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

New Skills Equals New Hope for Women

New Skills Equals New Hope for Women

Rama

Rama, age 30, came to a Good Shepherd vocational training center in a tough situation. As a young child, she suffered an illness that left her with motor difficulties. With three young children and a husband who works for daily wages, her family’s living conditions were poor. It was a challenge to put enough food on the table for two meals each day.

But Rama persevered.

Getting to her vocational classes was difficult, but her family took extra steps to make sure Rama attended the stitching and embroidery classes offered at the center. To Rama and her family’s delight, she discovered she was very good at fine needlework. Her self esteem soared!

Rama, along with 41 other women, recently graduated with certificates in tailoring and embroidery. Now they have a marketable skill that can help their families earn enough income to provide for their families.

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“I am so grateful to Good Shepherd for this chance to make a better life. Thank you! My life is richer because of this vocational center, and I’m excited about my family’s future now,” Rama said.

The director of this center tells us that Dalit women and girls remain trapped in a cycle of poverty because of a lack of education and skill building opportunities. Many young girls are pulled out of school to take over household responsibilities and never develop the required skills to enter the job market with confidence.

This is why community based vocational training is such a powerful tool. By making the destitute financially self-reliant, it breaks the cycle of poverty, breeds confidence, self-respect and turns marginalized youth into productive and responsible citizens. Teaching women a marketable skill is possibly the single most effective program for the empowerment of women, and it enables them to chart their own destinies.

Vocational Training Graduates

Vocational Training Graduates

The director said, “When a girl from the slums or village walks back home with the ability to attain a better socio-economic life, it does more to improve the perception of the girl child among her neighbors than a hundred lectures and a million pamphlets.”

Thanks to generous supporters of women through Dalit Freedom Network, Rama and hundreds of other women can be proud of their hard work, their new skills, and can move through their lives with new hope.

Please, make a difference for a woman like Rama today. It takes just $100 to get one woman on the road to a brighter future, but any amount you give will have a significant impact!

Give Now

Modern Slavery: Bonded Labor

Modern slavery exists in nearly every country, including the U.S.

In India, much of the trafficking takes place within the country, and most of the victims of modern slavery are Dalits, tribals, and others from poor and marginalized communities.

The Indian government is taking steps to address human trafficking and modern slavery within the country. Their actions include setting up Anti-Human Trafficking Units and fast-track specialist courts. The government is also addressing the pressure of poverty through programs such as the rural employment guarantee. Working with and alongside government initiatives, organizations like DFN and philanthropic individuals are tackling the issue in local communities. DFN works to prevent human trafficking through education of children most at risk, as well as through economic development initiatives,  and shelters for survivors and recovery counseling.

To commemorate the United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which takes place on July 30 each year, we want you to learn about one of the most common types of modern slavery in India: Bonded Labor.

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Bonded Labor

Bonded labor is the most prevalent form of modern slavery in India today, despite being against the law. Individuals and families, including children, are exploited in slave-like conditions to pay off debt.

Here’s how it works. A lender, generally a landowner or factory boss, uses a number of tactics to exploit workers. The borrower is often forced to work for very low wages in order to repay the debt. Exorbitant interest rates (from 10% to more than 20% per month) are charged, and money lent for medicine, clothes, or basic necessities is added to the debt.

In most cases, up to half of the day’s wage is deducted for debt repayment. Further deductions are regularly made as penalties for breaking rules or poor work performance. The laborer uses what little income remains to buy food and supplies from the lender, at heavily inflated prices. They rarely have enough money to live on, so they are forced to borrow even more money just to survive. Any illness or injury, often due to the appalling working conditions, spells disaster. More money must be borrowed not only for medicine but also because the injured individuals cannot work.

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Sometimes the debts last a few years, and sometimes (especially in agriculture) the debts are passed on to future generations. When this happens, it becomes a vicious cycle virtually impossible to break.

What causes a person to get caught in this cycle? Many factors, including extreme poverty, lack of education and literacy (making it easier to exploit victims as they cannot keep track of their debits and credits), not owning property, and the lack of any reasonable alternative for victims are key conditions. In addition, little opportunity for alternative sources of income for basic needs drives people into a crippling debt agreement with an exploiter.

People can even find themselves trapped in bonded labor without actually borrowing money. For example, a ‘jamadar’ (agent) may offer an advance for a worker’s wages, or transport the worker to a new work site. Then, the workers discover they must pay back the advance or refund the cost of transportation.

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There are millions of bonded laborers in India. The majority (as high as 80-96%) are Dalits (Untouchables) and Adivasis (indigenous tribespeople).

Other types of modern slavery include sex trafficking, domestic servitude, beggar gangs, organ harvesting trafficking, and ritual sex slavery. Future blog posts will tackle these issues head on.

