Unexplainable! India!

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Guest post by a recent vision team member, pictured here with some excited school kids who wanted to pose with the American.
I’ll never forget my first day in India.

As we left our hotel I saw things the darkness had kept hidden when we’d arrived several hours earlier. To be seeing what to this point had only been described to me as unexplainable was truly… unexplainable. I saw cars and cows, trucks and motorcycles, shacks and shops, pigs and goats, men and women, boys and girls, and that was only within the first minute.

Everywhere I looked was color, motion, congestion, haze, confusion, and beauty. Yes, beauty! The memories I had of other people’s photos were now images coming to life in the lens of my own camera. I assumed I looked conspicuous with my phone always at the ready for photo-ops, but no one seemed to notice. I was just more visual noise in a very overgrown visual landscape. Unexplainable! India!

 

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Quiet is never an option in any of the world’s cities, but in India the sounds assaulted me exponentially more than anywhere I’d been before. Mostly what I heard were horns and the engines behind them. I quickly learned that horns are primarily a greeting, but sometimes a warning.

Drivers beep as they approach (“Here I come”) as they pass (“Here I am”) and whenever they think their presence has been forgotten (“I’m still here, in case you were wondering”). On the other hand, they honk when they’re warning (“Get out of my way”)! It only took a day or two to discern the difference between the greeting of a beep, and the anger of a honk.

Periodically throughout the day, a different sort of sound cut through the whine of engines and the beeps and blares of horns. It was the sound calling people to prayer. Reminding them to stop, to gather, and to bow. It wasn’t that the other sounds could no longer be heard but rather a new layer of sound was added, and a new texture temporarily joined the already over-grown audio landscape. Unexplainable! India!

And then there are the scents, or as some would say, the smells. I’ve never experienced anything comparable. Occasionally they pleased my senses but more often, the opposite was true. I’ve heard people say that India has its own scent, and they’re exactly right. I’d describe it as being more blended than singular, and mostly an exhaust of one type or another: cooking, vehicular, biological, manufacturing, and agricultural. Unexplainable! India!

That was Day One. But I will never get over what happened on Day Two. That was the day I visited my first slum.

 

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As we pulled into this slum my senses were assaulted and my heart was bruised. We were in what appeared to be a small parcel of leftover real estate, filled with all the same sights, sounds, and scents that I’d already experienced but in a more concentrated space, and in a more concentrated way. We parked in an open section of mud surrounded by trash that was being foraged by wild, black pigs of all sizes. I was not expecting pigs!

As I got out of the vehicle I tried to be careful about where I stepped, and then I realized the futility of my caution. I had no idea what I was walking on and in. I still don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.

I was part of a team visiting a Good Shepherd school, so in a matter of seconds I was surrounded by uniformed school children greeting me with outstretched hands, warm greetings, bright eyes, and sparkling smiles. Oh those smiles! In the midst of the harshest conditions I’d ever seen were smiles. I was not expecting smiles!

I stood. I watched. I listened. I breathed in the harshness of the air. My mind was racing. My eyes were seeing, but not believing. The bruise on my heart was hurting. And then I heard it.

 

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It was coming from behind me. From inside a small, dark room filled shoulder-to-shoulder with those uniformed children. They were singing. In the middle of a slum they were singing. With pigs roaming the “streets” and raw sewage flowing across “walkways” they were singing.

This is the day
This is the day that the Lord has made
That the Lord has made
I will rejoice
I will rejoice and be glad in it

I was done. No, I was undone! My heart was no longer just bruised it was broken. But it was alive. One of the reasons I chose to visit India was to see if my heart was still alive. It was. But I was not expecting it to happen like this!

Hearing those precious, innocent children sing those words with such joy and energy while surrounded by such poverty and need wrecked me in a most beautiful way. I still find it hard to explain why a loving God allows there to be such tremendous pain and need in the world. But I also find it hard to explain why that same loving God brought my heart back to life. Unexplainable! India!

Since I’ve been home each day that I write in my journal I close with: This is the day… rejoice! My life has renewed meaning. Purpose. My heart is alive!

I can’t get them off my mind – those children I met in the slum. There are thousands more in other locations.

Thousands who need a good education.

Thousands who need a reason to smile.

Thousands who need to learn a song.

Thousands who need the opportunity to rejoice!

 

 

 

 

 

Inspired Women Inspire Women

Kavitha beams as she works her loom.

