When Nazmeen was born, her life was laid out for her: learn how to cook, get married and have children. She wasn’t given the option of anything more — but despite her background, she fought for independence and education.
When she was very young, Nazmeen’s family migrated from their impoverished village, Bihar, in search of better opportunities in Delhi. Her father found work, but only as an ice cream vendor with very little income. As a result, the family of five lived in Anand Parvat, a Delhi slum cluster, going days at a time without food because her father spent most of his income on alcohol and gambling.
Nazmeen’s mother made the difficult decision to leave her husband, who was not fostering a safe or healthy environment for their four children, and began working as a maid. Nazmeen’s eldest siblings had to drop out to help earn money for the family.
Nazmeen enrolled in school when she was six. The older she got, she began to witness her mother’s financial burdens and felt pressure to drop out to contribute to the family wages.
“It would leave me with a biting sense of guilt,” she said. “I would console myself by saying that a time would come when I would support her better with better pay and working conditions.”
Despite her success in primary school, she knew her mother would not allow her to continue her education in junior college. Instead, her mother asked her to learn skills such as sewing to become a “suitable bride.”
“My family was worried I would become ‘too educated’ to get any groom,” she said.
Without telling her family, Nazmeen used the money in her bank account from a government scholarship to fund courses at Delhi University. Her secret was short-lived, however, when her mother asked to use money from her bank and found the money was gone. Her mother was very angry and upset.
Soonafter, Nazmeen was thrown a lifeline by Magic Bus, which recently began programming in her area. She was offered the opportunity to become a Community Youth Leader to teach children in her community the importance of education through the Magic Bus activity-based curriculum.
“I loved the idea of Magic Bus,” she said. “I thought I could make use of my free time and teach children.”
Despite her passion for the project, her family forbade her from doing the work she cared about because both boys and girls were participating.
Discouraged, Nazmeen resigned from the position, but stayed in touch with Magic Bus staff who introduced her to Magic Bus’s Livelihood Center in 2015. Magic Bus’s Livelihood Program provides classes for young adults such as life skills, computer lessons and English literacy, but Nazmeen quickly became exhausted after a few months.
“I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to have a job,” she said. “I knew my family was looking for a groom for me.”
Nazmeen shared her fears with Magic Bus staff, who went to her home and negotiated with her mother to allow her to have a job because she would be independent and could contribute to the household income.
“I have never received such support from anyone in my life,” she said.
As a result, Nazmeen got her first job at a bank, making about $155 a month. Her mother was finally happy with her daughter’s achievements, as Nazmeen was able to give a portion of her salary to support her mother and siblings.
Nazmeen is one of the 400,000 youth enrolled in Magic Bus programming across India. Because of the support of Magic Bus staff, Nazmeen was able to break out of the cyclical expectations of her family and community and follow her dreams.
This story was rewritten and adapted for a U.S. audience from a previous report in 2016.