Working to Eliminate Poverty

The Goal Is Community Transformation

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Six-year-old Raja wakes up each day around 4:00 a.m. He eats a hurried and scant breakfast of rice with a few lentils, carries water from the slum’s lone spigot to his mother, and by 5:00 a.m. is making the 3-mile trek on foot to his job at the fireworks factory. All day Raja toils, stuffing gunpowder into tiny tubes, dangerous and dirty work. He’s looking forward to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, where he knows people will enjoy lighting the firecrackers he has made. He hopes his boss will give him a few free firecrackers so he can have some fun during the festival.

After an 11-hour workday, Raja journeys back to his family’s makeshift hut to rejoin his family. His father and older sister are day laborers in an agricultural field nearby, and they won’t arrive home for another couple of hours. His mother has been busy all day taking care of Raja’s baby brother and their elderly grandparents. All of them are hungry and there’s just not enough food to go around.

After a meal of more lentils and chapati (a type of bread), Raja is tired. He heads to his mat to sleep, knowing that tomorrow will be the same as today. He can picture no other life.

Raja is a Dalit. There are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India and about two thirds of them live in extreme poverty. They are at the bottom rung of society, considered “untouchable” by many. These are the people DFN serves.

To commemorate International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we want to shed light and be hope because all over India, communities are rising up and being transformed from the inside out.

It begins with children, and education is the catalyst. The 107 schools we support form the foundation for community transformation.

But that’s not the only thing we stand for. We desire to serve the entire person, no matter the age, in a process we call the Community Transformation Model.

Community Transformation Model

Since many Dalits actually believe they are less than human, changing this belief demands a re-visioning of society. In recent years the Indian government has sought to address discrimination against Dalits by passing new laws and initiatives. These efforts are making a difference; however, Dalits still need others to come alongside them. So that’s what we do through our education, healthcare, anti-trafficking, and economic empowerment programs.

We believe eradication of poverty is possible when people have the tools and opportunity to create secure futures for themselves and their families. So that’s why DFN stands with the Dalit people. We invite you to do the same.

Want to help? Here are two ways you can make a difference today!

Sponsor a Child

Give to Education

Dalit 101 – What can we do?

We have discussed who the Dalits arehow their lives can be difficult, and why they still face hardship, despite laws designed to protect them.

We will now turn our attention to what can be done. And there is good news! We at DFN, with the help with our generous and faithful supporters and our Indian partners, offer hope and opportunity to thousands of Dalit people

 

What Can We Do?

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Although the Dalit plight can feel daunting, we at DFN look through a lens of hope, possibility, opportunity, and ultimately freedom from the Dalits’ vulnerability to poverty, oppression, and modern slavery. It’s what drives us personally, and it’s what drives our work on behalf of Dalit communities. We believe every person is valuable, every person has the right to safety, health, and dignity, and that every person should have opportunity.

The Dalit Freedom Network began in 2002 in response to the cries of Dalits for help in their quest for freedom from the lingering effects of caste. Out of that pivotal moment came our mission:  to end atrocities and help the Dalit people achieve fundamental rights through a foundation of education, healthcare, and economic empowerment.

Through the implementation of our holistic community transformation model, we have a goal of transforming 1,000 villages in India over the next decade. And it all begins with education.

 


Education

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The first step to village transformation is the education of its children. Since the majority of Dalit adults are illiterate and unable to provide a quality education for their children, few Dalit children have a hope for a better life. DFN is standing with them by offering hope and opportunity through the cornerstone of our community transformation model: education.

In each of our 107 Good Shepherd Schools, nearly 26,000 students learn English and are taught the values of freedom, equality, and human dignity for all. GSS students are becoming a generation of thinkers and change agents who will carry forward the principles of liberty and justice. The instruction provided in our schools adheres to the most stringent India standards, and many of our students earn top-tier scores on nationalized tests. 

There are more children in India than any other country in the world. Every day, many of them live in real danger of being trafficked, maimed, or sold into slavery. Nearly 30% of students receiving an English-medium education at our Good Shepherd Schools have parents who are bonded laborers. When you fund the education of a child, you make an investment in their freedom and their future. Without your help, most cannot stay in school or escape the poverty that puts them at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, or bonded labor.

Children receive financial assistance to attend a GSS through our education fund, either through traditional child sponsorship (sponsorship FAQs here) or through funding scholarships. No matter how you get involved, you provide curriculum and supplies, books, uniforms, and a midday meal (where necessary) in a caring environment.