For the first time in her life she is free. With skills she learned at a vocational training center and with the encouragement of other women in her self-help group, Kavitha is proud to have a skill she can use to support her family.

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It wasn’t always this way.

Like most Dalit women, Kavitha was born into extreme poverty and faced incredible hardship as she grew up. Unable to read or write, she was forced into domestic service with very long hours for very low pay. She said, “I thought the rest of my life would be spent like this. But thanks to my training, it’s not! I am making mats for people to use in their homes now. Not only am I helping myself, I am helping others. Thank you to those who helped make this possible.”

Kavitha is one of thousands of women who now inspire others. She gives them hope.

Last March, nearly 2,000 women gathered in locations all over India in a show of solidarity and sisterhood for a day. It was a mini-conference of sorts. Vocational training graduates were honored, achievements were celebrated, and local dignitaries brought greetings. In one village, the women were able to shut down a shop that sold illegal alcohol, and they also organized a midday meal program in their local school to ensure students received adequate nutrition.

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Beyond the certificates and the celebrations are the friendships made and the inspiration women give each other. Many women living in poverty are isolated. With the daily struggle to survive, there is no time for friendships, relaxing, enjoying a cup of chai, and laughing. These mini-conferences give women the chance to be with each other, share their joys as well as their hardships. They leave the day renewed, inspired to share their stories with others in similar circumstances.

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This is the way communities are transformed.

They are transformed from the inside out. From the ground up. One conference participant, an agricultural worker, said, “This was the best day I had in a long time. I was able to meet new friends, and I was inspired by seeing those in my village receive certificates of achievement. It made me want to join a vocational program myself.”

We salute these women.

We lift them up. Each one is precious. Each one has worth. Each one has gifts she can use for good. At Dalit Freedom Network, we are committed to empowering women.

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It takes just $5 to send a woman to a mini-conference. It takes just $100 to start a woman on the road to freedom. Will you join us in freeing Dalit women?

Free A Woman

 

Free To Be … An Entrepreneur

Jasuben’s Story

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Jasuben arrived flat broke and alone.

Except for her five kids. Abandoned by her husband, Jasuben was left to fend for herself and provide for her family. She had no education and no marketable skills. Desperate, she started working as a day laborer picking okra in a nearby field. Her income was meager and erratic. She began to despair that her life would ever improve. And she began to fear her children’s futures would be bleak.

Even though her circumstances were desperate, Jasuben had an idea.

She had always been a bit of a dreamer, and this time, her idea just might transform the future of her family. If only she had the resources to make it happen.

One of Jasuben’s friends from their village, Lakshmi, owned a small business grinding spices. Jasuben began to wonder how her friend was able to start this business. She had no more education or skills than Jasuben. So she asked Lakshmi.

And Jasuben received the best news ever.

There was a group in her village that gave small loans to worthy applicants so they could begin their businesses. So Jasuben gathered up her courage and made a visit to this group, one that Dalit Freedom Network supports. She presented her idea: mixing glass cleaner for home use. Immediately the group saw the value of Jasuben’s idea and the need in the community and presented her with a loan to get her business up and running.

Today, Jasuben earns enough to support her family with a degree of stability and comfort. This is thanks to people like you. People who want to set others free.

It takes just $25 to help a woman start her own business. Today, please consider helping free another woman to be an entrepreneur.

Give To Free To Be

You can also support women by purchasing a hand crafted elephant made by women in one of our economic empowerment programs, The Lydia Project. Check it out here.

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2016 Impact Report

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Matthew Cork, Executive Director, DFN US
Download complete report.

It was hot and sticky in South India that day. My jet lag was really kicking in, too. Groggy and tired, I peeled myself out of the van, dodged a puddle or two of who-knows-what, and headed down the alley.

Then, I heard it.  “A, B, C, D, E, F, G.” The sweet voices of 3-and-4-year old children singing the alphabet. I smiled. Here, in the middle of a slum, on a block where 40,000 people are crammed into one-room dwellings, is a shool. Your school. I breathed a prayer of thanks, opened the gate, and went inside.

Children poured out of classrooms:. “Hello, sir. How are you today?” “Thank you for visiting.” “Thank you for praying for us.” Smiles. Hugs. Handshakes and high fives for everyone. Each face so precious. So loved by God.

This, my friends, is what you do. You teach. You provide opportunity. Most of all, you love. And I just want to say thanks.

