Transformation: Hopes and dreams interrupted by potential child marriage
A riveting story about a young girl whose life was interrupted by the harsh reality of her family’s financial challenges.
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Join host Cathy Herholdt and Karess Linzer as they share a compelling story of transformation of a young girl whose life was halted by a potential arranged marriage. It was the determination and perseverance of her mom that made a way for her to continue following her dreams of becoming an engineer. Hear how she uses her experience of almost becoming a child bride to help families keep their children in school and no longer have to turn to child marriage due to financial hardships.
Transformation: Hopes and dreams interrupted by potential child marriage
Cathy Herholdt: We're doing something a little different on the podcast. We're in the middle of a series of short conversations on a topic that aligns with our mission to share what God is doing at the end of the road. And we're calling this series Beyond the End of the Road, because we're taking you a little deeper into the stories.
So for the next couple of episodes, we're going to focus on the issue of protecting girls from becoming child brides. This is a tough topic, because the practice of child marriage is common in many of the areas where World Concern serves, so we feel like this is important. So we're ready to dive in today, and as always, we're glad to have you along for the ride. My co-host again today for this series is Karess Linzer, so welcome back Karess.
Karess Linzer: Thank you, Cathy. I am so excited to be joining you on the podcast again, and I'm definitely looking forward to continuing this series and talking about a different topic this time around. My hope for this series is that we can shed light on the empowering transformation that's happening in the lives in the areas that we serve.
And so, just jumping straight into it, today's story is about a young girl named Riya, who lives in a rural village in Bangladesh, a country with one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Riya is the oldest of five, and has hopes and dreams of becoming an engineer. However, her dad is the one who brings in the income and provides for her family. And during Covid, her dad, his income stopped. So Riya's mom began working to help out. And unfortunately, their financial situation went from bad to worse and the family could no longer afford to pay for Riya's education.
So Riya's dad, he decided that he would stop paying for her education and just arrange her marriage, which of course devastated Riya. She had seen other girls get married young, and she knew it would mean she would never be able to pursue her dreams of becoming an engineer.
So as time went on, her mother could see how important education was to Riya, and was able to get connected with World Concern Bangladesh's staff, and receive support to cover Riya's educational expenses. So wow, going from having these hopes and dreams to complete her education, to having to consider getting married because her family wasn't able to afford to pay for her education, that's a drastic reality to attempt to process. I can't even fathom being forced to get married instead of pursuing my education.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah. It's really heartbreaking to think about. I've seen this firsthand when I visited Bangladesh, and I can tell you, these young girls do not want to get married. They know it means they will become servants to their husband, probably get pregnant and have children long before their developing bodies are ready to bear children, and end up trapped in this cycle of extreme poverty that has gone on there for generations.
Riya, like many girls in Bangladesh, knew that education was the key to a better life for herself. In fact, we know that a girl who stays in school is six times less likely to be married off before her 18th birthday. So the ability to stay in school is really key.
And I can't imagine how scared, sad, hopeless Riya must have felt. In places like Bangladesh, the father is the decision maker in the family. He's the boss, and it's a very male-dominated culture where women don't have a voice or a say in things. So if the father decides that this long held practice of offering his daughter up for marriage is the only choice for their family to survive, the girl has no say. She is literally forced to get married. And I have met young girls like her, who literally plead and beg for a scholarship to be able to stay in school and avoid marriage. And so, thank goodness Riya's mom sought help.
Karess Linzer: Absolutely. And I'm sure that Riya dreamt of learning and pursuing her education and building a life and future that would be different than the one that she had, and to have that halted as her dad was faced with making a decision that I'm sure wasn't easy for him. He was doing everything he could to pay for her education. And then, with the impacts of Covid, he was in a position where he had to think of the family as a whole. He had to consider how he'd provide not only for Riya, but her five siblings and her mom as well. And I bet the weight and the pressure of providing for his family while also considering expenses that he had, he just couldn't afford anymore, so that was almost unbearable.
