Resi Mathew has been waging a solo battle against innumerable odds. She discontinued her studies soon after class 10 and started working as a daily-wage labourer in farmlands as she saw her parents struggling to raise her three younger sisters. She travelled alone to Mumbai in search of a better livelihood when she was 20.
Thereafter, she built a secure house for her parents, married away her sisters, tied knot with her co-worker in a factory and gave birth to two children – all within the age of 26. When her husband left her, Resi returned to Kerala with her children and started living on her own from the age of 30. Ever since, this woman, who originally belongs to the ancient tribal group called Malavedar, has been working as a domestic help to support her children's studies.
Now at the age of 52, disappointed by her past which yielded her nothing but sorrows, Resi decided to craft a better future. She recommenced her educational journey, cleared higher secondary equivalence examination and enrolled for her bachelors programme in History at Alphonsa College, Pala. She has also set a new goal in her life – to acquire an LLB and raise voice for struggling single women. Here is an inspiring life-story of a tribal woman from Ettumanoor, who refuses to settle down with what fate gifted her.
Struggles all along
Resi was born as the eldest daughter of Chellappan and Ammini in Kottayam district's Ettumanoor. A bright student at school, little Resi wished to become an advocate when she grew up. But her father, a farm help, discouraged her from pursuing higher education due to poverty. “I realised that my three younger sisters will have to starve all day if I continue my education. I discontinued my studies midway during the first year pre-degree course, and started doing daily-wage jobs along with my parents,” Resi narrated.
She migrated to Mumbai, when she was 20, in search of a better livelihood. She worked in factories and households and sent her meagre earnings to her father. “I met the father of my children at a factory there. We worked together for some time and I fell in love with him. My two precious children is all what that he gave me,” she said.
Resi's children, Anjali and Ashish, are higher secondary students at present. “Anjali stays with a relative for the convenience of her studies. They have promised to provide her food and offer her a peaceful environment so that she could focus on board-exam. Ashish stays with me. I work as a domestic help in the near-by houses to support their studies,” Resi said.
Resi's day dawns by 3:30 am. After preparing meals, she rushes to her neighborhood houses to clean the utensils and surroundings. After working in two houses, Resi returns home, gets ready and catches a bus to her college. “Most of my classmates are of my children's age. They don't find a good friend in me. Some teachers, office staff and other house-keeping employees make up my company. Teachers are highly supportive. I am weak in English, but teachers advised that additional reading is the only way to better my language. Where do I get time for additional learning amid all these struggles?” Resi bemoaned.
The middle-aged woman is also an active participant in cultural activities at the college. Be it recitation, drama, lyrical story-telling, Hindi essay writing or elocution, Resi Mathew is one of the sure contestants. “I have long wished for an energetic campus life. Better late than never,” the optimist smiled.
Back from college, Resi runs to her workplaces where she helps with preparing dinner and cleaning the day's utensils. However, she spends at least two hours a day for her.
It was Beena, the class coordinator of state literacy mission, Ettumanoor, who inspired Resi to resume her higher education. Beena met Resi when the latter called on the literacy mission office to provide details of her community's educational status for the purpose of a survey. “I spoke with Resi for just 5 minutes and I understood that she has deep regret for discontinuing her education. I took me just one question to convince her about enrolling in our higher secondary equivalence programme: 'Learn more and craft a better future or continue as a struggling single mother all your life? Which one do you choose?' Resi gave her name for higher secondary equivalence class on the spot,” Beena recalled.
Resi was the state-level winner of elocution competition in the Kerala state equivalence education cultural fest last year.
Hurdles to overcome
Resi has a long way to go. She has to complete her bachelor's programme with high scores so that she can appear for the entrance examinations for post-graduate courses and law without wasting a year. She has to find an income to support her family and fund her children's studies and ambitions. She has also got to build a secure house for herself and her children. Lack of financial support is discouraging her from following her dreams.
“Many people mock me for being a college student in middle-age. Some allege that I do it all for publicity while others say that I am crazy. I need financial assistance either in the form of a scholarship or as sponsorship for my children. I had given petition for a house under the LIFE Mission almost two years ago but it didn't receive any response,” Resi said.