Empowerment Program Heals Trauma, Offers New Opportunities

In a time when the #MeToo movement, women’s marches and the fight for equal pay have been dominating our national media landscape, incredible empowerment efforts are also happening worldwide.

While these movements and cultural mindset shifts have been successfully helping thousands of women in America and other countries, it’s the oppressed women fighting poverty and centuries-old sex slavery traditions in South Asia, that we at DFN long to help set free.

Because all women — regardless of age, ethnicity, background, or financial status — deserve to live a thriving life full of hope, love and respect. So with your support, we recently implemented an empowerment program aimed to help women such as these recover from stressful and traumatic life events.

During this powerful program, DFN health and field workers guided and trained 20 young girls. All of the girls are from an area in India stricken with poverty and where the jogini (ritualized prostitution) tradition is still practiced. Most of these girls have been sexually assaulted or come from very vulnerable situations. Some are even the daughters of joginis.

As a result of these conditions, many of these young girls struggle to lead a normal life and blend into society. Some are unskilled laborers, while others live with the stigma of being a jogini.

During the program, these young women attended sessions that taught them about controlling emotions, overcoming trauma, facing one’s fears, how to deal with negative thoughts, forgiving others and moving forward, and understanding one’s identity. They were taught to see and understand their gifts, skills, talents, interests and passions, so that they can lead a purposeful life.

Sessions even included breathing exercises to help encourage calmness and lower heart rates — all simple tools anyone can use to help cope with traumatic situations.

The feedback from the program was overwhelming.

Many of the young girls said they felt hope and encouragement, and each had the opportunity to share about their personal gain with the others. A celebration was held at the end of the program to celebrate each girls’ progress.

Not only did the participants feel equipped to handle life successfully, but many felt honored, respected and valued for the first time in their lives.

The opportunity for change did not stop there.

We encouraged all the girls to join our vocational training center after completing the program so they could have opportunities to study tailoring, jewelry making, computers, cosmetology and to learn English.

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We are thrilled to say that 16 of the 20 girls have joined these courses and are on their way to changing their lives for the better!

We are especially happy for one participant in particular, a daughter of a jogini, who was called home immediately after completing the empowerment program. Her sister passed away and her family encouraged her to come back to the village and be with her family indefinitely. After a period of mourning with her family and grieving the loss of her sister, this participant proudly announced to her family that she would like to take advantage of these new opportunities and pursue her desire to learn tailoring and cosmetology

We look forward to receiving her in the vocational center!

Such has been the impact of the empowerment program, that this young girl and many more, are seizing the opportunity to break the shackles of poverty and shame in their lives.

Will you help us free more women to do the same?

Free A Woman Today

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!

Fighting the Hidden Dangers of Poverty

In many countries around the world, practicing healthy sanitation is often taken for granted. Millions of people, particularly those in developed countries, have at-home access to bathrooms.

The thought of danger or fear while heading to a bathroom never crosses our minds.

Sadly, this is not the case for many living in poverty-stricken communities, specifically women.

There is a hidden danger of sexual violence that is quite prevalent for impoverished girls and women who lack access to basic sanitation facilities. They often have no choice but to defecate in the open, making them vulnerable to stalkers and an ensuing assault.

This became the tragic reality for 13-year-old Smitha.

Usually Smitha would go to public toilets in the company of her friends to ward off any stalkers, but on one fateful day she had no choice but to go to one alone. She was quickly approached, trapped and raped by a 27-year-old man from her village. He threatened her with dire consequences if she reported his attack.

Smitha was traumatized. She could not hide this trauma from her parents and told them what happened. Her parents immediately contacted the police to report the incident and reached out to a local pastor. Thankfully, we were able to help Smitha get access to legal assistance and a court hearing was scheduled.

Although, justice was being fought for Smitha’s terrible incident, she was not able to escape the effects of this trauma.

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Despite being a high-performing student, Smitha stopped going to school. She feared ridicule from her peers and neighbors. She began spending most of her time indoors with her parents, often struggling to maintain a calm demeanor. Remembering the horrible incident, she was always on the cusp of tears. Her parents did what they could to help her and protect with what little means they had.

