Learning To Tailor and Make Her Own Way | Pawani’s Story

Pawani, age 21, grew up in a marginalized Hindu community with her parents.

Like many in her community, her parents struggled to make ends meet and put food on the table. Pawani attended school but could barely complete primary level education because of the family’s desperate economic condition. Prospects for additional income were grim looking.

Bride To Be

So her parents did what they thought was best in this type of situation — they decided to find a husband for Pawani even though she was still in her teens. Her new husband, although he was an artisan by trade, barely made enough money to sustain a household.

Pawani soon discovered another challenge in her new home as a young wife — her in-laws. One aspect of traditional Indian culture is that a woman may be treated as “property” to her in-laws, even though she brings a dowry with her. This makes life difficult for many young brides.

Losing Hope

Day by day, life was becoming intolerable for Pawani. Her mother- and father-in-law kept pressuring her to bring in more money to the household, even if it meant obtaining the money from her own parents.

She couldn’t bring herself to ask for more money from her parents, who were barely surviving on their own. They had already gotten into enough debt by paying her pricey dowry.

An Empowered Life

Pawani then met one of our staff members who encouraged her to join a vocational training center. At this center, she would have the opportunity to learn the tailoring trade and generate her own income.

Pawani’s dedication and commitment quickly helped her obtain this new skill. She became empowered as she learned the highly marketable tailoring trade.

Now her hard-working and talented hands have crafted numerous crafts and uniforms used in DFN schools. Her well-earned income goes a long way at home and has helped her assert her legitimacy and place in her household among her in-laws.

When you give to DFN, you are helping to empower many young women like Pawani. Thank you for making her story possible!

Mat Making Project Creates Hopeful Future

When a person is born into this world, he or she does not control what circumstances they are born into.

Sadly, millions are born into marginalized communities.

Social exclusion — or marginalization — is the disadvantage of being placed at the fringe of society. These individuals are blocked from various rights and opportunities, and have limited access to housing, employment, healthcare, and civic engagement. Marginalization can occur for many reasons, including social class, race, skin color, religious affiliation or even appearance.

For Kavitha in India, marginalization occurred because of her family’s background. It had been that way for many generations. She had no choice in the matter and struggled to receive many of the things most of us take for granted, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education.

As a family on the lowest rung of society, Kavitha’s family members were expected to take on menial labor jobs such as cleaning the homes of others.

Because of her family’s circumstance, she was unable to pursue education as a child, and after leaving her family home even a simple manual labor job was out of reach for her.

Kavitha’s future appeared very bleak.

She stayed at home while her husband earned a meager wage as an unskilled laborer in a small-scale sugar factory. Like many in their situation, they were barely making ends meet.

Kavitha did not have much hope in her heart.

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Thankfully, others around the world wanted to help. Because of generous and faithful supporters, our staff was able to reach out to Kavitha and help her start an entrepreneurial business.

Kavitha was gifted a mat-making machine and attended mat-making courses — all free of charge because of the support of friends like you!

Now Kavitha is in charge of her future as she weaves each mat by hand and proudly sells her product to others.

Although Kavitha’s circumstances are still difficult, she now has the opportunity to create her own future and inspire others to do the same.

 

Thank you for making stories like these possible!

12 Flights, 26 Nights

Journey through India 2018

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For someone who doesn’t enjoy being on an airplane all that much, I sure seem to to be doing a lot of it lately. Last month I sat on 12 different airplanes. 12 takeoffs, 12 landings, 12 uneventful flights (except for some nasty turbulence over the Arabian Sea). Total time in-flight: About 51 hours. Total travel time: I don’t even want to think about it! Jet lag: It’s a real thing!

My marathon journey to India didn’t start out to be that way. It was only supposed to be about 12 days – enough time to gather some great stories with our video team, take some photos, hang out with kids and teachers, see my Indian friends, and eat garlic naan and masala dosa. Oh, and drink lots and lots of chai. But one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was going to be away 26 nights. Away from home. Away from loved ones. And you know what?