I could tell you about all the great things we did together in 2016, how much money was raised and where it went. Those things are important, vital even, for healthy organizations. That’s why I’m sharing this blog post with you.

But the most important thing—the one thing that really matters—is that each dollar given represents investment in a life. Every child in a school, every woman in a training center, every life damaged by abuse but now being restored, has incredible potential to change the world for good. And that’s an investment worth making.

I am so grateful for you. As we enter 2017, DFN’s 15th anniversary year, I have never been more excited about the future. Thanks, my friends, for making this journey with us!

Financials

Download complete report.

Give Now

From Nightmares to Peaceful Sleep

Kala’s Story

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Six-year-old Kala* woke up screaming nearly every night, terrified of the nightmares. Unable to sleep, shaking with fear, Kala began to dread going to bed.

But that was before she came to live at the Pratigya Shelter Home for Girls.

Kala was born a Dalit to parents who are manual scavengers. They clean sewers by hand, the only way they can earn a few rupees. Outcasts from society, her parents were desperate to earn favor with their god in hopes of improving their situation. Kala was a beautiful baby, so when villagers approached her parents about dedicating her as a jogini, they agreed.

An illegal but traditional practice in parts of India, joginis (sometimes called devadasi) are dedicated to a goddess at a very young age. In essence this is ritualized prostitution. Once the girl reaches puberty, she becomes sexually available to any man in her village.  The life of a jogini is almost unimaginable. Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant and the women have no skills with which to lead a life of dignity. Unbelievably, today it’s estimated that this form of exploitation affects at least 250,000 women in India.

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Kala seemed destined for this plight. Ostracized. Uneducated. Outcast. Exploited. But thankfully, it didn’t come to pass. A social worker from Good Shepherd’s Anti Trafficking Unit heard about Kala’s upcoming dedication and swung into action. She, along with several activists in the village (including some former joginis) pleaded with Kala’s parents to put a stop to it. They did and agreed to send Kala to a place where she would be safe.

Today, Kala lives in the Pratigya Shelter Home for Girls. Under the loving care of the house mother and her teachers at a Good Shepherd School, she has blossomed from a frightened child into a confident and engaging young woman. She still has dreams, but no more nightmares. Today her dreams include becoming a teacher, getting married and starting her own family.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Let’s breathe a prayer of thanksgiving that Kala was saved from becoming a victim. Let’s breathe a prayer for all those who are trapped in exploitation. Let’s take action to prevent this from happening again.

Give to Pratigya Shelter Home Here

Any amount you are able to give will help girls like Kala.
Thanks for taking a stand against Human Trafficking!

 *Kala’s identity has been changed for her protection. The photos are from a re-enactment of a jogini dedication ceremony. 

Speak Up By Sponsoring a Child

The Ultimate Way to Speak Up

The most powerful tool against poverty is education because it unlocks potential. Through education, a child discovers the freedom to hope, to dream, to rise above their current circumstances. And, they have the skills that enable them to go to college, get jobs, and break free from the cycle of poverty.

Search For Your Child

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When you sponsor a child through Dalit Freedom Network you are part of a global movement to free the most vulnerable children in India. Your sponsorship, combined with compassionate donations from individuals and organizations around the world, address the root causes of poverty and discrimination among the Dalits and other marginalized groups. Together, this is a catalyst that transforms entire communities.

Your $30 monthly sponsorship provides:
  1. A one-to-one relationship with your child, who receives a high quality English-medium education in a safe, loving environment with government-approved curriculum and fully qualified teachers.
  2. Access to healthcare services for students and their families, and supplemental nutrition where needed.
  3. Assurance that students’ family members have access to the full range of economic development opportunities provided through our Indian partner.

Begin Your Sponsorship


Sponsorship FAQs


 Student Stories

Speak Up By Sharing

Faces of India: DFN’s Top 5 Photos of 2016

Speak up this week by sharing our Top 5 photos of 2016 on Facebook or Twitter or email. These photos were taken on our most recent trip to India in November, and we hope you enjoy these glimpses into the lives into some of the people we serve.

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This lovely young woman was married at age 14. She’s now 19 with two children and lives in a slum area near Hyderabad. Her family receives healthcare services through the health worker in her community. What beautiful eyes and bright smile!


