Into India’s rural classrooms

Birandr, 12, has lots of responsibilities, but hopes that one day his hard work will pay off.

Since Birandr’s father left home to work as a missionary, life has been very difficult for the young family.

Birandr’s mother works in other people’s fields, scraping together just enough money to buy the basics for her children. Like many families in this part of rural India, they also have a few animals and a small garden where they grow a little food.

As the oldest, Birandr helps out where he can, doing many of the household chores and looking after his three little brothers. It’s a lot of responsibility for a 12-year-old.

Birandr’s day begins before the sun comes up. He wakes at 5am to wash the dishes before helping his mum collect water from a neighbour’s well.

Once he’s finished his chores, Birandr walks the eight kilometres from his home in Banala village to Shanti Niketan Primary School. An overwhelming 40 percent of the world’s malnourished children live in India and Birandr knows that, without the daily promise of Mary’s Meals, few of his friends would have enough energy for the journey to school.

“It takes me an hour to walk to school,” he says. “Most days I come without having eaten.

“If there was no food here, there would be far fewer learners. The younger children come to school to eat. If we were forced to bring something of our own to eat it would be very difficult.

“After school, I walk home with friends. My mother has normally gone to the jungle to graze the animals, so I do the cooking. If only I had a sister she would help me do it!”

When his mum gets back, the family eat the meal Birandr has cooked. Then, he does his homework before going to bed.

Across India, inequalities due to caste, tribal discrimination and gender are widespread. For those born into poverty, like Birandr and his brothers, there are few opportunities.

But Birandr hopes that by working hard, he can one day help to lift his family out of poverty and hunger.

“By educating myself I can do useful work,” he says. “I can be a doctor or policeman if I study.

“My dream is to be a policeman, to help my mum and dad better their situation so they don’t have to worry about money.”