Fortunately, we found out about Smitha’s story and reached out to the family. Her mother, shedding tears of deep sorrow, verbalized the harrowing incident on that fateful day. She even took our staff members to the site where the rape occurred. Tragically, this public toilet is still used in the early morning hours and in the evenings, making more young girls vulnerable to attack.

After hearing Smitha’s story, we invited Smitha for counseling at one of our centers aimed at helping those who have suffered sexual violence, assault and human trafficking. The family gladly agreed. Now, staff is visiting Smitha and her family regularly to provide love, compassion and support until the court case is resolved. Although Smitha still suffers, she is now looking toward her future with optimism.

When friends like you support DFN, you’re helping to give love and special care to girls like Smitha.

Give Today

 

Changing A Destiny From Misery to Hope

“This is your destiny.”

The first time 14-year-old Yellama heard these words, she was in tears and traumatized as she had just been sexually assaulted the night before by a stranger. She felt violated, shocked and hurt.

Her mother’s words only worsened the situation.

Yellama, unfortunately like many other girls in India, was dedicated as a jogini (temple prostitute) at a very young age. A few days before her first assault, she had a normal childhood. She enjoyed going to school, spending time with her peers, and she was strong, healthy and intelligent.

All that changed when her sister returned home after becoming widow. The financial strain of supporting another child was too much for her family. The village priest recommended that Yellama be dedicated as a jogini to help bring in income.

Yellama was quickly ‘married to the goddess’ during a dedication ceremony and stopped going to school.

A life of misery

For the next several years, Yellama lived in despair and misery. She felt betrayed by her family and especially by her mother, who told her, “This is what you were born for — to be a jogini and serve the goddess.”

During the day Yellama worked as a day laborer and by night she was used by the men of her village.

She watched as her friends continued their schooling.

At one point, Yellama thought there was a way out of this life. She became pregnant and believed the father of the baby loved her and would take her as his wife. Sadly he, like all the men, abandoned Yellama and even avoided her in the street after she had his child. She was stung by shame as the villagers ridiculed her “half-breed” son.

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Finding dignity and respect

Fortunately for Yellama, hope was on the horizon. She met some newcomers in her village who treated her with dignity and respect. She had never experienced this in her life before. These individuals truly cared for her and helped her turn her life around. She was finally able to leave her old life behind.

But what she took with her was the determination to not let other innocent girls suffer the same fate as her.

Yellama now wants to see an end to the jogini practice and wants the thousands of others who are trapped in this ritual sex slavery be freed.

We are so proud of how far Yellama has come in her life as she now works in our prevention program, raising awareness and stopping more girls being dedicated as joginis.

Yellama is a true inspiration!

Free A Woman Today

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.

 

 

 

Health program provides care, reaches hundreds

In some areas of India, the centuries-old “jogini” system is still in practice even though it is against the law. Young girls and women are sexually exploited as prostitutes — and many times — abused.

Our goal is to completely eradicate the system in the next 10 years. In the meantime, it is of utmost importance to provide as much help to these vulnerable women as possible.

That’s where the compassion and generosity of friends like you matter.

Healthcare for the at-risk

With your help, DFN community health workers are able to implement a health program aimed at helping at-risk women in rural South India.

Teaching the basics

These community health workers help hundreds of women through medical camps, home visits and community education activities.

Many of these visits play a major role in our work of eliminating this continued sexual exploitation.

The health education sessions offer trainings on a variety of issues — including, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, hygiene and preventive health tips.

One crucial part of the program is the home visit.

It is during the home visit that community health workers are able to spend time with joginis to learn more about the issues they face. In many instances, home visits are the most effective way to hear their stories which provide insights to help tailor our programs.

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Extending life and inspiring hope

The team also keeps track of births and deaths in the community. Knowing these numbers reveal insight into the reality of village life, specifically that of the jogini community.

We have also created and introduced new facets of the program, such as the “buddy system.” This system enables longer-serving health workers to partner with newly trained personnel to share their experience and knowledge. They also encourage them in their work so that more and more women may be helped.

This is the kind of work that you are supporting in India. You are helping us share crucial information, education and care to vulnerable young girls and women in need…and we thank you.

 

Consider helping more women
in need and give today!

 

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International Women’s Day: A Celebration of Empowered Women

Today marks International Women’s Day — a day to reflect on and celebrate the work being done around the world to free and empower women. It’s a day to honor and recognize the many women who are contributing to this work by speaking out and standing up for those still suffering.

