A woman knelt in front of a sole candle, in silence, head bowed, praying to a God that only months ago she had considered the stuff of people’s imaginings. She wrapped dark fingers around sunset marigolds, placed them next to a brass cross, and then returned to sit beside me. This woman, I have for weeks now watched and wondered about. She’s the one I can’t peg…Her shoulders broad and strong, her voice loud, her gait nonchalant. She seems thoroughly her own woman. Remarkable, given the little I know of her story. Something about her seems unbreakable…Or untouchable, perhaps.
She stood again, this time to collect a certificate. One with her name on it – in all likelihood the first document that has ever identified her, and commended her. It just says one simple thing – that she has completed a course in basic literacy. That is all. It doesn’t say of this woman that six months ago a couple of foreigners came to her and said that they would stand with her if she was courageous enough to fight for her freedom; but she was. It doesn’t say that these last months she has endured hungry days and anguished nights torn between a world of liberty and captivity, and with the former in mind has stayed her course; but she has. It doesn’t say that she has broadened her shoulders, looked a black-hearted fate in the eye, and grappled against it to secure a future for her children that was different to the one she had stolen from her; but she did. It’s paper and ink. A simple token that says only one thing, but means so much more. Perhaps this is why, when she sits beside me again I look across and I see a silvered glistening threading down her cheek.
Today is graduation day. The past six months of five women’s lives are celebrated. It has been a season of incredible challenge and change – one I was not here to witness – but the yield of which I cannot deny. I look around the room. Shy Roma, with her soft eyes and gold-gilded sari. When she laughs I can believe her. Jona – you can hear the drumming of a generous dream within her for many others to share days like this. Mithu – beautiful in crimson – a beacon in her community. Others will be ‘reckless’ enough to dream of a future with possibilities because of her encouragement…
This is not a day that has been born of blind optimism. It has been wrought in struggle, doubt, tears, fights, hurts, and uncertainty. Reality is an imperturbable canvas. But community, hope, love, and truth are an unassailable palette, and against the odds in this little district I see the wet colours a loving creator intended at last smeared.