Today I would like to introduce you to Hemlata, a little girl from a poor area of Vrindavan who is growing up in a big joint family.
Hemlata is six years old and she is one of 22 joint family members. Her father is the youngest of five brothers and they all live together with Hemlatas grandmother, their wives and children in one big house. If you now think of a two- to three-story house in which every child has his or her own room, you can forget that idea straight away. Every family of four or five has one room for themselves. These rooms are all just enough for one or two beds and maybe a cupboard. The grandmother normally sleeps on a bed outside and moves into her eldest son’s room when it gets too cold for that.
The family’s biggest reason for not expanding – for which they would even have a piece of empty land in the back of the house – is that they don’t have extra money. All five brothers are labourers and their wives housewives. They earn and then buy their food, clothes and other supplies from that money. There is normally not much left to save, especially due to the children who often need something new to wear or medical attention which again brings expenses.
Hemlata’s father for example regularly has to use any extra money on Hemlata’s doctor bills or medication. From her birth she has a breathing problem and a nearby pediatrician diagnosed asthma. She coughs a lot and we are told that especially in winter time it gets worse. She takes medicine which is said to help her breathe more smoothly.
At our visit, Hemlata’s younger brother is lying on his grandmother’s lap and drinking milk. She greets us friendly and tells us about the time when they bought the house and moved in while the family members slowly gather. It is a display of the traditional joint family and while these people are poor and struggle for money, we can see that they will always have the emotional support of all these people behind them.
We now provide them some educational support by teaching Hemlata in our school, completely for free.