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How sheep can fund a child's education

By Opportunity International Australia

Parbahati has been herding sheep for six years. She lives in a village a few hours from Jaipur in northern India, and also tills a field to help provide income to her family.  

Parbahati on the field with her sheep

Like many marriages in India, the husband and wife often spend lengthy periods apart. Parbahati’s husband works a few hundred kilometres away managing a hotel, and Parbahati takes care of the house, her two sons, and a small herd of sheep, along with two dairy cows. 

 “We are four members in the family,” she said. “My husband lives in Nawalgarh, both my kids are studying in school.” 

Before herding sheep, Parbahati kept cows and grew crops to feed her family and cattle. But without a continuous water supply there was only one harvest each year; the funds from which were rapidly used to meet the immediate household needs. “We did not get much, it was used to feed the cattle and there was millet for household needs,” Parbahati said. “Nothing was left from that.”  

The cycle of subsistence farming led Parbahati to borrow a small amount from her neighbour to purchase thirty sheep, and a further loan from one of Opportunity’s program partners in India to buy six months of fodder for the animals. With the initial costs of care for the sheep covered, Parbahati was able to grow her herd and continues to make a profit. “The wool of the sheep is sheared twice in a year... they give birth to lambs whom we are able to sell and that takes care of our expenditure,” Parbahati explained, “The sheep gives birth to lambs twice in a year too.”

Parbahati smiling

Today, Parbahati has completely paid off her loan. The initial financial support Parbahati first received has allowed her to purchase more sheep, the profits from which support her sons’ education.  

The additional income she is earning has allowed Parbahati to send both of her sons to school, where her eldest son is completing his senior secondary exams, and her younger son is enrolled in middle school. High school fees have been a challenge for Parbahati, but she sees the cost as a way to help build their future. “If they are educated, they can get a job. They don’t have to herd sheep,” Parbahati said.  

Like many women in India, Parbahati was married young but able to remain at home to complete her education. But when her father passed away when she was 17—and her mother could only afford her younger brother’s education—Parbahati moved in with her in-laws. Parbahati lived with her husband’s family until they also passed away, leaving her to take care of things on her own while her husband was away for work. “I thought that I would work hard and be someone, but it did not happen,” she said. “My family could not educate me further.”  

But Parbahati hopes things will be different for her children, like her eldest son who was hoping to join the air force after finishing school. 

“I feel very good about it,” she said, “I will work hard and save for him, send him for coaching… my son will make my dream come true.”

Both her sons are undertaking additional English tutorials with the money Parbahati and her husband have saved, providing further opportunities for work and study.  

Parbahati and her family

In India, the adult literacy rate is at 69 per cent, with the female adult literacy rate at 59 per cent, far below the most recent global adult literacy rate of 86 per cent, reported in 2016. Data suggests that the higher the level of education of the head of the household, the lower the chance is of the family living in poverty, making quality education all the more important.  

Surrounding Parbahati’s farm, plants and flowers are filling the gaps between crops and the house. Rohit, Parbahati’s youngest son, has been planting them while he is home from school. Rohit isn’t sure what he wants to be when he grows up just yet, but Parbahati doesn’t mind. “[He] will do things as he feels, he is still a kid,” she said.  

For now, Rohit will continue his schooling, and continue taking care of his plants, while his mother grows her herd and continues to support their family. Looking to the future, Parbahati smiles and has great expectations for her family; she’s proud of her sons. “They will have a good life.” 

Parbahati's field

Learn more about Opportunity’s Microfinance programs here.


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