More than 40 years ago, Ayesha Kader’s mother dreamed her daughter would be successful and work in an office, but worried that might never come to be.
“In those days we lived in a mud house,” Kader explains. “When I grew up I didn’t have electricity, no running water and you had to get water from a common tap. My dream was to get a better house for my own family.”
Education would provide a path toward that goal. But like many families in Kolkata, India, Kader’s mother and father couldn’t afford to send her for post-secondary training. Still, her mother told her, “We will find a way.”
In 1978, Kader was supported by MCC to take part in a stenography program to learn to type, opening the door to a livelihood for her and her family.
Two years after she finished the program, Kader, then 19, began working for MCC in India as a receptionist. She became an administrative assistant, then a program officer.
MCC photo/Dave Klassen
Since 2006, she has served as a co-ordinator for MCC’s education programs in India, working to inspire young people.
“MCC has transformed my life. It has given me this great opportunity to serve my people in areas of education and training,” she says. “Counselling children and parents has taught me to look beyond my troubles and struggles. It tells me that my problems compared to theirs are too small and that there are people who need me to walk with them in time of need.”
Over the last four decades, MCC has given more than 19,000 students in India new chances to learn through support for schooling or training programs.
Today, MCC supports about 1,000 students in India per year to reach grade 12, covering 80 per cent of their tuition and paying for books and uniforms. In addition, MCC supports 390 young adults per year to receive livelihood training.
“Sometimes I have tears in my eyes because I can see myself in them,” Kader says. “I never feel shy to tell them I was once supported by MCC.”
"I think MCC has not only supported me by helping me for one year but supported my whole life."
- Ayesha Kader
Kader says working for MCC and the young people has shaped how she approaches life.
If not for her experiences with MCC, “My attitude would’ve been different. I wouldn’t have learned a lot of peace skills or how to talk to people, to be kind, to be a good listener,” she explains.
MCC photo/Suvendu Bairagee
“I think MCC has not only supported me by helping me for one year but supported my whole life. Whatever I am today, it’s because of many people who have been part and parcel of my life.”
And in turn, her ongoing compassion, support and investment in young people has changed the lives of students like Joanna Sarkar.
Sarkar was supported by MCC from grades 6 to 12 to help pay for tuition, books, uniforms and even get medical care.
When Sarkar was young, her parents separated and the task of providing for Sarkar and her two brothers was left up to her mother.
“It was not possible to make sure all of us had schooling as well as meals on the table,” she explains.
But when MCC stepped in to help, Sarkar was able to attend boarding school.
“It meant less stress on my mom. To know there were people stepping in that gap she couldn’t fill, she knew it was going to be okay,” she explains.
MCC photo/Sanjib Khan
The program is about more than funding. Sarkar notes that her connection with Kader helped her get through boarding school and the loneliness she felt there.
“I had a special relationship with Ayesha-ma’am. I know it took more effort on her part because she would spend extra time with me. I think that helped me get through, to know some people have hope in me,” Sarkar says.
"Thank you so much for the love and support and the unconditional, unwavering faith that you have had in me."
- Joanna Sarkar
Even as she finished secondary school and began making decisions for her future, Kader and MCC remained a faithful source of support.
“The relationship that I share with my MCC family means that I can actually walk into the office” and spend time asking for advice or just talking, she says.
She remembers Kader telling her, “Go where your heart lies because that’s where you will grow.”
That advice and her relationships with Kader and other MCC staff bolstered her when, after law studies, classmates were going into corporate work or private practices and she knew she wanted to take a different path.
“I think my MCC family needs to know how much of an influence it has had in my decisions,” she told an audience in 2018 at a 75th anniversary celebration of MCC’s work in India. “Thank you so much for the love and support and the unconditional, unwavering faith that you have had in me. It really means a lot.”
Photo courtesy of Joanna Sarkar
Today, Sarkar devotes her career in law to reaching out to others.
As a consulting advocate for International Justice Mission, she is in court bringing those accused of human trafficking to justice and standing up for girls and young women who have been sold into the sex trade.
“In two years of my life, I have met more than 50 survivors of sexual violence, some of them as young as 12,” she says. “It’s my belief that abused women, children especially, should go to school and be safe, protected and provided for. I live in a country where little girls are vulnerable. I’ve always been interested in being an advocate. That’s why I got into law in the first place.”
She adds, “I wouldn’t have been able to do these things if I didn’t have such strong supports.”
Her vision for the next decade is to see more Christian lawyers practicing and taking on causes that will contribute to a better criminal justice system in India.
“But I also want young people to go to school to study and I am so grateful that MCC has a program which has facilitated the education of so many lives,” she says. “So many lives have changed. I am just one.”