day she came home and showed me her bidi-rolling wage book.

  • She asked me how much money she has earned that week.

  • I went through that book,

  • and what caught my eyes were her thumbprints on each page.

  • My mother has never been to school.

  • She uses her thumbprints instead of a signature

  • to keep a record of her earnings.

  • On that day, for some reason,

  • I wanted to teach her how to hold a pen and write her name.

  • She was reluctant at first.

  • She smiled innocently and said no.

  • But deep down, I was sure she wanted to give it a try.

  • With a little bit of perseverance and a lot of effort,

  • we managed to write her name.

  • Her hands were trembling, and her face was beaming with pride.

  • As I watched her do this,

  • for the first time in my life,

  • I had a priceless feeling:

  • that I could be of some use to this world.

  • That feeling was very special,

  • because I am not meant to be useful.

  • In rural India, girls are generally considered worthless.

  • They're a liability or a burden.

  • If they are considered useful,

  • it is only to cook dishes, keep the house clean

  • or raise children.

  • As a second daughter of my conservative Indian family,

  • I was fairly clear from a very early age

  • that no one expected anything from me.

  • I was conditioned to believe that the three identities that defined me --

  • poor village girl --

  • meant that I was to live a life of no voice and no choice.

  • These three identities forced me to think

  • that I should never have been born.

  • Yet, I was.

  • All throughout my childhood, as I rolled bidis alongside my mother,

  • I would wonder:

  • What did my future hold?

  • I often asked my mother, with a lot of anxiety,

  • "Amma, will my life be different from yours?

  • Will I have a chance to choose my life?

  • Will I go to college?"

  • And she would reply back,

  • "Try to finish high school first."

  • I am sure my mother did not mean to discourage me.

  • She only wanted me to understand

  • that my dreams might be too big for a girl in my village.

  • When I was 13, I found the autobiography of Helen Keller.

  • Helen became my inspiration.

  • I admired her indomitable spirit.

  • I wanted to have a college degree like her,

  • so I fought with my father and my relatives to be sent to college,

  • and it worked.

  • During my final year of my undergraduate degree,

  • I desperately wanted to escape from being forced into marriage,

  • so I applied to a fellowship program in Delhi,

  • which is about 1,600 miles away from my village.

  • (Laughter)

  • In fact, I recall that the only way I could fill out the application

  • was during my commute to college.

  • I did not have access to computers,

  • so I had to borrow a college junior's cell phone.

  • As a woman, I could not be seen with a cell phone,

  • so I used to huddle his phone under my shawl

  • and type as slowly as possible

  • to ensure that I would not be heard.

  • After many rounds of interviews,

  • I got into the fellowship program with a full scholarship.

  • My father was confused, my mother was worried --

  • (Applause)

  • My father was confused, my mother was worried,

  • but I felt butterflies in my stomach

  • because I was going to step out of my village

  • for the first time

  • to study in the national capital.

  • Of the 97 fellows selected that year,

  • I was the only rural college graduate.

  • There was no one there who looked like me or spoke like me.

  • I felt alienated, intimidated and judged by many.

  • One fellow called me "Coconut Girl."

  • Can you guess why?

  • Anyone?

  • That's because I applied a lot of coconut oil to my hair.

  • (Laughter)

  • Another asked me where I had learned to speak English,

  • and some of my peers did not prefer to have me on their assignment teams

  • because they thought I would not be able to contribute to their discussion.

  • I felt that many of my peers believed that a person from rural India

  • could not supply anything of value,

  • yet the majority of Indian population today is rural.

  • I realized that stories like mine were considered to be an exception

  • and never the expectation.

  • I believe that all of us are born into a reality that we blindly accept

  • until something awakens us and a new world opens up.

  • When I saw my mother's first signature on her bidi-rolling wage book,

  • when I felt the hot Delhi air against my face

  • after a 50-hour train journey,

  • when I finally felt free and let myself be,

  • I saw a glimpse of that new world I longed for,

  • a world where a girl like me is no longer a liability or a burden

  • but a person of use, a person of value

  • and a person of worthiness.

  • By the time my fellowship ended, my life had changed.

  • Not only had I traced my lost voice,

  • but also had a choice to make myself useful.

  • I was 22.

  • I came back to my village to set up the Bodhi Tree Foundation,

  • an institution that supports rural youth

  • by providing them with education, life skills and opportunities.

  • We work closely with our rural youth

  • to change their life and to benefit our communities.

  • How do I know my institution is working?

  • Well, six months ago, we had a new joinee.

  • Her name is Kaviarasi.

  • I first spotted her in a local college in Tirunelveli

  • during one of my training sessions.

  • As you can see, she has a smile which you can never forget.

  • We guided her to get an opportunity to study at Ashoka University, Delhi.

  • The best part of her story is that she is now back at Bodhi Tree as a trainer

  • working with dedication to make a change in the lives of others like her.

  • Kaviarasi doesn't want to feel like an exception.

  • She wants to be of use to others in this world.

  • Recently, Kaviarasi mentored Anitha,

  • who also comes from a remote, rural village,

  • lives in a 10-foot-by-10-foot home,

  • her parents are also farm laborers.

  • Kaviarasi helped Anitha secure admission in a prestigious undergraduate program

  • in a top university in India with a full scholarship.

  • When Anitha's parents were reluctant to send her that far,

  • we asked the district administration officials

  • to speak to Anitha's parents,

  • and it worked.

  • And then there is Padma.

  • Padma and I went to college together.

  • She's the first in her entire village to attend graduation.

  • She had been working with me at Bodhi Tree

  • until one day she decides to go to graduate school.

  • I asked her why.

  • She told me that she wanted to make sure

  • that she would never be a liability or a burden to anyone

  • at any point in her life.

  • Padma, Anitha and Kaviarasi

  • grew up in the most tough families and communities

  • one could only imagine.

  • Yet the journey of finding my usefulness in this world

  • served them in finding their usefulness to this world.

  • Of course there are challenges.

  • I'm aware change does not happen overnight.

  • A lot of my work involves working with families and communities

  • to help them understand why getting an education

  • is useful for everyone.

  • The quickest way to convince them is by doing.

  • When they see their kids getting a real education,

  • getting a real job, they begin to change.

  • The best example is what happened at my home.

  • I was recently given an award in recognition of my social work

  • by the chief minister of my state.

  • That meant I was going to be on television.

  • (Laughter)

  • Everyone was hooked on to the television that morning, including my parents.

  • I would like to believe that seeing her daughter on television

  • made my mother feel useful too.

  • Hopefully, she will stop pressuring me to get married now.

  • (Laughter)

  • Finding my use has helped me to break free from the identities

  • society thrusts on me --

  • poor village girl.

  • Finding my use has helped me to break free from being boxed,

  • caged and bottled.

  • Finding my use has helped me to find my voice,

  • my self-worth and my freedom.

  • I leave you with this thought:

  • Where do you feel useful to this world?

  • Because the answer to that question

  • is where you will find your voice and your freedom.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I was eight years old.

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B1 US TED village rural mother college delhi

【TED】Ashweetha Shetty: How education helped me rewrite my life (How education helped me rewrite my life | Ashweetha Shetty)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2019/08/07
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