Tag Archives: children

The Heartwarming Journeys of Two Single Mothers Who Adopted Daughters

This article was first published on The Better India Blog on 22 April 2016

On the outside, Suja Warrier and Malini Parmar have a few obvious things in common: both are single and successful women living in Bengaluru, they have had long corporate careers, and are passionate environmentalists and waste warriors. But look more closely and you will see how they have not only taken the road less travelled in their professional lives, but also in their personal ones.

 Suja Warrier and Malini Parmar are both single mothers to adopted daughters.

Suja and Malini mothers of adopted daughters

Suja and Malini speak candidly about their heart-warming journeys into motherhood, and how it’s high time that our society goes beyond the conventional definition of a family.

How the Journey Began

Suja: In 2004, after the devastating tsunami, I travelled to Nagapattinam with a bunch of volunteers. We were there to help out with the relief work. While most of my colleagues left in a few days, I decided to stay back alone. Eventually, I found many other people like me. It’s there that I met some of the finest minds. Something about that experience changed me forever. It changed my perspective of how I related to myself and others in life.

Since then, while working with the corporates, I built my life around social projects – largely what I call volunteer driven, zero budget projects. Through this time, I lived alone. At some point I decided to sponsor a child for her education. I started doing that and in sometime felt like it was not enough. I wanted to adopt a child.

At that point, I knew this was a radical decision to take. Knowing that I came from a very traditional family, I knew I would not gather support from them. But yet, I had made up my mind and my journey towards motherhood began.

Malini: I was about 26 years old when I heard about Sushmita Sen adopting a daughter. And she was a single mother. I was very inspired by this. I thought it was a wonderful way to build a family. Around the same time I started to volunteer a lot with programs that were benefiting children. So I was always in the company of children. But yet, I couldn’t take the next step. I struggled with the thought of adoption, but until I thought I was doing it as a favour to someone else, I couldn’t proceed. As I started reading up about adoption, about being a single parent, I discovered that I wasn’t doing any favour.  Adoption was my need. And that is when my adoption journey began. 

Becoming a Mother

Suja: I must say that my adoption journey was not an easy one. For one, I was a single parent and the processes were not as streamlined as they are today. Also, I lived alone and I didn’t have much support from my family. Given the situation, the adoption agencies recommended that I support a child who already lives in an institute. But I had made up my mind; I wanted my child to be with me, in my home. Finally, I met Ms Usha Pilla who helped me with this process. She travelled with me to Lathur, Maharashtra and that’s where the search for my daughter began. From Lathur I went alone to Udgir. Aftre a sleepless night I reached Udgir , visited many adoption agencies and met several children. Many of these children were not even available for adoption because the legal processes were not complete. I found my daughter there. And I called her Ameya – the boundless one. After a tough journey of over 24 hours in buses and trains, Ameya and I walked into an empty house.

The first few weeks were tough on both of us. Ameya did not connect to her new name and she held on to me all the time, fearing that I would abandon her. On the first day, I had left the house just for a few minutes to fetch groceries from a nearby shop, and when I returned she was crying loudly.

“I realized how she had trusted me, almost completely, though I was a complete stranger to her. Sometime in between all this, I realized that I had become a mother,” says Suja.

Suja Warrier and adopted daughter Ameya

Malini: I had been researching for three years; talking to my mother, sister, and friends, and preparing myself for the process of adoption. And then, in December 2008, I remember while meditating, I felt some one call out to me and say ‘Mama, come quickly’. I took that as a cue, and by April I registered for adoption.

I had decided to adopt a healthy sibling pair; girls between the ages of three and five. The agency said they had found a match and I left for Orissa. When I reached there I realized the children I came there to meet were already being adopted by someone else.  Initially, I was disappointed, but then I felt if they are my children they would come to me.

My daughters were the first children I saw and met at the agency. And I completely fell in love with them. I named them Tara and Lila. I spent over a week with them and the other children at the agency before bringing them home.

That’s when I realized that I had done a lot of research around adoption, especially single parent adoption, but had done none on parenting. I brought my daughters home in July 2009 and I stayed at home with them for 6 months.

“The initial days were tough, I had no idea about parenting, we spoke different languages, but we got through it pretty well,” says Malini.

Malini with her adopted daughters

Talking to the Children About Adoption

Malini: When I adopted my children, they were two and a half and four and a half years old. Every evening we would read stories and I would use fairy tales to introduce the concept of adoption. So it was revealed to them very gradually. Today, I see them as children who are open about their lives and in fact very comfortable with it.