A word about our 2015 graduates:

440 Dalit students graduated from a Good Shepherd School this year. We at DFN are so proud of each of these young people! As they head out into the world, whether it is to work or continued education, they are poised to create transformational change in their communities. Most are headed to junior college for two years and then to formal university to become doctors, nurses, teachers, programers, engineers, or wherever their desire and hard work takes them.

 Interested in seeing more ways you can stand with the Dalit people through education? See our opportunities here.

 


Healthcare

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Many Dalit people cannot afford visits to a doctor or a hospital and suffer—sometimes even die—from diseases that are curable. DFN and its partners in India provide basic public healthcare in villages and administer vaccines to children in our schools. As Dalits gain access to hygiene training and healthcare for the first time, they are empowered to live healthier, more dignified lives.

We do this through our Four-Tier Healthcare Delivery System:

Tier I is the Community Health Workers (CHW) Initiative. Dr. Paul Farmer, a medical doctor and professor of medical anthropology at Harvard University was asked in 2007, “Which single intervention would do the most to improve the health of those living on less than $1 a day?” Dr. Farmer’s reply: “Hire community health workers to serve them.” DFN is on the leading edge of this movement. Presently, there are 60 CHWs trained, placed, and operating out of our Good Shepherd Schools.

Tier II is the Regional Clinic Program. Our regional clinics provide quality preventive, curative, and diagnostic healthcare to Dalit communities. We encourage local community participation, both medical and non medical, in the planning and operating of our regional clinics.

Tier III is the Mobile Clinic Program. The Mobile Clinics aim to provide healthcare services and programs to under-served communities in both rural and urban settings. Health education and awareness programs, diagnosis and treatment, referral services, and data collection are some of the services offered.

Tier IV consists of a Nurses Training College and a Dalit Hospital Project in Hyderabad. Now in its final stage of completion, the hospital will provide the following facilities: cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, gastroenterology, neurology, neurosurgery, nephrology, urology, accident, trauma, and emergency care, and lab services, as well as the Nurses Training College and the Community Health College.

 Interested in seeing more ways you can stand with the Dalit people through healthcare? See our opportunities here.

 


Economic Empowerment

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DFN believes economic development is one of the best ways to invest in Dalit lives. Increasing economic opportunities helps Dalits stand independently, support their family, fund education for their children, and find hope for the future.

Our economic development strategy has three main efforts: financial assistance to qualified individuals to enable them to begin small businesses, vocational training in marketable skills, and self-help groups. These initiatives are monitored by a national board of directors for financial accountability.

1. Financial Assistance: Our initiatives offer help to budding entrepreneurs so they can start a small business.

2. Vocational training: Provided for older teenagers and adults—men or women—who want to learn income-generating skills. These training classes include such trades as beauty/barbering skills, spice-making, tailoring, driving, carpentry, cycle repair, ironing, and electrical work. 

3. Self-Help Groups: Participants learn organizational skills and business best practices. Locally trained officers teach financial accounting principles and offer support in a spirit of community, trust, and personal care. Currently, the majority of groups are organized and run by Dalit women. Most could not have dreamed of this kind of opportunity previously! 

Interested in seeing more ways you can stand with the Dalit people through economic empowerment?  See our opportunities here.
Do you have a particular interest in the needs of girls and women? See those opportunities here

DFN cannot stand with the Dalits in their quest for freedom, equality and opportunity without you! Thanks for being a DFN partner!


Other posts in this series:

Who are the Dalits?

How do the Dalits face hardship? 

Why do the Dalits face hardship? 

Dalit 101 – Why do Dalits face hardship?

Even in our modern world, Dalits are a people who experience much hardship: socially, economically, and politically. They often face nearly unimaginable obstacles. In this series, Dalit 101, our previous entries explored who the Dalits are and how they face hardship. Now we will turn to why the Dalits still face difficulties in their daily lives.

*Please note, unless otherwise noted, the majority of this information is taken from Joseph D’Souza’s book, Dalit Freedom Now and Forever.* Joseph D’Souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. 

 

Why Do Dalits Face Hardship?

To understand the lingering effects of the caste system and how it affects Dalits and other indigenous people, you have to understand a bit of history.

The “laws of caste” were initially outlined in an ancient text, Manusmriti, a book of codes written by a Hindu scribe, Manu (meaning the Law Giver). Over time, caste pervaded Indian society.

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In the 20th century, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a social reformer who is considered the “Father of the Indian Constitution,” worked to end untouchability for Dalits, including a revolutionary provision of the Indian Constitution, Article 17:

Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offense punishable in accordance with the law.