Women like Narayanamma.

Narayanamma grew up in a poverty-stricken community in rural India, yet still had a promising start to life. Not only was she able to attend school as a child, but she was able to continue her education through 10th grade.

Sadly, extreme poverty took its toll.

Narayanamma’s father was very old and unable to support her family. Her mother struggled with mental illness and was also unable to work. Being an only child, Narayanamma was their only hope for income and support. Her parents did not want her to marry, as it meant she would leave the house to live with her husband’s family, unable to contribute to the family income.

So, at the age of 15, Narayanamma was dedicated as a jogini (temple prostitute); in essence, “married” to a goddess.

She immediately dropped out of school to fulfill her temple duties. These duties involved her being used sexually by the men of her village. As hope slowly faded from her life, Narayanamma began to feel severely exploited and was saddened that she would not be able to have a real husband.

Men came and went. Some offered Narayanamma hope and promises of a lasting relationship, but after she became pregnant, she was abandoned.

“Men think that no one will stand up for joginis and challenge them,” she says. “Men use us to satisfy their desires, then they forget us. No wonder we feel worthless. For us, if just one woman is abused, this gives permission for all of us to be abused. If one woman loses respect, we all lose respect.”

It was a dark time in her life. Her spirit was broken and she was overwhelmed by self-doubt and fear.

But love and generosity showed up when she least expected it.

Because of the compassionate support of friends like you, DFN partners were able to start working in her village to help empower and free joginis from the exploitation and abuse they face daily.

Narayanamma received funds through our economic development programs to set up a small  stall selling basic provisions. Because of the funds she received, she was able to escape the clutches of dishonest lenders – which meant she avoided being forced into exploitative bonded labor.

Her life trajectory has changed for the better. She still faces challenges, but her mother’s mental health has improved and she is able to send her two children to school.

One thing Narayanamma knows for sure — she will fight so that other young women can escape the life of a jogini. She now works with our anti-trafficking unit to challenge the practice and works hard to protect joginis from sexually transmitted diseases and ill-health.

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“I am very sad when I see girls being made joginis,” she says. “I’ve helped to stop dedications. In one dedication we stopped, the girl was then able to marry someone who would be a real husband.”

Life still isn’t easy for Narayanamma, who is now 24-years-old. But she perseveres. Her own experience has empowered her to raise awareness of this exploitative, centuries-old practice and it drives her to help others find the same hope she found.

This International Women’s Day, we hope you’ll join us in becoming a catalyst for change — to help more women like Narayanamma. Here are three ways you can support and empower women today and every day of the year!

 

  1. Pray for women — even better, ask the women in your life what prayers they need!
  2. Tell the women in your life that you love, respect and support them.
  3. Donate to help free more women from exploitation.

A Life Restored

Human trafficking. Forced labor. Sexual exploitation.

All of these words tie into a severe injustice in this world. Around the world, women and young girls are in forced labor. At its worst, they are being used for sexual exploitation.

Young girls like Rekha.

Before she even reached her teen years, Rekha was married off, but it was simply a cover for her dedication as a “jogini” — a traditional practice, outlawed but still in place in some areas of India.

Although Rekha attended school as a child and completed grade seven, her parents struggled to support the family through various odd jobs. So she was married to her older cousin and sent to live with him and his family.

Being a young teenager, Rekha struggled to assimilate to her new married life. Her husband’s family was unkind to her and treated her like a servant maid. Even worse, she was expected to have relations with their son.

Due to this early trauma, Rekha began to have nightmares and was sent back and forth between her parents’ home and her husband’s home.

There was no safe place for her. She was alone.

She soon believed that her fate was destined to be worse than that of a street dog, as she saw her young life crumbling around her.

Thanks to your generosity and support, DFN was able to reach out to Rekha and bring awareness to an issue that continues being unseen by many.

Rekha’s husband eventually married another woman and although her life didn’t change overnight, her parents came forward to stand by her and help her.

With your support, Rekha has a new respectable vocation, dignified social status and is now looking forward to a better future.

But she is just one of thousands who need your help.

 

Please consider more girls like Rekha as we continue to fight against tragic injustices 

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!