Suja: I also started talking to Ameya quite early and introduced the topic gradually. Recently, there was a talk in class about adoption and Ameya came back from school and told me that she felt proud to be an adopted daughter. I think we underestimate our children. They are way more mature than us.

Breaking the Myths About Single Parent Adoption

  1. You can only become a mother if you give birth

Malini: My children are born from me; they are born from my heart, not my womb. I feel a great connection with my children, and the fact that we are together as a family today is a part of the plan of the universe. We were meant to be together.

Suja: I feel a very strong connection with Ameya. We both are so tuned into each other that we know what the other is thinking and feeling. It’s indescribable this connection. Yes, she was born from my heart- and it didn’t take nine months, but three and a half years.

  1. A family needs to have a father and a mother

Malini: I think the definition of family is changing as we speak. And we, as a society, need to accept this. We have had a history of joint families, but yet when we speak about urban families we consider it as a unit with father, mother and children. This is a very western concept. So when my children present their family tree it’s very different from the others – my mother is a part of it, so is my sister, and there are many others. So my children’s family trees always have many more members than their friends. And they are very happy and proud about that.

  1. Adopted children come with bad genes

Malini: I don’t subscribe to this idea at all. But sometimes I feel my kids have got better genes than me. Tara is a born athlete, I can’t run to save my life. Lila is a gymnast; I probably have the most inflexible body. They both are very competitive and we are hoping that they reach the Olympics. With my genes, that wouldn’t happen.

Suja: Ameya is extremely creative and very talented. And she can already speak six languages. I agree. Ameya definitely has better genes that what I could have given her.

     4. Adopted children go back to their birth parents

Malini: I have not felt threatened by these thoughts. See, I believe that my children’s family will grow. They will build strong bonds with many people through their lives. And I am only going to be happy about that. I want them to love and be loved.

Also, we have agreed as a family that when Tara is 18 and Lila is 16 we will go back and try and find their biological parents.

Suja: Yes, Ameya once told me that she wanted to go back and find her biological mother. And I told her that when she grows up she can, and I will go back to look for her biological mother. This thought has never worried me. Ameya and I share a unique bond. That I know.

Listen to the complete interview here:

 

Beyond shock: learning from conflict

This article was first published in the Teacher Plus Magazine November 2015 issue

“The fish don’t go no place. They stay right where they are, the fish. Right in the goddam lake,” says Horwitz to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye when asked about what happens when the lake freezes in wintertime.

As an educator, seeing how our society has been imploding for years through communal tensions, riots, and separatist movements, I wonder what happens to our children during such political and social uncertainties. Though the scale and timeframe of conflicts in our society has not been as drastic as the Iran-Iraq war, the longest conventional war of the 20th century, or the three decade long and continuing conflict against occupation in Palestine, we know that in our conflicts it is our children who suffer the most – they become civilian victims, they are displaced, jailed, indoctrinated into becoming child soldiers and/or even forced into sexual or labour exploitations. Worldwide statistics from the last decade show that more than 5,00,000 children were recruited into state and non-state armed groups in over 85 countries. The numbers of active child soldiers currently fighting is 300,000, in government armed forces or armed opposition groups worldwide.

Recently, I was at an international artist residency program in Germany that brought together artists from different parts of the world. During my time there, I had the opportunity to speak with a few artists who had grown up witnessing these times of wars and revolutions. We spoke about what happens to schools and to learning spaces in these conditions of political uncertainties. Do children just fall prey to propaganda? Or do they find spaces to learn despite these harsh circumstances? How did these events shape their educational journey and what are the lessons that left a lasting impact on them.

Space to learn
Iranian Revolution (1979) and Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988)
Hamed Taheri – Tabriz, Iran

“Three… I was three years old and I participated in all the demonstrations sitting on the shoulder of my mom,” says Hamed Taheri, born in 1975. Hamed is a theatre director and author from Iran, who now lives in Stuttgart, Germany.

“During those days my father was a student and we lived in a very small room – my parents, my brother, and I. The room’s walls had large images of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and so on. And there were pillars of books from the floor to the ceiling – Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Engels. For my parents and their friends these were the holy leaders of revolution. Each time I came home from a demonstration, my father felt so proud to have a son who went into the streets with his mama and chanted slogans.”