In other words, untouchability became illegal and punishable as a criminal offense.  However, the penalties for caste-based discrimination are rarely handed down. Why? Because some in law enforcement and the justice system are subject to caste bias themselves! Cultural caste discrimination is a cycle that is difficult to break. Consider this statement from the US State Department International Religious Freedom Report of 2006

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 lists offenses against disadvantaged persons and provides for stiff penalties for offenders; however, this act has only had modest effect in curbing abuse due to victims’ fears of retaliation if they accused high-caste members of committing atrocities.

Even though untouchability is illegal, many Dalits today remain trapped in a perpetual cycle of poverty, with a lack of education and little opportunity to improve their lives.

 


And that’s why DFN exists. To alter stories of despair to stories of hope. To come alongside India’s people to help make India great.

Other posts in this series:

Who are the Dalits? 

How are Dalits oppressed? 

What can we do about it? 

Dalit 101 – How do Dalits face hardship?

The Dalits face hardship socially, economically, and politically, even in modern India. Our previous entry explored who the Dalits are. Now we will turn to how the Dalits face difficulty in their daily lives.

*Please note, unless otherwise noted, the majority of this information is taken from Joseph D’Souza’s book, Dalit Freedom Now and Forever.* Joseph D’Souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. 

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How Do Dalits Face Hardship?

Dalits face difficulty in a variety of ways encompassing just about every part of their lives. This difficulty can be called by many names, but no matter the name, it is unjust. Because of their position in society, Dalits are at risk of being discriminated against by police, neighbors, teachers, hospitals, local officials, religious persons, restaurants, and more. This is an almost unbelievable statistic, but it is estimated that a crime is committed against a Dalit person every 18 minutes. Following are some common and specific difficulties Dalits face.

 

Basic Injustices

Dalits may be refused entry to public parks and temples. Use of public wells may be denied, and some restaurants keep separate drinking glasses of clay cups for Dalit use. The Dalit person is expected to crush the clay cup after use in order to prevent “contaminating” other diners. Even Dalit-owned dogs may be abused and banned from areas where they might mate with upper caste owned dogs.

 

Economic and Educational Hardships

70% of Dalits live below the poverty line, and only 2-3% of Dalit women can read or write. Many Dalit villages have a literacy rate of 10-20%, while the national average is 50% and growing. Dalit children may be segregated in the classroom and treated with less respect than non-Dalit children. Girl students are sometimes told they have to clean the toilets and latrines before they can participate in the classroom.

 

Human Trafficking, Child Labor, and Employment

The UN International Labor Office states, “… the overwhelming majority of bonded labor victims  in agriculture, brick making, mining and other sectors are from the Scheduled Castes [Dalits].”

A report released in 2006 stated that approximately 98% of women and girls being trafficked belong to the Scheduled Castes and minorities. This survey covered a small region, but most experts believe the statistics are true when extrapolated nationally.

 

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (considered the “father of the Indian Constitution”) 

 

While Dalits make up nearly one-fourth of India’s general population, a study found that Dalits represent about 62% of the labor force in six “hazardous” industries across three states of India. If other disadvantaged communities, which are usually included under the umbrella term “Dalit-Bahujan” are considered, then the total is closer to 90%.

 

Government figures say there are about 12.6 million child laborers in India, but child rights activists say the number is closer to 60 million. 

 

Physical Violence

Chandra Bhan Prasad’s book, Dalit Phobia: Why do they hate us? cites the following stories:

Jhabbar, Punjab. January 2006: A Dalit farm laborer and activist was beaten by upper caste Jats (a people group in northern India) . His arms and a leg had to be amputated. The attack was because he dared to file criminal charges against Jat villagers who had raped his 17 year old daughter four years prior. 

Tamil Nadu. December 2005: After the Asian tsunami, Dalit survivors were thrown out of relief camps by non-Dalits who refused to share makeshift homes, common kitchens, toilets etc. 

Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. June 2004: Non-Dalits ban Dalit-owned dogs from entering their part of town. They feared that Dalit dogs might mate with their dogs. 

The number of cases of women who were sexually exploited, with no punishment for their assailants, was highest in 2012. Dalit women bear the hardship of not one but three strikes against them: being poor, being a Dalit and being a woman. Some say there is no greater risk factor than being a female Dalit.

Dalits are still at risk of discrimination, dehumanization, degradation, and violence. And they are at risk every day.


 

That’s why DFN exists. To alter stories of despair to stories of hope. To come alongside India’s people to help make India great.

 

MEET SUNITA AND DISCOVER HOW DFN PROGRAMS TRANSFORMED HER LIFE STORY.

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(Photo curtesy of Dalit Freedom Network UK)

 


Other posts in this series:

Who are the Dalits? 

Why do Dalits face hardship? 

What can we do about it?