Neither the smile on her face nor the cheer in her voice hints at the pain and suffering that Shankari has gone through in her life. Born to leprosy-affected parents, she was orphaned at the age of 7 and sent to a hostel for children of leprosy affected persons. While at school, she went through the trauma of discovering that she too had leprosy. The disease left no physical signs as it was detected and treated in time. However, even as a child, Shankari was acutely aware of the social stigma and fearful of what life had in store for her. Fear, low self-esteem and lack of confidence, were the deeper non visible scars that were to remain with her for a long time to come. Shankari met her husband Shankar in school and fell in love. Although his parents had leprosy, Shankar’s outlook on life was strong and positive and helped Shankari lighten the burden on her psyche. A courtship of five years ended in marriage and soon they had three daughters – Riya, Puja, and Anita. Shankar worked as a free-lance electrician while Shankari was able to get a job in the sales department of Baramasi a Rehab & Training Centre (BRTC), Dhanbad, Jharkhand. Together they managed to send their daughters to school. “It was not a comfortable life, but we could manage somehow, without begging. We both have seen our parents going for begging in absence of a dignified income and we decided that we would give our children a life of dignity”, said Shankari. It was a matter of great pride to them that all the girls did well in school. As Riya was finishing school, her teacher suggested that she take up nursing. The second daughter Riya and Puja at their convocation Shankari Mahto too wanted to pursue nursing. With the help of the SDM of Dhanbad, Shankar and Shankari were able to get a loan of Rs. 4 lakhs for the education of both the daughters. During this time, Shankar was also able to get a permanent job as an electrician in a school and started earning a much higher salary, which came as a big relief to the family. Their joy was however short-lived as within 6 months Shankar met with an accident and Shankari was widowed in 2014. With the love of her life gone, a hefty education loan to be returned and last daughter, Anita, aspiring to follow her sisters in the nursing profession, Shankari was left heartbroken, hopeless and helpless. It was at this time that she learned of S-ILF’s scholarship for girls to pursue nursing. Anita applied for the same and was selected. As the S-ILF scholarship not only covers tuition and hostel charges but also gives a small monthly allowance, this was a big relief. “S-ILF came as a big help in my hard time. I was worried for Anita. I had lost all hope and felt sorry for her, as she had been a bright student all her life. I thought that for poor people like us, there is hardly any help left in this world. But S-ILF not only provided her the fees and hostel charges but also a monthly pocket money to take care of her basic expenses”, said Shankari who has now started paying off the loan with help of her elder daughters who are sending her Rs. 10,000 every month. “Recently, Anita passed her second year of B.Sc. Nursing with 75% marks. “I want to support my mother because she has supported all us sisters and given us a life we are proud of. I want to stay with my mother always,” When asked about her future plans, she says: “I want to be a teacher of Nursing and want to do M.Sc. Nursing on my own. I know I will do that with my family and S-ILF on my side.” Anita Mahto is among 65 Nursing scholars that S-ILF is supporting since 2011. Like Anita, there are many children in the Leprosy colonies who desire to do Courses of their choice, to be able to fulfil their dreams.
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