Cathy Herholdt: It's true. I don't think most parents want to make this kind of difficult decision. I think they feel very trapped themselves. You and I both have daughters, and we of course want the best for our girls. We want them to get an education, to pursue their dreams, to be able to choose who and when they marry. And I can't imagine having to make a decision that would take all of that away from one of my girls in order for the rest of the family to be able to eat and survive. It's so sad.
But that's reality for so many of the families we serve who are struggling to get by. I don't think many of them know what lifelong, devastating impact child marriage has on a girl, since it has been practiced in their culture for so long. And one of the things that I love that World Concern does is educate parents and communities about this issue and helping them understand why it's such a bad thing. And we've actually heard stories of women's groups who have learned this,` and they go together to the house of a family who's considering marrying off their daughter and try convincing the parents or the father to not do this. It's pretty amazing. Can you picture this group of confident, newly empowered women coming to your door and telling you they're there to stop your daughter's child marriage?
Karess Linzer: That is powerful. And then, I also just love that her mom also took time to explore other options. She may not have known that there are other options, but she was willing to do whatever she had to do to find a way for Riya to continue her education. And this really reminds me that having a solid support system is extremely important, being able to have people around you that will walk with you during hard times, but also go to great lengths to help you. That's so important. And her mom saw what education meant to her, and so she began reaching out for assistance. And I think that is so courageous.
Cathy Herholdt: Exactly. Exactly. But I have a feeling that there's a mama bear in you that would also go to any length to protect your daughter, even being willing to ask for help and support if needed. I'm super grateful myself that I had the chance to finish school, even though I complained quite a bit during high school, and I had the opportunity to go to college. And my daughters also were blessed with the freedom to choose their futures. One chose to go to college, the other one chose a career in the hospitality industry, but they got to choose. That's the point. So what about you, Karess? Did you have an easy path to pursuing your dreams and the support system to get where you wanted to go?
Karess Linzer: I definitely wouldn't say I had an easy path to pursue my dreams or even a support system along the way. I did meet people who were able to help though, eventually. And I think that's really the beauty in sharing stories like these, since everyone does have such different experiences. And taking a look at the bravery and the boldness, the curiosity, resilience, and the perseverance that Riya really showed throughout her journey was just incredible. I'm sure she felt some fear in a process. I would have thought of every "what if" scenario my mind could come up with. But I'm sure that was hard, just trying to hang on to hope and a miracle, while also trusting other people who introduced their family to their program.
Cathy Herholdt: So brave, so brave. These girls face many risks when they attempt to break out of the norms of their culture. Riya and her mom were both very courageous to take a stand against this, but that courage really paid off and Riya is on her way to becoming an engineer. Wow. Amazing.
Karess Linzer: Amazing indeed. And my takeaway from this story is that having even a small amount of faith in people around you who will reach out on your behalf to help you can truly shift the trajectory of your future. A support system can carry you through some of the hardest days you faced and be light in those dark seasons. And also, Riya makes it a point to use her experience and what she learned to help other children who are less fortunate and whose families may have a hard time affording their education. She's using her experience to make a way for families to keep children in school and no longer have to turn to child marriage. And this reminds me that my experiences can also help and empower others.
Cathy Herholdt: Definitely. Definitely. Wow. Okay. Another great conversation today. We hope that you've enjoyed joining us today and that you've got some takeaways for yourself from this conversation. If you do, please feel free to share them with us. You can message us on Instagram, @theendoftheroadpodcast, or you can email us at [email protected]. We'll put the contact information in the show notes, and we'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening, and thanks again, Karess, for sharing a bit of your heart today with us and your thoughts on this important topic.
Karess Linzer: Thank you, Cathy.
Cathy Herholdt: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope your mind has been expanded and your heart has been touched by what God is doing around the world. If you like what you're hearing on The End of the Road, please give us a five-star rating and review us on Apple Podcasts, or hit the bell symbol on Spotify to be notified when there's a new episode released. Stay in the know and never miss an episode by texting the word podcast to 34444.
I want to thank CRISTA Ministry's World Concerns Parent Organization for making this podcast possible, and I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise, for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to more stories at The End of the Road next time.