As a child, Hamed was a part of the civil resistance movement against the regime of the Shah. By 1979, the strikes and demonstrations had paralysed the country and the Shah fled with his family. Ayatollah Khomeini, the conservative leader, was invited back to Iran and he became the supreme leader of the country. “The day after the revolution, my father burnt all his books. I remember helping him carry the books one after the other. This image of my father burning his books has never left me. When I could read, I wanted to discover each of these books my father had burnt.” Soon, owing to their political beliefs, Hamed’s family had to move from one city to another to escape the new fundamentalist government.

In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran via air and the Iran-Iraq war started. “There were so many bombings that schools shut down or in school we spent our time in underground shelters.” The glorious days of the revolution were over and the brutality of the war had taken over. More than 144,000 Iranian children were orphaned as a consequence of the war. “Suddenly everything moved to another level – the level of survival.”

I ask him what he learnt at school. “I don’t think my education in school had any effect on me. My father was a teacher. When the schools shut down, he taught me for a few years. But I didn’t learn much from him either.” Why? “Because he always wanted to teach me something. He had an agenda.” Hamed pauses, looks at his fingers, and continues, “My mother was not a very well educated woman but I learnt a lot from her. If I told my father I want to learn something he would ask me to bring a pen and a paper, sit at the table and then teach me. But if I told the same thing to my mother, she would become excited, create a beautiful space in the room for me, and ask me to go inside and try to learn. So she always gave me the ‘space’ to learn…in everything. And this is why I think my mother is the only teacher who has made a huge impact on me.”

Hamed evokes one of the most important aspects of education: creating safe learning spaces – not just a physical space, but a space of openness and trust. It shows how irrespective of the uncertainties in the outside world these spaces can open a child’s mind to independent thinking and growth.

Learning-in-times-of-conflict

Community charge
First Intefada 1987-1991
Sahar Qawasmi – Jeruselem, Palestine

“Yes, I remember my first day at school,” recollects Sahar Qawasmi, a Palestinian architect, daughter of a civil engineer, whose work is in rehabilitation of historic buildings in rural Palestine. “I went to school and there was no room for me. My father told the principal that he was ready to build a school room for me.”

“Every Palestinian child is a migrant many times over. I was born in Kuwait and I went to a very fancy school. There was a tremendous display of wealth – children came in big American cars, the school building was extravagant and the school playgrounds were massive. Soon we moved to Iraq, I went to a public school that was dilapidated, and children came to class barefoot in their pyjamas. That is all they had. As a child it left me very disturbed. In Kuwait, we studied in English and in Iraq I had to learn Arabic. Once the Iran-Iraq war broke out, we moved back to Kuwait and then to Amman. I joined a considerably modest school which was in a way a normalizing experience. By the time I was in fourth grade, we moved to Palestine.”

Ever since the UN resolution in 1947, the Palestinians have been fighting the Israeli occupation for their land and resources. I ask Sahar about the first Intefada in 1987, the first stone-throwing rebellion against Israeli repression. Stone throwers were largely children and teenagers. “When the first Intefada started there was a very strong community feel to the movement. I was about 10 years old. I remember seeing older girls walking down the street and shouting at Israeli jeeps and throwing maybe a stone and then the Israeli jeeps would rush into them and they would run in all directions.”

“I remember being tear-gassed a lot. If anyone from school had been involved in stone throwing, the entire school would be tear-gassed.” Stone throwing was defined as a felony, with a maximum penalty if convicted of 2 years imprisonment. “My cousin who was four years older than me was put in jail. He must have been one of those kids who wrote on the walls. Something like ‘Free Palestine’. That was a movement too, to write on walls. For many years after he was released he remained ill. His kidneys had collapsed. May be because they did not have enough water or the water was bad or maybe because he was tortured. Everyone was tortured in jails.”

With the civil disobedience movement gaining steam, schools and educational institutes were shut down. The Palestinians started an underground education movement. “Each neighbourhood started organizing their own schools. The community identified an expert on each subject in the neighbourhood and the children would go from house to house to learn. It was very well organized. We had time tables and lesson plans.”

Sahar brings to light the community responsibility of education: to break out of seeing education just as the responsibility of schools and parents. It shows how a community’s sense of ownership towards the education process is redefined when it becomes involved and takes collective responsibility.

Teacher

Breaking barriers
Township Revolts (1984-1989)
Desiré Davids – Cape Town, South Africa

“In my first ballet class, I was always in the back row. Always,” says dancer-choreographer Desiré Davids as she looks intensely into my eyes. Desiré grew up in South Africa during apartheid. She left that ballet studio and joined another one. “This dance studio was mixed; there were coloured students and white students.”

