When her dad died, Usha’s family had no money for food. Today, she’s finding hope in the classroom with Mary’s Meals.

Like many children across rural India, Usha faces a long walk to school each morning on an empty stomach. 

“Because I’ve not eaten my tummy is empty,” she says. “It feels like there’s a rat inside, just making noises and grumbling sounds!”

Usha lives with her family in the remote village of Thatha in rural Jharkhand. It’s a large household and there are a lot of mouths to feed. 

India is home to one third of the world’s poor and across the country inequality is rife, with poverty levels in the poorest regions four times those in more advanced regions. For girls like Usha, born into poverty, there are few opportunities.  

Her family live a simple life, growing what they eat in a small garden behind their home and collecting firewood, wild fruits and vegetables from the jungle. Technology has yet to reach this part of the world. No one in their small cluster of houses has a phone or television. Usha’s dad died when she was very young and her mum struggled to raise the family on her own. 

“When my father died we had no money for food,” Usha explains. “But the situation has really improved because of my brothers finishing school and having good jobs.”

Despite now having careers, both her brothers have chosen to remain in their village where they can act as role models for the children. One is a policeman and another works for the local government. 

Usha wakes at 5am each morning to clean the house and collect water from the village hand pump. She washes in a hot stream 5km away, then gathers her school books and begins the two hour walk to St Theresa’s Middle School. Often, she arrives just as the school bell rings. 

“I don’t have breakfast before going to school so the walk is tiring,” she says. “I find it difficult to stomach the pangs of hunger and can’t wait for the lunch bell to ring. I run to the kitchen. But I always allow the younger children to eat first.”

At St Theresa’s, lunch time is eagerly awaited. For Usha and many of her classmates, the food provided by Mary’s Meals is the first meal they will eat that day. 

“I feel good and more relaxed after eating,” she says. “It gives me energy to concentrate. They teach us well at this school and the food is very good too.”

Her grandmother, Sudhema adds: “I don’t know much about what Usha does in school, but she always talks about the food she’s eaten. She sometimes says it tastes better than the food at home!”  

Usha has big dreams, with not one, but two, career aspirations in mind! She knows that education is the key to making her hopes a reality. 

“I really enjoy studying,” she adds. “I’m not just saying that! It’s because, even though I don’t see the world outside my village, I get to learn and be aware of it. I’m getting an education and Mary’s Meals too.  

“My mum struggled to raise us but she looked after me with love, so as she gets older, my hope is to look after her. I’d like to be a nurse but I’d also like to be a teacher too. Do you think it’s possible to be both?”