If you want to make a difference for those impacted by bonded labor, it takes as little as $30 to free a child for one month or $150 to free a woman through vocational training.

To see all giving opportunities, including traditional child sponsorship, please visit our campaigns page.

Thanks for standing with the Dalit people!

At-Risk Girls and Women Discover Rescue is Real

These beautiful girls were rag pickers.

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Up at 4:30 a.m. and out of the house by 5, three girls in Bangalore climb through dumpsters and walk the streets looking for bits of paper and plastic they can turn into a few rupees. Exposed to filth and toxins, they cover their faces with rags and their eyes sting as they go about their work. The stench is sometimes overwhelming, the heat almost unbearable.

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At the end of the day, home is little refuge. Living conditions are miserable and their fathers are either absent or addicted to alcohol. Their mothers have no education and no vocational skills.

It was altogether a bleak life. But not any more.

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Today, these three girls describe their former life as “a living hell.” In their slum, most of the girls earn income by garbage collection, begging, petty theft or prostitution.

But these three have a brighter future. And so do their mothers.

Because of your support of our women’s shelters, these girls are safe. They are getting an education. They have dreams for their future. And their mothers have access to training programs. Cosmetology, tailoring, computers, English language conversational skills. These are the tools that hold the keys to a better life.

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Now these girls describe their lives with words like “safety,” “gratitude,” even “love.”

What a difference a little bit of love makes.

If you want to make a difference, please consider giving today. Any amount will make an impact on a girl or a woman. Just write “girls and women” in the comments field when you give.
 To help others understand what life is like for a great many people in India, please share this post using the links at the bottom of the page.

Hardship and Hope

The day was hot and sticky.

The pungent aromas of cooking, diesel fumes, people, debris, and animal waste drifted in through the open windows of our Jeep and were magnified by the heat as we made our way through the village in central India. Bone jarring bumps to my backside were accompanied by the sound of car horns, calls to worship at the nearby temple, street vendors hawking everything from trinkets to vegetables, children playing in the street, and the clanging of dishes at a tea stand by the side of the road. The road was in desperate need of repair.

Something caught my eye out the front window as I bounced around in the back seat. I looked again to make sure what I thought I was seeing was actually happening. It was.

Men with large sledgehammers were breaking up the concrete road road right in front of the car. By hand. One piece at a time. Women were positioned alongside the men. They carried containers which they filled with large chunks of the broken concrete, then hoisted the load on top of their heads and carried it away. Sweat streamed down their faces and bodies with the exertion. I wondered, “Who are they? Why this hardship? I can’t imagine they chose this life.”

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Woman taking a break from hard labor in Maharashtra State, India.

 

They were probably Dalit.

It is a fact that over 80% of bonded laborers are either from communities designated as “untouchable” or from indigenous tribal groups, according to Anti Slavery International, the world’s oldest anti-slavery organization.

It is also a fact that Dalit women are at the very highest risk for trafficking into slave labour and prostitution. They are often used as indentured servants in brick kilns, garment factories, and agriculture. And who does the most demeaning task of all, removing human waste by hand (manual scavenging)? 98% are Dalit women or children.

“The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization … They are often victims of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations, including sexual abuse and violence. They are often displaced; pushed into forced and/or bonded labour, prostitution and trafficking,” said United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, in 2013.

Being a Dalit woman is hard.

“The combination of caste and gender makes millions of Dalit women extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence, including rape.” Human Rights Watch

But there is hope.

Dalit women are rising up, recognizing they can have value: to themselves, to their families, to society. In vocational training centers all over India, women are being freed from slavery and prostitution and are learning a trade that will generate enough income to support their families. It’s not just about income though. It’s about dignity. Value. Worth.

 

 

This month, as we commemorate Human Trafficking Awareness month, you can free a Dalit woman.

At one of the centers Dalit Freedom Network supports, she will have options instead of being forced or coerced. Will she become a tailor? A beautician? Will she learn to make jewelry? Will she learn computer skills? Will she learn conversational English? For perhaps the first time, she will have a choice. With choices come hope. Dignity. Satisfaction. Pride.

 You can give her that choice today. We hope you will.

 

Please consider one of the following options:

1. Give $100, which provides the complete training she needs to graduate so she can open her own small business.
Please write “women’s training” in the comments field when you give.

2. Give $55, which provides all the tools to accompany her sewing machine.
Please write “sewing tools” in the comments field when you give.

3. Give $30, which provides the tools for a woman to begin her own cosmetology business after training.
Please write “cosmetology tools” in the comments field when you give.

4. Purchase any of the fair trade products from our store.
A portion of the proceeds goes to our women’s centers.

5. Or, give any amount.
Please write “women” in the comments field with you give.