Seventeen-year-old Kamala* is excited. The seeds sown by her have now blossomed into fresh spinach and fenugreek. It is her moment of pride.

Kamala is a victim of child marriage. Early marriage takes a toll on a girl’s health, her education is affected and, in some cases, she is a victim of domestic and sexual abuse. Girls like Kamala are part of an extremely vulnerable and marginalized section of society whose issues are not usually given attention to.

The Covid-19 pandemic affects such segments more than the rest.

Terre des Hommes Netherlands, Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls Empowerment (IMAGE) in India constantly strives to provide a better life for early married girls. The project works in vulnerable districts of Karnataka where the prevalence of child marriage is very high.

As part of the COVID-19 relief and rehabilitation, one activity was to train these girls in kitchen gardening. A total of 165 girls from 18 villages were provided with vegetable seeds and taught how to plant them in their backyard.

This activity kept the girls engaged and proved to be a great stressbuster addressing the anxiety and other psychosocial issues arising out of the pandemic which exacerbates their existing vulnerability.

The activity also had a dual benefit as it provided the girls’ families with a free and sufficient supply of nutritious organic vegetables for consumption, the purchase of which would have caused an economic strain due to the loss of livelihoods.

“The gardening activity has helped reduce our stress during the pandemic. We feel confident now that we can produce our own food. We are happy to have learnt a new skill”, says Kamala.

The girls now plant the seeds of their empowerment, turning a crisis period into an opportune endeavour.