Poonam’s Story

How Land Rights is Helping one 14-year-old Indian Girl Become a Doctor

A plot of land about twice the size of a tennis court saved Poonam Barman’s future.

The 14-year-old girl and her family were poor, hungry, and landless.

Her father, a garbage picker, roamed the streets of their village in West Bengal, India, looking for discarded batteries, plastic scraps, and glass that he could resell. He earned about $14 a month—not enough to properly support Poonam, her two siblings, or Poonam’s mother.

They lived with relatives, ate two meals a day of cheap rice and lentils, and learned to do without luxuries like milk, shoes, or doctors visits. A proper education also seemed like a luxury the family could ill afford.

“I knew that my elder daughter Poonam is very much interested in her studies and she was doing very well in her class,” said Ratan Barman, 42. “But I could never tell her that I could support her studies as long as she wanted to continue. This was very difficult for me.”

The homestead plot of land the Barmans received through RDI’s partnership with the state of West Bengal has changed every aspect of this portrait of poverty.

On the family’s 1/7th of an acre homestead plot, they’ve built their first home. And they’ve planted a garden that has boosted the family’s nutrition and bottom line. The Barmans sell much of their bumper harvest of gourds and beans in the winter and cabbage spinach and carrots in the summer—doubling the family’s income.

Insecurity, extreme poverty, and malnutrition have been replaced by confidence, productivity, and improved health.

“We can live a life with dignity,” said Ratan. “We have an address of our own.”

And with that Poonam has a future. With an address, Poonam will be able to continue her studies through high school and attend government residential schools. Poonam, whose family was previously too poor to dare consult a doctor—no matter the illness—wants to become a doctor.

Explains Poonam, “I’ll serve the poor of my village.”