It was worth every second. Because every day brought something to savor. Or ponder. Or cry about. Or rejoice over.

I saw beautiful things: The sunrise, pink and yellow, breaking through the Indian haze from a train clacking and screeching its way through Uttar Pradesh. Graceful young girls in beautiful saris giggling on the side of the road. Fresh flower garlands adorning doorways of homes, shops, and auto rickshaws. Indian flags gently dancing in the breeze as the sun goes down and the cooler air of evening arrives. My heart was full when I saw those things.

I also saw hard things: A child beggar, not more than three years of age, alone, dirty and emaciated, scratching and banging on our vehicle door. Women scavenging trash heaps for anything they might be able to sell to support their family. Men addicted to alcohol passed out in doorways. My heart was broken when I saw those things.

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Mostly though, I saw ordinary things. Ordinary things, that when done with love, have the power to become extraordinary. A caring teacher’s supportive hug offered to a crying child. The “aha” smile that happens when a student learns something new. The curiosity and tentative attempts at conversation in English with a team of visiting Americans. The artistry of a well-tailored sari blouse crafted by a woman who used to live a life of hopelessness. The sense of accomplishment at a new skill learned or a new sense of purpose realized. My heart was warmed when I saw those things.

Because ordinary things can offer Hope. Dignity. Freedom.

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You are bringing these basic human longings in a tangible way to the people DFN serves – the poorest, most marginalized, and outcasts from society. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being part of our global network.

You make extraordinary things possible.

Those 12 flights I took last month didn’t just transport me from one place to another. Sure, they did that, but they did so much more. They helped carve India’s people even more deeply in my heart. They bound me even more to a country that is not my own. (They also reminded me that I have an amazing husband and family who believe in what I do enough to be ok with me being gone for so many nights!)  Above all, those flights made me grateful. Grateful to be part of this work and grateful for you.

Even if you never visit India personally, you flew every mile with me in spirit. You just got to escape the jet lag!

For more about our ‪#‎journeythroughindia2018‬ check out Facebook and Instagram.
And stay tuned. We have lots more coming your way in 2018.

 

 

 

Empowered Women Take Action — Make Brooms!

During a visit to a rural village near Pondicherry, India, staff members from our Economic Development program received an unexpected lesson.

The initial purpose of the visit was to hold a meeting with the poor women of the village who did not have the items (or grant money) needed to generate income through cottage dairies, goat farming, and vegetable or fruit vending.

With the help of supporters and encouragement of village elders, we met with the women to present grant ideas and supply them with the commodities needed to get started in these business ventures.

To our surprise, the response to our idea and presentation was near silence. A village elder let us know that the women had something to say.

Their voices needed to be heard.

The women were thankful for the idea of being blessed with a grant to help them start economic ventures of their own. They were empowered by the generosity of supporters like you, to help them move out of poverty.

They stood up and asked for permission to choose which supplies and sustainable business they wanted to pursue — broom-making.

In their village, there was an ample supply of raw material, such as inexpensive dry coconut leaf spines, binding cords/twines, small axes and knives for chopping, and chopping boards. They shared with us and the village elders that all of these commodities would be well within the $10 per person grant parameters.

It was an inspiring scene made possible by empowered women who were able to speak their minds.

Not only did these women have the manpower, raw material and know-how, but they were determined to produce something out of seemingly nothing.

The inspiration did not end there.

Within 24 hours of approving this new grant, these highly-motivated rural, impoverished women got to work and produced the first set of brooms to be sold!

By starting with a voice — these women continued to progress economically through their broom-making venture, all to leave poverty behind.

Our staff members returned to headquarters amazed, inspired and rejoicing that they had learned something radically new from these empowered women.

We couldn’t support powerful hard-working individuals like these without your help and we are thankful for you. Your investment changes lives!

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

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!

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