“The teacher made no distinction about race or colour within the classroom. “But the freedom that her teacher could create remained within the classroom. Desiré soon found out that the world outside was very different. “I had made friends with a white girl from a rich family. One day after class I was walking down the stairs with her and at the door my teacher held me back. I later realized that she did that because she didn’t want the girl’s parents to see me with her when they came to pick her up. My teacher would have got into trouble for letting us be together.”

Desiré’s work today draws inspiration from her experiences of growing up in South Arfica as a coloured person. “The Apartheid system of racial segregation and oppression created a narrow identity – a grey zone between the highly articulated bands of black and white. Occupying this nervous territory of an unimaginative racial identity crisis, are people of mixed race – the Coloureds.” During the 1950s/60s, the government carried out large scale removals of Africans, Indians, and coloured people to implement the Group Areas Act, which mandated residential segregation throughout the country. “If you were coloured and you looked white, you had the right to choose to become white. But if you were coloured and had dark skin, the authorities would tell you that you are black and send you away from your family and friends to the black neighbourhood. You would never see your family and friends again.”

“What pains me is that this created so much discrimination within the coloured community and they still remain divided. There is a huge aspiration to get to the whiter side, for better opportunities, jobs and better standard of living.” The Soweto uprising, which began as a series of protests led by high school students in South Africa, had gained steam by the late 1980s. “During my high school, riots broke out. But my ballet teacher would still come into our community to teach. It was dangerous, she could have been killed. My mother was very concerned. The whole family could get into trouble if we were seen with a white person. Yet, my teacher came, risking her own life. This showed me something very important. That unlike what the slogans outside our homes were saying, not all white people were bad and that one could never put people into boxes.” Till today, Desiré’s dance teacher remains her primary mentor and guide.

Desiré’s story shows that it is those teachers who don’t fall prey to sectarianism and propaganda, who inspire their students. These teachers contribute to not only their student’s pedagogical growth but become a catalyst in changing the way they understand and experience the world. Often these teachers define their student’s life journeys.

Keeping your wits together
Yugoslav Wars
Ivana Ivković – Zagreb, Croatia

“At age 14, I am in Yugoslavia and we have a class called Marxism taught by a crazy wonderful teacher. I still remember his classes on Aristotle and Plato. Age 15, that class does not exist anymore and the country is now called Croatia. Age 16, religious studies is introduced with only Roman Catholicism,” recounts Croatian dramaturge Ivana Ivković.

Through the 1980s, starting from Josip Broz Tito’s death, there were several incidents that pointed to the breakdown of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. “I remember this one clearly. Around 1990, the then Croatian government lined up its own military forces for photo opportunities in Zagreb. That was something that was impossible to understand. While there was a Yugoslavian military in place, the Croatian government was lining up its own military force. It was a show of arms, secessionism.”

As Yugoslavia broke up, children suffered severely. Between 1992 and 1995, Serb militias fighting in Bosnia and Croatia as well as the Bosnian Muslim regular armies used children as young as 10 years old as soldiers. Over 35,000 women and children were held in Serb-run ‘rape camps’. A majority of Croats wanted Croatia to leave Yugoslavia and become a sovereign country, while many ethnic Serbs living in Croatia, supported by Serbia opposed this. In turn the Serbs sought a new Serb state within a Yugoslav federation, including areas of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and attempted to conquer as much of Croatia as possible.

“There was a great moment of denial. My parents refused to discuss this. They did not want to divide their neighbours, family, and friends along the lines of nationality or religion. This denial grew as the war became more aggressive.” The uncertainty lasted a decade.” In those years, I saw fascism grow. People changing their names. They were overnight baptised and indoctrinated into religious practices they were earlier opposed to. I was the odd one out. I had a Muslim boyfriend and probably the only one who did not attend the religious studies class.”

Ivana’s story showed me how it’s not only the children or the education systems, but even the religious and nationalistic beliefs of people that are vulnerable to propaganda and misrepresentations for political gains and the only way to survive is to keep one’s wits around oneself.

In conclusion, these personal stories show the importance of widening the spaces of learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. Especially in India where often the dominant narrative of violent ‘othering’ negates the simple humanistic impulse to provide a continuum in our pedagogical systems because finally at stake is the lives of young children who will become future citizens. I wish for such open spaces with the hope that they will multiply and reach the children who need them the most.

Illustrations by Natasha Taraporevala

The author is an educationist from Bangalore. She is interested in understanding how children learn and how later as adults they reflect and talk about these experiences. The interviews in the article are part of her under-production film After the Revolution. She can be reached at lakshmikarunakaran@gmail.com.