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The intense gaze of this boy as he holds his baby sister in front of their home shows the depth of his dignity and strength. His parents work for daily wages and he he cares for his sister during the day. At this time he is unable to go to school but many children in his community attend a Good Shepherd School nearby.

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Watch out for this little guy! He attends Lower Kindergarten in a Good Shepherd School and just couldn’t stay focused on the morning assembly.

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A group of children in a registered slum enjoy a special treat while they pose for the camera. Most of their parents work in the rock quarry next to the slum. These children dream of going to school.

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Best friends share giggles and smiles during a break in their day at a Good Shepherd School. The joy is evident on their faces!

The DFN family thanks you for sharing these snapshots of life in India!

Other ways you can speak up for the Dalits this holiday season can be found here.

 

 

Speak Up By Gifting

You Can Speak Up for Dalits Simply by Giving a Gift!

If you are anything like us, you are immersed in Christmas preparation these days. There are trees to decorate, lights to hang, goodies to bake, and gifts to buy for those you love. This year, why not incorporate the Dalits of India into your Christmas gift-giving plans? It’s an easy way to “speak up” for Dalits this season!

DFN’s holiday catalog (new this year) offers options for every budget and need, beginning at just $5. You can purchase a month of education for a Dalit child, a desk and chair for a school, nutritional supplementation, and you can get a woman who has been impacted by the sex trade on her road to recovery!

 See Holiday Catalog

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 See Holiday Catalog

We have products, too! In fact, the store has something for nearly everyone on your list. And many items are on sale!

Below are a few sale items to choose from, but you can browse the entire store here.

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Small elephants are only $5 apiece. These adorable elephants are lovingly handcrafted by ladies in our vocational training centers. Silk and cotton elephants are available, but quantities are very limited, so act fast. (We also have medium-size elephants here.)

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Tote bags/Sport bags: all items are now 50% off. These bags are a great way to “carry the Dalit story!”

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T-shirts: save up to 30% on the latest styles.

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Candles and Soaps handmade by Dalit people: all items are on sale.

So many options, so much good to be done. Thanks for your support of the Dalits of India! Every purchase makes a difference, and we appreciate you.

Please note the last day to order a product in time for Christmas delivery is December 16. The last day to order a gift donation from the holiday catalog is December 21. Act now to avoid the last minute rush.

P.S. If you are purchasing a gift for someone, we’ll help you out with a card. Just indicate your preferences in the cart when you check out. If you have questions, feel free to email or give us a call at 757-233-9110.

How Else Can I Speak Up?

Tell people about this! Share the opportunity on Facebook and Twitter! Share this blog post using the links at the bottom of this page. See other ways to speak up here.

If you have any questions about the way this works, please e-mail us at info@dalitnetwork.org. We’ll answer your question right away!

Speak Up through #GivingTuesday

Speak Up this #GivingTuesday by Giving a Dalit Child a New School Uniform

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Give A Uniform for $25

Most Dalit children live in extreme poverty. Their families often struggle to provide basic needs, including clothing. In India, wearing a school uniform is nearly universally mandatory, including in Good Shepherd Schools. Sponsored children have their uniform provided through sponsorship donations, but there are about 14,000 students of the 26,000 enrolled in Good Shepherd Schools who are not sponsored yet. These kids need uniforms, too!

So when our team was planning what to do for #GivingTuesday this year we thought, “What about uniforms?” Besides students who aren’t sponsored yet, there are students who have outgrown their uniforms and need new, larger ones. And as anyone who has ever had a child in school knows, sometimes clothing just wears out!

It only takes $25 to purchase a new uniform.
This is an easy way to speak up for a child who needs you.

What’s Giving Tuesday?

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. This year, November 29 is that day.

The Challenge & How You Can Help

It’s so simple to get involved. All you need to do is buy a uniform (Or two. Or ten!) Each uniform costs only 25.00, and you can purchase one here. Our goal is to provide a minimum of 250 uniforms between now and November 29. But we’d like to blow that goal out of the water. And we can, with your help.

Do I Have To Wait Until #GivingTuesday to Purchase a Uniform?

No! You can speak up by buying a uniform right now, and we thank you for your commitment to being a voice for Dalit children.

Buy a Uniform Now

How Else Can I Speak Up?

Tell people about this! Share the opportunity on Facebook and Twitter! Share this blog post using the links at the bottom of this page.

If you have any questions about the way this works, please e-mail us at info@dalitnetwork.org. We’ll answer your question right away!